At the stroke of midnight, Twilight’s fourth entry, Breaking Dawn, will premiere on the big screen. Admittedly I’m not a Twilight fan, but I do have friends who are enamored with the tale of Bella and her suitors. I tried, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read the books. The writing is dreadfully bad; then again, good writing doesn’t seem to be a quality the publishing houses are necessarily looking for as long as it will sell like a blockbuster. No matter, you can’t take away the fact that Stephenie Meyer wrote a story that resonated with some people. For that reason alone, I sat down and watched the movies, read up on the story, and talked to some of my friends from the fanfiction community who did like it.
What I took away from my anecdotal research was that fans of the series don’t really want to be Bella, the way many famous heroines are role models who inspire women and girls to want to emulate them. Instead, Bella’s story taps into real emotions that many women experience in their lives, including feelings like desperation and powerlessness. As the EW.com review of the movie by Lisa Schwarzbaum points out, Breaking Dawn paints a grim picture of marriage, childbirth, and the perils of falling in love, but it also distracts from those negative messages by wrapping them up in a pretty package to keep the imagery attractive to the eye.
As I watched the first three movies, not much appealed to me as a person or a woman. I wanted my vampire slayer kicking butt; I wanted Bella to, well, do something. Bella isn’t a heroine; she’s a plot device in the struggle between two men. I see a lot of similarities to the ‘shipper battles in the Star Wars Expanded Universe fandom in the era of the New Jedi Order. Fans lined up on Team Jag or Team Kyp – and a sliver who wanted Team Zekk – for who they wanted as a romantic partner for Jaina. (Interestingly enough, Kyp was a much older character who had flirted with the darkness; his portrayal in fanfic often mapped out to something a lot like Edward. I watched many of the young ladies participating in fanfic back at that time drift off to Twilight because of the appeal of that dynamic.) For me, though, I’ve always been on Team Jaina – and took my ‘shipper position from there, with Jag as the well-crafted love interest who best counterbalances her impetuous Rebel tendencies. I’m also very familiar with how dismissive the fandom, and a franchise, can be of someone for simply being a ‘shipper. Of course, when you watch girls screaming for Team Edward and Team Jacob, and it’s not really about Bella in the pairing but rather their own self-insertion, well, then I get how silly it all can seem.
Here’s the crux of the problem, from my perspective: it’s kind of sad that Twilight resonates with so many women, especially if it’s because they feel that a life like Bella’s is the best they can hope for. For some Twilight fans, of course, the series is just a guilty pleasure, like a cheesy romance novel, bubblegum pop music, or a quick bite at McDonald’s instead of Ruth’s Chris. And I get that; I like my cheese every once in a while, too. But there are a lot of Twilight fans, unfortunately, who feel connected to the story on a deeper level. The generation of young women who grew up between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the current roster of stronger portrayals of women we’re seeing now, like Fringe and The Hunger Games, weren’t exposed to many exceptional heroines. Things are definitely looking up in that regard, though. Hopefully someday, the young Twihards will realize that they should expect more from their favorite female protagonists, and more importantly that they deserve more strong female heroines.
To be fair, the storytelling mediums have been heavily invested in telling anti-hero and anti-villain stories with their male-protagonist stories. Those tales aren’t any more inspiring, and they’re just as insipidly self-involved as Twilight can be. So really, the young men of the Twilight generation haven’t been done any favors either; they’re missing the truly heroic characters in the vein of Luke Skywalker or Superman, too. In fact, sometimes it seems like no one knows how to create them anymore, and the best we’re going to get is reboots, do-overs, and dragging yesteryear’s heroic characters through the mud. There’s a saying that the hardest thing you can do in life is be a hero; maybe the hardest thing to write is a convincing one. But that’s another blog for another day.
In addition to blogging about heroines and all things storytelling, I am working on my first original fiction novel. The title and teaser trailer for my book will be posted one week from today on Thanksgiving, here and at my author website TriciaBarr.com.
Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.