To think we’ve come from Bram Stoker’s spine-chilling novel Dracula to this: not one or two but four whole books on the unbelievably boring escapades of a bunch of reclusive and predictable sissy-vampires good for nothing except, well, sparkling.
The narrator of the Twilight series, one Isabella Swan discovers on moving to sleepy Forks that, for all her clumsiness, she has landed a jackpot in the form of Edward Cullen. He is a century young vampire who can’t help but look at her with his smoldering (or replace with suitable synonym from nearby handy thesaurus, quite like Meyer does, every few paragraphs) topaz eyes which egg her on to embark on a mission to somehow make her way – stumbling, falling face-first or generally making a fool of herself – into his vampire coven.
The series was, literally, dreamed up by author Stephenie Meyer on June 2nd 2003, an unfortunate day for us, when she spawned her very own Mary Sue in the form of Bella, as her protagonist irritatingly insists on being called. Bella progresses doggedly from Twilight to the very imaginatively named New Moon, and later Eclipse and Breaking Dawn stalking the vampire-prince of her dreams. Edward, otherwise engaged in the heroic tasks of “chuckling” or singing lullabies, is constantly entangled in a game of touch-and-go, sometimes lured by thirst for Bella’s blood and other times by love sublime, and tries, albeit unsuccessfully, to dissuade Bella from haunting his life.
Neither are Bella or others in the books very attractive characters, nor are the books brilliantly innovative, which leads to the question: why is the series so damn popular? In an article in The Guardian, psychologist Dr Cecilia d’ Felice attributes their popularity to the books being a metaphor for “how much we need love and how much we need to be needed. We see our own vulnerabilities in them,” and says Edward’s character works because, “The vampire is elegant and beautiful. They are Vanity Fair monsters, high-end, aspirational monsters.”
Of course, as with most other bestsellers it was inevitable that movies based on the books followed soon after. Robert Pattinson, previously darling-boy Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was cast as Edward Cullen.
Incidentally, Pattinson’s first opinion of the books was spot on. He said, “When I read it I was convinced Stephenie was convinced she was Bella and it was like it was a book that wasn’t supposed to be published. It was like reading her sexual fantasy, especially when she said it was based on a dream and it was like, ‘Oh I’ve had this dream about this really sexy guy,’ and she just writes this book about it. Like some things about Edward are so specific, I was just convinced, like, ‘This woman is mad. She’s completely mad and she’s in love with her own fictional creation.”
Admirable, and it wouldn’t be wrong to say he was about the only watchable thing in the first movie. But sadly enough, recent photographs of him make you wonder “Who’s this yucky man?” before you realize it is Pattinson himself, sporting a shockingly unattractive blond beard, blinking out from the photos like a bewildered caveman.
Next arrived New Moon – the movie, which, from beginning to end, amounted to little more than a joyful parade of bare male torsos, especially Jacob Black’s. Edward Cullen was completely pushed to a corner, perhaps appropriately so, because in the one scene he did make an entry (shirtless, of course) he appeared so emaciated you couldn’t help but feel his “vegetarian” diet must finally have taken a toll on him.
The books allow for no plot development whatsoever and seem to circle in familiar alleys – both character behavior and event-wise – where conflict materializes rather reluctantly in the form of feeble antagonists like Victoria or the Volturi who seem to largely prefer lingering in the sidelines rather than make full-fledged appearances lest Meyer be confronted with the insuperable challenge of having to write a coherent, sensible and for once powerful climax without resorting to clichés or other excuses. Not only are the books populated by atrocious characters but also a complementary ensemble of atrocious character-names, topped by the infamous Renesmee Carlie Cullen (nicknamed Nessie, aka The Loch Ness Monster).
The series finally drew to an end with the controversial fourth book Breaking Dawn which ended on a very disappointing note, with something a friend describes as “an anti-climactic non-battle”. Horrifyingly enough, the ambiguous ending has been interpreted by many Twilighters to be an indication of many more books to come. (Woe!)
Apart from being a criminal waste of paper and print ink, the books are a major source of concern because of the image they project onto the minds of teenage girls who are its primary audience: Bella is submissive to the extent of being masochistic and Edward so fiercely possessive he doesn’t allow Bella breathing space. Then there is the feminist angle. Leaving family, friends, and college education to get married? Pregnant at 18? It reinforces every stereotype of femininity women, not just feminists, have fought for decades to surpass. The issue becomes more serious considering at what an impressionable age the average Twilight reader is.
Already Twilight fans have worked themselves to a point of hysteria and refuse to take any criticism against the books, as was evidenced when popular horror-writer Stephen King recently remarked, “Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn”. Responses to this statement varied from being coldly sarcastic (“King is no Gabriel Garcia Marquez so I don’t understand why he gets to say who is a good writer and who is not”) to hostile (“we twilighters should send him tons of hate mail … just to show him how many twilight fans he just pissed off”) and downright silly (“King doesn’t know what a real book was if it hit him in the face. He’s just a bloody guy who is jealous of Edward’s good looks”).
Getting worked up about some books which are not even good in the first place? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to spend our energies on something worthwhile? Frankly, there are tons of better books out there we’d all be doing ourselves a favor by reading.
This piece was written for my college magazine sometime around December 2009. Yes, I actually got through all the books before I came to my senses.