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February 2013

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What I Think About Twilight

And the verdict is... surprisingly not terrible.



Admittedly my reaction might have been quite different had I not been thoroughly spoiled for all the cracktastic elements (let me just say, the Meadow Of Great Sparkle lived up to its reputation). If I hadn't already known about the sparkling and the baseball and the freesia, there would have been a great many yells of "WHAT??!" echoing across Sussex. As it was, I went into this with the intent of examining the text for two things: Firstly, why it's so popular with teenagers, and secondly, whether it justifies the (generally light-hearted and snarky) moral panic around it online and in print.

My conclusion is that one of the things that I think makes it popular with teenagers also negates some of the moral panic argument: Bella's agency. I was surprised at how much agency she has in the book.

... Okay, I'll just pause so that you can all get back on your chairs and pick your jaws off the floor.

Now, key to my argument is my view that YA books tend to predominantly sell to those a bit below the protagonists' ages -- tween and teens read books about characters older than themselves, but rarely younger (Harry Potter is a notable exception to this; I think this is a combination of the portrayal of the adult characters, who have almost as major a role in the books as the kids, and the rate at which the books came out). Bella is 17, which suggests to me that the target for this book is 14-16; my understanding from lolfandom online is that this is where the biggest segment of actual fandom is to be found (Twimoms aside, and that's a whole different story).

So, what's it like to be a 14-16 year old girl in today's world?

You can't drive. Unless you live in a large city, your public transport options are probably strictly limited. Bearing in mind the way that people are more spread out in general, you stand a good chance of not having any of your school friends within convenient visiting distance, without relying on the parental taxi service. Which is probably not at your beck and call, because both your parents work (if you have both parents), and anyway petrol prices are high. Your parents probably aren't too keen on you going off on your own or just with friends anyway, because of the dangers of predators, which you are told daily about on the news.

If you are in the reasonably affluent middle classes, you almost certainly have a number of activities scheduled into your week which are not necessarily of your own choosing (music lessons, sports activities, etc.). There's a lot of pressure on you to do well both academically and socially, while also being healthy (which means: thin), environmentally concerned, involved in your community, and sporty. You do not pick what you eat. Your parents pick what you eat. Your parents have control over you financially, and are not above reminding you of this fact ("As long as you're living in this house you will...").

In short, there is a metric buttload of pressure on you to perform well (and I think this is much, much greater on girls than on boys at the moment), and you have very little control over your schedule and geographical location.

Now look at Bella. The first time we meet her she's choosing -- choosing -- to go to Forks, where her dad lives, rather than stay at her mother's. And her parents viewed this as her decision to make. She has chosen where she will live, what sort of school she will go to, how she will relate to her parents.

I think it's deeply, deeply significant that Bella thinks of her parents by their first names, not as Mom and Dad.

First thing when she gets to Forks? She gets a car. Not just a little runabout, but a huge truck in which she could, if she wished, pack up all her worldly goods and take off. Her dad gives her the car, and then promptly clears off out of her life. She comes in and sets the schedule; what they will eat and when they will eat it. Charlie is not the master of the house; Bella is, and there is power in that.

(which makes it triply creepy when Edward breaks in without permission, but I digress)

Bella completely sets her own schedule. She doesn't even have set times at which she has to report back to her mom. If she wants to take a day out and go to the big city? She damn well will, and she doesn't ask her dad's permission, either (This is deliberately highlighted in the text, in fact). She manages to storm out and leap onto a cross-country plane with barely five minutes explanation to her dad. She never explains or justifies herself to a parent, and they don't seem to expect it. In fact, Renee and Charlie seem to have no expectations whatsoever of their daughter. They are benign and loving, and very much in the background.

At Bella's school, there are no Mean Girls (I think there's one semi-nasty comment in the entire book). There are no social cliques -- apart from the Cullens, who are not actually involved in the school socially at all (nobody tries to bully them; no one really insults them; we don't see anyone trying to suck up to them. They ignore everyone and are ignored in return).

There's a point where Bella says something along the lines of "I'm old enough to get my own place in Phoenix if I want to." At seventeen, with no qualifications, and two loving, living parents.

This, this is the wish-fulfillment for the 14-16 year crowd. Forget the magic sparkly boyfriend. It's the freedom, the ability to make your own choices while still having a safety net to fall back on, the lack of pressure. Being treated as an equal (everyone in the book takes Bella seriously - even when she's staring at the wall in a four-hour depression fit). Having this be so normal that neither of your parents even call attention to it.

