Stephanie Meyer’s immensely popular vampire series, The Twilight Saga needs little introduction, but the mature content and philosophical questions the novels raise are rarely discussed in the popular media or reviews. The series focuses on the intricately woven relationships among a human (Bella Swan), a vampire (Edward Cullen), a werewolf (Jake Black), and their families and friends. While the books are more love story in the vein of chick-lit tease than fantasy/adventure, and the writing is long-winded and cumbersome, fans have proven that quality is not always preferable to quantity.
Fundamental to the story are the inherent difficulties of being in love with a vampire (or a werewolf, for that matter). Issues of who loves whom more take up most of the discussion, but the plots of the four novels do concern several very normal issues related to family, love, and sex. Meyer, despite her focus on the very realistically drawn life of teenagers, raises some serious questions, such as what it means to be human, the nature of the soul, and the need for interconnectedness. Meyer’s characters struggle deeply to justify their decisions, do not make any choices lightly, and model restraint on many fronts. Nevertheless, these stories do not pretend to teach lessons, nor are they appropriate for young readers.
Bella Swan, despite, or maybe because of, her klutzy vulnerability is hardly a role model for the modern young adult, but the depth of her personal connections to her parents, and the two men she forms relationships with are passionate and complex. She demonstrates care and affection without seeming one-dimensional, but her insecurity and cloying sense of unworthiness overshadow what otherwise could be a healthy example of devotion and steadfast love. Her infatuation with Edward felt tiresome at times, but young people, in the throes of young love ( or first crushes) will find the scenes of passion and physical longing titillating.
Edward Cullen, as seen through both Bella’s and Meyer’s eyes, comes across as annoyingly, perfect – the prize that any female would literally die to possess. His attraction to Bella is tied, in the beginning, to a mostly physical need, one that could destroy her if allowed to follow its natural course. But as the novels progress, Edward gains a bit more “humanness” and their relationship similarly grows in depth and complexity. However, to me, Edward never overcomes the initial impression he makes as a cold, unattainable hunk. In the final novel, even in his role as protective and smitten father, he feels distant and constrained.
Jake Black, in contrast, is all emotion and raw physical energy. Frustrated, impulsive, and outspoken about his distaste for the “blood-suckers” Bella has taken up with, he comes across as mostly consumed by his rage and jealousy, rather than truly being in love with Bella. His Native American heritage adds little to the plot other than providing the author with a few handy opportunities to explain backstory. Nevertheless, his connection to his family, his friends and his tribe demonstrate powerfully the importance of trust and connection to community. Jake’s obsession with Bella seemed to me to be selfish and irresponsible, not to mention self-destructive.
While the sexual tension in the first two novels in the series rests mostly on warnings about the dangerousness of sex and “interspecies” relationships, the second two deal directly with passion, lust, and physical need. The most intimate acts occur off screen, but there is plenty of discussion of what went on to help even the most innocent reader fill in the blanks. In addition, the novels contain fairly graphic descriptions of violence. Scenes involving clashes between humans and vampires, and various vampire clans with each other are common and vividly drawn. Torture, both physical and mental, also figure heavily in the story.
Finally, Bella displays a total lack of concern for her physical well being and her stubborn refusal to see the relationship as anything but eternal are part of the story’s appeal. But coupled with questionable behaviour, such as driving at recklessly high speeds, and nonchalantly putting herself in dangerous situations, and a blatant emphasis on materialism including a tantalizing obsession with wealth, jewellery, expensive cars, houses, and throw-away designer clothing, make these novels inappropriate models of behaviour for young readers (9-11). Parents of older children will want to be ready for questions about love, death, money, and sex.
S= Sexual tension but no real details
VV= some very violent and bloody encounters with graphic details
??=Bella’s disregard for her own life leads her to engage in some questionable behaviour