I am not ashamed of my ‘Twilight’ phase

The Twilight phase. Either you’ve had it, or you know someone who has. I believe people used to say the same thing about smallpox. And while it may not leave you horribly disfigured, there’s a lot of shame around having ever loved Stephenie Meyer’s international sensation. I’m not talking about the films here (I’m afraid they’re beyond redemption). But if you, like me, devoured the Twilight books in your early teens, you might look back and wonder just what was running through your tiny mind as you followed, page-by-page, the strange exploits of Bella, Edward and the rest of Forks’ supernatural residents. You were just young and stupid, right? Or could it be that the true genius of Twilight has been lost in all the fandom hysteria?

What most people remember about Twilight is how creepy it all was. The insane over-protectiveness, the suicidal melodrama, the fact that Edward watched Bella in her sleep. Edward is so controlling, he’s borderline abusive. But here’s the thing: You didn’t notice. You notice is now, that you’re older and wiser and looking at the story critically. But in those glorious moments of reading the books for the first time, you didn’t notice it.

Meyer spins a narrative so engrossing that you dismiss Edward’s negative traits and focus on his good side — just like Bella does. It’s ingenious really. Rather than looking in from the outside and seeing something obviously dodgy, you experience the whole thing from her perspective, and become just as enthralled with it all (Edward, the Cullens, the whole vampire world) as she is. I’ve never been a big fan of romance, not even back in my early teens when I read Twilight, but I got totally invested in that relationship. It might sound cooler to say I loved Catcher in the Rye or something like that in middle school, but what’s the point? Thirteen-year-old me couldn’t give a toss about Holden Caulfield. It was Bella all the way.

And while we’re on the subject of Bella, in terms of characterization, Bella Swan is nothing short of literary magic. I can think of few protagonists who inspire such sympathy in their audience. Through an excellently-crafted narrative voice, her bemused entrance into the world of vampires and werewolves is seems perfectly believable. Her life isn’t a bizarre wish-fulfillment fantasy, but real and troubling, and you as a reader are with her every step of the way. Put Bella on a screen though, and the spell is broken. She’s a wet blanket. A wet, inactive blanket with all the appeal of a slap in the face. I couldn’t see Bella the same way when I came back from the cinema. You might argue that this is Meyer’s fault for having created such a pathetic character, and you’d be right, but I think she deserves a round of applause for keeping the wool over our eyes so long.

But it’s not just Bella that Meyer makes somehow appealing, it’s the entire story. It’s hard not to see the blend of smug vampire hotties, bawdy wolf boys and terrible weather as anything but a hilarious mess, but taken in context, the Twilight universe is tremendous fun. The characters are (for the most part) surprisingly fleshed out. The colorful history of the Cullen family comes to light bit by bit as the series goes on, in a series of individual tales that show the surprising scope of Meyer’s imagination. Rosalie’s origin story as a vengeful undead bride was particularly brilliant.  Yes, Twilight does stretch the suspension of disbelief to the absolute maximum, but I couldn’t get enough of it. And neither, I’d wager, could you.

Twilight may not focus on the most stable relationship in literary history, but there is one important contribution it made that often goes overlooked. Perfectly catered to its audience, Twilight got thousands of young girls into reading in a serious way. Think of it as fiction’s version of a gateway drug, opening the doors to books of every type and genre. Even if you just read the endless procession of rip-offs (vampire this, blood that, you know the type) the educational benefits still stand. While the Twilight Saga may be the stuff of an embarrassing a pre-teen daydream, the witchcraft that is good writing transformed it into something greater than the sum of its parts. You may have long since burned the Team Jacob poster, but feel free to treasure the happy memories without shame.

(Image via Summit Entertainment.)

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