When we adults, as post-feminists, bitch about Bella being a good little housewife and making dinner for her dad, we forget that many teenagers do not have the freedom to decide what they will eat. They would love to take the weekly budget and go out and do all the shopping, if they had total control of what they could buy. Controlling the household is a form of power, if an often downplayed one.

There are just so many things in this book that call out to the under sixteen crowd. Bella is inhumanly clumsy (which was actually played much better than I expected; most of the time it's for sly humour, apart from where it becomes a major plot point) -- young teenagers often are, because they don't know anymore what size they are; the brain hasn't caught up with the body. Bella is terrible at sports, but no-one picks on her because of this, or forces her into the gym to practice until she gets better. No-one tells her that she needs to think of the future and start planning how to get into a good college. No-one is interested in her grades (note that Bella gets good grades; at one point, she smacks down a teacher who implies that she just cribbed from Edward. She's also a reader, but not a geek).

Again, if you're of the age where you can remember when there were no expectations on girls because girls were just going to be wives and mothers, this is horrifying. But if you're a 1990s/2000s girl? This lack of pressure is a dream.

Throw in My Little Boyfriend on top of this, and I can see why this was a smash hit.

So, Edward. So very much not a real person, it becomes hilarious. He simply doesn't exist outside of the context of Bella. He is not from the same lineage as Lestat and Jean-Claude; his attractiveness does not lie in his experience or his sophistication. He is not, in fact, Vampire Guy. He's less experienced at being "human" than Bella (and most of the book is set in the human world; this means he's at a disadvantage), he's not as good with reading emotions, he doesn't really understand people, he's moody and unpredictable and snarly and a predator: He is, in fact, Werewolf Guy. He's the dangerous and instinctive predator who needs to be tamed, not the suave dangerous gentleman who is going to sweep you away and maybe ravish you.

(I am now actually kind of agog to read the second book, because I really want to know how Meyers handles actual werewolves)

In the most telling two chapters, Bella makes a deal with Edward whereby they promise to give each other a day of asking questions. Edward asks Bella about her favourite foods and her friends and the books she likes (he basically turns into a walking, talking embodiment of Hello Quizzy, which absolutely cracked me up); Bella asks Edward about being a vampire. Not about being Edward. It does not matter what Fantasy Boyfriend thinks about when he's not thinking about you, because he never is.

I think you could get some mileage out of viewing Edward as a Companion Animal. Psychically bonded, slavishly devoted, scary to others, and not a sexual threat.

Oh yeah. Let's talk about sex and Twilight.

Sex gets swapped out for vampirism; this is hardly an uncommon trope. But this is not the vampire hanging round the heroine trying to persuade her to give in, while she says no, no, no (but secretly wants it). Bella is practically screaming YES YES YES; it is Edward who constantly has to back off. I think this is a wonderfully coded version of female teenage sexuality. I am absolutely certain Meyers wasn't doing this deliberately (I think Meyers is pretty clearly writing straight from her id, which gives the books so much of both their crack and their charm), but it's actually kind of subversive. Bella is not acting as the gatekeeper of sex, the guardian of her sexuality; Edward is the one who is constantly saying no, we mustn't, stop. It's notable that the first two times they kiss, it's Bella who becomes the aggressor, despite telling herself that she has to stay still (that she must act as the gatekeeper).

Wouldn't it be nice if you could kiss a boy without reservation, and have him be the one to back off first? To let him take the responsibility of making sure things don't go too far? It's another form of wish fulfillment, one that I don't think many young teenager girls are even aware that they have. Powerful stuff.

On a complete digression, someone needs to write a paper about the use of topaz eyes in romantic fiction. It seems to be one of those powerful erotic images that only occur in fiction written by women for women. What is it with topaz/golden/yellow eyes? Is it the fact that they're wolf eyes, cat eyes? I desperately want to read a scholarly dissection of why yellow eyes, pointy ears, and wings hold such attraction to females. (and I wholeheartedly count myself in that number)

(and I'm now determined to give someone in my own YA novel golden eyes, and it will not be either of the male love interests)

So. Bella has personal freedom, no pressure on her, and a fantasy boyfriend on whom she can offload the burden of guarding sexuality. On top of this, the prose is pretty good (from a technical standpoint, this was better written than quite a few fat fantasy and SF books I've read recently), there's a leavening of snarky humour (another surprise: Bella is pretty darn sarcastic), and the whole thing bounces along at a good clip.

