A Throwback Look at Twilight

Wow, who would have thought quarantine would make me unbox this bad boy?

Well…quarantine and the sudden, unexpected release of the fifth book the in Twilight saga: Midnight Sun. Oh, wait, you hadn’t heard? On May 4, 2020, Stephenie Meyer finally decided, after 13 years, that the world is finally ready for Edward’s perspective of the original cult classic. How lucky are we?

It’s been quite sometime since I’ve read the Twilight series. It may have been sometime in 2007 that I initially picked up the book, but it was my high school days of yore that I really fell into the Meyer trap. I remember my Junior year when we packed into my friend’s car and drove to the theater (since closed) to see New Moon. The midnight release stickers from Booksamillion are still plastered around my childhood bedroom. I am aware that I am no longer the target demographic for the series.

There is bound to be spoilers littered throughout this blog. If you don’t want a novel published in 2005 ruined for you, then don’t read any further.

My copy of the book, all these years later. Featuring kitten paws.

First and foremost: is the writing bad? Hmmm…no. Is it the writing of an academic scholar? Absolutely not. Even after my one billionth read of this book, I still find Meyer’s writing to be somewhat endearing. Maybe the fact that I initially “read” the book by listening to it on CD, I still have that conversational angle stuck in my head. (Shout out to Ilyana Kadushin – you’ve got the voice of an angel.) Meyer just knows how to tell a story. That doesn’t mean the characters aren’t wildly underdeveloped or that we don’t have some series plot issues, but it’s a good ride.

About that character development. I’ve decided to nix out anything other than just the first book in the series. Yes, the original Twilight. Bella Swan’s development throughout the novel is astonishingly disappointing. Reading this as a preteen, I saw nothing wrong with Bella’s behavior. She’s in love, duh. Wouldn’t you ditch all your friends, forget you had hobbies, and break all your parent’s rules for a guy you met just last week and already told you he didn’t want you around?

Her dad, Charlie, is 100% reasonable with his repeated concerns of her doing pretty much nothing. Bella does have friends (or, at the very least, people who do want to spend time with her) that ask her to hangout and participate frequently. But she turns them down. Let’s look specifically at the girls’ choice dance. She has three boys ask her to go with them, I’ll give her a pass at turning them down because she’s genuinely not interested in them. Bella is asked to go just with their group of friends, to have fun and bond together. Maybe Mike had ulterior motives (probably), but in a town as small as Forks, wouldn’t going and spending time with people who actually like you be better than hanging out by yourself? Instead, that Saturday she spends all day “hiking” and learning more about Edward and he creepily stares at her as she sleeps. After she returns from said hike, Charlie points out how early it is and how obviously not tired she is acting.

Edward insists that she has as much of a normal teenage/high school experience as possible, which is why the fact he didn’t insist upon them going is a bit off. Let’s take a look at the prom scene on page 495:

“I brought you to the prom,” he said slowly, finally answering my question, “because I don’t want you to miss anything. I don’t want my presence to take anything away from you, if I can help it. I want you to be human. I want your life to continue as it would have if I’d died in nineteen-eighteen like I should have.”

If all of that nonsense were really true, you’d like to think he would have insisted that after their weird sparkly hiking session, they’d get dolled up to meet her friends at the dance. Again, they left in the morning and laid around in the grass for hours. Bella is a one dimensional shell of a person who only exists as Edward’s love interest. And, honestly, Edward has far more backstory and is abundantly more interesting than Bella in nearly every way.

I won’t discount that young, puppy love is an important thing to experience. This is especially true for parents to help guide them into healthy relationships instead of the teen/young adult wrestling with these experiences in the college sphere probably under the influence of something. So, sure, I think it’s a normal thing for a young person to be totally enamored with their person of choice. As an adult, I see grown people fall head over heels and fade off into Relationship Land, lost for the rest of time and space. The staunch difference between Bella and her friends is that Bella knows Jessica is dating Mike. No one really knows Bella is seeing Edward until over halfway through the book, shortly before the baseball scene, when she introduces their relationship to Charlie.

