In Defense of the Twilight Series

Don’t tase me, bro.  I’m guessing if you’re reading this, at this point you either know Twilight and love it, know Twilight and hate it, or don’t know Twilight but couldn’t care less about the story because you’ve heard it’s so awful.  If, by some chance, you’re not in one of the above categories, I should warn about spoilers, because this post will be full of them.

Let me tell you about my personal Twilight experience.

I don’t remember how old I was when I first laid eyes on the series, but I do remember the scene.  I was in the community library in my hometown–so this was probably pre-high school since I stopped going to the library so much once high school athletic practices began–when I saw three intriguingly thick books had taken up residence on one of the shelves.  I liked the simple titles and black minimalist covers, so I picked up the first one to read the jacket.  Although it didn’t come out and say “vampire,” it was pretty clear what the mystery love interest was*.  I hesitated because I was scared of vampires**, and deciding whether or not to read this type of book was like trying to decide whether or not to be scared to go to sleep for the next couple of nights.  I decided to face my fear, and was hooked.

*Spoiler number one–I told you guys!
** This was pre-sexy/benign vampire era, remember.  I once saw a scene of Dracula sucking the blood out of a woman, and her look of helpless desperation stuck with me.  It looked to me like being pinned down and tickled by your older stronger sister***, only worse, because your blood and life are being extracted, rather than unwilling laughter.
***Disclaimer: the comparison between Dracula and a hypothetical older sister is fictional.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental****.
****Pure lies, my sister tortured me.  Still does.

I blew through those three books, and the last one, when it came out.  I bought all four in hardcover*, I liked them so much.

*That is a ridiculous investment at that age, guys.

I liked Bella’s voice and unintentional humor.  The twists surprised me*, the mystery of the Cullens fascinated me, and my favorite characters were Jacob and Rosalie. The last book really threw me for a loop.  And best of all, the story cured my fear of vampires**.

*To be fair, I was maybe 12 or 13, and although I had read hundreds, if not thousands, of books, I wasn’t yet big into analysis and rarely read more deeply than the story.
**With the help of the movie 
The Little Vampire.  Stephanie Meyer and Disney, I am in your debt.

And then the movies hit.  At first I didn’t watch them because I don’t like to watch movie versions of books I love–no matter how good or bad they are, they always take some of the magic of reading and rereading away; something is lost in that intimate bond between book and reader that makes the book different for each person who picks it up*.  Then, I didn’t watch them because of the cultural rejection**.  Only immature kids and frivolous girls liked them, and if I admitted I liked them, that put me in one of those categories.  I turned the books around page-side-out on my shelf***, and tried to pretend I hadn’t carried them proudly down the school hallway only months before, aware of my elevated status as a starter of book trends among the book nerds of the school.

*The wounds of losing that intimacy with the Harry Potter series were still fresh.
**With great fame comes fierce loyalty, or dismissive hate.
***I think they’re still that way to this day.

One evening, I watched the first movie while babysitting.  My little cousin’s* choice.  And it was awful.  The makeup was terrible, the comic and intelligent side of Bella’s character was completely erased, and Edward called her a “spider monkey.”  I was brutally let down, and my life was in shambles.  One of my favorite series had been popularly rejected, tagged with shame, mutilated by Hollywood, and worst of all, my book-reader intimacy with the series had been destroyed**.

*She thoughtfully censored the make out scene in Bella’s bedroom for me by covering my eyes.
**Bella’s house wasn’t laid out like I had pictured it.  What were they thinking?

And that was the last relevance it had to my life until maybe a year ago, I picked up the first book, blew some dust off, and began to read.

I couldn’t.  I couldn’t deal with the angst.  I wanted to, but concerns that used to engross me were now trivial and vaguely annoying.  So yes, I understand why the immature label was stamped on it by the adult community.  But let’s be real, Bella is a sixteen-year-old character narrating to a teen audience.  These insecurities are monsters that every adolescent has to conquer, and just because those monsters appear smaller in hindsight doesn’t make them any less important to those who are facing them.  Actually, props to Stephanie Meyer for being a non-teen who can write so well from a teen’s perspective.