And the last line is sheer, complete genius, both from a story and a marketing point of view, and I am unabashedly in awe of it. It is a brilliant hook into the next book; when Twilight was first published -- before the sequel was out -- the last line practically demands that you immediately thrust the book into someone else's hands so that you have someone to discuss it with. (basically, the last line could be read as Bella getting vamped; if you were a young teenage girl, just imagine how desperately you would have wanted to speculate about What Happened Next with your friends. Think how eagerly you would have awaited the next book. As I say, sheer genius, and if you'd told me two days ago that I would ever write that about anything Twilight related I would have laughed in your face.

(second marketing genius -- giving different vamps different powers. Instant daydream fodder. "If I was a vampire my power would be...")



When I was a young teenager, I devoured Anne McCaffery ("If I was a dragonrider my dragon would be...") and Jean M Auel, both of which have subtexts that now completely horrify me. But the stories those books told were stories I needed to hear at that time. I turned out... okay, completely weird, but capable of normal function. We find what we need to find in the stories we read. The teenage girls today have different experiences to those of us who grew up in the 70s or 80s or even 90s; some of the stories they need are different to ours. I think Twilight is one of them.

And it's okay. The kids are going to be all right.

(The Twimoms, on the other hand... but that's a whole other essay)

Comments

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I think I agree with you on all of this. It seems to work well for the target market. (Though I really, really feel sorry for Robert Pattinson. Poor guy.)

For me, it was Mercedes Lackey's elf books. Though I still kind of like those. And I'm not sure I'd agree about the prose being good. But then, I haven't been reading fat sci-fi and fantasy books lately, either. Just Jim Butcher and starting Naomi Novik.

What scares me is the adult women in their 30s and 40s who take it way, way too seriously.
Both Jim Butcher and Naomi Novik are far better writers -- Meyers can't do either dialog or action sequences a quarter as well as either of them (in fact, she seems to have major problems with both -- what she does best, relatively speaking, is interior monologue. With which this book is _packed_). But the sentence-level stuff is decent, with a varied rhythm and nice pace. I went into it expecting leaden prose, so it was a pleasant surprise.
Oh, interesting! I tapdanced in this direction a week or so back, but couldn't bring myself to go all the way with it...glad to see someone giving it a more thorough think-through. Thanks for sharing it.
Ah, was it you who had the post about seeing a reasonably positive message in the movie, in terms of Bella's interactions with Edward? ("I am allowed to want this thing that you do not want me to have") *searches* Ah yes, it was. *g* Your post was what got me started down this chain of thought in the first place, and tipped me over into actually reading the book!
THANK YOU. YES. This is much of what I saw in the first book as well.

The rest of the series negates some of the things I loved about Bella in the first book--her grades aren't so great in a heavily-Edwarded world, for example--but overall? I think the first book, as first impression, stands for how the girls (The Girls?) are reading it. They see Bella as we were introduced to her. (I say they based on what I've observed of my stepdaughter and her friends and their feelings about the book.)

Ah, you are brilliant. Thank you for actually being able to articulate all this, unlike me...
It's interesting that your observations on Actual Teenage Girls matches up with my speculations here; I'm having to come from a strictly academic viewpoint. *g*

Out of curiosity, have the girls you know read the whole series? From what I've gathered online, there seems to have been a fairly large backlash against Breaking Dawn. If they read it, what did they think?

(I have some further theories about why Breaking Dawn might not have had the same sort of appeal as Twilight, you see)
Thank you! This is a nice surprise from all the moral panic about the books over the net. I was bored by the book (read bits of it at the bookstore) but couldn't see what the problem was, otherwise. There are some creepy parts, yes, but lots of books have them.

You've put your finger on why the book is so attractive. If I were 14 years old, I'd have definitely eaten it up.
At 14, I would totally have been daydreaming about being a Cullen. *g* Not sure I would have picked up on Fantasy Boyfriend, because I was pretty resolutely asexual for a long time; when I daydreamed I wrote myself into the male, hero roles, rather than thinking about romance. But this book has plenty for both the romantic and the presexual female teenager.

I am pretty sure it holds zero appeal for boys, though, because the forms of power and liberation it asserts directly contradict masculine narrative. The son does not get to daydream about having power over the father; the son must 'kill' the father (read: leave home, fight, whatever. Later reconciliation can only come after an initial catastrophic break). I don't think a boy would find it easy to identify with Bella's household and social domains of influence; they are specifically prohibited to males in our culture. Even gay males are not supposed to be domestic.

(contrast to something like Mercedes Lackey, who is writing for both the pre-sexual female _and_ the pre-sexual gay male)
Interesting review, but...

When we adults, as post-feminists, bitch about Bella being a good little housewife and making dinner for her dad, we forget that many teenagers do not have the freedom to decide what they will eat. They would love to take the weekly budget and go out and do all the shopping, if they had total control of what they could buy. Controlling the household is a form of power, if an often downplayed one.

