Anyone under the age of 18 knows all about this series. Hell, anyone who’s paying attention to American culture knows all about it too. In addition to all the media coverage about Mrs. Meyer’s status as the “new J.K. Rowling,” the grown-up book browsers (read: me) can’t escape the tent-sized tables of these books with their vaguely Gothish covers at Barnes and Noble, surrounded by the tame-but-macabre knockoffs this series has inspired in the teen publishing world. It seemed like a lot of hype for, what looked to me, like a derivative PG-13 melding of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. After reading the entire 4-book series (in a matter of two days, mind you), that’s exactly how these books turned out. But I’ll be damned (no pun intended) if it wasn’t an engrossing and satisfying exercise in adolescent wish fulfillment.
The Twilight Saga follows the exploits of 17-year-old Bella Swann, who, upon moving in with her father in small-town Washington, falls for an impossibly attractive classmate named Edward Cullen. It turns out (spoiler alert), that he is a Vampire, living with his rich and also impossibly beautiful Vampire family in the same town. Complications ensue when Bella figures out his secret, and figures out that he’s desperately in love with her too, in part because of her delicious smell. Unfortunately, he has to fight the urge to kill her all the time, resulting in a lot of abruptly interrupted make-out scenes. The reader spends much of the first book, Twilight, wondering if he’s going to give in and eat her (spoiler alert #2: he doesn’t), and much of the rest of the series wondering when they’re going to give in and Just Have Sex already. Oh yeah, there’s also lots of vampires trying to kill them and a brief love triangle with a foregone conclusion. Despite the salacious overtones, Mrs. Meyer walks a fine line here, living up to the values of her home state of Utah. Ultimately, there’s nothing here for parents of teenage girls to get too panicked about, aside from all the Edward Cullen-induced Fantasy Fodder that’s tailor-made for this demographic.
So why would an ostensibly mature and sophisticated reader like me be unable to put these down for nearly 48 hours? Several reasons. For one, the characters are, for the most part, richly drawn and impossible not to care about. Mrs. Meyer does an excellent job of building suspense and creating satisfying dramatic twists that suit all ages of people, not to mention that the supernatural world she has created stands up well next to her famous fantasy author counterparts. Last but not least, we “adults” (at least me) still get a vicarious thrill from the idealistic but timeless themes of the series: immortality, romantic love that lasts forever, sexual passion that never fades, the glory of youth, and the allure of power. I get now what all the fuss is about. I would argue that no, it’s absolutely not creepy for a 30-year woman to stay up into the wee hours of the morning trolling the web for trailers and images from the upcoming Twilight film, or to replay mentally on the commute home from work the key moments of mass vampire fight scenes. After all, we are all still teenagers at heart, if not in hot, immortal body.