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Deconstructing the saga: Why did 'Twilight' become so popular?

Every so often, a fantasy franchise comes around that creates a pop culture infatuation akin to the 1960s pandemonium of ‘Beatlemania’. Whether it be Star WarsThe Lord of the Rings, or the boy from the cupboard under the stairs, there have been countless instances of this phenomenon. Often the boom begins with a series of books before a feature film adaptation unleashes it into the mainstream, leaving a lasting mark on society.

Twilight, the vampire-themed romance fantasy movies based on the novels of Stephenie Meyer, is another one of those. We could talk at length about the Christian, Conservative values that Meyer instilled throughout the book – along with the scarily racist plot points such as the fact that Vampire venom purifies the body by destroying melanin – but that remains a wider conversation. There are also more apparent reasons, such as the dichotomy between the vampires and werewolves in terms of social standing, with the former being white Americans and the latter Native Americans, that raises eyebrows looking back years later. A diehard Stephanie Meyer stan would argue that the author made such decisions to highlight the plight of modern Native American communities, but again, that falls into another conversation. Controversial points aside, that is a web we do not want to get trapped in, but it should be used as food for thought when thinking of the franchise. However, what we really want to know is: why was the Twilight Saga so huge?

The first point would be that it was the 2000s, a time when this kind of craze was at its height, stores like Hot Topic held soundtrack listening parties, and people still had posters on their walls. MySpace, Bebo and Tumblr reigned supreme, and overall, culture deemed itself as rather “edgy”, although when you look back, it was anything but. The side-swept fringe was, simply put, a terrible landscape. 

However, like with anything so popular, there had to be some palpable essence that sent legions of fans into such a ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob’ schism. You could argue that Meyer actually struck gold when she turned the teen genre on its head by including vampires and wolves. For the most part, via her very austere themes, she ignored clichés, and her fantasy world just so happened to awaken a force within all those who loved it. To anyone in 2021, the thought of a man spying on a woman every night would be a case for the police, however, back then, to the droves of teen girls, it was totally fine. How strange. 

It’s almost as of it was just so ridiculous that it was, in actual fact, pretty good. That seems to be the consensus amongst grown-up Twilight fans who look back on the books and films as a puzzling totem to a former life, a time before the adult world really came-a-knocking. This isn’t to say that the craze has died off, as it hasn’t. The release of Meyer’s reworking of the story from Edward’s perspective, Life and Death in 2015, showed that the demand is still there. It’s a ridiculous, fantastical world, but it provides shelter to many, be it the films or books, there’s something about the bizarre, deepest, darkest fantasies that people have that culminated in Twilight exploding.

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The proliferation of Harry Potter related things in culture is enough to reflect that people just love fantasy, and it remains a very modern trend that shows no sign of abating. At times modern life is rubbish, and there are numerous means of escape, and one of these is clearly Twilight, even if it is kind of laughable – but then again, so is Fifty Shades of Grey, but we won’t get into that. The intrinsic connection between the two series is a different topic entirely.

Furthermore, the protagonist of Twilight, Bella, provided something of a representation to all the awkward, puberty-stricken girls out there, and continues to do so for those who aren’t as outgoing as their peers. There’s something about Bella that people read into, introspective and self-loathing, which is a universal sentiment – but as a teenager, of course, you don’t always know this. There’s a certain type of immature suspense that is imbued in the plot, similar to the one that popularised The Catcher in the Rye and Rebel Without a Cause. Screw society and the human race, vampires and werewolves are much more fun to be around. 

One account from former Twilight fan Isabella Grey on Quora reads: “It’s wish-fulfilmentThis tends to happen with the younger readers and they’re usually female. Having been thirteen myself once, I felt very awkward and out of place among my peers. Not an unusual feeling in hindsight but I didn’t have it then. Nor did I find myself particularly pretty-you gotta love your awkward years. So along comes Twilight who boasts of a protagonist that also is out of place among her peers and doesn’t think she’s pretty but yet this otherworldly, incredibly attractive and wealthy boy would do anything for her.”

It explained: “Many young girls want to feel special, adored and desired by someone who is a ‘catch’. Someone who’d do anything to protect them and make them happy. Even many older women want this (that’s why Fifty Shades was so popular as well). Bella is such a bland, blank-slate of a character that when young girls read the story, they’re not reading Bella’s story, they’re inserting themselves into it.”

The final point is perhaps the most important: Edward. The obsession for this strange vampiric creep was really taken to new heights when Robert Pattinson was cast in the films. A real heartthrob on the page and on film, Edward was the aloof, detached sort of proto-soft boi that people loved to fall in love with. It’s almost ironic that Pattinson is now playing the other edge-lord of cinema, Batman, surrounded by claims that the new take on the character was based on Kurt Cobain. Jokes aside, Edward’s devotion to Bella was the defining factor of why he ultimately won the battle with Jacob. He loved her unconditionally, so fair play. 

A real Gordian knot of pent up emotions and controversial themes, be it the books or films, the Twilight Saga remains one of the densest and confounding series to have ever graced popular culture. Nevertheless, I would like to remind you all of the track ‘Meet Me On The Equinox’ that Death Cab For Cutie released for the release of the film adaptation of New Moon. What a bassline.