Disagree; if it's so powerful, why have women & female children been running away from it in droves ever since they had the opportunity to do so? And why is it so hard to get men to do this at all?
She didn't say it was 'so powerful'--compared to being, say, the President of the free world it doesn't show up on radar. But having control of what you eat is a form of power--I remember quite clearly the first time I went out for breakfast as an undergrad, away from home and parents, and suddenly realizing that I could order my scrambled eggs exactly how I wanted them. It was a thrill, and I can see how that would appeal to a 14-year old.
That is kind of profound.
*g* I came to snark, and instead found myself deeply musing about the current teenage generation. Alas for the lack of lulz!
Excellent and very thoughtful. Thank you for your write-up!

(In particular I find the observation on the spatial constraints of teenage freedom personally useful. The social situation was very different where I grew up up to the age of 12, i.e. urban/sub-urban F, which in part must be a feature of decent public transport and kids going to schools within a walking distance. But the situation after I moved to a sub-urban hell-hole in B maps pretty accurately on what you wrote. Now, when was it again that I started mass-reading YA fantasy...)
Having spent my entire childhood in very affluent semi-rural areas with no form of public transport apart from the school bus, and nobody my age in walking distance, spatial constraints spring naturally to my mind.

Throughout my mid-to-late teens I used to have an anxiety dream about missing the bus to school; it took about four years after I got my driving license for it to go away. I had quite a few amusing abortive anxiety dreams where I'd watch the bus disappear, feel glum, and then suddenly realise that I could drive to school. And then realise (generally in the car) that if I could drive, I didn't need to go to school. And then I'd wake up. *g*

As a side-note, Bella doesn't seem to have a mobile phone or use the internet socially (she sends a few emails to her mother). I think Meyers has been lucky here, and had the wish-fulfillment aspects plug a hole in her personal experiences (I don't think Meyers is all that familiar with web/mobile usage patterns). If you can go anywhere you want physically and you can reach all your friends in person, you don't _need_ so much remote communication. So the lack of mobile/internet is less glaring than it could have been.

Books and candy

So you gobbled up Twilight like so many Reese's Elvis cups?

Re: Books and candy

*grin* Hint taken!
I'm here from buymeaclue pointing to you.

I've been going through my own feelings on Twilight - as a late-twenties woman who absolutely HATED Bella, and most of the books, as I furiously read through them, absorbed them, couldn't put them down...

I'm definitely not a 14-year old girl, but still, the same things attracted me that you point out. Maybe different. GOD, wouldn't it be SO MUCH easier if the love of my life just came in through the window uninvited? In real life, that's creepy and horrifying, but somehow Meyers makes it something to long for.

I have many other thoughts, but I can't seem to type them out coherently. But wanted to throw out the line in between the twi-teens and the twi-moms, and I'm sort of hoping that I don't fall in the creepy twi-moms category...
Bella seems to me to have an intriguing mixture of independence plus safety. She has nobody truly dependent on her, and she has a number of people who would always help her out no matter what. I think that mixture of safe independence _is_ highly attractive. The story is not realistic, but real life is not a comforting thing.

There are a number of other things in the book that I think specifically shout out to mothers rather than teenage daughters; the fact that Bella describes her mother as "her best friend", the fact that she _is_ a highly independent teen (her mother lets her go without worry, and despite the klutziness Bella, at least pre-Edward, _is_ competent on her own), the fact that her parents lead independent lives, the fact that she really _doesn't_ have anything to worry about other than Edward. Bella's concerns are not real life concerns, which can make for a pleasant fantasy.

I'd be interested in hearing your further thoughts, however incoherent. :-)
Another via buymeaclue.

I haven't actually managed to read the book. I really can't get past the writing style. However thanks to enough synopses and such (and my abortive attempts at reading it) I've got a handle on the themes.

I think you managed to crystalize for me what it is I really can't get into about these books--to wit, Edward is a nonentity. I'm not sure if it's my age (30) or that I've always been a bit odd and poorly socialized, but Bella is generally irrelevant to me--I can't really identify with her problems or her apparent inability to resolve them. What I do look for in a vampire story especially is a very dominant vampire (male in my case--I just don't really have any interest in female vampires, which probably says a lot about how much I've internalized the role of vampire as erotic symbol) and Edward is passive in a very strange way. He puts on a show of dominance behavior, but ultimately, as you say, he's the one who backs down. Arguably this is its own kind of power (if Edward decided to eat Bella after all, there isn't a damn thing she could do to stop him) but that he puts on this show of...passivity and chaste romance I find emasculating. Even if it were not the actual case I feel as though I can push him around.

