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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Hating The Twilight Saga Is A Mistake: Change My Mind

*If you're looking for pure lust or pure action, then this might not be the series for you, but if you're looking for a coming of age story about a girl finding out where she fits in the world and how she relates to her friends and family, and how those relationships bolster or hurt her in terms of how she interacts with the outside world, then you might just find some value here.*

 The Twilight Saga is a coming of age story told from the unique perspective of a blank slate protagonist. It has some lovely and truly historically accurate information on the Pacific Northwest and on the Quileute Tribe (who happen to be the tribe responsible for the enduring myth of the thunderbird and whale, as well as many other allegories, which Meyer touches on really beautifully in her own imaginative way in these books). Yes, there are also highly fictionalized aspects of this story, but one would hope that readers of vampire stories would come into the reading process with an understanding of same.

 To that end, to understand why Twilight is a good series, I think it is important to also understand why it is so widely disliked. The Twilight Saga movies, while some of the casting decisions were absolutely brilliant, suffered from lackluster writing and poor editing, likely from a budget which was spent mainly on hiring the acting talent. People seem to equate the Twilight Saga movies and books as interchangeable and indistinct. That, in and of itself, is quite odd since many fans of series' of books which have subsequently been made into movies seem quite happy making sure that all and sundry know which portions of which narrative are "canon" and which are not. I don't think I've ever seen this before in modern storytelling. Fans of the Southern Vampire Mysteries didn't mistake True Blood for canon. Fans of the Star Wars movies don't mistake the Star Wars-verse novels for canon. I don't know of any other series of books made into movies that seem to be discussed as interchangeably as the Twilight Saga books and the Twilight Saga movies are.

 I also think that one of the reasons it's so en vogue to hate Twilight, whether we're talking about the books or the movies, is simple misogyny—and I don't just mean by men—I mean the type of internalized misogyny embraced by women. Anything "girly" (having to do with a teenaged female protagonist who is in touch with her feelings in this case) is frowned upon, culturally speaking. We're moving away from that cultural paradigm bit by bit, but the stigma from back in 2005–2013 when the Twilight Saga was at its peak still seeps into how we look back at it today. Along those same lines, I happen to believe that there's a certain r/notlikeothergirls level of foolishness at play here. Women are taught from a young age, and we begin to reinforce and teach each other, that being in deep contact with our feelings, being emotionally connected and raw are undesirable traits.

 These traits are linked in an over-exaggerated, hyperbolic way to teenaged girls (see above), despite teenaged boys and teens of all genders and both sexes being equally emotional and equally without a filter at that age, due to the specific way the human brain develops. We are taught that when young women are emotional, they're being "overly dramatic" or "silly." Hence the vogue of relating to Bella in a critical way—with an eye roll and a shrug, all with that pungent and distinct odor of "well I'm not like other girls." I say there's nothing wrong with being like other girls. There's nothing whatsoever wrong with being like other people in general. Sharing the human experience is a beautiful thing. Admitting to it only shows that you are indeed human. That, to my mind, is something we can all relate to.

 There is also a tendency to be hyper-critical of female characters in literature and fiction. For some reason (perhaps at least partially because of some of the reasons I've explored above) young female protagonists seem to be looked at strictly through the lens of whether they're a "good role model" or not. Folks, this is fiction. This is allegory.

 This is modern myth. It isn't meant to be looked at as if everything a character says or does is a sweeping endorsement for real people to go ahead and start behaving like their fictional counterparts do. There are lots of examples of male and female characters in fiction doing really stupid things or really dangerous things on their hero journeys/journeys to self-discovery. That doesn't mean that the author wants their readers to go out and do these things.

To this day, I hear people (mainly other women, but men too, now and again) complaining about how Edward doesn't behave like a realistic, healthy boyfriend to a real young woman and that readers might be moved to begin unhealthy relationships because of this. Folks—I'm an author and I'll be the first to tell you—if you're using fictional characters and the actions they take in fictional books to base your lifestyle and decisions on, you may well have other problems which transcend the bounds of what sorts of fictional books [or movies] you enjoy. That's the way that personality disordered people behave. Real, healthy people who are complete and whole are, thankfully, quite well able to make decisions in life which are not based on what fictional characters do or don’t do.

 Also, I highly doubt that real boyfriends are going around living for hundreds of years and drinking the blood of the innocent, so why we should hold such fictional characters to real-world standards is beyond me. But because this series of books [and movies] is about a young woman, the purity police and the “not like other girls” crowd tend to come out in full force, pitchforks in hand.

 I happen to think that Bella is a unique and engaging character. And while Edward’s behavior isn’t what real, healthy, well adjusted human boys should or would do, it isn’t meant to be. Edward is a vampire, thus, he behaves like a vampire. I happen to think it’s interesting that Stephenie Meyer came out with such an intriguing twist on a rather dated mythological archetype.