Anyway, the idea of watching the series percolated in my mind for the next year, and I’ve watched numbers two, three, and four in the last few days*.  It’s been long enough since I’ve read the books that I hardly notice the discrepancies**.  And guys, they’re pretty good.  If I was watching this series without having read the books and without the cultural stigmas, I would quite enjoy them.  And I enjoyed them even with all that.  They bring up some good themes and they’re pretty to look at.  Also, the music is fantastic.

*Just finished the first Breaking Dawn, actually.  It’s the best so far, and what motivated me to write this post.
**Except when Jacob or Rosalie are cheated out of some depth or character expansion.  Like I said, they’re my favorites.

Let’s be real, Twilight is genre fiction.  It’s a romance, and in my opinion, it explores romantic questions well.  The author of one of the posts I’ll link to at the bottom writes, “Though I hate the stupid movies and books, TWILIGHT highlights this choice: the sparkly vampire or the hot werewolf?”  I mean, sure, I guess, but the stakes are higher than that.  Immortality vs. mortality turns the choice into something she can never go back on, and Edward and Jacob both have depth that goes beyond comparing who looks better without a shirt.

I like that in one of the movies, Bella’s voice-over says something along the lines of, “It’s more than a choice between Jacob and Edward; it’s a choice between being who I am and who I want to be.”  I firmly believe she chooses wrongly*, but it’s a fiction novel, not a life instruction manual.  As a character, she has the freedom to choose whatever she wants.

*Again, more than a Team Jacob or Team Edward thing.  It’s not about who looks better, but rather who is better for her.  Edward is controlling, possessive, and in some ways abusive, whereas although Jacob is often emotionally manipulative and vocal in his opinions, he supports Bella’s right to make her own decisions.  Also, although it is her prerogative to sacrifice a life in which she is loved and choose to be a possibly soulless, endlessly existing, inherently evil entity, I’m with Rosalie and, to some extent, Edward, in that she is sacrificing more than she is aware of.

And sure, there’s a love triangle, but it’s pretty clear what Bella’s choice is from the very beginning.  Which turns the theme from being simply “choosing a boyfriend” to a girl who knows what she wants and goes after it with everything she has, while being sensitive to how her decisions affect those around her (Jacob, Charlie, Renee, Edward, etc.).

Am I saying you have to like the series?  Not a bit.  You don’t have to like romances, just like I don’t have to like horror or suspense.  I understand that the vampire conflict plot promises a lot of action it doesn’t deliver on, which can be disappointing.  I simply recommend that people not dismiss the series based on popular stigma, and ask that for goodness’ sake we stop shaming those who like it and not dismiss them as shallow fangirls or intellectually incapacitated.

And am I saying that the story is flawless?  Not really.  I’m simply saying it’s a good story with some decent themes.  There are things I personally would expand or change if I were the author*, but overall, I would put the Twilight series on my list of “books and movies that were worth my time.”

*I’m not.

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2 thoughts on “In Defense of the Twilight Series

  1. After reading the books and seeing the movies, some at midnight (never feel bad about liking something our culture has deemed nerdy) I will say that the movies got better. I wasn’t a huge fan of the series and when people started comparing them to Harry Potter I was about to fight them. However, book Bella and Book Edward are very different from the movie versions. And I also loved the exchange between Rosalie and Jacob. That was my favorite part of the whole series. If the series is meant for an immature/young audience I think it takes a mature audience to appreciate the story that is there. I see it as a good chance to talk about love really is with kids so hopefully parents get that. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • Yeah, I think it’s ridiculous to directly compare them with Harry Potter. Pretty much the only thing they have in common is they were popular YA series.
      I agree that there are parts that are better understood by more mature audiences. There was quite a bit I caught in the movies that passed right by me in the books.

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