I also have more generally issues with how invulnerable Meyers seems to have made her vampires. (Setting aside the sparkling. That's just flat idiotic.) Vampires in popular fiction, depending on how many of the genre tropes they're given, are already pretty damn potent. A character who is essentialy totally impervious to anything unless they actively want to destroy themselves ceases to be a character and becomes pretty boring. Dracula can fly, call animals, turn to mist, snap your neck like a twig--but that stake through the heart or decapitation is still intimidating. I also as a rule roll my eyes at the animal-blood copout. (At least in "Forever Knight", cheesy as that was, Nick Knight pays a price in power levels for drinking the diet version of his food source.) In addition to emasculating Edward as a male, she's also de-fanged him. In her world, vampires are pretty sparkly wonderful people who get to live forever and don't have to be evil at all if they really don't want to be. Now, if this means we avoid centuries of existential wangst a la Rice's The Vampire Chronicles, all right then, but it's still a question of "why even bother with vampires now?"
Yes - Twilight is simply not a vampire story. It's not part of the same genre, it's running off different assumptions, it's using different tropes; the whole thing adds up to a massive cognitive dissonance. It's like someone writing a book about animals who have wings and scales and run around barking, and decides to call them "cats".

If Meyers had called her creations, oh, "Feylings" rather than "vampires", I bet a great many people would have had no problem whatsoever with the book. However, I also think that it would have become bland and forgettable. By using the word "vampire", Meyers is tapping into a whole Jungian vortex of imagery, even when she's contradicting it. It gives her a free ride, in some ways.

The two great images of the vampire are sex and death (I have been reading a _lot_ of academic vampire studies recently, for writing reasons *g*); I think Meyers vampires do not embody death at all. From some of the sporking posts I've read on the series, I do think that a lot of more experienced readers haven't been able to get past that (Bella's desire to be a vampire is _not_ textually a death wish, I think; but if you are equating vampirism with death you get a horrific subtext). Conversely, many teenagers don't have that correlation of vampires=death in their heads. Add that for many teenagers death is simply irrelevant, and sex is the all-encompassing concern, Meyers vampires are more relevant and resonant.
This is the first meta I've read that discusses with something other than the not-so-subtle abusiveness of the Edward/Bella relationship. Very insightful points on why the books appeals so much to young girls. (A friend remarked that those idolizing the pairing probably have never been in a functional romantic relationship.)

My big problem with the series is Bella's blatant Mary Sue-ness and Edward's lack of personality. (Which I suppose is another reason why he's a dreamboat: you can project whatever you want in a man onto Edward.)
As I'm currently writing a YA vampire romance novel (albeit a comedic one), I have a vested interest in trying to work out what makes Twilight resonate with the teenagers. *g*

I think that if you like to read books in order to experience the lives of people who are real and different from yourself, Twilight holds very little appeal; it is not in any way a character study! But it does have a lot of blank areas that entice a reader to project themselves into the text.
Great evaluation! As a 18 year old girl I've struggled with my love/hate of twilight, and while Edward seemed like the character to fanatisize about, after reading this it seems bella is the one to ponder over. What appealed to me most was bella's snarky humor (which was sorely lacking in the movie) and losing myself in the daily routines of her life, sprinkled in of course with all the Mary-Sue wish fufillment. I think people like to focus on the ridiculous aspects of the book (which they are) and forget about the solid base. I've got to give smeyer credit for making people, if not the unexperienced teenager readers who think this book is the best thing eva!, think about the defintion of a good book.
Hey! Really pleased to hear from you -- I unfortunately don't know any teenagers in Real Life who read Meyers, so all my speculations are coming from second-hand evidence.

I enjoyed Bella's humour myself. From the accounts that I'd previously read online, I'd been expecting her to be completely serious and depressive. Does the humour keep going through the rest of the series? I've got the impression that the second book involves quite a bit more moping.

It's interesting to me that you mention liking the daily routines of Bella's life, because this is precisely the thing that many adult (snarky) readers complain about. The book doesn't have the sort of external plot driving events that we'd typically expect in a novel. Yet I found it quite refreshing that the day-to-day business of being a teenage girl -- talking with friends, pondering life and relationships, going out to have fun -- was given equal weight with the more "exciting" aspects like the vampires. I felt that Meyers wasn't dismissing female teenage behaviour as silly or irrelevant.

