The intriguing cover of Twilight has been calling to me from bookstore shelves for quite awhile. The hands reaching out of the darkness to offer that eternally forbidden and tainted fruit have an almost irresistible appeal. In one of my weaker moments, I gave in and bought it. Then I brought it home, put it on my shelf, and there it sat, untouched, for the entire spring. Until one night last week, when I came home and wanted nothing more than to lose myself in a book for a few hours.
It was a segment on NPR’s All Things Considered that got me thinking about it again. The books (Twilight is just the first in a series) have been wildly successful among young teenage women. There are a lot of people out there comparing her success to that of JK Rowling with the Harry Potter books. I wouldn’t go that far (her audience seems to be much narrower and I’m not sure her impact will be as lasting), and neither would the author. If you’re interested, the article can be found here.
The author is a devout Mormon and mother of three who created her tale based on a dream she had about a teenage girl and a vampire. The story centers around Bella, a teenage girl, and Edward, a vampire who refuses to drink human blood. This unlikely pair meet, fall in love, and carefully forge a romantic relationship despite the dangers inherent for both. Much of the book focuses on the precautions Edward must take and how careful he must be to control himself, lest he give into his longings and kill, hurt, or otherwise damage the woman he loves. Time magazine describes it as “the erotics of abstinence,” but I liked what Meyer had to say better:
“It’s really just my experience with the world and my experience with passion,” she explains. “When there is restraint involved, there’s so much more to it. I think a lot of fiction and movies these days, they’re really missing that beginning stage. They skip right past it.”
I found her thoughts intriguing and admirable. I mean, if you are going to make a book for teenagers about love, why not encourage them to savor every moment and not rush ahead. Enjoy the tension, the excitement, the longing. At the same time I also felt a little suspicious. Was there some hidden message about sex being evil or the dangers of women with sexual appetites? Was there a religious viewpoint being spread in these books? What type of woman was she presenting to these millions of teenagers? How about the messages to these young women about what a relationship is? And true love? Lots of questions. Only one way to find out the answers.
I started reading on Wednesday night (the book is 500 pages long) and by Saturday afternoon I had finished. I couldn’t put it down, didn’t want to stop reading, and simply devoured it. I felt instantly transported back to my life as a young teenager, filled with all the same hopes and dreams of love. Perhaps some of it was me relating to Bella, who felt awkward and unremarkable, and was dealing with moving from a large metropolitan area where she lived with her mom, to stay with her dad in a tiny town in Northwestern corner of the country. Whatever it was, it has been a long time since I read a book that captured me like that.
Yet, at the same time that my teenage brain was clicking with this supernatural romance, the analytical adult in me wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about this reaction. Was this the type of young female protagonist that I want teenage women to admire? True she was clever and independent and intelligent and brave, but she was also hopelessly uncoordinated and constantly hurting herself or stumbling into situations where she needed to be saved by Edward. And what about this protective, perfect Edward with his almost condescending need to keep Bella safe and his insistence that he knows what is best for her?
In examining the book more closely, things are not quite that black and white. Bella is strong and independent and lacking an essential awareness about her own extraordinariness (not uncommon in teenage women). Edward is arrogant (and not without reason–his capabilities and knowledge are superior to the humans around him), but he is also unsure how to progress with this bewildering and unique young woman. More than that, he knows what he is capable of and he is terrified of himself. Still, he cannot let her go. He is ancient and wise, and at the same time, nascent and unknowing.
There is still altogether too much of Edward saving Bella and way too much, “Edward is a perfect being” rhetoric from Bella. But this book is, after all, written entirely from Bella’s perspective, and I remember very much being a young woman in love. There are no shades of gray, only the overall impression that the boy or girl you love is perfect. I think it is to the author’s credit that she still manages to show he is not, even through the lens of Bella’s eyes. I’m still not convinced that this is a great series, but I will tell you it is a LOT of fun, and I will definitely be making my way through the rest of the books in anticipation of the release of book four this August. I’ll keep you posted on my impressions as they evolve.