Originally published on The Book Girls on 1st September 2014.
The first time I read Twilight I was in my third year of high school. My biology teacher was testing a couple of classmates with bad grades. I had discovered the series on the Internet, as on the other side of the Alps and of the Atlantic Ocean the hype had already reached its peak. I read it and I became obsessed.
Between New Moon and Eclipse, my complete love transformed into an intense hate-reading, which has still to be surpassed. I dragged myself through the last volume just to finish the saga and get it over with. And then I never stopped talking about it.
The series overflows with horrifying details, but a teenager’s love for Twilight is completely understandable. There are thousands of better books, true, but also thousands of worse ones. I don’t condone the choice of getting a tattoo of Taylor Lautner’s face on one’s back, but to each their own: my boyfriend has a huge tattoo of his football team’s symbol, for example. But that’s a whole other story.
At the centre of four books and five (terrible) films is the one and only Isabella Swan. Like a million YA protagonists before and after her, pale, introverted teenager Bella doesn’t realize she’s gorgeous. She finds herself to be insignificant, but within the first twenty pages she is hit on by basically every guy she speaks with. If One Direction had existed in the early 2000s, every Twilight fan video would have had What Makes You Beautiful as a theme.
Bella also catches the attention of mysterious Edward Cullen, the impossible catch of Forks High. I don’t need to tell you that three of four chapters later we discover that Edward is a vampire, and after another few pages they’re deeply in love.
Edward, who is considered the ideal boyfriend by many fans, actually excercises an incredible amount of emotional abuse on Bella. Especially in Twilight, our fabulous vampire keeps reminding her that she is silly, clumsy and ephemeral. Way to go.
“Who were you, an insignificant little girl” — he grinned suddenly — “to chase me from the place I wanted to be.”
Through the entire saga, his favourite activity is giving Bella orders and intimating her to trust him. With the excuse that he’s awake at night and has nothing better to do, Edward follows her around and breaks into her bedroom – secretly, at least initially – to watch her while she sleeps.
Bella behaves like every teenager dealing with first love. She’s completely smitten and wants to become a vampire to be with him forever. She doesn’t blink when she’s repeatedly mistreated because “he’s perfect like a Greek God”.
By the end of the series, Edward will have managed to coerce her into marry him, despite her thinking that an early marriage would be a terrible idea:
“I’m not that girl, Edward. The one who gets married right out of high school like some small-town hick who got knocked up by her boyfriend! Do you know what people would think? Do you realize what century this is? People don’t just get married at eighteen! Not smart people, not responsible, mature people! I wasn’t going to be that girl! That’s not who I am…”
It’s during Edward’s absence in New Moon that the bizarre love triangle comes into play, in the form Jacob Black.
Technically a shapeshifter, but a werewolf for practical purposes, Jacob Black is a native American young man who lives peacefully in the Quileute reserve, until Edward doesn’t disappear and Bella sticks to him like a leech. For a change, he also falls in love with her. Bella takes him, leaves him, shakes him around. Everyone is on Jacbob’s side until, in Eclipse, he forces himself on her using his werewolf strength. Not cool, Jacob.
For the entire length of the saga, Jacob and Edward fight like stags in spring. Bella, betrothed to Edward, ends up declaring that she is also in love with Jacob anyway, enough to imagine their future children. But she marries undead Edward, for good measure. The one that, in New Moon, made her so depressed that she jumped from a cliff and almost die. That Edward.
I challenge anyone to tell me that at least one of these relationships is a healthy example – I’m not saying realistic, but that at least doesn’t make your skin crawl.
Stephenie Meyer’s perverse logic shows up again when, even after Edward and Bella have finally tied the knot, our protagonist gets pregnant and the baby is a demon.
I don’t know and I don’t want to know if the Victorian choice of turning sex into a vehicle for evil has any links to her being a Mormon. The fact is that these two go on their honeymoon, do what newlyweds do on their honeymoon, and she dies because the fruit of sin is eating her from the inside.
The dissolution of the love triangle Edward/Bella/Jacob presents itself in the guise of a cursed fetus. The newborn, named Renesmee because being the daughter of the Devil wasn’t enough, is Jacob’s true love. Jacob falls in love with a newborn baby. Has anyone already said “creepy”? You can say that twice.
If the first part wasn’t enough to explain it to you, the main plot point in Twilight is the amorous conflict between two supernatural teenagers, who both want the human protagonist that all the readers can identify with.
It’s a singularly poorly written series, which uses the same adjectives and expressions constantly for all the ten thousand pages it’s made of. Who cares. It has never asked to be literary fiction. Twilight had the ability to find an audience, capture it and never ever ever let it go, just like a possessive vampire. What made this possible? Friends, it was the love story.
You will be surprised to discover that not everyone in Twilight has making out as their only purpose in life. A consistent part of the novels, in fact, sees the Cullen family fighting against two evil factions who, for a change, want Bella. Specifically, they want her dead.
These villains, together with all the other secondary characters, are the least awful part of the series. Each novel has a spike in quality when someone other than Bella, Edward or Jacob is on the forefront.
There’s the Cullens – Carlisle and Esme, plus the “children” Alice, Emmett, Jasper and Rosalie, Edward’s adopted siblings. Each of them has a personal story and special vampire powers; they move with a surprising autonomy within the novel, becoming way more complex and interesting characters than the three protagonists.
All the female characters have their need of finding love and motherhood at the centre of their personality. Whether it’s Bella, Rosalie Cullen or Leah Clearwater. Twilight is a testimonial for gender roles and heteronormativity. Despite this, the series is scattered with odd, unexpected moments of pseudo-feminism. These have nothing to do with Bella’s character, and instead of filling me with hope, they make me feel strangely uncomfortable.
“Wednesday?” He frowned. “That’s not good. . . . What are you writing yours on?”
“Whether Shakespeare’s treatment of the female characters is misogynistic.”
He stared at me like I’d just spoken in pig Latin.”
One of the most frequent criticisms I’ve seen is that Twilight gives a completely un-canon representation of vampires and werewolves. Well, it’s true, but it’s certainly not the most abhorrent part of the saga.
The issue with Twilight is that credibility and a solid narrative are sacrificed in the name of morbid love. The people who adored it didn’t give a second glance to the unhealthy relationships that make for most of the book. It’s far from obvious that they would have noticed the shaky grammar, made-up words, sparkly vampires.
Twilight works because it’s a romantic novel dressed up for Halloween. It works for people who like romance, for who wants a love story that lifts her off her feet and doesn’t realize that someone staring at you in your sleep is not romantic.
Twilight sucks, but it’s undeniable that it conquered the imaginations of millions of readers, and that there are so many people who define it as their “guilty pleasure” that I’ve lost count.
Would I want Twilight to have never been written? Maybe. I get the chills every time I hear someone saying that they’d want a boyfriend like Edward Cullen. I always hope they mean they are looking for someone as hot as Robert Pattinson, and not a disturbing stalker. And I hope they will never decide to get a themed tattoo.