Top 10 Things Twilight Got Right

Those who unquestioningly loathe “Twilight” often make very facile arguments against it. A pity, because honestly the books do deserve some criticism and just calling fans of the books names contributes no wisdom to anyone. Let it also be said (or, in this case, written) that Stephanie Meyer got some things spot on. I’ll even maintain these have a lot to do with her books’ popularity.

1. Readability.
Stylists sneer at these books, but when I read the text of those sneers what I find are rote criticisms about adjectives and adverbs and the like. Curious how these some folks don’t hurl their ire at Dean R. Koontz (who piles simile upon simile upon simile) and David Webber (he of the identical voice for all his characters in the midst of gigantic datadumps) or even Emily Bronte (“Wuthering Heights” is a magnificent novel, but its writing style is abominable). In fact, Stephanie Meyer will never win the applause of those looking for beautiful prose (myself included) but she deserves credit for putting together a tale eminently easy to read. That is nowhere near as easy as it sounds. Don’t believe me? Read ten randomly chosen pieces of fan fiction. Or anything by David Eddings.

2. Blood as Metaphor.
One thing I’ve seen Twihards gush about and their foes never even register is the central image of the story. Edward is a vampire who more than anything else longs to feast upon Bella’s blood. Even the smell of her makes his mouth water, his self control waver, his bloodlusting self strive to break free. He wants to sink his teeth into her throat and devour ever last drop. But–he doesn’t. Nor can he stay away from her, and ultimately he refuses to lie to her. She is his EVERYTHING, yet he shows self-restraint far beyond anything most boys Bella’s age can even imagine. That idea, or ultimate desire and self control, clearly struck a chord. When one looks around at young males of our species strutting around, spouting obscenities and treating girls like kleenex to prove that they’re “men,” the desire for a man like Edward begins to make more sense. He is Lust Under Control. More, he is Lust in the service of worshipful love. THAT is the fantasy, not his Greek God looks.

3. Virtue Empowered.
Stephen King’s (very) funny comment to the contrary, “Twilight” has an idea behind it–a compelling, rather sophisticated one. And quite welcome. Throughout the books Bella, although physically the weakest of the main characters until halfway through the fourth, remains the protagonist. She calls the shots. People ultimately listen to her, and not because they aren’t headstrong, even foolishly so. Edward, Jacob and Charlie in particular all eventually bend to her will. Not because she blackmails them or whines until she gets her way. No, she acts with courage and doesn’t give up, honestly (sometimes endearingly) approaching matters. The third book in particular makes the point that she’s a person who influences the world by example, by persuasion, and by courageous action within her own abilities. Hers is the power of moral authority, a welcome idea amidst so many films, stories, t.v. shows and the like which glorify Wolverine’s claws and invulnerablity, Batman’s amazing skills and gadgets, Buffy’s superior strength and reflexes, etc. Me, too. I love all those characters as well! But I find it lovely to read about someone “ordinary” who still manages to impact everyone around her–not least because I have no such super-powers, no vast financial resources, no mystical destiny giving me an advantage over everyone else.

4. Vampires are Frozen.
Subtle, but vital in making this love story between a teenager and someone over a century old make anything other than really, really creepy. Edward is over five times Bella’s age, but because he was vampirized at age eighteen he fundamentally remains that age. Forever. Thus this union has hope. In a real way they remain equals. Although many won’t like to acknowledge this, John Ajvide Lindqvist said something very similar in “Let The Right One In” involving another May-December romance of vast purportions. Were not Eli and Oscar both twelve in some really basic manner, they couldn’t remain together, not happily. Neither could Bella and Edward unless they too were the same age in some odd way. Bella even recognizes this. Plus Meyer’s vampires retain the first glorious excitement of being in love, forever. They don’t change, except rarely. And when change happens, it too is nearly always permanent.

5. Charm of the Mundane.
The only reason I ever tried mushroom ravioli was because of “Twilight” (delicious incidentally). Tis a curious thing, but a fresh look at what most call ordinary remains a rare thing in fiction–and startlingly powerful. Capturing the imagination with tiny details does much to grab the soul of a reader. Somehow “Twilight” does this. The exact color brown of Bella’s eyes. The description of the local High School and the cloud cover over Forks, all that stuff about cars–it all felt very real and helped me enter into a secondary world almost seamlessly.

6. Undead Politics.
Totally believable, on many levels. The way the Volturi established their position as judges on the one law everyone agreed upon, the way people wanted to believe in them even when doing so seemed really naive, the way rivalries played out, and how some served the vampires in hope of being elevated. Even the disparate way each of the three Volturi responded to the endless years–extremely believable. In this Meyer outdid “True Blood” easily and equals the undead society portrayed by Anne Rice. Bravo!

7. The Venom.
I liked the explanation of precisely how someone becomes a vampire, what it does to them and also why there are so comparatively few of the things. Likewise the amount of blood needed by individuals. In this Meyer outdoes Rice, because even a little bit of math shows that Lestat with Louis and Claudia could not have gone undetected for twenty years much less sixty, not even were New Orleans three times its size! Meyer’s reasons behind it all made so much sense, making for a nicely coherent image of her vampires as a species. Perhaps because she doesn’t read vampire fiction, this helped her avoid some assumptions?

