Twilight, Stephenie Meyer's debut novel, tells the story of Isabella “Bella” Swan, a normal seventeen-year-old girl who falls in love with a vampire, Edward Cullen. Though Edward loves Bella deeply in return, he also battles his natural instinct to kill her. As a vampire he is, after all, hardwired to think of Bella and all other humans as his prey.
Meyer got her idea for the book from a dream she had about an average girl and her vampire lover having a conversation while sitting in a woodsy meadow. Meyer recalls,
I was so intrigued by the nameless couple's story that I hated the idea of forgetting it […] (Also, the vampire was just so darned good-looking, that I didn't want to lose the mental image.) […] [I] put everything that I possibly could on the back burner and sat down at the computer to write – something I hadn't done in so long that I wondered why I was bothering. (source)
Published in 2005, Twilight won tons of praise. The novel was selected as an “Editor’s Choice” by the New York Times and a "book of the year" by Publisher’s Weekly. Twilight is also ranked in the American Library Association’s top ten “Books for Young Adults,” and is one of Amazon’s “Best Books of the Decade So Far.” After three sequels and a movie, Twilight has followed in Harry Potter’s footsteps to become a full-fledged cultural phenomenon on which everybody has an opinion.
Despite its clear popularity, the question remains: is Twilight great literature? You shouldn't be afraid to ask this question. In fact, you should ask the same about every book covered by Shmoop. When asked if her books have a message about love, Stephenie Meyer said, "I never write messages. I always write things that entertain me" (source). So is Twilight simply entertainment, or is it great literature?
Whether or not you're a fan, you can't deny that Twilight has struck a chord in our society. In 2008, Stephenie Meyer sold 22 million books – more than any other author that year. Her four books in the Twilight saga stood as the top four best-selling books of 2008, according to USA Today's list of top 100 titles of 2008 (source). Twilight has a huge contingent of fans, from teen girls across the country to the online group TwilightMoms.com.
A big question remains: what makes Twilight so popular?
We think part of the answer lies in its universal themes. Beneath the specifics of the Twilight plot, the novel contains some recurring motifs that have been popular in storytelling over time, including "forbidden love" and "Beauty and the Beast."
You've seen similar stories before. Forbidden love forms the basis of many famous tales, including Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Arthurian legend's Guinevere and Lancelot, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome, and even Disney's The Little Mermaid. Similarly, we've repeatedly seen tales of women falling in love and "taming" beastly or monstrous men. The most obvious example is the fairy tale of "Beauty and the Beast," but elements of this story line also appear in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, among others. For one reason or another, these types of plots allure us as readers, and Twilight taps into these time-honored motifs. Check out our "Character Analyses" of Edward and Bella for some detailed connections between these Twilight characters and famous heroes and heroines of literature.
Additionally, Twilight combines aspects of our modern day world with the mythological. Bella goes to a normal, modern high school, she uses the internet and listens to CDs, and her parents are divorced (a common experience for teens today). Yet, she also has a vampire for a boyfriend. Twilight may, in part, be compelling because it takes everyday life and spices it up with a bit of mystery, mythology, and danger.
Why do you think that Twilight has struck such a chord with so many people today? And do you think it will stand the "test of time" like the literary classics mentioned above?
The Official Website of Stephenie Meyer
A valuable resource to any Twilight fan, this site includes information on the creation of Twilight as well as a helpful FAQ.
Forks, Washington Homepage
Here's the Twilight section of Forks, Washington's city homepage. Lots of beautiful pictures and information to give you a good mental picture of the setting of the novel. Clearly the people of Forks are thrilled to have Twilight call their town home.
A fan site that focuses on both the book series and the movies.
Twilight stars Kristen Stewart as Bella and Robert Pattinson as Edward. Whether or not you like the movie may hinge on whether Bella and Edward fit your mental images of them. Since Meyer herself provided very few details of the main characters' appearances, the film creators had to come up with their own ideas of whether or not Bella is "absolutely ordinary," as she claims, and what "perfection" looks like in Edward's case. The movie does not pretend to be an exact adaptation of the book. The tone certainly changes since Bella doesn't narrate every aspect of it, as she does for the novel. And there are some changes to the plot that fans of the novel will notice. For example [Spoiler Alert!], we meet Jacob and Billy Black earlier in the movie than in the book, Edward and Bella's first kiss takes place in Bella's bedroom instead of near the meadow, and the vampire Victoria makes an appearance at the Forks High prom. For the most part, the movie has received positive-ish reviews, with the exception of the vampires' skin (the Washington Post, for example, said it looked like the Cullens were wearing "clown-white pancake makeup" – see the full review below).
New Moon, 2009
The Twilight sequel, also starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.
"Vampire endorsement turns Brontë into a bestseller"
This article from The Guardian discusses how Emily Brontë’s classic novel, Wuthering Heights recently got a new Twilight-inspired face-lift. Not only that, but Twilight readers have sent Wuthering Heights to the top of the “literary classics” bestseller charts.
In August of 2008, Stephenie Meyer posted a letter to her fans claiming that her partial draft of Midnight Sun (which tells the Twilight story from Edward Cullen’s perspective) was posted on the Internet without her knowledge or permission. Meyer claims that after much deliberation, she decided to post the draft on her own website so that fans wouldn’t be put the compromising moral position of deciding whether or not to read a pirated edition of her work. You can check out Meyer's release of Midnight Sun (partial draft) here. [PDF file]
Meyer on Midnight Sun
Meyer's letter to her fans on Midnight Sun.
"Inside the 'Twilight' saga"
An Entertainment Weekly interview with Stephenie Meyer.
"The Secret Life of Vampires"
A 2008 Newsweek Q & A session with Stephenie Meyer.
"10 Questions for Stephenie Meyer"
Time Magazine poses ten questions to Stephenie Meyer on the Twilight saga.
The New York Times review of Twilight the movie.
Roger Ebert on Twilight Movie
Renowned movie critic Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars and claims that the movie "will mesmerize its target audience, 16-year-old girls and their grandmothers."
Twilight Movie Review
Check out what the Washington Post has to say about the movie.
Stephenie talks about the inspiration behind Twilight, New Moon, and Eclipse, as well as the path that the novels had to take to reach bookstores everywhere.
Twilight re-enacted in 30 seconds with bunnies.
What would happen if Edward fell for Buffy, instead of Bella?
Interview with Kristen Stewart
An interview with Stewart about playing Bella in the movie Twilight.
Interview with Stephenie Meyer
Entertainment Weekly's four part interview series with Stephenie Meyer.
The trailer for the 2008 movie.
Purchase and download the Audiobook from Random House Audio
The Cullen Cars
Here are some pictures of the cars that the Cullens drive, hand-picked by Stephenie Meyer herself.
Author Stephenie Meyer
Here's a photo of the woman behind Twilight, author Stephenie Meyer.