Why the Twilight Saga is a Harmful Series (or: Why I Won’t be Finishing the Twilight Saga)

See my micro-reviews on Goodreads here: Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Bree Tanner.

Even as I write this post, I feel kind of defeated. I’m the kind of person who, once she commits to something, doesn’t feel very comfortable backing out, even if it’s better I do so. Because, if I promise to do things, I don’t feel right not doing them.

This is just as much the case with books as it is with people. Normally, I can put down a book if I’m less than 50 pages into it and I know it’s not for me. But, if I get halfway through a book, it’s going to be tough for me to justify putting it down when I’ve already put so much time into it. That feeling is even worse with series.

So maybe you’ll understand what I mean when I say I feel a little conflicted about not finishing the Twilight Saga. And I do. I feel conflicted, and I feel guilty, because I spent a lot of time reading three (four, if you count Bree Tanner) books in this series (and those are long books—like, 400 pages, at least) only to stop reading when I have just one more book to go.

But I can’t finish, and in this post, I’m going to attempt to explain why.

For years, I’d been hearing things about this series, things both good and bad. I’d heard how dreamy the love interests were (Edward, especially), how poorly constructed Bella was as a character, how addicting the books were, how unhealthy Edward and Bella’s relationship was. And, at first, I’d resolved I’d never read the series, because I didn’t feel I was missing much.

Then I started writing my current WiP, and my fascination for vampires grew. This means I showed an interest in the Twilight Saga, even though it’s far from accurate when it comes to vampire lore (read: vampires do not sparkle. EVER.). When I got a new story idea centered around an abusive relationship, I figured I’d give Twilight a try. I knew the new idea would be paranormal, and I’d heard that Edward and Bella’s relationship was, again, not a healthy one. I figured I could gain some experience in what an unhealthy relationship looked like, learn what not to do when writing a vampire novel, and hopefully form my own opinion about the series. So I checked out Twilight from the library and started reading.

And, honestly? It wasn’t too bad. There was a (somewhat) consistent plot, there was tension between Bella and Edward as they got to know each other and she began learning his secrets, and I couldn’t put the book down.

So, when someone gave me a copy of New Moon, I read that book, too. I loved Bella and Jacob’s friendship and how Jacob evolved as a character (except for those moments where he got all angsty and overprotective of Bella, basically making him Edward 2.0). It didn’t have the same magic as Twilight, but it wasn’t a bad novel.

I read The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, and really, really enjoyed it. (Side note: If Stephenie Meyer had written the entire series the way she wrote that book, it would have been a lot more interesting.)

Then I read Eclipse. And that’s where it hit me: this book was terrible.

Here are the reasons Writer Me has to give for that:

  1. There was barely a plot. Apparently there’s a group of newborn vampires out to get Bella, but we don’t really experience that threat; we only hear about it every once in a while. As a result, there’s barely any tension, and no conflict to keep the story going. And, if I’m reading a 629-page book, I need something to happen. PLEASE.
  2. Bella is very whiny, and, quite honestly, very boring. She does nothing but cook, clean, study, and drool over Edward (who, honestly, is a jerk). There is nothing special about her, other than her being in love with a vampire. Any other character in this series would have had a more interesting viewpoint to share.

(Side note from Writer Me: I think one of the reasons this series gets a particularly bad rap is because of its failed potential. I mean, when you think about it, this idea could have been a great story: a mortal falls in love with a vampire, and has to learn to navigate the danger that comes with that and the vampire’s world. That could be an amazing, powerful story.

But it needs a more skilled writer to recognize said potential, and, unfortunately, Stephenie Meyer is not the right girl for the job. [Her writing isn’t terrible, but it’s definitely amateur, and her character-building skills need work.] And I think that, because the story could have been great, but wasn’t as great as it could have been via her execution, it makes the idea’s execution look even worse. Just thought I’d put that out there.)

And yet, in addition to finding great examples of what never to do when writing (ever), I found the poisonous pieces of this story. It’s not just how Edward treats Bella—like she needs constant care and doesn’t know how to make her own decisions, when he should give her the freedom to make said decisions and learn from her own mistakes like a normal human being, even if it gets her killed. (Heck, that would be an interesting story.)

It’s not just how their relationship is clingy and codependent to the point of Bella’s inability to function without him. (Believe it or not, I could actually relate to her when she went through her depressed phase in New Moon after Edward left. That was actually one of the aspects of the novel I felt Stephenie did pretty well. It’s not healthy, but, for a teenage girl, it’s a realistic reaction. [Trust me; I’ve been there before, and it’s not fun.])

No, the worst message this series sends to its readers is in the way Bella treats and sees herself.

Allow me to explain.

