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Midnight Sun: A Reminder of Why Twilight Was Successful

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Audrey's CornerIs there a more classic story than man vs. nature?

Yes, I admit, I caved to the hype and read (or rather listened to) Midnight Sun, the latest installment of the guilty-pleasure franchise that is Twilight. I'll also admit that I was one of the millions of teenage girls who read the original quadrilogy under the table during math class, breathlessly wondering whether Bella would end up with Edward or Jacob (the vampire and werewolf, respectively, for those who didn't partake in this pop culture juggernaut). At the time I was young, lonely, and as ill-fitting in teenage society as any bookworm. So who can blame me for using this vanilla-bland character to project myself into a supernatural romance perfectly calibrated to appeal to teen girl fantasies?

But like everyone else, I thought the Twilight fever had broken. After the (in my opinion) disastrous movies and the long tail of open mockery, it seemed like the story was destined to be little more than a whispered secret around the women's water cooler.

Reader, I was wrong.

Last August, Stephanie Meyer surprised us all with Midnight Sun, which is basically the original Twilight story written from the point of view of the vampire. It is 650 pages, or well over 200K words, following the exact same plot as the first novel, including the same dialogue, events, and dramatic reveals. In short, there are no surprises, plenty of purple-prose descriptions, and enough teenage angst to give TikTok a run for its money.

And yet I devoured it.

Shameful? Perhaps. But once I set aside any expectations for high-brow literature, I have to admit that I was extremely entertained. It was fun, which was a great relief in the waning days of COVID. The audiobook was well-narrated and dramatic, the new backstory interesting, and the story was, as ever, as addictive as movie-theater popcorn.

When the ride was over and I'd reached the predictable but no less exciting finish, I spent some time thinking about why the Twilight stories, despite the iffy writing and sometimes cringe-worthy dialogue, work so well.

Here's my answer.

The thing about Twilight that its detractors refuse to acknowledge is that it's an archetypal story. It is, at its core, a variant of the Beauty and the Beast myth. A vulnerable-but-good woman who needs protecting attracts the notice of a man who wants to overcome his monstrous nature. He must fight his worst instincts to become deserving of the woman's love while also keeping her safe from worldly (or in this case, otherworldly) dangers. It's why we love the Bad Boy stories, why romance novels so often feature the domineering alpha-male stereotype. Deep down, women like to fantasize about not only being protected by masculine strength but also being something worth protecting. Someone special enough to tame the beast.

It's certainly not feminist, but the allure of this set-ups is hardwired into us. Its roots twist so deep into our collective cultural psyche that no amount of modern sensibilities can yank them free. And Twilight is far from the only pop culture behemoth that has taken advantage of such classic, ingrained tales. Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Hunger Games can all be tied to ancient legends or biblical stories. Marvel superheroes are arguably a new kind of pantheon. In many ways, gigantic commercial success can almost always be tied to our shared mythos, our deeply held common stories, spun in a way just fresh enough to be new without losing the ancient commonality.

Now, this doesn't mean that Twilight is for everyone. It's perfectly understandable to loathe the franchise for any number of reasons. My only point is that, despite the ridicule that's become as ubiquitous as the books themselves, we shouldn't forget to grapple with the reason these novels became a worldwide phenomenon in the first place. There's more to them than just glittery vampires.

And if we writers are willing to plug our literary-snob noses and take a peek beneath the hood, perhaps there are lessons to be learned there.

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