Here’s another interesting review of the Twilight series, written by a friend of mine from back in college – Emily Hinton Dunbar, currently living in Hastings, NE.
Stephanie Meyer’s incredible popular and lucrative Twilight book series is very scary. And not on account of the vampires and werewolves. It is scary to think that the two main characters, Bella Swan (human) and Edward Cullen (vampire) are the new standard in romance to millions of teenage- and, Lord help us, tweenage girls. The series is a sexually charged though technically chaste, beauty and the beast tale in which the beast is prettier than the girl. There’s a lot of longing and heavy breathing, but no action—except the action action (fast cars, fights, superhuman feats, etc). It is no wonder it is as popular as it is; however, its subtext about teenage girls and ideal relationships is truly frightening.
So, how do a seventeen year old human girl and a vampire man/boy (he is technically seventeen, but has been so for ninety years) become soul mates determined to spend eternity (not life, eternity) together? He smells her. Bella Swan smells remarkably good. All the vampires want to eat her. She walks into biology class and it is all Edward can do to stop himself from murdering her right there on the lab table; he says so himself. He views her, quite literally, as a piece of meat. For Bella’s part, her attraction to Edward is also purely physical, but in a sexual (not a dietary) way. He is beautiful. He dazzles her. She wants him. So begins the greatest love story of my daughter’s generation.
Bella is smart enough to figure out that Edward is a vampire but not smart enough to run screaming. This is unfortunate, because Bella has many characteristics that would make her a fantastic heroine and a great role model for girls. She is smart: gets straight A’s, has a love for literature, and excels in biology. She acts as a responsible parent to her goofy, free-spirited mother. She serves as a kind companion and cook to her loner dad. She is pretty and popular, but humble and level-headed. Bella isn’t superficial or catty. But when Edward enters her life she starts swooning, hyperventilating and fainting and needs rescuing every few pages. And then this bond forms between them—this psychosexual, soul mate-y cord connects them– and Bella coolly chooses Edward. It is the coolness that is creepy. She is not swept up in the throes of passion (though there are throes and throes of passion); she is not seduced by a wolf in sheep’s clothing into a life she doesn’t understand (he explains he is the perfect predator, designed to draw her—and anyone really—in to kill and describes in detail the wretched life of the undead); she knows what he is, what he is capable of, what it will cost her to be with him and she chooses him anyway.
Bella fully understands that Edward is a monster who could kill her at any moment. It is in his nature to drink human blood, but more than that, because Bella smells so good, her blood nearly drives him mad. Edward has to be on his guard and resist the temptation to murder his girlfriend whenever they are together. He can’t help that he is a vampire and that he wants to kill her. She understands that when he gets excited, angry, or sexually aroused he is more likely to loose control and finally do it. Bella doesn’t blame Edward for this. What she does is apologize for being exciting and attractive, for doing things that make him angry, for smelling good.
Things are obviously tense between them, but their feelings are super intense. First loves are, I know, but this is something more. Edward and Bella, after a rocky couple months (what with him almost mauling her in class and then being standoffish so as not to maul her in other places), finally start hanging out, and over the course of time she figures out his condition; they profess their feelings; they go public with their relationship; she meets the rest of the vampire family and he meets her dad. That’s all fairly typical (minus the near-mauling), but what is atypical is that he knows how to get into her house with the hidden house key, because he’s been spying on he. He secretly follows her wherever she goes (this comes in handy for swooping in to save her, but still…). Then comes Edward’s confession that he likes watching her sleep. Yes, all this time he’s been creeping into her room at night and watching her. He tells her, “You’re my life now.”
Bella returns the feeling, big time. It’s not enough for her to talk about spending her life with Edward; she wants to spend eternity with him. She wants to be mauled and made immortal so as to nab him forever. To become a vampire, Bella would go through a terribly painful transformation. She would have to turn her back on her family, not to mention her friends and society at large. Last but not least, she would become a monster who lusts after human blood. Edward is convinced he will go to hell for being a vampire; Bella fully comprehends this and still wants to join him. She is willing to give up her very soul in pursuit of this relationship.
All of this—the misogyny, the model abusive relationship, the sacrificing of self and values—is gorgeously wrapped up in a package of hot, rich vampire boys with fancy cars and perfect skin. It is labeled “romantic.” And the teenage readers sigh and swoon and lie in bed at night imagining they are Bella Swan, hoping to wake up and catch Edward Cullen staring at them from the corners of their rooms. The books are as alluring as Edward himself and equally as frightening. If a teenage girl I know told me that a boy she likes told her a) she is his life, b) he is afraid he might lose control and kill her and c) that he sneaks into her room at night to watch her sleep, I would call the police. When she is of dating age, if I see my daughter completely losing herself to capture the heart of a boy, or hear her apologizing for being beautiful or exciting, my heart will break. Stephanie Meyer is certainly not the first author to write about star-crossed lovers or desiring what is frightening; she is not the first to equate sex with danger or death; she is not the first to idealize an affair between a powerful, dangerous and handsome man and a younger perpetual damsel in distress, but it is disappointing all the same. And that young damsels are buying these books by the millions and hoping for an Edward of their own is terrifying.