Last week, Rebecca wrote quite a scathing review of the Twilight series, identifying a whole range of problems, from bad writing to bad gender models. However, we also wanted to offer another perspective on the whole phenomenon, and since I am the one here who has read all the books, saw all the movies in the theater, and say in my own bio that I like the books, the favorable review fell to me. But this is a challenging assignment, because it’s not that I actually disagree with anything Rebecca said. I think she’s right about all of it. On the continuum of me, Anna, and Rebecca, I am clearly the most pro-Twilight among us, but I will freely admit that these are Not Good books. Nonetheless, I like them, and I’m going to try to explain why.
First, let’s quickly run through some of the key problems with the books, just so that you know I’m aware of them:
1) The Twilight books are not-well written. The Host, Meyer’s non-vampire sci-fi novel, is actually kind of interesting, giving me hope that she might be able to turn out okay material. The Twilight series is not that okay material.
2) Bella is completely uninteresting. Seriously, totally blah. Say what you will about Kristen Stewart, she makes that more character more interesting than the source material. Which leads into the biggest issue . . .
3) Wow are these not feminist at all. Like, let’s make sure that the female characters have no agency whatsoever, and are completely at the whim of stalker-y, creepy, borderline-abusive men!
NONETHELESS, I like these books! They’re like Cheetos–you know they’re not good for you and you know you will feel a little ill when you’re done, but in the moment you enjoy yourself. I don’t want a relationship like Bella and Edward’s, but I sure wanted to find out what happened to them. The characters didn’t feel like real high school kids, but I enjoyed thinking about how much more interesting high school would have been if there had been vampires around. I also found that I enjoyed the books and the movies more when I had placed them in the proper context. These aren’t sci-fi books featuring teenagers, or coming of age stories with a supernatural twist. These are teenage romances that happen to feature vampires. When you read a Harlequin romance novel, you know that there’s a formula involved and that you’re going to get a certain set of ideas and characters. A romance novel may not lead to any epiphanies, but it will entertain you. The Twilight books aren’t trying to create an intricate vampire mythology, but once I read them as romance novels telling sort of fantastical love stories, it made more sense.
Plus, I am fascinated by Mormonism, and I love how you can SEE Stephenie Meyer’s Mormon worldview coming out in crazy vampire plot points.
Look, sometimes when I read I want to be challenged or to learn something or to be comforted. And sometimes I want to shut my brain off so that I forget the world around me. I wouldn’t want this to be the only thing I read, and I wouldn’t want for young women to read these without having taken the number of feminist theory courses I have. But I have read a whole lot of crappy Dan Brown and Michael Critchon books in my day, and if I’m going to pass the time on an airplane or at the end of a stressful day with something, I’m happy to pass it with sparkly vampires.
I like your point that while you don’t want to be these characters, you do want to know what happens to them. It’s a bit like a soap opera: intended for entertainment not education or role-modeling. I also agree completely that sometimes you just want some brain candy, and harlequin romances really are incredibly addictive.
It’s true: as snobby as I am toward Twilight, it isn’t like I haven’t read and enjoyed books that are just as problematic, just not this particular one.