 She has created a rich and multi-textured world where ancient, diamond skinned immortals roam both the world of day and night; where ancient vampire families and clans feud both from medieval European castles and from modern, Western mansions vie against shape-shifters, half-bloods, werewolves and others for control of the supernatural world—and sometimes the humans in it.
I think that the idea that Edward’s, Billy’s, the various nomads’ and the Volturi’s dualistic worldview of black and white; good and evil; light and dark are challenged and eventually shaken up by characters like Bella, Jacob, and Carlisle who introduce some really unique and beautifully multilayered shades of gray is quite a thought-provoking narrative.

 I like that love, living authentically and making the choices that are right, despite what tradition or culture mandates are the predominant themes within this series. Despite being the rarest sort of protagonist in all of literature, what we call a blank-slate protagonist--a protagonist designed for the express purpose of allowing for the presence of enough unique traits to make the character interesting and enough globally archetypal, familiar and shared traits to make the blank-slate protagonist relatable, Bella doesn’t back down. She doesn’t compromise her own integrity or her right to seek happiness and contentment by acquiescing to the wishes of those around her, as well-meaning as they may be. Bella is strong. She owns her own emotions, and she literally molds herself into the woman she wants to become, cutting a path for herself and her family that is unheard of and completely revolutionary in the world in which she lives.

 I also hear a lot about Jacob being a “Nice Guy” and Edward being an abusive boyfriend. I simply don’t think that either Jacob or Edward are either of those things. Jacob is very upfront with Bella about his feelings for her as they develop. Sure he makes mistakes and is going through his own crises and his own personal development, but he’s not a Nice Guy (see: r/niceguys). And Edward agonizes over Bella’s safety, making it priority A number one, and letting Bella know upfront what’s going on, where he stands and how he feels, leaving Bella room to figure out what she thinks and how she feels about all of that.

 There’s a lot of talk about how creepy it is that Edward watches Bella sleep at night. Look, folks, with all due respect, he’s a freakin’ vampire. This is a vampire novel. Did Nosferatu or Angel or Spike or Stefan or Damon ever say "umm hey, can I have your consent to go ahead and do scary vampire things to you?" No. They did not. That would be ludicrous. Edward is not supposed to be 100% cute and cuddly. The differences between him and Bella personally and the vampire and human species at large need to be made clear, and that is one consistent way that Stephenie Meyer has been sure to do that.

Savvy readers will pick up on the fact that Edward is quite upfront and honest about all of this with Bella, even letting her know that if she would prefer private time at night, she is welcome to signal that to him by keeping her window closed and that if she does so, he will respect her wishes and leave her alone. He’s always very careful to make sure that Bella has a say in what’s going on. He doesn’t force himself on her and he doesn’t manipulate her (except when he foolishly tries to convince her of an emotional lie for her own safety in one of the books in the series—an action he comes to regret deeply and apologize for profusely, working through the issue with Bella in the next few books).

 I think the Twilight Saga is a fun, entertaining, beautifully written modern story. It has such a rich tapestry of characters and plot points and historical fiction woven into historical fact. If you don’t read it, that's obviously up to you, but you may be missing out. And if you're refusing to read it because of all of the conjecture you're aware of around the story itself, you may be quite pleasantly surprised once you do.

 The Twilight Saga is much more than just a teenage love story, though there would certainly be nothing wrong with it if it were just that—a teenage love story. After all, Romeo and Juliet was a teenage love story. Tristan and Isolde was a teenage love story. Cinderella and Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are all teenage love stories. The teenage love story is not something new within the zeitgeist, thought up by trashy romance novelists wishing to rake in the dough. It is a tried and true trope which works for a reason--that reason being that we were all teenagers at one time or another. We all came of age. We were all faced with a choice at some point during that time where we had to decide between who we are and who others wanted us to be. That is a uniquely human story, and it resonates for a reason.

 I give the Twilight Saga [books] as a whole a 5/5 on plot, character development, setting and narrative, and a 4/5 for some relatively minor editing mistakes which may or may not lie with the publishing company, rather than Stephenie Meyer herself. I also highly suggest reading the anniversary edition of “Twilight,” [the first book in the Twilight Saga]. It has some extended, never-before-read interactions between Edward and Bella, and it contains a beautiful gender-bending re-telling of the story, from the perspective of a young man called Beau Swan and an immortal vampire named Edythe Cullen. There is also a fantastic little vignette in the Twilight series, called “The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner,” which happens to be about a particularly intriguing background character from Eclipse (book three of the Twilight Saga). It is a charming and heartbreaking story that I was absolutely fascinated to read! I won't spoil it for you, but I do suggest checking it out.

And once you have read the book series, I'd also suggest opening your YouTube app and searching Twilight Storytellers. Comment below, once you have, and let me know what you think. As always, we're going to keep any and all discussions on the matter both topically relevant and civil. Thanks for reading!

Below are a few of my favorite Twilight Storytellers films. They may contain spoilers, so you might want to read the books before watching.

                                                           Benjamin's story:

Carlisle and Esme's story:

Alice's Story:

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