I confess that I’m almost always behind the curve on the cultural phenoms of our day—I got on board the Harry Potter train when book four came out. I don’t really like movie theaters and so often don’t see movies until they come out on DVD. I pay some attention, but not a ton, to what’s going on in the world of youth- and young adult-culture, and I tell myself that I need to know these things because the youth I work with live in that world more than they live in my world…but I still tend to be a little bit behind.
When Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight became a big hit, I sort of
missed it. It wasn’t until the
fourth book, Breaking Dawn, was released that I decided to go ahead and buy the
first book. “Just so I would know
what my youth are reading,” I told myself. I am Buffy fan. I figured this would
be just another example of a mediocre writer ripping off the great writing of
an old idea and grabbing the youth audience with some sex appeal, regardless of
the quality of story or writing.
Not so much.
It is not the best-written piece of literature; but it’s not
mediocre. Meyer doesn’t follow the
same vampire formula we’ve come to expect, and the mythology she develops is
vastly different. It takes some
adjusting for those fans of other vampire stories. After all, I’m a Buffy fan. Once I got past my internal cries of “that’s not how
vampires work!,” the story itself kind of sucked (pun intended) me in.
Meyer’s tells the story of a relatively normal teenage girl
from a relatively normal broken family, and her self-imposed exile from sunny
Arizona to the drizzly Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. This is Bella. On her first day of
school in Forks, Bella meets Edward Cullen, who is…a little strange. It later turns out that Edward is, of
course, a vampire—but a “vegetarian” one, part of a family that doesn’t drink
human blood but instead hunts animals, and is therefore disciplined enough to
be around most humans without being so overpowered by their smell that one ends
up dead. Except for Bella, whose scent is so alluring to Edward’s attempts to
control himself lead Bella into a spiral of insecurity and anxiety about
herself and what she must have done to make him hate her so.
Throughout the series we are introduced, along with Bella,
to the whole Cullen clan, their personalities and idiosyncrasies, their special
talents, their family dynamic, and some family history. We also get to experience teenage love
through Bella’s eyes. Edward falls
in love with her too which is complicated by his special talent of hearing
other’s thoughts. The real
excitement lies in Bella’s association with the Cullens who are discovered by
other non-vegetarian vampires that hunt Bella down and try to kill her. Edward, of course, saves the day.
Thus ends the first book, Twilight, but this storyline carries
throughout the Twilight series—Bella is in danger, Edward saves her life. Later in the series, a twist arises
when Jacob, Bella’s best friend, rescues her. Interestingly, this doesn’t
usually feel paternalistic or heavy handed. By the end of the series, Bella saves not only Edward and
Jacob but the whole family and their friends from certain destruction, as her
special gift turns out to be much more valuable than we would ever have
Forks is not only name Bella’s hometown. It is what happens in Bella’s story
where she makes choices without being able to see all the paths ahead. The story forks beyond the critiques
against Meyer’s possible subtext of abstinence until marriage. Saving one’s virtue is certainly a
theme, as a coming of age story. This is a part of growing up, which is what
the Twilight series entails—insecurity, anxiety, hormones, passion, forks in
the road, figuring out relationships, and finding people to help along the
journey. Reading about this average high school student made me feel like I was
in high school again – but it is not just about the anxiety and
insecurity. I believe it’s about
salvation, which Meyer’s finds only through relationships. Rugged individualism just doesn’t cut
it, and those who try it end up only a shell, a portion of who they are made to
be. Only in relationship (whether
familial, friendly, communal, or romantic) are the characters truly
themselves. They can’t do it
alone. And that, to me, sounds
just like some challenging good news I’ve heard somewhere before.