From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Why the Twilight Series Bugs Me

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to try Stephanie Meyer’s NYT-bestselling young adult series, Twilight. I ran through the first two books fast enough that I went to get the other two in order to find out what happened. In many ways, they are well-constructed books of their type. (Lest anyone think that my compulsion is a mark of high quality though, I must admit that at one point in my life I read every single Remo the Destroyer book. Like Prospero’s mirror, I would happily wallow in the trash of future centuries.)

That said, I hate the message that these books give young women with every fiber of my being. I particularly hate the idea that the books’ popularity is due to their having some resonance in young women’s psyches. Because the underlying message — or so it seems to me — is that women can only achieve identity through their relationship with men.

Be aware, if you haven’t read the books, that I am about to spoil the holy bejeezus out of them. Quit reading now if you want to be surprised and whatever you do, don’t read the next paragraph.

Otherwise, lemme just say this: she ends up with Edward. That’s the whole point of the books, that she ends up with Edward after dutifully saving herself for marriage and then fulfills her maternal function.

Synopsis: Bella goes to live with her father because her mother has taken up with another man, and Bella wants to give them space. As we learn more about Bella, we discover that she is a horrible, passive character who is constantly whining because she thinks super-hot, super-rich, super-mysterious Edward doesn’t love her. This goes on for a while. As in, for an entire book. Then she’s tempted by another guy, Jake the werewolf, because Edward has left (which drives her nearly comatose), but then Edward comes back before that goes anywhere, even though another entire book has passed. She makes a feeble attempt to reunite with her alienated female friends at school at this point, but that is only because Edward is gone so that effort gets tossed out the window when he re-appears. She finally gets him to agree to make her a vampire but he won’t do it until they’re married. So then they get married and she gets pregnant the first time they have intercourse, while she’s still human. The pregnancy is aberrant and life-threatening, but visions of the child, who is inexplicably male in the visions (I will provide my theory behind this choice in a moment), keep her from letting the others abort the child. She has the kid, who turns out to be a daughter, and then we find out that the child is destined to grow up and marry Jake the werewolf, because werewolves instinctively know when they meet their soul mate. This fixating on a baby sexually is more than a little creepy, so Meyer takes care to signal it earlier with the example of another werewolf, who fixes on a toddler and thus becomes the perfect babysitter for her. Yeah, that’d definitely be who I wanted babysitting my child: a man who believes she’s destined to grow up and become his mate.

Okay. Lemme just start with the soul mate thing, because I hate this idea so much. Because what it does is give people the idea that there is this one true love thing that happens and everything is magically swell because you and your partner are twue woves. While in reality relationships are work. They take work and patience and humor and cooperation and a willingness on both sides to accept the various farts and burps and personal quirks the other has. And that willingness and hard work seems more meaningful than being insta-partnered with someone because they’re the metaphorical key to your figurative lock.

Bella is obsessed with Her Man. And her “career”, such as it is, is to marry him and bear his child, which she names in a way that is somehow reminiscent of the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator. She has the usual “oh I am so ugly because it has somehow escaped me that I actually have a body type that fits inside American beauty norms” thing going. Interactions with female friends are kept to a superficial minimum because we all know women can’t do the friendship thing with each other. That might be too empowering a message. So would Bella being able to save herself. But in everything she does, every faintly brave action, Edward is her motivation, the center of the universe for her.

So let’s go back to the male baby thing, because this is a small point that (imo) really shows the author’s view towards women. The only conclusions I can reach are that 1) Meyer got careless or 2) the baby is perceived as male at first is because the author believes a male baby is more worth saving. These are not careless books, so honestly, 2’s the only explanation I can think of, given the gender patterns running through the books.

All I can say is—this is not something I would feel comfortable giving to my goddaughter when she comes to that age. So if anyone needs me, I’ll be over here working on a YA novel. It’s got a size 14 heroine who’s the lost Champion of Fairy and has a BFF who is female. And she’s not looking for her soul mate at all.

Cat Rambo lives, reads, writes, and edits in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. Among the places her stories have appeared are Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, and Weird Tales. She is the co-editor of Fantasy Magazine. Her website appears at http://www.kittywumpus.net

This article originally appeared on Jeff VanderMeer’s Ecstatic Days blog, and is reprinted with permission by the author.

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