Like so many teenage girls before me, I decided to read the Twilight books. Was it the series of insane interviews from Mormon author Stephenie Meyer that convinced me? Was it the recent news that Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg will adapt for the screen the next two books in the series, New Moon and Eclipse? Was it because of Entertainment Weekly's obsession with the film? Was it the recent report that kids are asking the film's vampiric star Robert Pattinson to bite them? All of the above qualify in part, but really, I just wanted to see if a vampire romance with little to no sex could captivate someone squarely outside of the book's desired audience. My startling conclusion after the jump.As you no doubt already know by now, the basic plot of Twilight is incredibly simple, and that's why it works. Girl meets vampire, falls in love with vampire...and meditatively observes vampire's ornate good looks from across the cab of her dilapidated red truck for next 300 pages. As the romance evolves over the course of the series (and I'm in the middle of the third one, Eclipse, now), Meyer is forced to separate the two characters fairly often, partly to create more tension, and partly to prevent us from asking why exactly no one is throwing on a little Marvin Gaye.
Meyer's prose style is clean and easy to read. Her main trouble is documenting every sigh and nap Bella takes, but there's also something charming about the play-by-play. Twilight has some cinematic moments, but it resists becoming an action film, and focuses on the unique settings and situations that have attracted so many readers. It can be slow going at times, but that's sort of the point — vampire love is painful, drawn-out, and inconclusive. Vampire sex, on the other hand, is non-existent, at least so far. (We hear there may be some hanky-panky later on in the series.) That's not the only thing missing in Twilight — the whole book's feel is retro. Cellphones pop up now and then, but Forks represents a nostalgic rural paradise, and there's no question overloaded young people can empathize with that as well. But no one getting laid, even just in a passing reference? Some have chided the book for preaching abstinence and never discussing the sexuality of its central character, and it's hard to argue with that. If Bella's attraction to Edward were based on anything more than his striking physique, I'd probably applaud the book's desire to push sex out of the picture. Yet she spends most of her time idly worshiping the chiseled features of her undead one-and-only. In the sequel, New Moon, Bella is now eighteen years old, and she never thinks for a moment about sex. Sure, sometimes she'll press herself against Edward's cold carapace and feel awesome, but that's as far as it goes. The vampire side is more easily explained: Edward is consumed by a desire for Bella's blood (it sings to him), and he doesn't want to get too close. In fact, it's his elusiveness in the first novel that makes her disregard all the advances of her new classmates in the rainy Washington state hamlet of Forks. In this way, the book's story might make a better instructional tool for young men than young women. This approach makes less sense for Bella, who is far from free to express herself sexually. Was this the right move to ensure the books could be read by all ages? Indisputably, but that doesn't mean it can't also be a destructive message.
Of course as a white male, I can't speak for how exactly young women experience Twilight. J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series managed a similar level of innocence and never seemed as repressively anti-sex, but it wasn't a love story about two super-hot weird teens. And from the incredible reaction to Robert Pattinson's recent public appearance, it's clear the subtext of the books isn't lost on their readers. The behavior of one fan had Pattinson perplexed:
Pattinson, who plays a handsome vampire in the hotly anticipated "Twilight" movie, was shopping at New York's Apple store recently when a little girl approached him and asked for a photo.... The 22-year-old explains, "She went really quiet and she was like, 'Can you bite me?' It wasn't a joke. "I looked at her and thought, 'Do you know what you're saying?'"Sure, Edward and Bella aren't always mixing it up sexually, keeping their relationship fresh, but the imagination can take you to the exact same place, complete with candles and a box of vampire strength prophylactics. When it does, please publish it on the Internet. Here's a bonus clip from the movie that aired on MTV's Spoilers to get you started on your journey.