Bella sees herself as inferior to Edward, partly because he’s a vampire.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a quote from Twilight (emphasis mine):

“Rosalie is jealous of me?” I asked incredulously. I tried to imagine a universe in which someone as breathtaking as Rosalie would have any possible reason to feel jealous of someone like me.

“You’re human.” He shrugged. “She wishes that she were, too.”

“Oh,” I muttered, still stunned.

Here’s another one from later in the book:

“But honestly,” I teased, “for that to bother you, after I have to hear that Rosalie — Rosalie, the incarnation of pure beauty, Rosalie — was meant for you. Emmett or no Emmett, how can I compete with that?

“There’s no competition.” His [Edward’s] teeth gleamed. He drew my trapped hands around his back, holding me to his chest. I kept as still as I could, even breathing with caution.

“I know there’s no competition,” I mumbled into his cold skin. “That’s the problem.”

Here are some quotes from New Moon, as well (again, emphasis mine):

 “You’re not good for me, Bella.” He had turned his earlier words around, and so I had no argument. How well I knew that I wasn’t good enough for him. (70)

Several hundred pages later…

“[Y]ou honestly believed that I didn’t want you anymore. The most absurd, ridiculous concept—as if there were any way that could exist without needing you!”

… “I knew it,” I sobbed. ‘I knew I was dreaming.” (510)

And, just a page after that…

It never made sense for you to love me,” I explained, my voice breaking twice. “I always knew that.”

So, based on those quotes, there’s ample evidence to support the claim that Bella feels unworthy of being his girlfriend. (And, just so you know, I actually had at least four more quotes to use for this post. My point being, there is plenty of evidence to suggest Bella feels inferior to Edward—probably enough for it to be fact.) She loves him, but she doesn’t know why he loves her. She refuses to believe he actually loves and wants her, even when Edward outright says so. In Bella’s mind, she is undeserving of being Edward’s significant other.

What is her solution to this problem? Why, become a vampire, of course.

Take a look at this exchange from Twilight. It takes place right after James attacks Bella after luring her to Phoenix on the premises of saving her mother. James bit Bella during the previous scene, and, in order to keep Bella alive (read: human), Edward had to suck the venom out of her. This is Bella’s response (emphasis mine):

“Why didn’t you just let the venom spread? By now I would be just like you.”

… He wasn’t going to answer, that much was clear.

“I’ll be the first to admit that I have no experience with relationships,” I said. “But it just seems logical… a man and woman have to be somewhat equal … as in, one of them can’t always be swooping in and saving the other one. They have to save each other equally.

… “You have saved me,” he [Edward] said quietly.

“I can’t always be Lois Lane,” I insisted. “I want to be Superman, too.”

Okay, so this seems to make sense, on the one hand. She’s saying she feels like she’s always the one being rescued, and she wants to return the favor some of the time instead of always waiting to be saved. However, by saying “They have to save each other equally,” Bella’s implying her relationship with Edward isn’t an equal one, again reinforcing the idea that she is inferior to him.

Here’s Edward’s response:

“You don’t know what you’re asking.” His voice was soft; he stared intently at the edge of the pillowcase.

“I think I do.”

… “…[M]y life was over. I wasn’t giving anything up.”

“You are my life. You’re the only thing it would hurt me to lose.” I was getting better at this. It was easy to admit how much I needed him.

…”I can’t do it, Bella. I won’t do that to you.”

Why not? … If you’re waiting for me to be on my deathbed, I’ve got news for you! I was just there!”

“You’re going to recover,” he reminded me.

… “You’re wrong,” I insisted. “I’m going to die. … I may not die now… but I’m going to die sometime. Every minute of the day, I get closer. And I’m going to get old.”

… “That’s how it’s supposed to happen. How it should happen. How it would have happened if I didn’t exist — and I shouldn’t exist.”

I snorted. … “That’s stupid. That’s like going to someone who’s just won the lottery, taking their money, and saying, ‘Look, let’s just go back to how things should be. It’s better that way.’ And I’m not buying it.”

“I’m hardly a lottery prize,” he growled.

“That’s right. You’re much better.” 

So, Bella’s basically saying that she can’t live without Edward, and she wants to become a vampire so she doesn’t ever have to leave him. Makes sense, right? She’s tired of being the “weak” one in their relationship, and she wants to be “helpful” and “useful.” (She lists these as reasons why she should become a vampire on multiple accounts in Eclipse.)

Only, Bella’s not a vampire. And I know I sound like Captain Obvious, but bear with me. You’ll see what I’m trying to get at.

Here is the premise of this entire “becoming a vampire” subplot: Bella changes herself and her identity and leaves her parents (who, though they aren’t always present, really do love her) behind in order to be with Edward. She changes who she is in order to be “worthy” of her significant other’s affection.

