Ask people about the Twilight books by Stephenie Meyer. Go on, I’ll wait.
I’m willing to bet you got the same answer I did.
With the exception of a neutral few, most people can be sorted into three main Twilight groups: Hate it, love it, and didn’t read it but know enough to hate it.
I’ve never come across another franchise with fans as heavily polarised. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a mentionable middle ground when it comes to Twilight.
I was about 20 when the Twilight craze started. Many of my friends were freaking out about this new series, but I was late to the party. As usual. I’m not one to jump at the chance to follow a new trend, as I find it more fun to binge a series once it’s complete. Also, I’m not a fan of vampires.
A friend of mine refused to accept this excuse when she demanded to know why I hadn’t read Twilight. She was so lyrical about what I was missing that she lent me the book and sent me home with a command of read it, like yesterday. So, I did.
And I loved it.
Stephenie Meyer’s writing style is easy to get into. It isn’t hard to understand, and you don’t have to spend hours pondering the deeper meanings of her writing once you’ve completed the book. It’s mindless reading. Which is ironic, considering how people have dissected her work in the years following the Twilight phenomenon.
This isn’t a bash on the books, it’s just a fact. It’s an easy romance, the kind of story that follows the tropes you expect, so you can just hang on and come along on the journey. No gasp-worthy plot twists, no deep metaphorical commentary on our world and its problems, just a simple story about a girl falling in love.
I bought the next three books as they came out and enjoyed them. Enjoyed them, that is, until the backlash started. Now, everywhere you looked, people were grouping themselves. Twihards and Anti-twihards. You could barely read an article or watch a video that didn’t either sing Stephenie Meyer’s praises or call her mean names. Even Robert Pattinson, the actor who portrayed Edward, often said how much he hated the series.
By the time Breaking Dawn Part 2 came out, I was so ashamed of my prior love of the series that I’d given away the books and tried to hide among the group of twihards who’d invited me to the premiere of Part 2. I only went because I didn’t want to let down my friends, but didn’t enjoy the movie at all, and instead sat there wishing the cinema would swallow me whole. Afterward, I discussed the shortcomings of the movie and books with all who would listen. Loudly.
Reading the opinion pieces on Twilight made me feel stupid and naive for ever thinking the books were good. Internet anonymity does that. Having a platform where we can mindlessly shred something to pieces will inevitably divide people, put them in camps, cause them to fight back, and start a virtual war.
But is Twilight really that bad?
Someone I know summarised Twilight as the story of a teenage girl who must choose between necrophilia and beastiality. Ouch.
I’m the first to agree that there are certain elements of the story that don’t align with my personal beliefs and ideals. That same statement is true for almost every book I read (and those I write). If we look hard enough, we’ll always find something to criticise.
Bella Swan is an awkward teenage girl who’s desperate to find her place in the world, and fit in. She has major parental issues, and is like a leaf in the wind throughout this story. Many decisions must be made on her behalf, either by her controlling boyfriend or equally controlling best friend. Moments pop up when she seems to come into her own, but these are admittedly few and far between.
Of course she chose the much older, controlling boyfriend. Daddy issues, people. All she wants is a nice strong man to take care of her.
I completely understand why the feminists of the world loathe Bella.
Having said that, characters are more realistic when they are flawed. We want characters to make decisions that we don’t like, fall in love with people we find questionable (while possibly ignoring the one that’s obviously better suited to them), and find ways to get out of situations that we would never have thought of, because they become more believable and lifelike when they have minds of their own. The more nuanced our characters, the happier we are to read about them.
And if we’re being blatantly honest, we’ve all been Bella Swan. All of us have inhabited awkward teenage skin, and even the most confident of teenagers have struggled with those issues Bella struggles with.
What sixteen-year-old doesn’t dream about finding The One? We doodled their names in the spines of our books, and freaked out the first time they touched our hands. Mostly, we believed our first love would be our last. I know I defended my first love vehemently when my parents called it puppy love.
Sure, some people do marry their first loves. I married a man who did just that. The point is, just because it doesn’t happen for everyone doesn’t mean it can’t happen at all.
So, maybe the premise of Twilight isn’t that far-fetched.
What’s more, most teenagers don’t know what should happen next in their lives. Many teenagers need decisions to be made on their behalf, just like Bella does.
Am I saying this is good or right? No. I just mean it can take longer for some people to grow into their own skin than it might take for others. And some people apparently need to die and become vampires before they figure shit out.
Maybe it isn’t so wrong that some women want nothing more out of life than to be a mother and a wife, as long as it’s their choice. Just because it isn’t what I want, doesn’t mean I get to flip it a bird and call it wrong.
I much prefer books with nuanced characters, female or otherwise. This includes weak and whiny characters, those who don’t know what to do next, the passivists and the activists – all of them. The more the better.
The franchise to define a generation
Whatever else we can fling at the Twilight franchise, it must be said that it got an entire generation to read. Many of the avid readers that exist today wouldn’t have picked up another book in their lifetimes, had it not been for the Twilight storm.
Teen and tween girls filled the pockets of rich white men, sure, but they continued to read once the phenomenon was over. That’s a good thing, right? Twilight was a gateway drug into other worlds by other authors.
In fact, many prior Twihards might now be huge fans of novels that do come with deeper metaphorical meanings, like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
We also can’t forget that Twilight bridged the generation gap. This was a series mothers and daughters could read together, bond over, and enjoy watching together. Another good thing.
Additionally, we’re talking about a franchise that basically shaped the YA genre to what it is today. How many vampire books followed Twilight? Werewolves aplenty. Then followed other paranormal romance stories by the score, and all of them were scooped up by a newly hungry market.
YA stopped being a thing just for teens, and evolved into a genre of its own. A genre, I might add, that fearlessly tackles real-life issues and the problems of our modern age, often with more finesse and straightforwardness than the adult genres do.
But I hates it
Like it or not, the fact remains that much of the backlash Twilight and Stephenie Meyer suffered as the series gained popularity was unfounded. To review a book you’d never read because of what the internet says is unfair to the author. Good book or not, that author probably spent a long time and a lot of money on the production of that book, and deserves better than poop flung by a troll out of its cage.
And, even if Stephen King is right, and Stephenie Meyer isn’t a good writer (his words) we can’t diminish the opinion of the masses. For every King superfan, there’s also a non-fan out there in the world, yet you don’t see as many people hating on his work just because they can.
I think Lindsay Ellis sums it up nicely in this video we’re made to feel guilty about liking things that inherently translates as too feminine, all the while forgetting that there’s nothing wrong with femininity. What does femininity have to do with literature anyway? Why are these labels even needed?
Once, I really liked Twilight. The backlash of the franchise made me question what I ever liked about it in the first place, and I’m coming up short. Will I buy the books again? No. But I will say that as far as books go, there are scores of titles out there that are worse than the Twilight books.
This series isn’t as bad as the internet made it out to be, and I reckon we’ll gain more fellow readers if we don’t shame people for the books they like to read.
Reading is a deeply personal experience, and we could all read the same book but take away different key ideals, have different favourite characters and scenes, and ultimately like the book for completely different reasons.
And that’s okay.