Saturday, 4 February 2012

'Twilight' ... why is it so damn popular?

Everyone has heard of it, many have read it and many more have seen the films.  Everyone seems to have a view on it, whether they have read it or not.  Almost all forums on the Internet have a thread that argues its merits or denounces it.  But, one thing that cannot be denied is that Twilight has been hugely popular and has made Stephanie Meyer very wealthy indeed - according to Forbes richest celebrity list Meyer comes in at number 26, in between Simon Cowell and Roger Federer.

Why?  What is it about Twilight that has caused such a phenomenal following?  I've been doing a little 'research' (lurking) around the web trying to find the answers to my questions.  Many people claim Twilight is simply a teen romance and nothing more.  But there is a plethora of such novels readily available.  What is it about this book that attracts readers more than others?

Well, after ruminating, mediating and procrastinating, I believe I have the answer!

I first read Twilight three years ago.  I read it because everyone else was.  I picked it up and I read it all in one day.  I cannot deny that the story is a page turner.  You just want to know what happens next.  But, like fast food, it's not a novel that left me wanting to relish the memory.

In my 'research' I found both acclaim and criticism of Twilight.  Interestingly, most of the praise for it is associated with the fact that it is popular and has sold so many copies, rather than the story itself.  The criticism is multifold, but claims of poor writing and anti-feminist messages proliferate.

So, what is my answer?  Why is it so damn popular?

Twilight is certainly a romance, and Meyer has used a seductive formula in which the pronounced yearning between three young people is capitalised on, in excruciating anticipation.  It also has a strong supernatural flavor, obviously, and this has always been popular with readers, particularly teens.  However the thing that has made it so popular, for its main consumer (adolescent girls), is the protagonist, Bella.

In Bella Swan, Meyer has created a character who is like a blank canvas.  As a person she has very little substance whatsoever.  She is ordinary.  She has no apparent talent or special quality.  In fact she is accident prone, often vulnerable and bland.  She claims to be physically plain too - "Physically, I'd never fit in anywhere" she laments, and "I looked sallower, unhealthy.  My skin could be pretty - it was very clear, almost translucent-looking - but it all depended on colour."  Yet, she is attractive to others.  When she first moves to Forks she seems to incite ardour in most, if not all, of the male students at Forks High School.  They line up trying to get her to ask them to the Spring Dance.  Very quickly she attracts the attention of two more male characters - the vampire and the werewolf-in-waiting, and the desire of these two is just as intense as their beastly natures.

So what does all of this mean?  It means that any young female reader can readily insert herself into the shoes of Bella Swan.  The reader can be her.  Bella is not an extraordinary girl with special powers, she is not the stereotypical 'popular' gossip girl who is ultra pretty and rich - no, she is ordinary in the extreme and therefore the reader can easily become her.  What's more, she appeals to the insecurities that many young girls experience, they can readily identify with the anxieties of not fitting in.  Meyer's first person narrative helps this process, of the reader becoming Bella, as well as the lack of subplots - the entire novel is focused on the main plot, the attraction between Edward and Bella - this intensifies the story further.

Bella Swan, a plain Jane?
Image care of Wikipedia

What this means of course is that the ordinary young girls (and most people do see themselves as ordinary) can go on a journey in which they are desirable in the extreme - ergo, Twilight has become a mammoth bestseller.

Unfortunately it also means that young female readers are not inspired to stand up and overcome their fears. To take a risk and have a go, even if it means 'I might make a fool of myself'.  Bella is an incredibly passive character and this is a characteristic that many teenage girls need liberation from.


  1. You know.. I think you've hit the nail on the head there. I've never thought of it that way, but now you mention it I completely understand Meyer's success. That being said the power of Marketing cannot be ignored in the case of Twilight.

  2. Aderyn,
    A wonderful take on the story, and an angle I'd never looked at before. When I stop and look at the people that I know that are real twihards, they fit the idea you're putting forth. So now I'm trying to decide it I could incorporate the basic idea of blandness and make it interesting in my work.
    A.M. Burns

  3. I would say it's less about making blandness work, and more about identifying a target audience and writing a character that is stereotypical of said people. Right?

    Sometimes I think Meyer is a genius, other times I don't know, but either way, it can't hurt to learn from her success.

  4. You're right about the marketing JC, 'Twilight' was/is everywhere!

    I think I'd be careful about making a 'bland' character just to try to make a bestseller. The characters need to fit the story, they have to be believable and make it work.

  5. You know, that's a great point about Bella. I also had done some thinking about this awhile back and was thinking about the fact that not only is Bella the kind of character who has little substance, thus making it easy for the reader to insert herself into the story through Bella, but that she also is admired despite and often because of her faults. What other woman would ever attract so many men, not even considering the most desirable of them all who no one has ever managed to attract, by her own self-admitted qualities: stubbornness, clumsiness, moodiness, rudeness, and insecurity? It's like every girl's secret dream: behave however you like, make as little effort as you want to be polite and have good manners, and the most handsome guy you've ever seen will be mysteriously drawn to you (as well as many others). It's not a great example to set for girls.

    1. I like the idea that women can be admired with all of their faults. But I guess, for me at least, Bella is a most uninteresting character. Could she really evoke that much romantic attention?

  6. I also think its interesting how Bella makes a huge emphasis how she isn't into material things, yet she goes into a great amount of detail when describing the riches that the Cullen's own (from cars to clothes)...not really something that someone who doesn't care for them would do/notice.

    I admit, I couldn't put the books down either, when reading them

    1. Interesting point Caz, and I think you're right, my gad they were rich!