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April

How Twilight Got its Fangs into Us All

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For four years, I put up a good fight. I resisted the ever-growing Twilight phenomenon with a vengeance.  I ignored the nagging of girlfriends, the endless merchandising, the US Weekly covers, and the box-office breaking movie releases.

At first, I went the book snob route and complained that they were about as literary as a Sweet Valley High book, and I got bored of those by age 11.  Then I used the excuse that I was a die-hard Harry Potter fan, and I wouldn’t turn on JK Rowling.  Amidst ever growing pressure, I finally admitted that I’ve never been into vampires. But all my resolve crumbled with the purchase of an iPad and the kindle app.  Now I could purchase the books without them ever ending up on my bookshelf.  Curiousity and the fun of a new app wore me down, and to my own horror, I bought Twilight last week.

I thought I would read the first one, be able to say I read it, form my own opinion, and be done with it.  It didn’t quite go as planned. Though I’ve never tried heroin, I think it might feel something like reading the love story of Bella and Edward.  Holy shit, I was hooked. In one week, I read all four books in the series and watched two of the movies On Demand.  I don’t know what came over me.  Against all better judgement, I couldn’t put these books down.  I had to figure out why.  And what I realized was illuminating, to say the least.

At first, I blamed it on the fact that Twilight author, Stephanie Meyer, borrowed heavily from the greats: Austen, Bronte, and Shakespeare. I guess if you’re going to create a global phenomenom about mythical creatures falling in love in high school, and you need some guidance, go to the classics.  It’s as if she took classic romantic literature and attempted to distill all the romantic ingredients into one super-romance. How could I resist a literary hero with elements of Darcy, Rochester, Heathcliff and Romeo?  This, at least, felt like a good excuse for my gluttonous Twilight reading.  When I told someone that I was reading the first Twilight book and couldn’t put it down, I found myself justifying my behavior, saying, “Well, the initial attraction between Bella and Edward is so much like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy – the misunderstandings, the preconceived ideas – yeah, it’s totally like Pride and Prejudice.”  Then I realized I sounded like an asshole, so I shut up and kept reading.

What amazes me about Stephanie Meyer is how unabashed she is in telegraphing her influences.  There is no subtle hommage in a few scenes.  Meyers shuns subtlety the way most people shun a racist relative.  Her characters are actively reading and studying Romeo and Juliet in high school – only to see a storyline of star-crossed lovers who want to kill themselves when they mistakenly think the other is dead.  I didn’t know lifting this material was so easy (note to self). Then came Eclipse, leaning heavily on Wuthering Heights- the most selfish yet all-consuming of love stories.  No wonder this was my drug.  I wanted to think that the reason I was devouring this books so voraciously was because they were just like classic romantic literature, only with terrible writing, but if I’m honest with myself, that is actually only a small part of it.

Looking back at the four books, I actually didn’t care much about the epic vampire battles, good vampires, bad vampires, the Volturi, newborns, werewolves and the rest.  There was something different happening as I read them. And then it hit me. Reading these books made me feel 14 again. I had flashbacks of my all-consuming crush on a beautiful boy who barely knew my name. This was the boy that made me want to get up in the mornings and actually look forward to going to school.  A boy that when he borrowed my pencil and I noticed him chewing on it, I excitedly told my friends about this amazing pencil that had touched his lips and then put it in a scrapbook (that is a horrifyingly, embarrassingly true moment of high school). 

Bella is the surrogate every girl – a new girl, from an average family, who is klutzy, awkward, shy and bookish. She’s all of us, and every girl reading these books can relate to her.  We can believe for a moment that the most handsome and amazing guy in high school sees through all the high school hierarchy to see the beauty of us.  For a moment, I can wistfully think that guys like Edward existed in high school.  Edward is a well-read gentleman who doesn’t want to have sex until he’s married.  That’s more mythical than his being a vampire.  Don’t forget, Edward is really old. It’s like dating your grandpa, if you’re grandpa was unbelievably sexy and hot. He’s old-fashioned.  Can you imagine the appeal to a 17-year old virgin for a guy that doesn’t sext, will never make a booty call, or wouldn’t ever consider posting embarrassing things about you on his facebook page?  He doesn’t hook up. Hell, he can’t even grind on the dance floor.  The only dance moves he has are the Foxtrot and Viennese waltz.  I’m not saying every woman felt this romantic, teenage pull – but I think a lot did. From ages 15 to 50, the love story was the hook.  Classic literature is filled with star-crossed lovers kept apart by wealth, social status, or warring families.  Meyers just had them kept apart by the complications of the dead loving the undead.

I readily admit that I did not have the greatest high school experience.  I hated it so much that I don’t trust anyone that says they loved high school.  But in the midst of my day-to-day life – getting older, having real relationships, dealing with work and broken hearts and all the other things that come with being a grown up – it felt really good to feel young, naive and to remember a time where true love seemed like it could happen at age 17.  I live in LA, where anyone past the age of 25 is viewed as positively ancient.  I have to talk myself out of getting botox on a daily basis, so for a mere $12.99, I felt like a teenager again. And that, no matter how much guilt it caused, was totally worth it. 

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3 Responses to “How Twilight Got its Fangs into Us All”

  1. April 26, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Nailed it!! ;)

    (My obsession was concerning, to put it lightly! I was so invested in the characters that at the end of Jacob’s book in Breaking Dawn I literally threw the book down and couldn’t look at it for 3 days.)

    Thoughts on the films- they seem to be getting better as they go along (Twilight was TERRIBLE) but I am disappointed they decided to do Breaking Dawn in two parts.

    • Claudia Maittlen-Harris April 26, 2011 at 1:22 pm

      I couldn’t believe how into I got. I got all high school dreamy about Edward. Can there really be a team Jacob? I think not. As for the movies – I kind of enjoyed the indie style of the first one. New Moon was kind of long and ridiculous, but Eclipse got better. I’m just such a sucker for love with complications. I’m interested to see the Breaking Dawn saga.

  2. Megan Gray April 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Though I remain steadfastly unfanged, I’m very glad you got your teenage on. I think my recent equivalent would be the night I sat down with a large glass of white wine and watched Easy A all alone. I enjoyed the hell out of myself but I didn’t feel good about it.

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