Why? What is it about Twilight that has caused such a phenomenal following? I've been doing a little 'research' (lurking) around the web trying to find the answers to my questions. Many people claim Twilight is simply a teen romance and nothing more. But there is a plethora of such novels readily available. What is it about this book that attracts readers more than others?
Well, after ruminating, mediating and procrastinating, I believe I have the answer!
I first read Twilight three years ago. I read it because everyone else was. I picked it up and I read it all in one day. I cannot deny that the story is a page turner. You just want to know what happens next. But, like fast food, it's not a novel that left me wanting to relish the memory.
In my 'research' I found both acclaim and criticism of Twilight. Interestingly, most of the praise for it is associated with the fact that it is popular and has sold so many copies, rather than the story itself. The criticism is multifold, but claims of poor writing and anti-feminist messages proliferate.
So, what is my answer? Why is it so damn popular?
Twilight is certainly a romance, and Meyer has used a seductive formula in which the pronounced yearning between three young people is capitalised on, in excruciating anticipation. It also has a strong supernatural flavor, obviously, and this has always been popular with readers, particularly teens. However the thing that has made it so popular, for its main consumer (adolescent girls), is the protagonist, Bella.
In Bella Swan, Meyer has created a character who is like a blank canvas. As a person she has very little substance whatsoever. She is ordinary. She has no apparent talent or special quality. In fact she is accident prone, often vulnerable and bland. She claims to be physically plain too - "Physically, I'd never fit in anywhere" she laments, and "I looked sallower, unhealthy. My skin could be pretty - it was very clear, almost translucent-looking - but it all depended on colour." Yet, she is attractive to others. When she first moves to Forks she seems to incite ardour in most, if not all, of the male students at Forks High School. They line up trying to get her to ask them to the Spring Dance. Very quickly she attracts the attention of two more male characters - the vampire and the werewolf-in-waiting, and the desire of these two is just as intense as their beastly natures.
So what does all of this mean? It means that any young female reader can readily insert herself into the shoes of Bella Swan. The reader can be her. Bella is not an extraordinary girl with special powers, she is not the stereotypical 'popular' gossip girl who is ultra pretty and rich - no, she is ordinary in the extreme and therefore the reader can easily become her. What's more, she appeals to the insecurities that many young girls experience, they can readily identify with the anxieties of not fitting in. Meyer's first person narrative helps this process, of the reader becoming Bella, as well as the lack of subplots - the entire novel is focused on the main plot, the attraction between Edward and Bella - this intensifies the story further.
|Bella Swan, a plain Jane?|
Image care of Wikipedia
What this means of course is that the ordinary young girls (and most people do see themselves as ordinary) can go on a journey in which they are desirable in the extreme - ergo, Twilight has become a mammoth bestseller.
Unfortunately it also means that young female readers are not inspired to stand up and overcome their fears. To take a risk and have a go, even if it means 'I might make a fool of myself'. Bella is an incredibly passive character and this is a characteristic that many teenage girls need liberation from.