It reminds me of something one of my colleagues said to me a while ago: "My daughter is always wasting time on the telephone talking to her friends." It made me think, hang on, isn't practicing social relationships and learning how to constructively interact with a peer group one of the most important human skills there is? How is that 'wasting time'? Why is playing football _not_ 'wasting time'?
Here via cleolinda.

Very interesting essay! As a 24-year-old female, Twilight creeped me the hell out, but you managed to give it an interesting, well-thought-out read of it from the point of view of the target audience. I've never really thought about the amount of control Bella has over her life as anything but normal (again, once you hit college things like making your own dinner no longer seem very empowering) and you make very good points about the freedom from pressure (academic, social, and sexual). The thing that I'd like to point out is that Stephenie Meyer has repeatedly said she never wrote Twilight as a YA novel, and that brings me to my second point.

What creeps me out the most about Twilight (aside from the TwiMoms and the more insane of the TwiHards) is that it was written very obviously as the fantasy of a grown woman. On one hand, everyone's got a kink and no one should judge. On the other, it seems very sad to me that a grown woman's sexual fantasy is so... juvenile, so chaste, and yet so tinged with the old-fashioned "men know best" mindset.

Analyzing Twilight as an extension of Stephenie Meyer (and the later books as an extension of her cultural upbringing as a devout Mormon) creeps me out to no end. The idea that she thinks it's not only okay but desirable for a man to be controlling to the point where his family makes up the excuse of "she fell down the stairs and out a window" to explain injuries... Well, it sets off all the alarm bells as well as the "why do you think this is okay?!" bells at the writer. And given how obviously her novel wears her beliefs on its sleeve... From a serious standpoint, I can't help but raise an eyebrow and think to myself "Surely we have grown out of this phase."

Which, of course, brings the argument to the TwiMoms and the older (and arguably more insane) members of Twilight fandom. As a tween fantasy, Twilight has its appeal, but I am still stunned and left scratching my head at thinking why the OLDER crowd of fans find it appealing. Most of the reasons you've given for Bella' agency don't apply to the 25+ crowd; they make their own suppers and drive themselves around just fine.

You are right though, that the majority of fans aren't the TwiMoms, and that their loving of the book is understandable. I just... still stare at the TwiMoms and go "WHA?"

Wow, I just went off there, didn't I? Sorry!
Also here via cleolinda.

You've basically just summarized what confuses/creeps me out about Twilight, Meyer, and the older fanbase. As a 20-year-old college junior, I just don't understand why so many of my friends are obsessed with this book (even the ones in perfectly healthy relationships). I also think there were elements of Twilight that were creepy and disturbing in ways Meyer never intended them to be, such as James videotaping his attack on Bella (which can be read as a rape metaphor).

That said, this was a very interesting read. I think part of the reason Bella's independence didn't do anything for me is because I actually had a lot of personal freedom when I was 14-16. I made my own dinner; I didn't have a curfew; I was actually encouraged to spend time with friends; I chose which extracurricular activities I wanted start/stop; I chose when to do my homework/if I did it at all. My mom was still involved in my life, and there was still pressure to do well in school, but she never stood over me making me do my homework, and she never forced me to go on a diet or work out or play sports or anything. A lot of times I wished I had less independence (it would be so nice to have someone else make my dinner for a change).

What bothered me in Twilight about Bella's parents were how uninvolved they were in her life. Bella claims her mother is her "best friend", but we see virtually no evidence of this. Charlie is entirely devoid of personality beyond his love of fishing. I guess as someone who doesn't need this sort of wish-fulfillment, I just can't understand why this kind of parent-child relationship is appealing to either the target audience or the TwiMoms.
Here via cleolinda's blog.

This was very interesting, though it should be noted that not all teenage girls feel that way about Bella. A lot of the ones I talk to in communities hate her and see her as a gigantic blow to the feminist movement.

I'm of the mind that Bella is a codependent. I'd go into detail, but I plan on writing my own essay one day, once I can finish the book my therapist lent me.

Edited at 2008-12-11 05:11 am (UTC)
Oh, please send me a link when you write that essay! I'd be fascinated to read it.

I'm not surprised that many teenage girls loathe Bella; there really is a lot to get enraged about from a feminist viewpoint. But one of the marvellous things about Twilight is the fact that you can read it in so many different ways. Hooray for writing straight from the id! :-)
Also here via cleolinda. Thank you for a very interesting alternate take. I've known for a while that these books are like candy for teens, but it's nice to think that they may not be totally bad for you. *wry*

And I agree that much of the appeal comes from the author simply sticking a faucet in her id and opening the spigot wide, letting the wish-fulfillment flow pure and earnest and practically unedited.
Hey, I read Laurell K Hamilton's Merry Gentry series. I _love_ watching an author's unadulterated id.

