One of the Sklar Brothers once said that he defined his life in terms of when he was reading a good book and when he wasn’t, and I am right there with him. There has been many a time in my life where a good book has pulled me away and freed me from certain difficult moments. And on the other hand, even in the happiest moments of my life, I knew that it was better when I was sharing my time in both my world, and someone else's.
A novel presents story and characters in a way wholly unique and separate from that of comics, movies, television, video games, and in a way that those could never possibly achieve. A novel lives entirely within the reader’s imagination, and what is on the page is really only half of the picture. The writer creates the lines, the colors, the shapes, but it is up to the reader to assemble them into something whole. The best are able to use nothing but the power of the written word to construct entire worlds around their audience and give them a glimpse into their minds, but even then, it is up to the reader to give those worlds definition. Because of the very nature of the form, no two readers will ever have the exact same experiences, and that is truly special and that is why I devote so much of my time to reading.
Now, there was a time in my life when I didn’t know what Twilight was; a more innocent time. A time when the “complexities” of “imprinting” didn’t occupy any space in my mind. A time when the political ramifications of having a half-mortal, half-vampire child would have just sounded like clouded, uncreative nonsense (or just crappy Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan-fiction). This time was early 2008. My favorite book series of all time had recently concluded the year prior, and as much as this saddened me, enough time had passed where I was ready for a new world to occupy and fill the void that Harry Potter had left in me.
I had been urged for months by many of my friends, and more than a few casual acquaintances, to pick up Twilight, with claims that it was on par with Rowling’s series. And these were people I trusted in matters of this sort, but I just never got around to buying the book myself. Until the day I got mono. This was truly one of the most miserable times of my life. There I was, at the age of twenty, after spending the last two years doing my best to remain self-sufficient and wholly independent from my parents, sobbing in my mother’s arms about the stabbing pains in my throat. I didn’t leave my bed for the first three days, and on the forth I received a care package from my girlfriend of the time. Inside were various soft foods, some kind words, a small puck sized stuffed owl that squeaked when snuggled, and at the very bottom, the first Twilight... umm...”novel”.
I remembered being taken in by the cover first. A brilliantly simple design of black, white, and red. Two pale hands cradling a shiny red apple. Little did I know that what rested between these elegantly designed covers would change the very way I thought of story telling, let alone how I saw myself as a writer, and even more so as a reader. But this is not a story of love. This is a story of pure cold-brewed, triple-filtered, unadulterated hatred that I had never known before. A heat that would carry on to the very day of this writing.
￼There’s something I need to address before I continue. I have been accused many times in the past of being a stereotypical cynical twenty-something for a veritable cornucopia of reasons. For example, one of the most notable (and the one that seemed to stick in the craw of many of my former co-workers at Apple) is that I’ve never been much of a fan of the Beatles. I like to consider myself a music fanatic, and this is easily one of my biggest sins in the eyes of my fellows. This, however, does not mean I don’t see the importance and influence of their work on...well, nearly everything, not just rock & roll music. You’d have to be woefully ignorant to miss that, but it does mean that they aren’t at all important to me.
I live by a very simple motto when it comes to life; it is far more fun to enjoy something than it is to hate it. This has lead me down many a rabbit hole, some of which have been fantastic rides, but equally as many have left me sad and disappointed with my wallet noticeably lighter and my time wasted. We live in an increasingly segmented and niche world, where it is easy to surround ourselves with people we agree with and cut ourselves off from anyone who might not, and, man, if that doesn’t seem like a terrible existence. How exactly are you supposed to understand something if you refuse to acknowledge it? Some would say, “Well I just don’t want to understand that thing,” and to that I say, “You’re an idiot.” We exist on this planet for one reason, and that is to experience and live, and that means being disappointed sometimes. Now without further ado...
The most vivid memory of my first read through of Twilight was just how little of it I actually remembered. Now, I was heavily medicated at the time, and did frequently fall asleep mid-read, so I chalked it up to that and gave it another go when I was feeling better. But absolutely nothing stuck with me, and that just did not make any semblance of sense. I remember being frustrated that maybe I just didn’t get it, and so I read it yet again. And after that third read I just knew it couldn’t be me. (Side note: I did the same thing with the Song of Ice & Fire series. After two false starts on the tomes, and scrambling to see the appeal, on the third attempt I finally was pulled in and saw its brilliance.)
I did not understand why Bella and Edward were even together. Now this is a massive issue, as everything in this series is contingent on you living and breathing for their relationship. Every bit of dialogue the duo share is dripping with a level of sap reserved normally for the tawdry romance novels typically found adjacent to a nice case of Big Red, only wholly devoid of any charm or spice that those rags (and the gum) might possess. The development of their relationship reads like a depressed 15 year old’s LiveJournal entries. And trust me I know, because I WAS a depressed 15 year old who had a LiveJournal (only because I couldn’t get my hands on a coveted DeadJournal login), and this is shamefully the type of trash I wrote between sad attempts at Kingdom Hearts fan-fiction.
