Just when it seemed like the world could not hold any more incarnations of the vampire story, Stephenie Meyer stepped in with her Twilight series a few years ago. Suddenly, we have a phenom as addictive as Harry Potter, just slightly more sexy and with fangs. And just like the demise of the Potter series, Twilight has reached its inevitable conclusion just a few short months ago with the release of the final book, Breaking Dawn.
I find looking at Twilight in the same light as Harry Potter to be personally apropos. I didn’t become interested in the Potter stories until the first movie, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was about to be released. Similarly, though I’d seen the starkly haunting images on the covers of Meyer's books in the young adult section of Borders for quite a long time, I didn’t take the time to look further into the series until chatter about a movie was floating around. And much like the first time I picked up the first book in the Potter series, I was instantly hooked by Twilight.
(WARNING: BELOW HERE YOU WILL FIND SPOILERS FOR ALL OF THE BOOKS)
Some background on the story: Twilight is a young adult fantasy novel set in the here and now. The story’s heroine is Isabella “Bella” Swan, a high school junior who decides to leave her mother and her warm apartment in Phoenix to move in with her father in Forks, Washington. She’s not at all thrilled at the prospect, but she knows that it will make her mother happier to be able to travel with her new husband, who is a minor league baseball player. Bella’s taking the adult role in this relationship is nothing new, and with a brave smile and lots of false assurances that this is what she wants, Bella heads off to Forks in the middle of her junior year.
At first, she’s the talk of the town as the new girl. She also attracts the attention of just about every boy in the town limits. But Bella is not too comfortable in her own skin. She sees herself as plain, ordinary, clumsy, and horribly accident-prone. Like most teenage girls, she is terribly critical of every move she makes. When she attracts the attention of the mysterious Edward Cullen, though, her entire life is turned upside down.
The Cullen family has been a strange fixture in Forks for a few years by the time Bella moves into town. Carlisle is a brilliant young doctor and father to five adopted teens. Emmett, Rosalie, Alice, Jasper, and Alice stand apart from the other kids at the high school. They are unnaturally beautiful, still as death, more graceful than a Bolshoi veteran, and decidedly antisocial. Edward notices Bella and finds her unbearably attractive, so much so he could eat her — literally.
Yes, the secret to the Cullen family is that they are vampires, in no way related, but a family nonetheless. In fact, they are an anomaly within the vampire community because of how they are bonded by love. Carlisle is mated to his wife, Esme; Rosalie to Emmett; Alice to Jasper. Edward is the only one to not have found the other half to his soul. The Cullens are also different because of their “vegetarian” diet; they don’t feed off of humans, but rather dine on wild game of the grizzly or cougar variety.
Bella sets off more than one of Edward’s alarm bells. First is the incredible blood lust her scent generates for him. Second, he cannot hear her thoughts. One of his vampire gifts it telepathy, and Bella is the only exception he has met in more than a century. Third, he is inexplicably drawn to her, physically and emotionally, which makes for one hell of an internal conflict. But since the story is told from Bella’s perspective, we are left to our own imaginations as to what is going on in Edward’s head throughout this series.
Long story short, the first book details the dance these two lovers play in trying to figure out their relationship and the dangers involved. Despite the fact that loving a vampire means that the already ill-fated Bella is constantly in mortal danger, she is irrevocably bonded to Edward. He, on the other hand, continues to do what he believes is “the right thing” to protect her and only ends up hurting Bella in the process.
In the second book of the series, we’re introduced to the Bella-Edward-Jacob Black love triangle. Edward and the rest of the Cullens leave Forks at the beginning of New Moon as a way to protect Bella from the dangers of being associated with creatures whose nature is to eat her alive. As a result, she spirals downward into a deep depression that nearly kills her. But sparking up a new platonic relationship with her friend, Jacob, she finds some measure of relief. A series of events follow that endanger her life again, and she in turn ends up having to save Edward, which sparks their reunion. Edward soon realizes that he can’t be without her.
