The main character, Bella Swan, completely ordinary. When she describes herself she says that she is average. Dark hair, small, non-athletic, not terribly popular, but smart, a girl who loves to read. The author has just describes most high school girls. This heroine is not the star of the basketball/softball/soccer/track/whatever, team, she is not the cheerleader that dates the star quarterback or the lead in the high school musical, she is not the valedictorian, but she is also not the nerdiest girl in her class. Bella Swan is every other average girl who doesn’t feel special in any particular way. Boys don’t really pay attention to her, while she is a good student, she isn’t the best, she is insecure, at times awkward, and very clumsy. What you have here is a girl who wants to be special, but isn’t. Most girls are drawn to this heroine because this is them. Honestly, this was me in high school. While I wasn’t especially clumsy or insecure, I was everything else. “Nice” looking, definitely not the best looking girl in the class, a decent athlete, not the star, a good student, not the valedictorian, no boys paid attention to me, I wasn’t asked to lots of parties, I spent lots of time reading. I was average. Girls will be drawn to Bella Swan, they will like her (though at times they may find her obnoxious), but, for the most part, they will identify with her.
Bella moves to a new town and all of a sudden, she becomes really interesting. People want to be around her, lots of boys ask her out, and most importantly, the “most beautiful” guy in school, the “popular guy” the one that every girl is secretly in love with but who doesn’t pay attention to any of them, wants to date her. This is most high school girls’ dream. So the reader is hooked, the reader identifies with the heroine, the reader is emotionally involved because she wants this to happen to her. (This of course all plays out in about the first half of the first book.) From here, the rest of the story starts to unfold, but I’m not really going to get into all of that. What concerns me the most is not everything that happens in the middle, which is bad enough, but the end.
First of all, Stephanie Meyers has taken an evil tradition and turned it on its head. Traditionally, vampires are evil. Vampires are soulless, blood-sucking monsters (as seen in books such as Dracula). People have attempted to alter this tradition as the popularity of vampires has risen. The TV show Angel portrayed a vampire with a soul, who unlike all other vampires around him, feels remorse for his evil deeds (because he has a soul) and therefore, he doesn’t drink human blood and tries to help people. The TV show The Vampire Diaries puts forward the idea that the vampires are able to do good because they have a “humanity” switch. When they still have their humanity they feel remorse and have some sense of right and wrong. However, if they “turn off their humanity” they become the monsters. Both of these ideas still address the issue that vampires = monsters = bad. In the Twilight series, this issue is presented as a “lifestyle choice”—“will I drink human blood and thereby kill people or will I eat from animals?” Some very nice and “good” vampires choose not to drink animal blood. This whole, “Vampires Kill People” thing is really glossed over. Rather than vampires being represented as bad, they are actually compared to angels. Throughout the books when Bella describes Edward, she talks about his, “angelic face” or how he is more “angel than monster.” The vampires “sparkle in the sun. They are more angel than demon.
Lastly, when Bella becomes a vampire, she is transformed from something completely average, to something extremely special. She doesn’t just become a vampire, she becomes the most special and best vampire around. She is graceful, drop-dead gorgeous, extremely rich, super smart, and she has special powers. She says at one point that she was basically born to be a vampire. Then, at the end of the books, she gets to live, FOREVER, with tons of money and clothes, in paradise with everyone that she loves. Just living their ordinary lives, together, forever, while being beautiful and special.
As a reader, once I finish the books what have I learned here? I can be amazing if I have a guy who loves me like Edward loves her, and if I become a vampire. And this is why I think that these are especially dangerous books. In a vampire obsessed culture, emotionally vulnerable girls (and frankly, this is most high schoolers), are being shown something that is evil, but it is represented as being good, beautiful, and an answer to all of one’s wildest dreams.
Will I let my daughters read these books? No, because no good can come from it, but plenty of harm could be done. “But, does it really matter what they read as long as they are reading?” Of course it matters. That is like saying, “Does it matter what they eat as long as they are eating?” If your child will only eat chocolate and nothing else, they will die from malnutrition. Do I allow my children to read trashy romance novels (which I have not read but I do know that these days most are EXTREMELY graphic) but say that it is okay because, “at least they are reading”? No, and I’m sure most every parent would agree with me. So where do we draw the line? I’m a parent, so I must be the parent, and sometimes that means making the hard choice (or in this case, not so hard).