High school vampire romance Twilight was one of the biggest publishing successes of 2008. Stephenie Meyer's tale of love in America's rainy northwest was reprinted no less than 18 times in the UK alone. The novel was first sold in 2006, but the real success of the novel took two years and was due to the release of its movie adaptation.
Vampire love stories are nothing new at all, so what made Twilight so popular?
It was written specifically for teenage readers but managed to cross over and become a hit with many adults. Just skimming the book, you can see it it wasn't difficult to tell how the book sold so well. Seventeen-year-old narrator Bella Swan is likeable, intelligent and a very independent individual who sets little confidence on her looks. Bella is a heroine for every young woman who wants to be valued as a person rather than rated for her attractiveness. Any sense that her love interest, Edward, is not actually a neurotypical 17-year-old can be explained by the fact that he is a vampire. In Meyer's universe, vampirism seems to take a decidedly original form that avoids all the usual clichéd vampirisms—stakes, coffins and garlic. Bella's gradual discovery of Edward's abilities is a key part of the plot's interest.
Meyer gives Bella a sense of social awareness that will endear her to any reader who has ever felt she doesn't quite fit in with the cliques at school. Bella likes her classmates but is clearly not one of them. She wonders whether she has a glitch in her brain and reveals she does not relate well at all to other people. Some have suggested that Bella's love interest, Edward Cullen, has Asperger's; but Bella herself seems a more likely candidate for the syndrome.
The development of Bella's relationship with Edward is the main element that fuels readers to keep turning pages in Twilight. Readers will recognise the vampire as the stereotypical ideal male of heterosexual romance. He is mysterious, handsome, physically powerful, intelligent, rather tormented and very protective towards Bella.
Bella never seems to have much trouble keeping on top of her routine. She spends most of her time, when not dreaming about Edward, doing homework, cooking for her dad and washing dishes. But this is dull and not the lifestyle she wants. She aspires to be like Edward's vampire family, the Cullens. They have wealth, beauty and effortless style, and are compassionate and good.
While most vampires of fiction are either tortured by the guilt of killing humans or revel in their monstrosity, the Cullens drink only animal blood and live among humans. The family patriarch figure has Christian values and is a doctor.
Vampires are often metaphors for outsiders in our society, but in Twilight, they are metaphors for aspiration. Bella decides early on she wants to be turned into a vampire. She has very human fears, including old age, and wants to retain youth and beauty and be part of an idealised family to escape her dull, clumsy humanity. For many readers, this same escape could be the key to the books’ popularity.
Vanessa A. Ryan is a writer/actor in Southern California
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