Stephenie Meyer’s vampire series is the hottest thing in young adult fiction. The latest instalment of the series, Breaking Dawn, is due Aug. 2.
Warning: If you have a daughter in her early teens, chances are good she’s in love with Edward Cullen. Totally and irretrievably infatuated.
Edward is gorgeous, considerate and protective, an all-around romantic. He drives a Volvo.
The bad news is that he’s a vampire. The good news is that he’s a fictional character and rather virtuous, even if he were a real teenage boy. Your daughter would be completely safe with Edward – he’s not after sex because, well, he’s a vampire and if he lost control, there would be nothing left of the object of his affections but a bloody smear. Edward is all about control.
Move over, Anne Rice, and maybe J.K. Rowling, too. A series written by Stephenie Meyer, a 34-year-old, Arizona-based, Mormon mother of three whose series about Bella Swan, an ordinary and somewhat clumsy girl who stumbles upon a clan of ethical vampires, is the hottest and most inexplicable thing in young adult fiction. Propelled by social networking and word-of-mouth, the latest instalment of the series, Breaking Dawn, is released Aug. 2.
A detour through the blogosphere is all it takes to demonstrate the depth of the Twilight obsession. Fans write new endings for the books and post homemade trailers for the film on YouTube.
A Facebook page called Edward Cullen Owns My Soul has almost 11,000 members. It’s a combination fan site and middle school confessional.
“Edward Cullen made me depressed for days that vampire boys don’t exist, but really just a whole bunch of mortal, cocky ***holes called ‘human boys,'” says one contributor.
“Are u totally comfortable with telling people ur in love with Edward, even though he’s a fictional character?” says another. “My love for Edward has ruined my whole life.”
So far, seven million copies of the first three books in Meyer’s Twilight series have been sold. Meyer made the cover of Time and was named to the magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Her first adult novel The Host, released last month, topped the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list. Robert Pattinson, who was Cedric Diggory in two Harry Potter films, is to star in the upcoming film Twilight. Fans of the series are debating whether Pattinson is beautiful enough to be Edward.
Meyer is a rather unlikely publishing superstar, although she has managed her own fame in a intuitive, almost big-sisterly way. She maintains a gossipy homepage, appears in pyjamas at “pyjama party” book readings and sold Twilight-related T-shirts she designed herself until she became overwhelmed by the demand. At a signing for the third book in the series, billed as the “Eclipse prom,” readers were photographed with models representing characters in the book.
As a devout Mormon, Meyer doesn’t work on Sundays or drink coffee. Her favourite authors include Lucy Maud Montgomery, C.S. Lewis, Louisa May Alcott and, of course, J.K. Rowling. She has never read Dracula, doesn’t like scary stories and admits that people who know her are surprised she writes about vampires.
“Unconsciously, I put a lot of my basic beliefs into the story,” she said in one interview. “When my editor wanted premarital sex in my story, I explained that I won’t write that, and she let it go.”
Edward, who refuses to drink human blood, tells Bella they have to be married before he will turn her into a vampire and have sex with her. It’s the dominant thread in the plot that has both perplexed and delighted the librarians who choose books for young readers.
“This felt still sexy and romantic, but still appropriate for younger teens. It was all forbidden love,” says Shannon Wallace, teen collection librarian at the Ottawa Public Library.
In an oft-repeated anecdote, Meyer has said she was inspired to write the first book, Twilight, after she had a dream about a girl and a boy, whose skin sparkled like diamonds, talking in a sunny meadow. The scene is replayed in Twilight, when Edward reveals himself as a vampire to a fascinated Bella.
The books are aimed at 13- to 17-year-olds, but “there are a lot of 12-year-olds who are pretty obsessed with the series,” says Wallace. That, in turn, has piqued the interest of their mothers and older sisters. “There are several librarians at my branch who have read them all,” she says.
Olivia Tran, a Grade 11 student, prefers “long, ambitious novels with a powerful meaning and a mind-blowing plot with likeable, believable characters.”
Twilight doesn’t fit that description, she admits. Still, she has read the entire “strangely addicting” series.
As Twilight progresses, Bella gets embroiled in a love triangle with another supernatural character, Jacob. He’s a werewolf.
The triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob is not very likely, says Tran. But there are some things that ring true with high school-aged readers, including the fact that Bella’s parents are divorced, Bella’s best friend, Jacob, is in love with her and she doesn’t return the depth of his affections, and she feels alienated from her peers at school.
“A lot of people I know have read the series, even some guys I know,” she says, adding that its appeal cuts “across the general female audience. I’ve seen 30-year-old women reading them on the bus.”
Brian and Sharon Schade started a business selling Twilight merchandise from their home in southern Arizona after Sharon got Twilight for Christmas 2005 from her sister, whose husband is a second cousin to Meyer.
For a home-schooling mother of four still suffering from post-partum depression, a 500-page book was daunting. But once Sharon started reading, she couldn’t put it down. The business wheels started to turn after she attended a book signing in October 2006 and noted that there was a hunger for merchandise linked to the book.
Meyer had designed some T-shirts that read: “She runs with vampires” but was getting 100 orders a day and couldn’t keep up with the demand. The Schades stepped in and asked if they could start merchandising.
Within a few weeks, they had signed a contract with Meyer and had opened the virtual doors to their business, and sell about 25 products. A number of other distributors are selling their own knock-offs based on the descriptions in the book.
“There are a lot of us adults who are enamoured with it. We can relate to being a teenage girl in high school again,” says Sharon Schade.
Mavis Reimer, professor of children’s literature at the University of Winnipeg and Canada research chair in the culture of childhood, notes that an avid following usually means that a series of books has touched a hot spot in the culture.
One way of thinking about popular vampire tales is that young readers recognize “the simultaneous desire for and fear of becoming vampiric, which, read figuratively, might be the simultaneous desire for and fear of becoming sexually active,” she says.
“It speaks to their own situation.”
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With Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance Breaking Dawn hitting bookshelves, and a film based on her book Twilight slated for a December release, we look at the sexiest vampires in pop culture history – from Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s Lestat to Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Bella Swan, the teen heroine from Meyer’s series, is far from the first character to have her heart flutter over a partner who lacks a heartbeat:
Click the link below to find out who are the sexiest vampires in pop culture history:
Vamping it up: The sexiest vampires in pop culture