The first book in the Twilight Saga was published 15 years ago, yet it remains very relevant in pop culture today. Stephenie Meyer, the mind behind the saga, just announced the release of a new book, Midnight Sun, which details the events of the first book written in Edward's perspective instead of Bella's. Since the start of social distancing, I’ve been going back to some of my favorite Young Adult novels to reminisce about simpler times, and Twilight is no exception. I first read the series in fourth grade and hadn’t really touched the books since. Yet, as I desperately attempt to occupy myself in quarantine, I decided to honor the fact we are in another Twilight Renaissance by rereading the entire series.
Boy, do I have some thoughts.
Before I start, there will be abundant spoilers ahead so proceed with caution. I’d also like to acknowledge that this will be a brutally honest review as, though I do enjoy the nostalgia Twilight brings me, I cannot reconcile the saga’s problematic nature in dealing with race, indigenous peoples, toxic relationships, class and rape culture.
With that, let’s dive into the book that began a movement — Twilight.
Twilight was released in 2005 and its cinematic adaptation premiered in 2008. The book and the movie are extremely similar, which is true for the entire saga. Twilight revolves around Bella Swan, who moves from her sunny home in Arizona to live with her dad in the gloomy Forks, Washington. She moves to appease her childish mother, who stays south with her new husband Phil as he tries to establish his baseball career. Bella is plain (like mind-numbingly plain) and frankly a little boring. She likes classic literature, taking care of her mom and cooking for her dad. She’s a good person and smart too, but she’s painfully shy and a massive clutz.
Bella is actually kind of hilarious because she could literally be any (white) American teenage girl. Somehow, both when I initially read the book and when I reread it recently, this seemed intentional on Meyer’s part. Robert Pattinson, the actor who plays Bella’s love interest in the films, noted in an interview with E! News, that he was “convinced Stephenie was convinced she was Bella.”
Regardless of how boring Bella is, she finds adventure soon enough, as she’s the new girl in a very small town and is therefore the subject of hot gossip. Plagued by various suitors at her new school, the one that catches her eye initially seems to be the most uninterested of all — Edward Cullen.
Edward and Bella first cross paths in the cafeteria and then again in their shared biology class, where Edward seemingly spends the entire time trying not to murder Bella and her classmates in cold blood. But you can read all about that in Midnight Sun. I just happened to stumble across the leaked PDF on Twitter. For legal reasons, I can’t share that here, but if you’re interested, find my Instagram and we can talk from there.
Before I continue with the storyline, I want to address the toxic nature of Edward and Bella’s relationship because their love story is nothing short of twisted.
In an interview with Buzzfeed, Pattinson himself noted: “When you put the bare facts out, [Edward] tells [Bella] he killed forty or fifty people and ‘You really shouldn’t [love me]. I wanna kill you so much every single day, every moment I’m with you I'm desperately wanting to kill you… And [Bella’s] like, ‘I don’t care, I love you.’ And it’s like, well, there’s definitely something wrong with her and there’s very obviously something wrong with me.”
A central point of the series is that Edward loves Bella, but he has to struggle against his very nature to do so. Fourth grade me thought this was the pinnacle of romance, but as I revisit the series I’ve loved for so long, I have come to realize that their relationship is truly ludicrous. Edward watches Bella in her sleep, he reads the minds of those around her during school to keep constant tabs on her and, in Midnight Sun, he vividly imagines himself killing the other boys in Forks who like Bella. All of this occurs even before they officially start dating, which is not to say that being in a committed relationship justifies this kind of behavior.
My point? Book Edward is a little… off, to say the least. Movie Edward is only slightly more tolerable, probably because Robert Pattinson hated the character he played.
Of course, book Bella is just as off, as she does not object to any of these things. Though initially horrified that Edward listened to her babble in her sleep, she doesn’t care that he stalks her. To say I am uncomfortable on Bella’s behalf is an understatement.
Still, there were some points in the book that made me pause and think: “yes, there are some redeemable aspects in this.”
For one, Edward, as a concept, is really funny. He’s this awkward, 108-year-old virgin, perpetually stuck at 17. He’s repeated high school several times to maintain a sense of normalcy in his immortality. He’s also the residential moody loner living alongside three other happily married vampiric couples. Edward, despite having the faculties to live a surreal and engaging life is, at his core, a very depressed, dramatic teenager. He’s not exactly as glamorous and well spoken as Bella imagines him to be.
In one of my favorite scenes in the first book, Bella is getting dressed to meet Edward’s family for the first time and she decides to wear a khaki skirt to see them. The way this man reacts is so hilarious because, again, Bella is wearing a khaki skirt.
I feel like this is a testament to him being born in the early 1900s and his status as a centuries-old virgin. It simply must be said, there is nothing even remotely tempting about a khaki skirt.
Anyway, soon after Bella meets the rest of the Cullen clan, they set off on a vampire-human bonding activity: baseball. While this may seem really anticlimactic, it’s actually one of the best scenes in the entire movie series from the way it was shot, to the background music. Please note that overall, Twilight has an incredible soundtrack.
It is here where Bella’s life is severely threatened, as she catches the interest of a hostile nomadic vampire named James and his partner Victoria. This is the main conflict of the first Twilight book and movie. To escape the danger, Bella has to run away from home. She leaves Forks abruptly in the middle of the night, after a huge argument with her father.
I want to take a moment here to address one thing: most, if not all of the Twilight series would never have happened if Bella was Latina. I think about this so often. For instance, my dad would have kicked Edward’s pale ass out of our home on sight if I had broached the topic of running away. In the second book, Bella runs away to Italy, and returns only to be grounded for maybe a month or so. Had I done that, my parents would have taken me back to Cuba. But, I digress.
Twilight ends happily with Bella and Edward dancing in each other’s arms at a school dance, with Bella yearning to be turned into a vampire and Edward (of course) being really angsty about everything. The second book picks right back up with a bang (and even more problematic details, courtesy of Meyer), but you’ll have to read all about that in my next installment of this extensive analysis.
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