Why is this important? No one is given an opportunity to tell Bella that she’s acting weird as hell. Imagine you’re 17 years old again, sitting around the lunch table. Imagine looking your best friend in the face and announcing that you skipped out on literally the only thing in town to do (the girls’ choice dance) and hung out in the woods with a next-to-stranger who know one knows anything about and then s/he snuck into your room and stayed the night with your dad in the next room over. I firmly believe the next words out of anyone’s mouth (Jessica in particular) would have been, “Wowza, moving a little fast there?” Not to mention that Edward professes his love for her (he, a 100-and-something year old a man and her, a minor) and that Bella is the only thing of importance in his life now after a mere month or so of knowing each other.

We can fixate on how stupid short the timing is, or we can really hone in on the fact that Edward is a grown man. Sure, he looks like a teen and goes to school like a teen and dresses like a teen – but he is one thousand percent not a teen. This is far worse and far more predatory behavior than anything we can comprehend, but if we can imagine the feeling of disgust when a 40 year old makes moves on a 17 year old, we can conclude that the feeling with Edward should be much worse than that.

I’d like to point you in the direction of James Tullos who made an incredible video discussing Twilight, and I’d like to add to some of his points here. He mentions that Edward holds all of the power in their relationship – and he’s exactly right. It’s Edward who sneaks her off to prom without her knowledge or approval. It’s Edward who calls the nurse and insists she gets more pain meds when she is hospitalized after her run in with the tracker, even after Bella expresses her desire to continue their conversation. It’s Edward who tells her to introduce him to Charlie as her boyfriend, because it’s “simpler” that way. In a creepier, more frightening way, Edward admits that he has been watching her sleep because he was bored without her knowing it for a while.

I’d like you to imagine how you would feel if someone you just started dating admitted they’ve secretly been watching you sleep every night since you met. Weird, right?

If I were reviewing New Moon, which I’m not and won’t be, I’d throw into the mix that Edward also denies Bella the human experience of sex until they get married. Tullos believes (and I agree) that in order for Bella to get her wish to become a vampire and get laid, she must first meet all of his agreements and bind herself to him for all eternity. No more on that, outside of the consistent theme of Edward having all of the power and Bella is little more than a romantic prop.

If I could change one thing about this book, it would be that Bella’s friends are largely ignored throughout not only Twilight but the entire series. I would be less concerned for Bella’s wellbeing if she made more of an effort to make connections (as Tullos describes, a support network) with the kids at her school. Reminder, they are kids. If there were coffee dates of her spilling the tea with Jessica and Angela, if there were more moments like the one at La Push beach, if she would have insisted upon just friendship with Jacob from the beginning… It’s already quite a different story, isn’t it? Bella wouldn’t be so alone with Edward.

To be quite honest, even her friends, mere side characters, are more interesting than her. They have hobbies and hangout and call each other on the phone. Bella makes it very clear that the only thing she’s interested in is Edward, and as we see throughout the series, they take the hint. If Meyer would have had indulged the reader in more girl time with her friends, she’d be less pitiful. Don’t even get me started. I couldn’t stand Elena from The Vampire Diaries, but at least the girl had someone she could talk to.

I’m going to end it here. Obviously there are some massive points in the book that I can’t get over. To quickly rehash: not cool that Edward is the only one in charge and super lame that Bella has no friends. If you haven’t read it, would I suggest it to you? Sure. It’s nothing that will blow your mind, but it’s a great way to spend a Saturday morning curled up with a cup of coffee or two. The writing itself isn’t bad, the general story line also isn’t bad. If you can ignore the things I mentioned above, and keep to the surface level writing on the page, you shouldn’t have any trouble. I’d also recommend digging into it and unweaving the parts that make you feel icky. (If you really want to double down, just know that Meyer is a mormon and claims she keeps her religion out of it. Sure, Jan.) Happy reading!

4 thoughts on “A Throwback Look at Twilight

  1. Really interesting review! I’m rereading later this year and I can’t wait to see how my opinions have changed since I first read it, when I was Bella’s age. You make a good point at how much of a shell character Bella is – I think that’s the issue when the author tries to leave the character as a vessel for the reader to insert themselves. Not sure she’s succeeded, and it’s also too easy to see Bella as a self-insert for middle-aged Stephenie Meyer! For all its faults though, can’t help but love the series 😅

    Like

    1. I mean it’s a classic for a reason! You’re exactly right. For all its faults, I’ve reread it tons of times over the last 13 or so years. You can’t help but get sucked in.

      Liked by 1 person

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