In Defense Of “Twilight”
I was an English major. And I read (and devoured) the Twilight books. My friends insist these things ought to be incompatible. I’m supposed to believe in standards! The Oxford comma! And the canon! And I do, but along with all of teenage America, I like Twilight too. And I’m completely unashamed … Part of the horror and joy of being incredibly young was how life felt. Emotions and hormones drenched our teenage selves, mind and body, and pulled us onward into huge sensations: the best, most sisterly friendships, soul-wrenching love, and the deep, deep hatred for everything wrong and unfair. It’s harder now to feel with abandon — we teach ourselves self-restraint, which is good, but also numbs ourselves to blunt away the embarrassment of loving something too much or hurting too much. Twilight is like a trip down feeling-things memory lane.
Bookish Bella is awkward and unsure in everything she does, but she emotes with assurance. I think that’s awesome. Not only is it genuine to the actual experience of being a teenager, but I don’t actually have to suffer through it. I get to sit back, remember, and empathize. For the novel’s real audience — teens — I imagine it must be reassuring to have someone along in the hormone jungle. Too many girls in the media, real and pretend, are hamstrung by extreme beauty. I never wanted to see perfection — I wanted someone gawky and in love with Wuthering Heights and Shakespeare.
Though nobody is going to accuse Stephenie Meyer of writing the next great American novel, her books do follow the footsteps of classic stories. They’re fairy tales. Not antiseptic, politically correct stories of personal growth and achievement. I loved Snow White too, but my life’s ambition never was to scare my mother into sexual competition, play housewife to seven miniature men, and then lie in motionless beauty until arising from a prince’s zombie kiss. I wanted to be an astronaut. People are rightfully noticing the strangeness of the stories of vampires, werewolves, and young love, but the unbridled and absurd fantasy has a place. Not in real life, where Edward Cullen’s “I like to watch you sleep” would be awful, but in print, where it is safe on the page.
And speaking of safety, let’s talk abstinence. Meyer’s vampires are seriously the first who don’t exist as metaphors for predatorial sexual abandon. Bella spends the first three books trying desperately to get it on with cold-shower Edward. He just says no. For grownups, this makes the series easy to mock; vampires without penetration are practically pointless. Unless you’re a teenage girl. It is not that I’m in favor of abstinence-only education — I’m not. I think it’s important that teenage sexuality exists, and these books provide it. The make-out sessions the book describes are all kinds of hot, heavy, and bothered. There’s just a lot of holding back before letting go. And what’s wrong with that?