Recently, I had a conversation with a best friend of mine. She and I had just sauntered out of the theater after seeing New Moon, the feature film based on the second installment of the Twilight books, written by Stephenie Meyer.
Between reviews on the movie score, actor performance and overall composition at several stoplights, she made a comment that both interested and surprised me:
“I love everything about this series, because it is so true to life.”
After several seconds of silence while I tried to process the comment through my logic, I answered, “Are you serious? This isn’t real life at all. How is this ‘true-to-life’?”
My friend raised her eyebrows at me as if I’d been drinking a lead milkshake and lost a few billion brain cells.
She promptly answered that no, I shouldn’t take it literally, since vampires, of course, do not exist. She instead pointed out that the series is highly relatable to people because they’ve all had a relationship like Bella and Edward’s: dramatic, consuming, memorable, and life-changing.
“Love is not something you can control. Sometimes it takes you, plucks you out of a menial, bland existence and turns your world upside down. It is a ride you cannot help but take, changing who you are dramatically and leaving you with a hole in your soul when it’s over. I feel I am Bella. She doesn’t fight these feelings. She sees paradise in Edward, and completely gives herself to him, and I want that kind of relationship for myself.”
“You want a relationship that consumes your life?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“Of course! Who doesn’t? I know exactly what she’s feeling because I feel that way about someone now. That’s what love is. It’s an uncontrollable, life-altering, consuming feeling that you feel for someone.”
Right then I realized that her vision of “love” compared my own relationships to casual physical encounters: empty and false. How can that be? The argument that ensued between us is similar to what you might read elsewhere online about the worrisome impact the Twilight books has had on impressionable readers, many being young girls. To me, there are 3 reasons why I think Twilight is a concerning influence on young impressionable girls:
#3: Stephenie Meyer’s writing is, at best, amateur. The literary world is not kind to those who throw writing technique out the window for the sake of storyline, so it has surprised many on the massive success of the books. Besides the “sparkly” view of the vampire characters and the notion of doing the “right” thing despite the fate those vampire characters were given, Meyer’s writing seems to white-wash so many other potential aspects of the story. Her plot line and pacing are rudimentary: jarring and not enough detail to justify changes. Her writing is also very redundant. Her use of adjectives and dialogue tags seem searching and are overused. Edward’s “perfect” this and “beautiful” that are scattered throughout chapters. She doesn’t try to explore detail in other literary forms, just as narrative. Her tone is very much like a high-school short story; I don’t know if this is intentional or just her writing style, but I think readers can understand a bit higher level of literary articulation. The ending of the series, quite frankly, was anti-climactic. The characters and story ultimately ended far from the basic equation that was so successful in the first book. The most glaring flaw, for me, was the utter lack of character depth. Some characters could be very interesting if they were further explored, but their so-called gifts and backstories were just not believable. For example, Alice (Edward’s ‘sister’) has a gift to see the future, but as we learn later in the story, her visions are subjective, and as decision are made by other characters, her ‘vision’ changes. Bella is supposedly invulnerable to vampires’ “gifts”, but somehow Jasper can control her emotions? These holes in the character narrative could’ve been avoided if told a little better, but Meyer just approaches it like “oh, by the way, Bella is not invulnerable to Jasper’s emotion-control”. The sloppy explanation leaves this reader sometimes confused. And it’s not like this happens once or twice, but in many places in the story. This leads many girls to believe this is what good writing looks like. Again, an amateur, at best, writing technique that sells girls over, but doesn’t impress many critics or informed readers. I think Stephen King said it best when he told USA Weekend, “the real difference between J.K. Rowling and Meyer is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer, and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn”.
#2: The romantic idealization of teen marriage and pregnancy. Much of the book’s seeming appeal to parents and adults was the lack of overtly sexual feelings and actions in the book series. In fact, the author described how her own Mormon faith and values directed her decision to keep the characters “chaste” and mindful of the value of “no premarital sex”.
Despite these intentions, this reader feels, the book introduces concepts that young girls (the books’ target audience) probably shouldn’t be romanticizing: teen marriage and pregnancy.
For one, the female character, Bella, doesn’t agree with Edward’s motivation to stay “virtuous” until marriage, practically throwing herself at him in some scenes as a desperate attempt to solidify their love. Again, the model of “boy teaching girl” about the right values in life are inserted in the book. (And, believe me, there are MANY instances of this in the books) Secondly, their marriage right after high school (HIGHLY unlikely and unrealistic this day and age) and her prompt pregnancy are not discussed as an option worth a second-thought. In fact, it is barely mentioned as an imprudent or weighty decision. Bella’s pregnancy is at an age she can barely handle, both emotionally and physically. I don’t believe there is anything romantic or ideal about getting married and being a parent at such an early age, when these years are better spent for Bella’s character to become aware of her self identity and how she can develop her own talents, interests and life experiences. Will Twilight inspire a generation of girls to aspire to just being married and pregnant? Perhaps not but, then again, some readers might.
#1: The weakest character is the most revered: Bella. Many feminist organizations have criticized Meyer as an anti-feminist writer, pointing out that Bella’s entire life and attention revolves around Edward, and that she is never in control of herself or her emotions; she is absolutely dependent of Edward’s ability to protect her life and virtues. I couldn’t agree more. This is by far the more glaring flaw in the Twilight series.
Even getting past the obvious damsel-in-distress, head-over-heels-in-love annoyance of Bella’s monologues, she is not mindful of anyone else’s feelings in the book, namely Jacob. She spends all her time pining for Edward’s attention (or anyone’s for that matter, as we see in New Moon) and describes her loneliness and anguish whenever he is not around, even during times she spends with family or friends.
Her treatment of Jacob is disturbingly dismissive, even cold, as she even admits to only wanting him close to “keep her mind off of Edward” despite Jacob’s open feelings for her. Her ‘indecision’ to choose between the two suitors just torments Jacob, as she never really considers him as a potential love interest anyway. But to even get past this aspect of her character is to get nothing deeper or interesting. She has no other interests, thoughts or desires of her own other than Edward and she describes this nauseatingly often. Half of Twilight can be cut if editors discarded the useless monologues about how “perfect”, “beautiful”, and “Adonis-looking” Edward is. She is an empty vessel, easily allowing any girl to project their own feelings of idolization towards Edward. She is not a female character with any depth or merit on her own, seeking males’ attention as her only validation.
As a reader, I got past the lack of writing style and found the Twilight books an amusing read for the sake of fleeting fantasy but, as a woman and feminist, I was taken aback at the overly-idealized concepts of young marriage and pregnancy, and the utter shallowness and lack of strength of the main character.