Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Conversation about "Twilight"

Impressed by the overwhelming success of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, my critique group (led by Deborah Da Costa) decided to shift into book group mode this month. We are discussing the YA vampire series and what makes it such a hit with teens (and adults). I’ll miss the meeting, but I visited my writing buddy and fellow critique group-member Cyndee Kalodner and we talked about the book. Cyndee happens to be Professor of Psychology at Towson University, and a fabulous MG/YA author. Cyndee, I haven’t read a page-turner like this in a long time. I couldn’t put the book down. What about you? CK: Here is a story about that… I was reading the book on the couch in the living room, and Elena (my 12 year old daughter) asked, “Didn’t you say you were going to the gym… like 10 minutes ago?” Which was exactly what happened. I read and read and read…but I did go to the gym. In musing about why the book is so popular with ‘tween and teen girls, I thought back to my own early love-interests. Teenage boys vacillate. First, they flirt with a girl. The girl flirts back. But if she starts acting too interested, the boy becomes standoffish, even cruel. (I’m not naming names, people, but he was a sophomore and I was a freshman. If a guy played with your earring at a Halloween party, what would you think?) A girl with little romantic experience is left wondering, “What’s with that guy? I thought he liked me. He acted like he liked me. What did I do wrong?”
Stephanie Meyer offers girls a simple answer: He is a VAMPIRE. Really, he wants to like you. He’s totally attracted to you. He’s just worried that he’ll be so overwhelmed by his feelings for you that he’d do you harm. Sigh. I’m swept away by Edward’s shades of Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff. So, what do you think of my theory? CK: Here is what I think. Bella is new so she attracts attention from lots of the guys, but the one she wants is the one she can’t have. I can relate to that. It’s like Edward was too perfect and he wouldn’t be interested in her. The part where he moves away from her in science class is the beginning of knowing that there is something unusual about him (compared to how the other guys treat her). But isn’t that perpetuating an unhealthy fantasy? “That beautiful, unavailable guy really does want me. He’s just acting aloof because he’s undead.” CK: Which also reminds me of a story about a very attractive guy who was standoffish. He was a friend of a guy I dated. Turned out he was painfully shy (not a vampire) and he didn’t approach girls because he really couldn’t. People thought he was a snob. He wasn’t. That’s interesting. If he hadn’t been good looking, I bet people would have assumed he was shy. More of our conversation about Twilight later.


Anonymous said...

I gave some thought to this, too, because my 13-year-old was totally into the books. She read all of them, and so did I. So did her friends who weren't even readers. It was kind of amazing to see one of her friends who doesn't read taking a book around with her everywhere. What's the appeal? I think a big part is that the main character is a kind of ordinary-seeming girl who just has to be herself for this extraordinary guy to devote his life to her. Any girl can imagine herself in that position because she doesn't have to be cool or always look good. I think readers like how the characters bond for eternity -- when they say "forever," they really mean it. Also, Meyer is very good at creating a world and all its rules. The vampire-werewolf issues are very original (or if they aren't, they are new to the general public). There's my two cents!

Author Amok said...

Thanks for the comment. I like your point about Bella being herself -- she doesn't have to go to extraordinary means or play up certain parts of her personality to appeal to Edward.

Wow -- amazing that kids who don't normally read for fun are absorbed by the book. It's definitely in the air. My 11-year-old son knows about the series just because it's being talked about (and probably carried about) at his school.

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm a dissenting view. Although I understand how girls might be comforted by the fact that Bella can't figure out Edward, much like they can't figure out the boys in their lives, I don't think it's extraordinary that Bella doesn't have to play up her personality to appeal to Edward. She has no personality! She becomes completely obsessed with Edward and shows no interests other than her overwhelming desire to be with him. She's supposed to be an intelligent 17-year-old, but there's never one mention of her having any aspirations about college or anything else after high school. Also, as far as I can tell, the only reason she appeals to Edward is that she smells like something he wants to eat.

Even more disturbing, Bella's unwavering devotion is toward a boy/vampire who is not even nice to her. He is completely condescending, even after they're together. He constantly tells her what she should do, and it seems like every thing he says to her includes a condescending chuckle. It's not romantic for a boy to sneak into a girl's bedroom at night to spy on her. That's creepy stalker behavior (not to mention illegal).

I only read the first book of the series and definitely won't waste my time with the others. I am appalled by the number of tweens and young teens who are viewing this male-dominated, emotionally abusive relationship as some kind of romantic ideal.

Author Amok said...

Oh, you'll have to read the second post about Twilight. Cyndee and I talked about some of these issues. I agree with you about Edward being condescending, the stalker aspect of his personality. We're told how bright and independent Bella is, but she is completely absorbed by this relationship. It bothered me, too, that any of her aspirations are forgotten, that she doesn't talk about any of her friends from her life in Phoenix.

I've been delaying reading the second book. The first one was entertaining -- a beach read -- but I have a hard time with the messages it might send to girls.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this conversation is too old for me to comment, but I just found it today and loved reading what everyone had to say.

I must admit that I was one of the obsessed readers of the Twilight series. I read all four books in a few weeks and was lucky enough that I didn't get hooked until after the fourth book came out in stores. I have always wanted to write for young adults, but it wasn't until I read this series that I sat down at my computer and began the journey of writing a novel. My book is not about vampires, but the love story between Bella and Edward set off an alarm in my head. Edward's perfection is completely unattainable. That's why Stephanie Meyer made him a vampire. Bella is more the ordinary girl who doesn't know who she is or what she wants to do with her life. How many seventeen year olds do? I don't know if Bella is the best role model, but she definitely isn't the worst. The teenage girls that I've taught just like the love story and the idea that a prince charming (vampire or not) can sweep an ordinary girl off of her feet and take her to be a part of his extraordinary world.

Author Amok said...

Sorry for the late reply, but thanks for chiming in! Congrats on starting your own novel. What an exciting time. I agree with you about Meyer using the vampire theme to help create a "perfect" teen boy. While I agree that -- at 17 -- even bright girls can feel a little lost, I wonder that none of the humans in Bella's life step in to help her with this unhealthy obsession with Edward. The Cullens are so happy about how the relationship is helping Edward, they (despite decades of worldly experience) don't see or care that it's bad for Bella. Does that fit their characters? Teenage girls may like the love story of Twilight, but I wish it had some red flags -- lessons that girls can actually use in their early love lives. Like -- boyfriend cutting me off from friends and family = bad news.