When Michelle Pan first picked up Twilight for a summer reading project, she was 13 years old. She had a list of books to choose from, and Stephenie Meyer’s novel seemed the most interesting to her.
Pan is now a 20-year-old sophomore at Stanford University. After six years of maintaining the fan website BellaAndEdward.com, writing a book about the controversial views and debates surrounding the series, attending conventions and movie premieres and meeting the cast, she can’t believe the series is coming to an end.
“It’s really bittersweet,” she said.
(L-R) Actors Taylor Lautner, Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and director Bill Condon attend the The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2 Germany premiere at Cinestar on November 16, 2012.
Since opening in 2008, the franchise has made $1.1 billion in North America and more than $2.5 billion worldwide.
Pan said Meyer’s ability to make the world of vampires and werewolves so believable is what drew her into the Twilight story.
“The romance between Bella and Edward, the way she wrote it, was just really believable,” she said. “It really drew you in, and you were intrigued about the characters. You wanted to know more about Bella, and you wanted to know more about Edward and their lives.”
Andrea Salazar, a contributor to the entertainment fan site Hypable, also believes readers can identify with the character of Bella.
“Going beyond the vampires and all the fantasy, she’s a girl that you can relate to,” she said. “She’s a normal girl next door.”
But for others, the vampires are what make the books and movies so interesting.
“People just in general really enjoy vampires and the vampire trend again thanks to Twilight,” said Andrew Sims, who created the sites Twilight Source and Hypable. “I think it was a refreshing reincarnation of the vampire lore.”
Heather Humann, an English professor at the University of Alabama who has taught a course about Twilight, said many scholars argue that the vampire functions as an enduring object of fascination, fear, ridicule and reverence.
“These scholars suggest that, to an extent, vampires represent a society’s wishes and fears,” she said in an email. “The same could be said about Meyer’s vampires.”
Jaime Warburton, a lecturer in the Department of Writing at Ithaca College who teaches a seminar titled “Fantasy, Fandom, and Fans: Exceeding Our Own Lives,” said fans attach themselves so strongly to movies like Twilight because it feels good to know a universe different from their own.
“It feels good to amass knowledge, to imagine, to explore, to create,” she said. “It feels good to belong to a community that marks itself as special, wherein one might be recognized for a commonality that otherwise goes hidden.”
But Humann and others agree that there are problematic messages conveyed to readers and viewers of the series, most of them revolving around issues of femininity, gender inequality and race.
“To an extent, the Twilight books function as products of our time and thus reveal our society’s values and attitudes,” Humann said. “Our culture has created strict standards about how women should look, act and conduct their lives, and Meyer’s fiction reflects these contemporary gender codes and conventions.”
Natalie Wilson, a lecturer in women’s studies and literature and writing at California State University San Marcos and author of Seduced by Twilight, said Bella is a weak character whose whole reason for being is to love Edward and Jacob, who are abusive at times but are still held up as the be-all and end-all of desire.
Priya Chugh, a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that is part of the reason she lost interest in the franchise.
“I think it portrays females in a bad light because it shows they have no potential unless they have a man in their life, and their life has no substance without a male presence,” she said.
But Salazar said she does not see Bella as a weak character.
“She’s weaker in the first book because she’s mortal, but when you see her become a vampire, she’s the one that protects her family,” she said. “I don’t know what’s more empowering than that. With her shield, she’s the one that protects the whole coven.”
Wilson said the treatment of race is also problematic. Stephenie Meyer wrote about the Quileute tribe without its permission and misrepresented its cultural legends, something that is considered bad etiquette with indigenous tribes that were colonized and suffered historical hardship, she said. These characters of color are treated in much different ways than the white characters.
“The characters are very privileged, the Cullens, and they’re also uber, uber white — so white they sparkle,” Wilson said.
To fans, however, the world of Twilight remains a great story.
“I’ve always said that Stephenie Meyer is a very good storyteller,” Pan said. “She’s able to create this world that’s so enviable, and you kind of want to be in that world and it’s also very attractive. It’s just something that every girl wants to experience.”
But Sims said it feels like the right time for the saga to end, especially now that people are excited about other franchises like The Hunger Games.
“It was a really fitting ending,” he said. “The entire final half-hour or 45 minutes kind of summed up the series, and I think they really did a good job basking in the end of it to give fans a proper farewell.”
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