This post has been milling around in my brain like a school of directionless fish for the past several weeks. I thought about re-reading the entire series before writing it and then decided it wasn’t necessary. So here I am to tackle one of the literary phenomena of this decade:
Before I get started, I want to make plain and clear that I am in no way attempting to demean Stephenie Meyer or her work.
I’ve read all the books. I will begin with that. And I wanted to read them. I picked up Twilight in the hot, humid Tennessee of 2008, and after plowing through the first volume, went out and bought the second and third. And then I went to the midnight release of Breaking Dawn at the Nashville Borders where I used to have my writing group. I even went to a book discussion group about it. Through all of that, I wouldn’t call myself a Twi-hard. I read them again a little while later, and things started to bother me.
I had just gotten out of a bad relationship. Suffice it to say that this man wouldn’t take no for an answer. Re-reading Twilight, I started to ask how it was okay for a man (one ultimately decades older) to sit in a high school girl’s bedroom and watch her sleep. Any man. As their relationship progressed, I wondered why Bella put up with the fact that Edward seems to think any decision she makes is stupid, and that he knows better always.
Let me interject here that I do not think any of that was Stephenie Meyer’s conscious intention.
The fairy-tale lover inside my head at this cries, “But he loves her!”
The part of me who has dealt with abuse both first and second hand responds, “Controlling, boundary-crossing love is not love.”
I get the forbidden love thing. I do. It’s enticing and seductive. But there’s a lot of wisdom in throwing that kind of love out the window from the get-go. Because even though Edward and Bella got one, in the real world, happy endings don’t exist. I actually said this in my wedding vows: Anyone can get on a shiny horse and trot westward, but it takes a truer and more perfect love to be there when the sun comes up, or when the sun is obscured by clouds, or when life happens. True love is only found on the other side of the sunset.
As I re-read the books a couple times, I began to be a bit irked by the writing. Lots of passive voice, some inconsistencies (one moment Charlie’s eating one thing, the next something else entirely). From a literary standpoint, the books are far from perfect. This is something I blame a lot more on Meyer’s editor than on herself. The books also improve in quality as the series progresses, as well they would.
I stumbled across a blog once devoted to ripping Twilight to shreds. Line by line. Impressive endeavor — that’s a lot of lines to rip apart. At first, I felt like someone had torn scales away from my eyes. “Really?! That happened?” But after a while I began to feel pretty bad for Stephenie Meyer. If anyone took that much time out of their lives to put my book through a wood chipper, I would probably be a sobbing mass of snot and tears.
Which got me to thinking. Yes, there are some things wrong with the series. I don’t think that Edward and Bella have a very healthy relationship, and Jacob isn’t any better with his rape-y kisses. I’ve always hated romance novels that begin with a big strong man stealing a woman and raping her into loving him. It’s a big, sick exercise in Stockholm Syndrome, and it perpetuates some very, very nasty myths about women. All that said, for all you can pick apart Meyer’s books until Edward’s old and gray, there is one vital little fact that Twilight critics miss.
She did something right.
In spite of all the nit-picky (and some glaring) things, Stephenie Meyer accomplished something that just about every writer yearns for. She wrote four books that not only set her up for the rest of her life, but forged an intensely loyal and devoted fan base. She branded herself. Very few authors ever achieve that. Millions of fans around the world love her books, and I have a feeling that although the literary critics might hang themselves at the prospect, her books are going to stick around for a long time. More than the money, she has fans who adore her. Her pages grabbed hold of millions of people and dragged them through her story.
No matter what you think of Twilight, you have to admit that she did something very, very right. You can’t fabricate the kind of response she has gotten. Yes, she’s had some seriously good marketing and publicity, but face it: the response of her readers is genuine. And you can pour as much money into books as you want, but you can’t buy that. She found a bit of magic, and she communicated it to her readers in a way that keeps them coming back for more. Begging for more. Hysterically crying at the thought of having more. Twilight fans are so rabid that I can’t go see the movies in the theater unless I find a time all the kids are in school and I’m the only one there — I can’t stand all the screeching every time Robert Pattinson or Tayler Lautner shows his face.
While I don’t expect my books to take over the world like Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling did, having even 10,000 readers like theirs would pretty much make my life. Having a readership that thinks of your characters as friends, who thinks about what they would do, who gets to know them and the story to the point that they have whole conversations about it — that is the dream, gentle viewers.
So as we trundle through NaNoWriMo and frantically try to achieve our word counts for the month, I’ll be thinking about a woman who has inspired both undying love and virulent vitriol. I’ll be pondering Stephenie Meyer and what she did right, trying to figure out what my magic is.