Based on a vast amount of research (which consists mainly of mentally cataloging the Facebook and Twitter updates of my friends), I’ve determined that there is a definite line in the sand when it comes to readers (especially readers of YA and fantasy books):
“Do you like Twilight?”
Those on one side of the line view those on the other with disdain and derision. The other side of the line is jaded, cynical, pretentious, snobby.
Or the other side is immature, pedestrian, unsophisticated, Philistine.
I promise this is not a cop-out, but I fall pretty solidly on the line. I kind of love Twilight while kind of hating it. And here’s why.
What is Twilight?
For those of you who have been living under a rock, Twilight is an enormously popular YA series by Stephenie Meyer. There are four books in the series: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn.
It has also spawned an even more enormously successful move franchise starring KPattz (yes, I did just refer to them as KPattz. Whatcha gonna do about it?).
I’m going to talk about the series as a whole, because I highly doubt I’ll ever feel motivated to review each book on its own. Besides, odds are if you’re going to read one, you’re going to read them all. Obviously, spoilers ahead.
Here’s the Cliff’s Notes summary of Twilight: It is the story of a teenage girl named Bella Swan. Bella meets a mysterious boy at school named Edward Cullen. Edward acts really weird around Bella — kind of like he can’t stand to be anywhere near her — which turns out to be because he is a vampire, she smells unspeakably delicious, and therefore he can’t stand to be anywhere near her.
Before too long, she gets him to spill the beans about his vampire-ness, and they fall in love despite her mouth-watering aroma.
Bella also gets chummy with Edward’s vampire “family,” some of whom have special powers.
Oh, and Edward is also telepathic.
Edward and Bella have a tumultuous courtship, made even more complicated by the fact that Bella’s good friend Jacob is also in love with Bella.
Oh, and Jacob is a werewolf. Werewolves hate vampires. And vice versa.
[Aside: Although Twilight has an irrefutable love triangle, am I the only one who never understood the Team Edward, Team Jacob nonsense? Wasn’t it 100% obvious and inevitable that Bella never even remotely considered choosing Jacob over Edward? Didn’t New Moon make that abundantly clear?]
Assorted and increasingly threatening scenarios play out as Edward and Jacob battle (mostly figuratively, sometimes literally) for Bella’s heart. Friendships are tested. Villains rise and fall.
It’s all very exciting, and they all live [er…more or less] happily ever after.
Why I Love Twilight
I’ll admit it. Twilight is a highly addictive series. I devoured all four books in as many days. I was completely swept up in it. I keep trying to put my finger on exactly what swept me up, and here’s the best way I can explain it.
Twilight is kind of like a Twinkie. On the one hand, there’s not a lot of substance to it, there’s no real benefits to consuming it, you really shouldn’t think too hard about what’s in it, and most people are kind of embarrassed to admit they like it. And yet, it’s inexplicably delicious. And after consuming one, you kind of feel like the damage has been done, so you may as well go ahead and have another.
I really enjoyed Twilight, and I have a hard time explaining why. It is inexplicably delicious. It keeps me coming back for more. And there is something in me — the intangible, subconscious, reflexive part — that can’t be shaken from this stance, no matter what the logical, intellectual part of me thinks. Which brings me to…..
Why I Hate Twilight
First of all, none of the main characters in Twilight are all that sympathetic. Bella is the worst — she’s co-dependent, self-destructive, whiny, self-loathing, clingy, selfish, and irresponsible. Considering that the books are all written from her perspective (with the brief exception of a few chapters in Breaking Dawn), this can be more than a little frustrating.
Edward and Jacob are slightly more tolerable, but I honestly couldn’t figure out what exactly Bella saw in Edward (other than his breathtaking beauty – more on that later). He seemed kind of stiff and dull, not to mention overbearing. And Jacob, while definitely more fun, still had moments where he was a weird blend of macho and emo, neither of which are qualities I find all that attractive.
All the supporting characters – the Cullens, Bella’s friends at school, Bella’s father – are much more likable. Or at least more entertaining.
Secondly, the writing is abysmal. I’m speaking solely in a technical sense right now, as obviously there’s something about the writing that is also amazing, since it’s kept millions of people riveted through four long-ish books. But technically, it’s appalling. The most glaring fault is Ms. Meyer’s tendency to use the same descriptors over…and over….and over.
I found myself physically throttling the book every time I read (again) that Edward’s skin “sparkled like diamonds.”
Speaking of which, Bella’s constant need to describe every facet of Edward’s gorgeousness got really old, really fast. We get it. He’s pretty. He’s super-pretty. Now let’s move on please. Surely there’s another reason you’re hopelessly in love with him beyond the fact that he’s pretty. Yes? No?
Lastly (and I realize this is probably not a turn-off for most of the reading audience), Twilight vampires are just too…nice. They don’t burst into flame in the sun — nope, they just get even prettier with their sparkly skin. They can even stroll around outside, perfectly unharmed and unsparkly, on a cloudy day! (Although I have to say, I think sparkly vampires are marginally better than vampires who avoid bursting into flame by wearing copious amounts of sunblock).
Once you let vampires go play in the sunlight, it kind of ruins a lot of what makes them spooky. They don’t have to hide out in underground crypts. No, they can live in fabulous mountaintop mansions. They can hold jobs, go to school, fall in love, get married. They don’t have to hunt at night. They might do it anyway because it is easier, but it’s not imperative.
And unless you think colored contacts are frightening, they don’t even look scary. Nope. They look like this [Disclaimer: I realize I’m referring to the film and not the actual book. But this is pretty much how they’re described in the actual book, so I think it’s valid]:
She’s one of the scariest ones!