(apart from Heinlein's. That's one id I can do without)
i'm just gonna preface this with i have a tendency to be incoherent, my grammar is horrible and i ramble incessantly:
honestly, i think the whole twimom thing is a kind of wish fulfillment. these women have been put in the "mom" role so long that they just want to be women again. and what better way than as a 17 year old who is apparently desired by almost every available male she comes in contact with, who has no real responsibilities, who is the object of someone's obsessive devotion? these are all escapist fantasies for women who must, everyday, deal with everyone's problems while trying to make sure that everything runs smoothly. my mother (who's 47, and twice divorced) has read the first 3 books. she's no twimom but she's as close as i've got around here. when i asked her why she like the books she flat out told me "after a day taking care of kids at the hospital (she's a nurse at a children's hospital) and coming home and taking care of your sisters (ages 7, 14, 17, i'm 27 and out of the house) i want nothing more than to think of how my teenage years could have been different and where i would be now if this had happened to me. not that i in anyway regret my decisions, but it's like a short man wishing he were taller, in some ways better, in someways worse, but ultimately out of the wisher's control. it's just fun to think about."
i know, being just this side of 30, i look back on my teenage years and wish i had the ease with them that bella did and i kind of resent her for it. i was one of those girls that was so painfully shy and geeky i never even had a date until i was 20, and i really wish i had had someone to rely on and confide in that i was romantically involved in, but i also believe that i came out more well adjusted with more realistic romantic expectations than some of my peers who dated more prolifically did.
those are just my thoughts, make of them what you will, assuming you can pick them out of that jumble
I think you're right about the appeal to the Twimoms (or Twimums, in British parlance *g*). Thanks for sharing your mother's opinion! It's very interesting to hear first-hand accounts, as it were -- too much of my knowledge of Twilight comes from lolfandom rather than real fans, which colours my perception.
Hello! Here via cleolinda and just wanted to say that you've written a most interesting analysis of the text. One of the most interesting that I've ever read. Thanks!

I can imagine myself as a teenager enjoying the books, but I've never gotten into books with female protagonists. Almost all of the books I devoured as a teenager and absolutely loved had male protagonists and were written by male authors. For some reason, I connect with the content of those stories far more than when a female protagonist is presented. I sometimes feel, even in the stories I loved (like Stephen King's Gerald's Game), that I'm not emotionally connecting with the main character. It's not that I relate to the male characters better, it's just that a female character, when their desires and feelings are expressed to the reader explicitly, I don't connect. I find myself connecting more to the world concept (like Frank Herbert's Dune) or the situational problem (like Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land or William Gibson's Neuromancer) and imagining myself in that world, over becoming the characters in the world.
It's not uncommon, I think, for teenage girls to connect better with male protagonists -- I did as well, to a degree (e.g. in Anne McCaffery's books, I _liked_ Lessa, but I wanted to _be_ F'lar). I wonder if there's an element of wanting to read about someone else's problems instead of your own? If you're wrestling with growing up female, sometimes the last thing you want to do is read about women with similar sorts of problems (by this I'm generally meaning social interaction issues, which our society treats as a pretty much female domain).

I was also all about the worlds rather than the characters when I was growing up. I was having self-insert Mary Sue daydreams decades before I learned of the term... *g*
Also here via Cleo and this was a very interesting read. It's been a long time since I was 14 and apparently my experience was different in some very important ways from some of the things you describe (small town we walked everywhere so no geographic constraints, had to cook one meal a week for the family by 15 and had to do all my own laundry, etc.) So while I can't identify with many of the things you said it's certainly thought-provoking.

Thank you.
Small-town life is a foreign place to me (semi-rural Brit here). I read books set in American small towns with the same curiosity and amazement that I read books set in the Amazon rainforest. :-)
I like your ideas about the book. Very interesting and thought-provoking

I never thought about the topaz eyes thing. I had an ex who was obsessed with golden eyes. She loved the few times light caught my brown eyes in a way to make them look almost like that. I never heard any other women liking topaz eyes though, and I assumed it was mainly from her love of certain animes.

Also, as a doctor who sees some children, believe me, many kids have alot of control over what they eat (or don't eat). The parents often are too afraid to even try to change their childrens' eating habits. That can be frustrating when its a core element to getting them healthy.
Topaz eyes are weirdly common in romance, especially paranormal fantasy. It's hard to see from front covers (which tend to cut off the depicted character's head, for interesting marketing reasons), but they're often there in the text.

