Twilight still popular, despite problematic themes



When Twilight came out in 2005, it was a phenomenon among young readers, but with its fame, came scrutiny.  It was—and still is—heavily criticized. People pointed out character flaws and messed up messages. They even said it was poorly written. 

Despite the hate, Twilight has sold an estimated 160 million copies worldwide. The saga has been translated into 49 languages. The fanbase is still strong 18 years later.  Fans still create fanfics, fan art, and fan theories.  Author Stephanie Meyer released another book in the series, Midnight Sun, only two years ago and announced two new additions coming soon.

Though a loved and popular franchise, one problem people have is they feel the books are normalizing abuse. A 2020 article for the BBC entitled “New Twilight book: ‘Fans grew up with criticism of the originals’brought up how Edward took advantage of Bella’s insecurities. In the books, Edward constantly felt the need to make decisions for Bella, like whether or not she’d become a vampire. Edward has made questionable choices at best. He’s obsessive, and controlling, stalks Bella (but it’s okay because she loves him?), and is rather erratic and bipolar.

It is also worth a mention that Twilight sparked a colossal online debate: Team Edward or Team Jacob? When it comes to love triangles, this is one where there really is no right answer. Jacob Black is also a questionable character. In New Moon, he’s very sweet and understanding, until his transformation (he becomes a werewolf). Jacob becomes extremely pushy and controlling. He gets very aggressive and doesn’t respect Bella’s choices. An unwanted kiss in Eclipse can fairly be called sexual assault, especially in the book where his grip is described as “making escape impossible.”

The main object of this love triangle, Bella has also come under scrutiny. In the first book, she is sweet, shy, and smart, but things go downhill pretty quickly. Kasy Long, a writer on ScreenRant who wrote “Twilight: 10 Ways Bella Swan got worse and worse,” wrote about how her ambitions were quickly lost. Some people would argue she hardly had ambitions to begin with. 

 “She’s just really whiny sometimes, and she almost always somehow finds a way to get hurt,” said Oviyah R., a seventh grader who has just finished reading the first book. “I just wanna punch her sometimes—like, do the right thing!” Ovi added. 

The truth is it takes work to get to know Bella. We had to wait until Midnight Sun to flesh her out as a character. 

“I guess she’s a pretty good friend to everyone,” mused Librarian Lisa Hoyle, a fan of the books. “Considering that she made peace even with Rosalie.” For the uninitiated, Rosalie and Bella do not get along for most of the series.  

“I think that that fact, that Bella could come to peace with Rosalie and understand where she was coming from, that’s a pretty good trait,” Hoyle added.

Close readers of the book can tell you more about Bella, but you have to look closely. She loves reading and English, in Midnight Sun, even saying she would like to teach it on a college level. If you examine it a little closer, you can see she likes vintage automobiles, cooking, and drawing patterns. These things fade away in Eclipse and Breaking Dawn. She also immediately becomes obsessed with Edward and marries him as a teenager. As far as readers are concerned, she never goes to college or has a career.

However, people who only call out Bella’s faults aren’t telling the whole story.

Bella in general is a sweet girl. We see this throughout the series, with her doing small but meaningful things and paying close attention to those around her. She also can be quite smart.  Yes, the big choices she made can make you question that, but let’s not forget she was the only person to figure out that the Cullens were vampires. She also has a killer intuition. In general, she trusted her gut and looked at things logically while still being open-minded. She had dreams of Jacob turning into a wolf in the first book and even was able to guess correctly what color his fur would be. 

Another thing we can’t forget or downplay is Bella can go with the flow and be accepting of anyone, (as long as they aren’t murderers, of course.) She accepted the Cullens as vampires and she accepted Jacob and the wolf pack as well. As Jacob told his pack members “She’s good with weird.”

Yes, she has flaws, but in the end, those make her more realistic. She’s a teenager who’s going through a lot and tends to act irrationally, can we really blame her?    

Any discussion of Twilight and its problems isn’t complete without a discussion of (major spoiler here) Jacob imprinting on Renesmee. For those of you who don’t know, imprinting is how werewolves find a mate.  They lay eyes on their soulmate and that’s all she wrote.  The problem here is that Renesmee is Bella’s newborn baby!

 People claim imprinting could just be a strong bond between people, but Stephanie Meyer herself wrote in the Official Illustrated Guide, “There are several theories on why imprinting occurs: Some believe that imprinting ensures the passing on of the wolf gene; others believe that imprinting happens to produce larger, stronger wolves in the next generation.”  

At the barest minimum there is an ick factor here.  Sure, the book indicates that Jacob will behave as a devoted big brother and patiently await the day Renesmee can return his feelings, but still, ew.

Finally, we come to Edward and Bella’s relationship. There is no denying they need couples therapy. 

 “Edward is always like, I love you, but, get away from me. And I’m just like, ‘what is happening?’.” Ramakrishnan said. 

Of course, his reasoning is sound, he loves her and doesn’t want to hurt her. Once they decide they’re “in love”, the main problem is they’re too dependent on each other (in psychology they call it co-dependent.)  

Yes, sayings like, “I’d rather die than stay away from you,” can be seen as romantic, but when it comes to a healthy relationship, “I could live without you, but I’m choosing to be with you,” is much better. 

The full level of co-dependency comes in full force when Bella falls into a catatonic state when Edward leaves her. Bella behaves erratically in order to hear his voice in her head and when Edward believes Bella has died (with no real evidence), he tries to provoke the Voltouri to kill him.  Both EXTREME reactions. And continuing with extreme emotions, Edward ll proposes to her the morning after he comes back.

Once established as a couple, Bella and Edward constantly argue about the wedding, and Edward becomes even more controlling. And if you are looking for symbolism, what does it say that their relationship evens out only after Bella becomes a vampire?

Students and teachers had similar opinions when it came to the characters, but when it came to the moral of the story, they were as different as can be. 

 “I’ve actually never thought about that.” Victoria Wu, an English teacher at Longfellow, admitted. “I would probably say something to the effect of fight for what you believe in because I do believe that the Cullens were trying to live a peaceful,”  she said. 

Seventh grader Charlotte L. thought the message was that people can be together no matter their differences..

Oviayah thinks there is no overall message, instead, the books are simply for entertainment, 

In the end, Twilight is one of those movies or books you watch or read for the sake of comfort, nostalgia, and a good laugh. Thousands of people find Twilight a comedy, video, edits, and outright memes filling the internet. It’s a nice escape from reality and the characters, flaws and all, are relatable in a strange way. And they continue to get checked out of the library regularly.

“We’ve had to order new copies because they’ll get damaged from just being used so many times. Or maybe one will go missing so it’s always something that I have to replace,” Hoyle said.

Hoyle noted that, while the series is not the most popular one in the library, it is definitely still getting checked out, and they will be ordering the new books in the series because students have been asking. 

Lionsgate TV is working to make a new television of the series. Not much is known for sure, but already people are breaking down the facts and digging into it online.  

For now, Twilight is an old franchise, but alive and well for many people.  The new additions could bring back the hype.