Why does “Twilight” work?

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On last week’s episode of the Brother Trucker Book Club, my friend Case dropped in on the mailbag to ask what I thought of Stephenie Meyer going back to the well on Twilight.

Short version of my answer: if she wants to, great. It sells. Clearly people still want to read it, more power to her. You can like it or hate it, it doesn’t matter if either way if in the end she’s blowing her nose with Benjamins.

We should all be so lucky.

https://anchor.fm/brotruckbooks/embed/episodes/Ep-117-Give-the-People-What-They-Want-ei03dq/a-a2ttgan

(Listen to the episode above, or subscribe on Apple/Spotify/Castbox/wherever.)

I wasn’t going to read this one, until one of my favorite book club podcasts announced it as their next selection, so I’m reading along now. I originally read the series in 07-08, and got pretty into it, much to my surprise.

I mean, the writing is pretty bad and the characters are just…let me put it this way, Hallmark would tell them to dial the soap opera levels down a little bit.

And yet, clearly, it works, because the movies alone have made over three BILLION dollars, and Meyer’s cut of the books are in excess of the GDP of many island nations.

So yeah, we can hate on it all we want, but those of us who have dreams of professional creations for a living need to figure out WHY it works. If it’s “so damn bad,” why can’t we stay away from it?

Why are women who read it at age 14 now reading it again at age 29?

I think the simplest answer is that it satisfies a deep, almost forbidden emotional fantasy–the kind people might be embarrassed to admit they have, but still enjoy seeing played out in front of them.

Apparently a ton of girls want to fancy themselves as mature-for-their-age, scholarly, well-read empaths who have an emotional intelligence beyond that of their peers. And naturally they’d want two hot guys fighting over them, one rakish, the other rugged.

And as a cherry on top, they’d want to see every one of their decisions validated, none of their flaws exposed, and every action taken by every named character in the known world would revolve around THEM.

Yes, it would be completely inane to admit to having those desires for yourself.

That’s why Bella is a projection. The reader can project herself onto Bella and pretend she’s walking around in that world, almost like a literary version of an RPG, but if/when it ever becomes “too much,” well then, it’s just a book, and any faults in it have to do with Bella, right?

That’s really what it comes down to. The books are the romance version of a roleplaying game, and within that game, there is only reward, no criticism.

Kind of a refreshing break from real life, I imagine.

I’m not sure this principle will ever really apply to my own writing, as I don’t write characters like Bella Swan. I’ve also read THE HOST by Meyer, and it was…not good either. So I’m going to guess that my stuff will never be successful for the same reason hers is, and I’m okay with that. I’m not setting out to tell the same stories she is (though I wouldn’t say no to the kind of money she’s made, hey-oh.)

Just some things I’ve been chewing on as I reflect on 15 years of this cultural phenomenon that I still don’t fully understand. More power to her, though.

Author: grahambradley

Author and illustrator of sci-fi and fantasy. Forward to adventure!

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