8. Characters.
This may be the most subjective basis for a judgment, but the fact remains that I (as well as lots of other people) find the characters in “Twilight” believable, interesting and likable. She also keep the interest level high among the main characters while still allowing lots and lots of secondary ones their own personal lives. Other students at Forks High come across as real, as a cross-section of people that seem both familiar and unique. Edward is real enough you want to slap him sometimes. Maybe most impressively, Bella comes across as a narrator whom two men fall for yet she handles it without coming across as conceited. Now, it is perhaps telling that so many read the books and HATE Bella, but when I ask why the answers often don’t seem to have much to do with the book’s contents. She is attractive, not drop-dead gorgeous. Not all the boys are after her, only two (although she attracts attention as the New Girl at first). Is she a doormat? Absolutely not! This girl punched a werewolf when he got fresh! Plus a certain number of people just don’t care for Kristen Stewart. Which is fair, but has little enough to do with the books. As much as I decry the plots of the four (well, five) books as obvious, I think the characters remain vivid and quietly compelling.

9. Fun.
Quite simply, the books are fun. The humor inherent in the whole situation–from Charlie’s dealing with a teenage daughter to Alice’s impish sense of humor, the interplay of the romantic triangle, our slow learning what we do about the characters–plays out in a way that says: Entertainment! In a nutshell, the saga makes for a ripping yarn. Love. Misunderstandings. Danger. Secrets. Hearbreaks. Redemption. Chases. Mysteries. Plotting. All good juicy stuff.

10. Villains.
“Twilight” has some great villains. James, the enthusiastic hunter. His brilliantly sneaky mate, Victoria. Then of course there is Jane (her special power–the one manifested from her personality–is to cause searing pain) and her masters, the cold sophisticated Volturi. One thing fans of “Buffy” looked forward to each season (and fans of “Dexter” and “Warehouse 13” continue to) is the Big Bad, the Big Bad. They rightly measured the show in part at the quality of the villain. In this the saga of Edward and Bella hit a slam dunk..

By david

David MacDowell Blue blogs at Night Tinted Glasses.  He graduated from the National Shakespeare Conservatory and is the author of The Annotated Carmilla. and Your Vampire Story (And How to Write It) as well as a theatrical adaptation of Carmilla.


    1. I’ve seen the films but you’ve done an excellent job of making me finally read the books. It’s all over now though I take it? The story is finished? Would love to see a Volturi spinoff myself.

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  5. James and Victoria were killed off too soon. Hell, I think Meyer herself is rooting for James now. Read some of her comments about her mindset regarding “Midnight Sun”.

    I used to ridicule the “red eyes”, but digital red-eye reduction made me re-think this. In other words, everyday humans’ eyes are red in many photo flashes.
    Meaning the change to vampire eyes simply makes the red element visible in normal light.

    The sparkling skin may seem ridiculous (and looked that way onscreen), but it is original (and it perfectly addresses vampires’ folkloric aversion to sunlight). In terms of folklore explanation, the sparkling skin got to first base, but the venom was a home run.

    Speaking of which…the baseball game! Vampires and baseball, can’t beat that combo. Original, funny, and even a bit scary when the three cool vampires show up.

    Another thing Twilight did right (by association): Anything that helps the finances of a small logging town and a Native American tribe is all right by me. And the mushroom ravioli at Bella Italia restaurant in Port Angeles is delicious.

    I’ll close with a shout-out for the under-rated actors Billy Burke and Rachelle Lefevre, whose performances in these movies steal the show.

  6. Together this article and the ‘Top 10 Mistakes’ comprise an incisive and fair analysis of Twilight. Bravo!

    Some more:

    1. The theme of pessimism and self-loathing (Edward) transformed and replaced by hope and acceptance (Bella).

    2. The theme of choosing to be compassionate (Cullen family) rather than brutal (most vampire covens), even with great power coupled with intense urges.

    3. None of these common urban fantasy and paranormal romance tropes: no blood substitutes (even ‘vegetarian’ vampires are apex predators), no cures for vampirism, no vampires as metaphor for misunderstood minorities, no ancient prophecies about The One Who Will Change Everything, no secret government agencies tasked with vampire hunting or liaising. Not that these can’t be done well – but sometimes they aren’t, and then they become deflating or silly.

    4. A fresh take on vampires. Vampires as living stone, hunting mountain lions, and sparkling in forest clearings rather than skulking around techno-goth nightclubs in skintight black leather, surrounded by absinthe-sipping blood groupies? (I know, there have been many original and unique takes on vampires over the decades, and Twilight has its precursors.)

    5. Indulge me here: true vampiric inspiration. The concept began as a dream. Perhaps the real ‘Edward’ is a vampiric incubus projecting himself into Stephanie Meyer’s unconscious. OK, I don’t really believe in such fanciful notions.

  7. those are all the good points (and i totally agree with them) but i still think one of the worst things about the books are making the vampires sparkle [sry but it just doesnt make up for it in my book] although the books are way better then the movies.

  8. Hi, just had to make a comment on the weakness of humans. That’s a huge problem in so many vampire movies and books! You ever see True Blood. It’s a preety good show, kinda, but the human’s strenghts are so incosistent. One moment they take down a vampire with silver and have a crusuade like army, the next their weapons are proved preety much useless. Then one of the main characters bring in a human gaurd thing, but they’re all but useless. Do you know?
    Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files handles it preety well though. The humans are quite weak, but there are so many of them, and we’re quite destructive, that human’s are preety much the nuke of the supernatural world.

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  13. Actually being a no.1 Twiheart i know that Twilight got everything right, and there are more than 1 vampire law. In New Moon Edward says that “there are just a few and only that is regularly enforced.”

  14. A. Edward is seventeen
    B. This is one of the only stories I have ever read first and watched the movie only to find that is was exactly what I imagined.

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