I hear you on the picky children controlling their parents! But I do think that's a more recent development (at least for it to be socially widespread); teens who are 14-17 now might not have typically come from such a background. But I'm an engineer, not a doctor, so my impression may be totally off-base. :-)
Thanks! As I said, I suspect I would have been massively more horrified by the stalker bits if I hadn't already been spoiled for them.

Personally, I love reading literary deconstructions of silly fantasy fiction... I believe that there is nothing so stupid that it can't be taken seriously, at some level. :-)
I don't know. I don't think Bella's amount of agency and freedom is unusual for a protagonist in a kids/teens book. I can think of at least one famous character who has far more: Nancy Drew. If the appeal is being taken seriously and having the freedom to do what you want, while still having a safety net, you'd think the same crowd would be all over that series. Or any number of other kids adventure or fantasy books in which the protagonist is taken seriously and has great freedom.

Now the matter of the boyfriend who not only doesn't pressure her for sex/vamping but resists her advances... That might well be the main draw. Not only is he "perfect," he won't take advantage of her. He seems to combine the appeal of the bad boy (with just a hint of danger and all that) with the safety of the, for lack of a better term, good boy.

But I'm not a 14-16 year old teen girl and probably the best way to find out the actual appeal would be to ask a number of teen fans. No doubt they could tell us what the real appeal to them is.
I don't know how typical it is for a _domestic_ novel (and Twilight is _very_ domestic) to have a protagonist with this sort of agency; I haven't read much Nancy Drew, but my impression is that it's more of an "adventure" sort of story than being about Nancy's day to day activities at home. I could be totally off-base, it's been ages since I read any.

I'd love to be able to talk in person to real teen fans about this sort of thing. Maybe I should suggest a panel for it at the next Wiscon! (though I'm unlikely to be able to go next year myself)
Here via qotcpcf; I haven't read the series, but I still found your review very interesting. And the way you describe it, that kind of agency is certainly the kind of thing I would have dreamed about when I was a teenager-- although now that I'm out on my own, I miss the days when I didn't have to worry about rent and car repairs and such.
I'm right there with you -- sometimes I have to pause and reflect on just how _different_ my concerns were 10-15 years ago.
Linked here from a friend's journal and this is a really interesting take on the books I never considered. Thanks.
i am totally agree with you






- spens
I have just about the same reaction. and I'm just about to read the 2nd book! Your points about agency are so good!
I'd be interested to hear your take on New Moon - I just finished it myself.
Very good points. I definitely liked books as a teenager where the female lead had way more agency than I did. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle comes to mind, as do the Animorphs. The ability to just... go to the grocery store on my own? Huge. Involved a 20 minute walk, both ways. Didn't have a car. Wasn't taken seriously by adults.

Wouldn't it be nice if you could kiss a boy without reservation, and have him be the one to back off first? To let him take the responsibility of making sure things don't go too far?

Absolutely. Teenage girls are taught over and over again that boys can't control themselves sexually as well as girls can.
Bull fucking shit, IMHO. Boys just aren't asked to.
This is remarkably unempowering - girls taught that they're always going to be physically weaker, that their passions will always be less. Yeah.

Bella's quest to become a vampire could be understood as a teenage girl who really, honestly, doesn't like being one. She acts like one, no doubt, but I think there's a deeper sense of self-loathing. She wants to be the one who has to restrain her strength, who has the overwhelming passion. She wants to be free of her frailty, her much overplayed physical awkwardness. It's not just her love for Edward that makes her want to give up her humanity. It's her awkward, impotent life as a teenage girl in suburban/rural America. She has more agency than most, but not as much as she wants.
Bella's quest to become a vampire could be understood as a teenage girl who really, honestly, doesn't like being one. She acts like one, no doubt, but I think there's a deeper sense of self-loathing. She wants to be the one who has to restrain her strength, who has the overwhelming passion. She wants to be free of her frailty, her much overplayed physical awkwardness. It's not just her love for Edward that makes her want to give up her humanity. It's her awkward, impotent life as a teenage girl in suburban/rural America. She has more agency than most, but not as much as she wants.

This. I found this writ surprisingly large in the movie, in her behavior, speech and voiceover. I think the notion of Edward having little to no personality is necessary here, because it's not who he is that Bella wants so bad, it's what he is or what he has, i.e. beauty/grace/power. I guess Freud would call it "sparkle envy"?

Here via metaquotes. I've only read the first third or so of Twilight, and I feel like I should finish now that I've read this analysis plus the Mormon-parallel analysis plus the neverending discussions of Edward's psycho-stalker/abuser tendencies, so I can condense my own impressions of it.
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