Which is not as scary as this:
Ah, Spike. You’ll always be my favorite.
or even this:
Their posh-ness and refinement made them creepy. Plus, their activities and amusements were WAY more freaky than even the baddest baddies in Twilight.
I honestly don’t know if I can recommend Twilight to you. Can you overlook some writing faux pas, a good amount of cheese, and an infuriating main character, as long as the story’s entertaining? Are you a hopeless romantic? Do you like your monsters a little soft around the edges? Then you’d probably like (or even love) Twilight. [Full disclosure: If I had to answer the above questions about myself, my answers would be maybe, mostly, and no. And I still liked it.]
Do you consider yourself a literature snob? Does it frustrate you beyond words when an author uses the same adjective to describe the same thing multiple times? Do you tend to turn your nose up at things that would appeal to 14-year-old girls across the globe? Then Twilight is most likely not for you.
I apologize that I just wrote a fairly long review, only to come down on the side of “I can’t pick a side.” But that’s pretty much where I stand. Some days, I love Twilight. It makes me happy and giddy inside. Other days, I hate it. It drives me nuts. It makes me want to throw things (and mail Stephenie Meyer a thesaurus). But overall, I think I love it more than I hate it.
Ms. Meyer may not be a great writer (at least not in her first venture), but she is a great storyteller. She got me to care about characters I didn’t even like. She kept my attention through an entire book dedicated to moping. And she even managed to make me not too upset when I was promised an epic battle and was instead given an epic staring contest. I honestly can’t think of another author who got me so heavily invested in her storytelling that I could overlook all my (many) problems with the writing, the characters, and the essence of the story itself.
It’s kind of perplexing.
Content guide: contains some violence, mild sexual content, some dark themes concerning suicide and mortality, and some vampires who actually DO kill people.
I liked the books (you can hate me now). But when I was trying to figure out WHY I liked these books so much I decided it was because Stephenie Meyer did a good job of capturing how it feels to fall in love, and making her readers feel that way. I think that was what got me hooked on the books, and after that I guess I just didn’t care if the characters were strange, or jerks, or …whatever….I was in love too! 🙂
Hey, I can’t hate you for that – I liked them too! And that is a valid argument, although if that’s the reason, I’d have to qualify it by saying that I definitely wasn’t in love with Edward. Or Bella. Or Jacob. If I was in love with anything, it was with the feeling of falling in love itself. Because you’re right, she does do a good job of describing the tummy flutters that go along with the initial stages of falling in love (or high school infatuation, which is also fun).
My biggest beef with Twilight has always been Meyer’s editors. If she had a decent editor, the readers could have been spared all those redundant descriptions of Edward’s statuesque features and honey-colored eyes and the ridiculously lame metaphors, “They were traitor tears betraying me” (or something to that effect). The editors should have caught the gaping plot holes and helped Meyers rework them. Surely there’s a better way for Bella to find out she’s dating a vampire than through a google search. Oh, and the stare down at the end? So stupid. We need a real battle! Yes, Meyer’s should be credited with all of the writing errors and plot holes and such, but she does have a compelling story. A good editor would have sent her back to the drawing board and would have helped her frame this story better. I don’t know if this was a failing in the YA editor/publishing world or if the editors had already weeded out as much as they possibly could (can you imagine?). Maybe the publishing world wanted to push the books out as fast as possible, not leaving time for proper editing. I don’t know.
Meyers definitely has weaknesses, but she has some tricks up her sleeve that carried her all the way to the bank. Her ace in the hole? The cliff hanger. She hooks you into reading the next chapter – even if you are ready to throw the book against the wall. You can’t help it. You have to find out what happens next. Twinkie-like indeed.
AMEN. I find I have this problem often with YA lit. Are YA editors just sub-par, or are they just trying to push a product out quickly to an impatient audience (but why would the audience have been impatient pre-Twilight? I’m pretty sure Twilight started the teen vampire romance frenzy, since I doubt most of the target Twilight audience watched Buffy. And considering Meyer was a complete unknown pre-Twilight, I’m failing to see the hurry to get her published), or do they just have a low opinion of the reading skills of that audience?
Sometimes I wish I was an editor.
And then I consider the scenario you propose of “it was just so bad, they already did all they could” and change my mind. Plus I am completely unqualified and have no connections in the YA publishing world, so it’s easier to say I wouldn’t really want that job than to admit that I couldn’t get it even if I did 🙂
Sometimes I think I should try to start free lance editing to get into the publishing business, and then I remember how much I hated grading papers. I can only imagine a novel being something like that. It would be fun to help an author I liked, but I can’t imagine having to weed through a poorly written novel or a novel I hated reading. Still, I think someone should have read through Twilight and said, “Stephenie, this would be a good 150 pages shorter if you stopped describing and started telling.”
Okay, will you please be my new best friend? I agree with you 100 percent. Hell, I even had a whole page on blog talking about the category I made up of Twinkies books! Wow! I also like Twilight but hate it too. I enjoy it but feel bad for enjoying it. I think its because its pure teenage girl wish fulfillment and deep down we always want to be the special girl the guys want.
Wow. I totally thought I made up the Twinkie thing all by myself. I felt so original and clever. My mind is a little bit blown right now. I need a moment.
This is what I say to people when I talk to Twilight…I love the books but I wouldn’t consider them to be really well written. I actually did not read The Host because of the fact that as much as I loved the Twilight series I wasn’t in love with Meyer’s writing. Which really doesn’t make sense does it.
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That’s actually one of the reasons I reviewed The Host separately. I find it a vast improvement from Twilight.