A Love Worth Undying For

I’m supposed to note, continuing my music thread for the week, that the Twilight soundtrack is really good, per a friend of mine. And now I have. And thus ends my music theme for the week.

Bella and Edward

Bella and Edward

I just finished reading Twilight.

My curiosity was first piqued on my birthday last year, when I witnessed someone reading it that, in my opinion, really should have known better, for what turned out to be the fourth time or something. Um, OK. Why?

And from there, I started noticing how universal this was — how many women I knew that had read them, and often multiple times. Again, why?

I saw the movie, but watched it mainly as a movie. So finally this summer I decided I needed to read it myself, and figure out what exactly it was that made it crack for women. As a writer, is there anything I can learn here and use in my own writing. And, well, as a single guy, if I could figure out even a fraction of the appeal, distill and bottle it …

So I read Twilight. As a book, it was OK. Better than I expected, really. Having seen the movie, I basically knew the story, so there were few surprises there, but the writing was better than I expected it to be.

But the secret — I still don’t know.

One person I know posited that it was the inexplicable draw between the two main characters (which, from the writer standpoint, really, is a bit of a cheat — writing an inexplicable draw basically just means saying two characters are drawn to each other without having to explain it), and their mutual willingness to sacrifice for each other, and unwillingness for the other to sacrifice for them. It’s sad that this could be considered the draw; arguably, that should be part of any true love story.

Another person I know suggested that it’s simply that women are attracted to bad boys, or, more specifically, that “a woman wants a man who has the *potential* to be very very bad person, but just isn’t.” Definitely an idea with merit, and certainly not a new idea in the “dating advice for guys” category. (Along those lines, I also had the thought that the fact that Edward is a centenarian high school student, it allows women to lust after a 17-year-old without feeling bad about it.)

Really, that “bad person” bit is one of the things I found interesting about it — the fact that Edward is a killer is just part of his charm, in a Han-shoots-first sort of way — but the fact that he’s lovable because he’s a creepy stalker I don’t fully get. There just aren’t a lot of people I would want to discover uninvited and unannounced in my bedroom while I’m sleeping at night.

But the other thought that I had about Twilight is this — it validates the star-crossed love that’s usually told as a cautionary tale. Speaking only for the first book, it’s Romeo and Juliet, if Shakespeare had decided to end it instead with “… and they all lived happily ever after.” It’s Catherine and Heathcliff reminiscing together on their golden anniversary. It’s like someone writing a happy-ending sequel to Gone With The Wind. (Oh, wait …)

The star-crossed love story, the lovers who fall for each other despite the fact they shouldn’t, has become one of the great romantic archetypes. Discussing this with someone recently, I was told this is really a relatively recent development; that Wuthering Heights would have read very differently when it came out than it does today.

But these stories are always presented as warnings — pursuing an ill-fated love will result in, well, an ill fate. To be sure, that’s part of the romanticism — the idea of a love worth sacrificing everything for, a love worth dying for.

With Twilight, the message is the opposite — do the thing you know you shouldn’t do. Love the person everybody says you shouldn’t be with, the one who is almost certainly bad for you. There’s an easy arrogance in assuming you’ll be the one that can make it work. For Romeo and Juliet, that arrogance was their fatal flaw. Twilight says, “Go for it” — rather than paying the price for that arrogance, Edward and Bella are rewarded for it.

And that’s an intoxicating idea, indeed.

5 Responses

  1. I don’t know that I agree that “Twilight says, “Go for it” — rather than paying the price for that arrogance, Edward and Bella are rewarded for it.” Their choice to be together against all odds does not result in “happily ever after” but rather results in struggles. They don’t get what they want. They get only a little bit of what they want — just enough to make them keep wanting — because it’s impossible to have what each one REALLY wants, and they struggle with the frustration that that creates.

  2. I like the Romeo and Juliet comparison. Now that I think about it, Twilight is pretty much Romeo and Juliet with a happier ending.

  3. I wouldn’t say “happier.” Just Romeo & Juliet if they had lived. I don’t think they’re truly happy because they never can be.

  4. Eh, I would argue that the first Twilight books ends on a much more positive note that R&J, and one that readers would find more desirable.

  5. Happy endings are relative I guess. For some R&J might have been a “happy” ending, even if not in the tradional sense. And good point that your post is only considering through the end of book 1 (I’m sure my thoughts are peppered by the happenings in 2 & 3.) And since I’ve not read Breaking Dawn yet I’m unfairly comparing endings because I don’t know E&B’s ending (yet).

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