It’s not surprising, in the wake of Harry Potter, for a new series to involve teenagers with supernatural powers. The Twilight series has that much in common with J. K. Rowling’s creations. That and huge sales: It was the series’s Eclipse that knocked Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows off the top of the bestseller lists last year. The fourth and final Twilight book, Breaking Dawn, sold 1.3 million copies on its first day of release (August 2).
But Rowling’s young wizards have little else in common with Stephenie Meyer’s sparkling vampires. Yes, sparkling vampires. Where Harry and his friends are best known for qualities like courage and loyalty, Meyer’s characters and stories are all about appearances.
The Twilight books tell the story of Bella Swan, a high-school girl who goes to live with her father in Washington state, and Edward Cullen, a classmate who happens to be a vampire. Regarding Edward, Bella liberally spills adjectives like gorgeous, perfect, beautiful, flawless, glorious, and godlike.
By contrast, she describes herself as plain, clumsy, weak, uninteresting, and unattractive, even though she has no fewer than five boys infatuated with her within the first 125 pages of the first book. It’s hard to say which is more difficult to swallow: Bella’s perpetually low self-worth, or the fact that all the other characters are obsessed with her.
Although Meyer tries to portray this pair as a modern Romeo and Juliet or Heathcliff and Catherine (references to whom are glaringly frequent), Bella and Edward’s relationship is more like that of predator and prey. For one thing, the scent of Bella’s blood tortures Edward, who drinks animal blood to keep from killing humans. His restraint is meant to look noble, although courting someone who smells like food could be seen more as a sign of mental instability.
And Edward behaves like a predator in nearly every other way possible. He spies on Bella while she sleeps, eavesdrops on her conversations, reads her classmates’ minds, forges her signature, tries to dictate her choice of friends, encourages her to deceive her father, disables her truck, has his family hold her at his house against her will, and enters her house when no one’s there — all because, he explains, he wants her to be safe. He warns Bella how dangerous he is, but gets “furious” at anyone else who tries to warn or protect her. He even drags her to the prom against her expressed wishes. He is, in short, one of modern fiction’s best candidates for a restraining order.
So of course, Bella falls “unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him,” deliberately endangering her life whenever she has to be separated from him. Millions of real-life teens have also fallen in love with him. Girls and young women describe Edward as “beautiful,” “sweet,” and “mysterious,” and love the way he “takes care of Bella.”