You see why I’m mad now?

There are several bad messages this series sends, but this is by far the worst.

That’s also not to mention that Edward and Bella’s relationship is unhealthy and extremely codependent. Stephenie Meyer is not only proclaiming their relationship as the ideal girls everywhere should aspire to; even if she didn’t mean to, Meyer is also telling them that they should change themselves to be “good enough” for such a legendary love (although I personally don’t see anything that wonderful about Edward and Bella’s relationship, to be honest).

The worst part, for me, is that Bella has a choice between Jacob and Edward, a choice she knows is between staying human and becoming a vampire. With Jacob, she wouldn’t have to change. (You can tell which team I’m on, can’t you?) He actually says this in Eclipse:

You wouldn’t have to change for me, Bella. Or say goodbye to anybody. I can give you more than him.”

Here is Bella’s verdict on this choice:

It had not been Edward and Jacob that I’d been trying to force together, it was the two parts of myself, Edward’s Bella and Jacob’s Bella. But they could not exist together, and I never should have tried.

… “Edward, I know who I can’t live without. … I have to be with you. It’s the only way I can live.

She had the choice to be with someone who would accept her for who she was (Edward was willing to do that, too, but Bella wouldn’t stand for it), and Bella chooses to change herself so she can feel comfortable being in a relationship with Edward. According to Stephenie Meyer, that’s okay.

Now, any self-respecting, mature person can recognize these subliminal messages, note them as unhealthy, and keep reading without those messages affecting their understanding of love and obtaining affection from others. But the primary demographic for this book was teenagers; when it first came out, most of the people I knew who were reading it were actually in their preteens (10 to 12 years old).

Trust me when I say that the majority of teens and tweens, while they’re not stupid, are still very impressionable, no matter how mature they might be. What if they read this series and believe that it’s okay to change themselves in order to be deserving of a loving relationship? Or, even worse, what if they decide that Edward and Bella’s relationship is healthy, and end up in an abusive relationship?

Everyone deserves to be loved for who they are, not who they think they should be. The Twilight series begs to differ, and that is why it is not a series that is worth anyone’s time. It took me three books to realize that.

I’m hoping that, by writing this blog post, it doesn’t even take prospective readers one.

 

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10 thoughts on “Why the Twilight Saga is a Harmful Series (or: Why I Won’t be Finishing the Twilight Saga)

  1. Definitely agree on Twilight sending the wrong message. I love to read books with disturbing and traumatic themes, but this is a completely different matter, where abuse and willingness to do anything to keep a man interested, being romanticized. I did enjoy the books when I read them when I was fourteen, but now I see the true awfulness of the series. It is difficult to separate fiction from reality when you do not know any better, and I just do not get how books that send terrible messages to their readers are so much more popular than the ones with a great message. Plus, nothing happens in the series, there is no plot at all.

    • Totally agree with you. The main problem is how it romanticizes these issues, when it could be educating people on them instead. Unfortunately, I think sometimes people prefer “fluffy” literature to “good” literature, maybe because it’s easier to stomach. I might be able to give the series the benefit of the doubt if it were written better, but, yeah, it’s not. :/

      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

      • It is true that some people love to indulge in ‘guilty pleasure’ reads, I read quite a few myself. However, ‘fluffy’ literature does not have to romanticize harmful behaviour. There are so many better books out there, both high and guilty pleasure kind of literature, and it is a shame that books like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are getting so much undeserved recognition. Haha I could go on about it all day 🙂

  2. Pingback: ACOTR, the Beast, and Abusive Relationships in YA – Rayne Adams

  3. I hope it’s okay to add a link to this entry in my own blogpost (I also take issue with abusive relationships in YA books, and after reading the #FeminisminYA thread today, this post, and starting ACOTR, I’m itching to add my two cents. 🙂

    If not, let me know and I’ll edit it out! No worries. I just wanted to give a shout-out to you in part for inspiring to write my latest post.

  4. WOW. You really put a lot of thought and research into this post. I applaud you for that. I have to say I went through my Twilight phase, but I probably won’t read them again. It was a phase. I completely understand what you mean about them sending the wrong message though. I remember when I read the series a family friend’s ELEMENTARY school daughter wanted to read it too. Her mom told her no (thank goodness…). -Allison (abookishalli.com)

    • Thank you so much! And I agree; we all go through reading phases. I’m not saying that anyone who reads them has a bad taste in literature. (I liked the first book, and I love the ideas Meyer has.) It’s just that her execution of certain ideas and dynamics is sometimes questionable. Thank you so much for stopping by!

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