Dear reader, you may not know what I look like, but if you saw me, you’d most likely say, “Well yes, Mister Bearded-Metal-Man, Twilight was not written for you. It was written for pre-teen females to swoon after,” and to that I say a simple “Nay.” A novel’s category is only assigned to after its completion, and some of the best works of art struggle to even fit into these random qualifiers. What exactly makes a Young Adult novel? Are there not moments within The Hunger Games that would make Tarantino proud? At the age of 23, I watched Toy Story 3 and weeped my “cynical” eyes out as Andy gave up not just his childhood toys, but the very idea of childhood, but is that film just a kids movie simply because it’s a cartoon? This is why I believe I can judge Twilight and why I refuse to accept that I hated it because it is not for me. You know what else probably wasn’t for me? Friends. But I’ve loved that show since I was a young pup, despite the fact that I couldn’t even begin to relate to any of the issues they were going through. The best art is great no matter the demographic of it’s fans.
I could spend all day spiting wisdom on how the logistics and story telling of “The Twilight Saga(ugh)” are inherently flawed and offer no redeeming value whatsoever. I really could actually and probably will someday. An alarmingly large segment of my brain is devoted to the astonishingly awful things that occur within those books and movies and it would be a shame to let it just go to waste. But that’s not what’s most important about Twilight. What I find tremendously interesting about the series is the profound and lasting effect it has had on the modern media landscape.
Over the last decade there has been an influx of PG-13 motion pictures and Young Adult fiction, in no small part due to the success of the Harry Potter franchise. However, Harry may have been the spark, but Twilight is what set the market ablaze.
Let’s get into some numbers. The first Twilight film is widely considered (by fans and naysayers alike) to be...not-a-so-good. It’s slow, plodding and covered in a sticky blue gel that was hard to look past (and was removed in subsequent films). The acting is stiff. Somehow the writing was more hollow than the novel itself. From a purely cinematic stand point, it’s right up there with Batman & Robin and Wild Wild West in terms of cheese and cringe worthy moments.
- The first Twilight made $70 million in its opening weekend.
- Star Wars made $2 million.
Thus Twilight went from a book series, to a movie franchise, to a “Saga”. There were lunchboxes, novelty valentines, life-sized cardboard cutouts, action figures; enough merchandise to make Yogurt himself crap his pants. Then came the imitators, hell bent on usurping the Throne of Tweens Twilight had so secured. One such example, 50 Shades of Grey (while not necessarily meant for the young adult set) actually began its life as a Twilight fan fiction. Stephenie Meyer’s more “mature” novel, The Host (it’s Twilight with aliens; just as vapid and substance-less) even got the movie treatment. It was a snowball effect. People were grabbing science fiction tropes left and right, stuffing full of teen angst and “romance” and shoving it out as fast as it could possibly be slapped together. The Hunger Games (although it pains me to add it to this list, as I’m rather fond of it), Divergent, Maze Runner, The Mortal Instruments series, and those are just the ones with film adaptations.
So what we are left with is a series of books (that started off as just one book, until some publisher had the world’s most cynical thought when he came back at Meyer with “You know what’s hot right now...book SERIES, so let’s call it an even four!”) that spawned a film franchise that birthed a generation of sci-fi romance aimed at the vulnerable young hearts of teens everywhere. And as teens do, they gobbled it the hell up. And here in lies my troubles and where deeper levels of hate start driving themselves to the surface.
Twilight has effectively destroyed romance for an entire generation. Nothing ROMANTIC happens in these ROMANCE novels/movies. Not a single thing. The relationship between Edward and Bella is classically co-dependant and abusive. Completely unhealthy from every perspective. Every bit of forced sweetness that Meyer attempts is overshadowed by the fact that this is a story about a poor damaged girl falling for a monster (both metaphorical and literal...cause well...Vampire). He is out and out hostile towards the “love of his immortal life” more often than not, and actually spends most of the first two books outwardly avoiding her, even going as far as to break up with and abandon her at the start of and most of the duration of the second book (New Moon).
And then there’s the third point to this wilting triangle, Jacob, Twilight’s over- machismo’d answer to Ducky from Sixteen Candles. He follows Bella (who up to this point has been nothing more than a conduit for the readers to live within, thus resulting in nearly no character traits, except for her profound klutziness which apparently every young man in Forks, Washington finds to be the sexiest thing since sliced bread) around like a wounded puppy (which is ironic given he and his tribe of stereotypical Native Americans are later revealed to be werewolves, cause yeah, that needed to be a thing because vampires aren’t just enough) for 3/4’s of an ENTIRE BOOK SERIES only to “imprint” upon Bella and Edward’s demon spawn (a horrid abomination by the name of Renesmee, portrayed by the most horrifying CGI baby since Ally McBeal...the eyes, man...the eyes) upon her bloody arrival unto this mortal coil.
And there you have your main cast of characters, with a panel of faceless friends and parents orbiting around them, each other more forgettable than the last.
But at least now Billy Burke has an actual career. So I guess it wasn’t all bad. #TeamMustacheDad
- Danny Nick