Big thank-you to Sara and Courtney over at the wonderful podcast Bodice Tipplers for writing their commentary on the Twilight franchise! We absolutely love the both of them and highly highly recommend their podcast, Bodice Tipplers, which takes a deep dive into the romance novels one might find on one’s mother or grandmother’s nightstand. Be sure to check them out using the link above! -Margie and Rachel
People love to hate on Twilight, it’s a fact. We love to laugh about sparkly vampires, we groan at Team Jacob or Team Edward questions, and we live to despise Bella Swan. Critics have expounded at length about the poor writing, terrible plot, and the problematic love story. Despite all of the naysayers, the Twilight franchise has yielded Stephanie Meyers a net worth of 125 million dollars. The books have sold over 125 million copies in 37 languages and the subsequent films have grossed 1.8 billion dollars at the global box office. Twilight is an easy target because it is a cultural juggernaut. I am not saying that the series is not without its problems. Edward Cullen is old as hell and into a 17-year-old girl. The relationship between him and Bella has a weird power dynamic and the books could have more diverse representation. However, there are like a bazillion articles on Vox and Jezebel about this, so let’s look at the series from a slightly different angle.
Twilight is the franchise that launched a thousand paranormal romance ships. It also was a shot in the arm for Young Adult (YA) literature. The series provided the contemporary model of love triangles that would be a mainstay in YA books for years to come. Think, Katniss, Peeta, and Gale in the Hunger Games. Wildly, it is also the franchise that helped bring fanfiction into the mainstream. Popular with moms everywhere, Fifty Shades of Grey started out as a fanfiction series called Master of the Universe written by E.L. James. After being busted for being too horny on the website fanfiction.com, James posted the series on her own website and eventually reworked it into an original piece. The series was self published in 2011 and grew such a following that it was picked up by Vintage Books in 2012. E.L. James now has a net worth of over 120 million dollars.
The novel Twilight was published in 2005, but my first exposure to it was through my job around 2007. I was in my mid 20s and working at a museum where I ran a youth volunteer program. Teen girls would bring copies of the book in to read during their breaks. The thing about getting kids in high school to willingly spend their free time at a museum about a long dead president is you have to make it fun and learn about what they like. I asked them about the book and tried not to scoff at the phrase, “sparkly vampire.” I soon started seeing the book everywhere like some sort of teen angst Baider-Meinhoff situation. I finally broke down and bought the book, days later I had read New Moon and Eclipse. I was eagerly awaiting the final installment. No, these books are not particularly profound nor does the writing take your breath away, but there is something about them that is captivating. Clocking in at 500 pages, Twilight is an easy read and Meyers has a way of descriptive writing that makes the reader feel they are viewing the action rather than reading about it. They are easy to digest. On the surface, the Twilight books are chaste. Meyers has stated she was a late bloomer and while pressured to write a sex scene she said, “you can go anywhere for graphic sex.” Adding to its wholesome image are allusions to Christian symbolism This coupled with the hand holding made parents think this was a book about “good, clean fun.”
People who argue that these are chaste books have never been teenage girls. The Twilight series was about one thing: sex. The millions of people who read this series were waiting for Bella and Edward to “fuck it out.” These two were the millennial version of Mulder and Scully, minus the aliens and shoulder pads. We invested years, time, and money to see if they finally touch bits. The lack of physical contact and the yearning described in the book is something that resonates with teen girls. Bella Swan was the Every Girl, most people can relate with feeling a certain level of obsession with a teenage crush. I used to make my friends drive by the house of the boy I liked. Bella may go to extremes but I think we can all relate to her pursuit of her crush. Maybe most of us don’t jump off cliffs just to visualize them, but you know, literary license. It’s also important to note that in the books she is the one who pushes for an intimate relationship. Yes, Edward is scared he may eat her but Meyers gives us a heroine who girls can relate to. Teenage boys don’t have a monopoly on horniness.
Meyers’s books are reminiscent of the Korean drama formula. Two longing leads who have a minimum of physical contact. In a K Drama the desire and longing is so built up that something as simple as a hug becomes R-rated. The prolonged unresolved sexual tension found in these dramas mirrors the majority of the Twilight series and makes the books so erotically charged.
In 2008 Twilight would further cement itself into the pop culture zeitgeist with the first of four films. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, lead actors Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson dialed up the horniness to an 11 and people of all ages lost their minds. The movies introduced people to the series all over again and for years Twilight was everywhere. T-shirts, lunch boxes, soundtracks, fanfics, think pieces, and tabloids were all over the place. The books, movies, and even the actors themselves were forces of nature.
So why all the hate? There have been much more problematic books written that have not received that backlash that this series gets. We still deem the Harry Potter books as universally beloved even after J.K. Rowling has become an official crazy person. What is it about these books that people hate so much? Critics have stated that these books have a responsibility to young girls to teach them about relationships. Meanwhile, women my age were reading about siblings fucking in an attic so I don’t know if I buy that. As previously mentioned I know that this is not a perfect series—there are some serious issues in the depiction of Bell and Edward’s relationship. However, some of the harshest critics of the book have been men. Old men. Their reaction to Twilight is reminiscent to how early authors in the romance genre were treated, like a joke. The book was written by a woman, the movie was directed by one as well. Stephanie Meyer has her own production company and Catherine Hardwicke went on to win an academy award. Society loves to dismiss a successful woman, especially one who creates something for other women.
In the end Bella saves the day, has a baby that never cries, and gets a vampire glow up. All this after going to a tropical island and getting banged so hard that the bed breaks. Say what you will about Ms. Swan, but girl is kinda #goals.