The time around Valentine’s Day is a silly season ripe with roses, teddy bears and heart-shaped … well, heart-shaped everything. It is a day on which to celebrate love. And what embodies that idea better than the latest teen craze sensation, the Twilight Saga: the romantic story of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen’s great love which has recently been enthralling book lovers and movie audiences alike?
Twilight is the story of a mortal girl’s love for a vampire. And what the squealing fans of the series cling to is the idea that Bella and Edward’s love is what gives them the strength to overcome the many obstacles they have to face. A love that is pretty much the sole premise on which the series rests.
Because for the series to be convincing you have to buy into the romance: be persuaded that the author – housewife and mother of three, Stephenie Meyer – has painted a convincing picture. If not, the entire series would be reduced to two vapid, indulgent people pining away for each other and defying the laws of logic (and plot) to live out their infatuation.
There are plenty of Twilight fan sites and groups on social networking sites such as Facebook where fans declare and discuss their love for the series. In one discussion, for example, a fan writes: “I love how Edward is a romantic vampire.” Steven D. Greydanus, reviewer on Decentfilms.com, points out that “it’s Edward’s beauty, perfection and desirability that Twilight emphasises above all”.
Many of the discussions focus on how Stephenie Meyer’s vampires are more “aesthetically attractive” than traditional representations of vampires, while her herione remains “normal and relatable”.
This equal combination of escapism (provided by the exotic vampires) and Bella’s banality is something readers seem to treasure. The reader can become Bella Swan, a girl we are told is “average-looking but intelligent”. Stephenie Meyer herself says, “If you’re like I was, not in the popular crowd, a little clumsy, you have Bella to identify with.” But then a truly exceptional guy becomes interested in her. He is shockingly good-looking. He is chivalrous and romantic. And he’s a vampire. Which certainly provides some mystery and intrigue.
But what Edward provides, more than anything, is sex appeal. As Greydanus says, “To be desired beyond all reason or control, even wantonly or destructively, is a powerful aphrodisiac”. In Twilight, Bella says, “I was consumed by the mystery Edward presented. And more than a little obsessed by Edward himself”. For a girl that is unobtrusive in every sense of the word, Edward becomes a god – someone to colour her drab life with excitement and the promise of sex. What more could any girl ask for?
That is, in fact, the most significant question of all. Because Edward becomes, for every girl or women reading Twilight, the epitome of what women want. He fulfills every fantasy of what women, whether young and inexperienced, or older and disillusioned, dream of. Laura Miller of Salon.com argues that Twilight caters to the “traditional feminine fantasy of being delivered from obscurity by a dazzling, powerful man”.
And Valentine’s Day can provide the same sort of stylised escapism; all of it coloured with the philosophy of love, and tailored to fit exactly what every person secretly wants to indulge in.
But imagine that a boy you barely know repeatedly sneaks into your house and watches you sleep – like Edward does with Bella. There is little chance that anyone would interpret this as romantic. So why does Bella? And why does the reader? Is it all about the spectacle – imagining yourself there, in the heart of such a romantic scene?
Esteemed American film critic Roger Ebert points out that it “does nothing to explain why [Bella] is helplessly attracted to these sinister, humorless and vain men”.
Bella resents the spotlight but it is constantly trained on her anyway. And against all odds, she still manages to snatch “Prince Charming” away.
Perhaps it becomes a case of spectacle over substance?
It is easy to be fooled by what Bella is dished up as, but perhaps what she serves to do is to make any girl sitting at home with no Valentine’s cards feel as if there is still hope.After all, what more is Valentine’s Day, with all its heart-shaped candy, but an attempt to make you feel good? You might enjoy indulging in the sugar-induced high every Valentine’s Day or you might be the sort of person who believes that candy, much like the escapism provided by Twilight, leaves you with nothing but an empty stomach and plenty of toothache.