Eclipse is the third book in the series. From the end of Twilight, Bella has been begging to be turned into a vampire, an idea that Edward opposes. In Eclipse, the triangle of Bella-Edward-Jacob deepens and comes to a head at the end, when Jacob learns that Bella is engaged to marry Edward. Through more battles, manipulation, and another attempt on her life, Bella comes to realize she loves them both, but is committed to Edward. Jacob flees to escape his pain, and Bella and Edward move forward with their plans to wed.
This is where Breaking Dawn picks up. Finally, this Romeo has his Juliet and they tie the knot. It is all very opulent, with the fashion fanatic Alice in charge of everything. Jacob returns to show Bella his support as a friend, but as he is so opposed to her becoming a vampire, he loses his cool and has to be taken away from the wedding by his pack. Oh yeah, did I mention Jacob is a werewolf, the natural enemy of vampires?
To complicate matters, Edward and Bella’s honeymoon results in more than just the loss of each other’s innocence. Bella gets pregnant, something which neither she nor the Cullens knew was even possible. The baby progresses at an alarming rate, and though the Cullens are split on what should be done with the unknown creature that is breaking Bella’s body from the inside out and draining her of every ounce of life she possesses, Bella refuses to abort. Over the course of only a few weeks, she’s close to delivery, but can’t move due to her baby’s preternatural strength.
Pretty much everyone involved believes that the child will be an abomination, with the exception of Bella, Rosalie, and Esme. Jacob clings to Bella, afraid for her life. Then at the most inopportune time, the baby starts to try to rip its way out of Bella’s stomach, which leaves Edward and Jacob responsible for handling the “birth” all on their own. Bella hovers close to death as a result, and Edward has no choice but to turn her into a vampire. Jacob is so outraged at the pain the child has caused Bella and the possibility of her death that he seeks out the baby to kill her. When he sees her, however, his whole world changes; he recognizes his fated mate in the baby’s intelligent gaze.
As a vampire, Bella finds her true self and believes that this was her destiny all along. She is strong, agile, talented, and incredibly beautiful. She gradually adjusts to all of the new changes and the revelation of being a mother to an impossible child, Renesmee (a combination of her mother and mother-in-law’s names). Renesmee is sweetness and light incarnate, if you overlook her diet of blood and her uncanny ability to communicate her thoughts by touching your face. She is a half human, half vampire who is extremely mentally developed. In fact, they estimate by her physical and mental growth, she’ll reach maturity in just seven years. All who know her instantly fall in love with the little sprite.
Many obstacles and questions must be answered before that elusive happily ever after can finally be attained, though. Trouble comes their way when another vampire spies the child and assumes she is a converted human, which is against vampire law. She flees to inform the Volturi, the vampire equivalent of a governing body, royal family, and army rolled into one. The Cullens soon prepare for battle in an effort to save their lives, Renesmee, and their way of life, as well as to gain an understanding of what this child really is.
I have to say, Breaking Dawn took a most unexpected turn for me. I actually could not decide if I liked it or not until I was about three-quarters through the book. Even writing this now, I’m not sure I’m 100 percent behind the way the series ends. That said, I think that Meyer did do a nice job in tying up the myriad storylines from the whole saga and even left the door open for a related series down the road.
All of the books in the Twilight series must be read multiple times, I think, because of the nuance and clues that make much more sense once you know the whole storyline. I also think you need that much time to digest the story as a whole. It is like a huge story told over four rather lengthy books and the only way to wrap your brain around it is to take it in in chunks over and over.
Now, Twilight the film comes out next month, and I’m wondering if I’m going to be facing another Potter-like situation where I am disappointed with the adaptation. I’ve already seen from the trailers that some of the storyline had been altered and some aspects of New Moon introduced here. I’m also not sure if the story told over the course of the rest of the series is really suited for a continued string of films. I guess we shall wait and see.