Seeing the Twilight novels in the horror section of the used bookstore two days ago nearly drove me to leave without buying anything. Judging by the horror shelf in the used DVD section of Twist & Shout, the idea that the Twilight series ought to be considered horror because it is about vampires is a fairly pervasive one. I don’t even think Stephenie Meyer would agree that her novels are horror–not that her opinion matters a great deal.
Those books are not horror, nor do they even belong on the same shelf with horror writers, whom I consider to be participants in the bravest genre there is. Meyer uses vampires as a tool, a device, to gain interest and make these soap-opera problems seem otherworldly and fascinating. In horror, vampirism is horrible. Vampires are sad, lonely, bitter, resentful, monstrous, damned things. They don’t sparkle and they don’t love. They obsess. (Although obsession does sort of lean back into Meyer’s territory.) Meyer exploited a legend, and not courageously–she has no place in horror.
I have vociferously, often gleefully denounced Twilight as trash. I have nodded agreement to every argument that explains in meticulous, logical, thoughtful detail why the series ought to be relegated to obscurity for good, including call-outs against weak heroines and imbalance of power in relationships; I’ve added my own dissent to the flood of voices, one that thinks the tradition and canon of legends still count for something. I nearly blocked someone I knew for making the baseless, eyeroll-inducing claim that Stephenie Meyer was a better writer than Stephen King.
But behind these vocal opinions is not just someone who takes her ideas from a blogosphere that seems utterly reviled by Twilight; behind these opinions is someone who has actually taken in the texts–and who has been taken in. Indeed, I loathe the Twilight series with only the fire reserved exclusively for those who were fooled and who later came into the light. God, I hate to say this, but I liked Twilight before it was cool.
When I bought the first copy of Twilight I was a college student with a part-time job as a swim teacher who rarely bought books because she simply couldn’t afford them. It was a good thing the paperback was out, because I was really only mildly interested; I spent a great deal of time in the YA section, both looking for new things to read and fantasizing about that place on the shelf where, someday, my own titles might reside. It was the cover that first caught my eye–the design is attractive, glossy, a black background, ethereal white hands holding a bright red apple, not without biblical connotations that were not by any means accidental. It turns out that whole vampirism thing is an elaborate but unexciting, depth-lacking metaphor for abstinence, and our clumsy, fumbling, average-suburban-girl Bella represents, for her vampire boyfriend, the ultimate in temptation.
Looking back, I can see why this first novel and the series as a whole, for all its shortcomings, essentially did everything it was supposed to do. I devoured that first novel. I passed it to friends. When the second came out in hardback, I bought it almost immediately, cost be damned. I inhaled that one just as quickly. I wonder if that is how the fact of its weaknesses escaped me: I didn’t give myself enough time to even think about things like literary quality, or good writing, or lack of both. I get a small sense of consolation, mixed with what I could only describe as self-loathing, by the fact that “at least I was on Team Jacob.” Yeah, okay, so even then I wasn’t in support of what was obviously a controlling relationship, but come on–overlooking the mountain of wish-fulfillment issues spewing in prodigious volumes from an obsessed, repressed middle-aged woman with a dangerously inflated ego seriously undercuts whatever shred of credibility I may have had left.
It gets better: by third-book-time, I was at the signing.
I had gotten both my best friend and her little sister hooked as well, something for which I will never forgive myself, jokes aside. My friend couldn’t come to the signing with me, but I thought it’d be a nice thing to take her sister along. We went, waiting in line with a throng of people.
This event was the beginning of the end for my Twilight fandom. I suppose I should be grateful, but I’m really not. The whole thing upsets me. Not the crowd, because even the fangirls (and boys) were civil, not mobby in the slightest. No, what upset me was, unequivocally, Stephenie Meyer herself. After her reading and speech, she gave a Q & A session, in which not a single question was given a decent answer, and then moved on to the line of people waiting to have their copies signed. In front of Madi and I was a woman with first editions of each book who had hand-written a letter to Meyer detailing how important the books had been to her and how much she admired Meyer as a writer (a bit short-sighted for a bookstore clerk, but I gave her points for adorableness). By the time we got to the front, Meyer was clearly tired or something, because she set the girl’s letter aside with nary a syllable of thanks or appreciation or, God forbid, humility.
She was robotic: sign, next. Sign, next. I got my books signed–and even got through half of the newest volume at that time, Eclipse, before I lost steam. It was as if seeing Meyer for the egotistical brat that she was made me see Twilight for what it is: an exercise in high school fantasy, a stealing into the vulnerable hearts of young, clumsy, awkward, sometimes thoughtless and weak girls who secretly wish to be considered a man’s temptation. I won’t lie; I’ve wanted that.
Last summer I sold my signed copies of Twilight and made a good few bucks off of them, which is, quite frankly, more than they deserved. If I didn’t need the money at the time I’d gladly have used Meyer’s signatures to lay around my catbox to protect the floor from piss.
It’s not that, looking back, I can’t see what I found appealing about the Twilight series. So many young girls, particularly ones with low self-esteem (isn’t that most/all?) want to believe that in a society that so greatly undervalues them, someone will see them for their beautiful natures. We fangirls wanted to believe that Edward loved Bella because he saw who she really was. But it doesn’t work, and and that’s because we’re the ones who see Bella for the weak, obsessive waif with no priorities and no self-esteem that she actually is.
But these are all arguments that have been made and made again. I don’t need to reiterate them. I guess what I’m wondering is why it’s taking us, as a culture, so long to move on from what is essentially a blemish on the face of the written word. It took me longer than I like to realize this. What is holding up the never-aged-out-of-high-school-fantasies faction from doing the same?
I guess this doesn’t sound very contrite.
What People Are Saying