Twilight, Stephanie Meyer' series of novels about the love between Edward, a noble vampire, and his high school sweetheart, Bella, is everywhere. Translated into 20 languages and now a film, with even a Twilight Moms site for, well, moms who love the books, it's what is usually called a "cultural phenomenon." It's been: a New York Times Editor's Choice, an American Library Association "Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults" and "Top Ten Books for Reluctant Readers", a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, an Amazon.com "Best Book of the Decade...So Far", a Teen People "Hot List" pick, and a New York Times Best Seller. All before I even got to read it. There would have been a time... ah well. At least it's fun now.
And in a way, embarrassing. After all, a teen vampire love story isn't exactly typical reading for a well-educated, grown-up, fairly worldly woman who fancies herself reasonably intelligent. It was curiosity that got me there, and I'm glad. There's something about this steamy yet chaste story that slams me back into my 15-year-old self, wondering what sex was like, what love was like, what anything remotely interesting, none of which had happened to me yet, was like. I had forgotten about her but she was still in there just waiting for a reason to emerge. When she did, she reminded that I'd had my own Edward.
Precisely the same age, a high school junior, I fell, hard, for the school's bad boy poet, one of the "drugstore boys" who hung out outside the pharmacy or, in good weather, the Dairy Queen. He was the first conscientious objector I knew; introduced me to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Sound and the Fury and A Canticle for Leibowitz. We would sit in our basement game room and talk, and smoke, for hours. When things got too bad at his house, he often slept at ours. Having raised two teenagers myself I'm still shocked that my parents never objected. It was a beautiful time. There was no way I was going to sleep with him; parent power was still too strong then. He told me years later that even if I'd been willing, he was too scared of my mother to let it happen. As it was for Bella though, that was almost irrelevant. He'd opened my mind, and my soul, so completely that there was no turning back. There's more than one way to be free.
In Twilight, as with Buffy and Angel, sex is impossible. Edward understands that the loss of self involved in sexual consumation would remove the inhibitions that these "vegetarian" vampires have developed to meet both their values and their desire to live among the human. There's lots of lovely making out, but that's it. The less disciplined of the two is Bella, who more than once has to be restrained in her enthusiasm for her perfect, shining, somewhat chilly-to- the-touch lover.
I don't know if such limited innocence is possible today; don't know how the teenagers who read these books could be even partially as un-knowing as I was. When I was a kid, there was no MTV, no Friends episodes about who would get the last condom, no Brittany, or God forbid, her pregnant little sister, no pregnant candidate progeny either. Sex was private, and for grownups. Not necessarily in real life, but in perceived values. There's so much more to disturb their discipline; so little to support the kind of determination that protets Bella and Edward.
I think that's part of the wonder, the attraction, of Twilight. Remember the Simpsons have a long-running joke about Lisa's Sexually Non-Threatening Boys Magazine? It's funny because, at a certain age, that's where girls go. And then, as they begin to move toward true sexual ripeness, the attraction changes. The longings emerge, along with the need to control the young men who would exploit them. Who better than a conscience-stricken, loving, gorgeous, perfect vampire to guide the way? Or, to remind us later, was a thrilling, scary, remarkable journey it was?
Here's a preview of the film, too: