Twilight, a saga based on one of author Stephenie Meyer’s dreams, is not perfect. In “Thank God It’s Over: An Elegy for Twilight,” a 2012 article for Bitch, Tanya Erzen posits that, “Twilight has provided feminist critics with plenty of fodder, and there’s been countless pieces on nearly every facet of the narrative and its characters.” Since the first book was released in 2005, the series has been called “abstinence porn” in a 2008 article for this site by Christine Seifert; looked back on as a “cultural flashpoint” in a 2018 reflective roundtable at Vox; and, in a 2010 article for the New York Times, Angel R. Riley noted the specific damage the series had on the Quileute, the tribe that plays a prominent role throughout it. “‘Twilight’ has made all things Quileute wildly popular,” Riley explained. “Yet the tribe has received no payment for this commercial activity. Meanwhile, half of Quileute families still live in poverty.”
While the series has been endlessly critiqued both during its peak and in the decade that followed, its massive impact is undeniable. Twilight debuted at the top of the New York Times bestsellers list; in 2008, the film exploded at the box office, and its soundtrack was just as successful, with Vice noting that it “ushered in a new dawn” for movie soundtracks. The saga solidified the careers of Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart—both of whom kind of hate the series—and it transformed the young adult genre forever. In the aforementioned piece by Erzen, they write, “What remains in the wake of Twilight are the hundreds of derivative paranormal romance books that crowd the shelves of Barnes & Nobles.”
Most important, Twilight breathed new life into fan culture for teen girls, who used certain corners of the internet like Tumblr and Fanfiction.net, to dream up their own Twilight universes and connect with other fans. Now, those teen girls are grown women, and they remain critical of the series they once loved. Many of them have reckoned with all of Twilight’s shortcomings, though they still love the series—and are anticipating the forthcoming release of Midnight Sun, Meyer’s previously shelved addition to the saga, told through the eyes of Edward Cullen. We compiled a roundtable of four fans of Twilight to discuss their hopes for Midnight Sun and the revival of the Twilight fandom.
What was your initial reaction to the Midnight Sun announcement on Monday?
Jen Rasoari, writer: I was surprised. It has been a long time since there’s been news about the franchise. When I saw the countdown on her website, I assumed it was going to be something else, so I was not expecting it to be Midnight Sun.
Gina Escandon, writer and culture editor: Last week, a friend sent a news article in my seldom-used high school group chat about a mysterious countdown on Stephenie Meyer’s website. Within minutes, we were all rattling off theories and frothing at the mouth over the teensy possibility that it could be for Midnight Sun. It made me feel soft that this group of adults was suddenly screeching about Edward and Bella and fondly recalling the cringe-y shared experience of reading the series. When the Midnight Sun release was finally confirmed, I was genuinely excited—though my excitement is mostly about the resurrection of the Twilight fandom.
Rachel Charlene Lewis, senior editor at Bitch: Several people DM’d and texted me about the Midnight Sun news. I’m honestly shocked; I figured Meyer would be releasing a sequel to The Host (2008), a much lesser book in my not-so-humble opinion. So I was both relieved and thrilled that we’re getting more of the Twilight universe.
Marina Watanabe, senior social media editor at Bitch: I lowkey lost my shit. The original series was such a great combination of teenage angst and horniness while also, in retrospect, being super embarrassing. I love the cringiness of it all and the shared bond I still feel with other fans who grew up during the height of the Twilight fandom. I was also shocked that Meyer decided to release Midnight Sun because she canceled it so long ago. But releasing it now—in the midst of a global pandemic—feels right.
Tell me about your history with Twilight: When did you read it? How did you feel then? Have you reread it and how does it make you feel now?
JR: I first came across the series when I was 12 or 13. It had just been translated into my native language—maybe around 2009. It was definitely unlike anything I’d read before; young adult fiction wasn’t really a thing in my country at the time. I remember being sucked into this world quite quickly and I absolutely fell in love with Bella and Edward’s love story. I think I read the first book in three days and I wasn’t even a big reader back then.
Looking back, I have mixed feelings. Twelve and 13-year-old me didn’t realize all the issues with the story—the racism, the misogyny, the abuse. I just saw a romantic story that I related to and idealized at the time. Of course I still feel nostalgic when thinking about the Twilight series, but these issues definitely make it harder for me to really feel excited about the revival of the franchise. I definitely wouldn’t have liked it if it came out today—or even three years later than when I read it.
GE: I started reading the series when I was around 12. At the time, my mom would drop me off at Barnes & Noble on Saturdays to post up in the young-adult section with a hot chocolate. The Twilight books were so popular among my friends, but everyone was discreet about the hype because I went to a private school and Twilight wasn’t “Christian.” The prospect of having a forbidden love with a dangerous-yet-chaste vampire enraptured me right away, especially as a preteen eager to experience high school romance. I went to midnight release parties, movie premieres, and had a Forks-themed birthday. I have a signed copy of Eclipse. My mom has kept a box of Edward Cullen Valentine’s Day conversation hearts in our pantry for more than 10 years as a tribute to my weird Twilight phase.
I recently reread the series and I couldn’t make it pass New Moon. I appreciated Bella’s character a lot more now that I’m a grumpy and lonesome adult, but it wasn’t enough to hold my attention. I typically turn off the movies when they come on television. However, I have such fond memories of the books and the community I built when I was reading them. I don’t think I’ll ever want to distance myself from the fandom entirely.
RCL: Initially, I had no interest in the books. They seemed boring to me, and I didn’t get the whole supernatural thing. I’m still not a fan of the supernatural in general and I’m especially not fond of all of the books about elves, fairies, and wolves that followed Twilight. Most of the time, these books feel cheesy and heavy-handed to me. That being said, a friend of mine convinced me to read Twilight by promising me it was 95 percent relationship drama and only 5 percent supernatural. I was immediately hooked. I preordered every single book, watched the films in theaters with my friends, and spent hours every single day after school reading Twilight fanfiction. I didn’t, and still don’t, think it’s the best thing ever, but its fandom was like nothing I ever encountered, especially since I’m only casually interested in Harry Potter.
MW: I didn’t read the first book until 2007. I was 14. The last Harry Potter book came out six months before I read Twilight, and I remember it being the first book that I felt really emotionally invested in post-HP. Obviously, there are a lot of problems with Edward and Bella’s relationship, but at the time, I was the brand of book nerd who loved a brooding fictional sad boy. And in many ways, I still am. It’s a problem.
I reread Twilight in 2015 when the gender-swapped version, Life and Death, was released. In retrospect, it’s hilarious. The Twilight series is by no means a masterpiece, but the first book still has a place in my heart the way the sequels don’t. It’s almost…charming?
Twilight is a problematic series: Edward is a vampire stalker, there’s a lot about virginity and sex-shaming that feels suffocating, and most of the romantic relationships are unhealthy. What keeps you connected to Twilight?
JR: Only nostalgia. Without Twilight, I wouldn’t be a writer or even a reader. I don’t even necessarily have a desire to revisit the series, but I do appreciate the good memories.
GE: I would agree that it’s mostly nostalgia. The books don’t hit the same now; there’s a lot I’m put off by, and it would be wrong to ignore the flaws. But so much of what I liked as a kid sucks now. I think I actively choose to cherish the warm memories of my experience with the story.
RCL: I felt so empowered when I read Twilight. As an adult, I know that the books are about control and include weird metaphors for abstinence, but Bella, both in the books and in the films, is an unstoppable young woman who knows exactly what she wants, is unashamed about her desires, and is willing to do whatever to achieve her goals. I’d never seen a female character given so much space to be an absolute mess without her becoming a punch line. So many characters like Bella are written almost tongue-in-cheek, like, who does this girl think she is, wanting something? But Bella didn’t feel that way to me as an insecure, sexually curious 13-year-old reader devouring the series at my mom’s kitchen table.
MW: I wrote about this when Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker was released, but it’s more than just nostalgia for me (though it’s definitely a lot of that.) I think for many teen girls who grew up reading the series, Twilight was a way for us to navigate our sexuality. It was exciting because there was an element of fictional danger and drama that would obviously be very unhealthy in real life, but it provided an outlet to explore sexual and romantic attraction in a safe way that had very low stakes. As a teenager, your emotions are so heightened and relationships seem so fraught—there’s something thrilling about reading about these really extreme and dramatic, hot vampires that perfectly emulates those feelings of lust, longing, and everything feeling bigger than it is.
What impact did Twilight have on you as a young reader and on the direction of YA?
JR: I remember seeing bookshelves in my country change. We didn’t have a lot of young adult novels then. There were children’s books and adult books, but that was it. As a result, I just wasn’t really interested in any books as a tween because there wasn’t anything I could relate to. That all changed with Twilight. Suddenly, people were writing about teens left and right and it was much easier to find books with a protagonist my age. Diversity wasn’t even on my radar at 13, so I didn’t really grasp the lack of that within the Twilight series, but it definitely got me into reading and later into writing because I felt so seen.
GE: Twilight was maybe the first book I ever read and reread in earnest. My obsessions with the series led me into fanfiction and art, and a lot of the content I was interested in centered around queer relationships and more progressive storylines. It was my first foray into a fan community. Now when I read a book or watch a movie I truly adore, I often still turn to places like Archive of Our Own to get a little more time with characters or different perspectives on them.
RCL: I was always a big reader. My mom would take me to Border’s (R.I.P.) or Barnes & Noble and she’d hand me $20 to pick whatever book wanted. She always gave me a ton of freedom to read whatever I wanted without judging me or attempting to sanitize my reading preferences. Twilight was a part of that. I read the books and she did too, and my sister and I would watch the movies over and over again in our living room.
I vividly remember the entire young adult section of my book store going dark, especially after the success of New Moon (2006) and Eclipse (2007) All the covers went from these lemon-yellows and baby-pinks to black and maroon, and these books all had main characters who were sucked in by various supernatural love interests. There was something different about Twilight-style novels in comparison to Harry Potter, which, to me, is way less focused on dialogue and romance and much more focused on world-building and family. The Harry Potter books never grabbed me in the same way. The obsessive nature of Twilight was encouraged, and you could tell that YA had tapped into this space where readers were going to finally start reading everything an author put out. Sarah Dessen did that, Elizabeth Scott did it for a few years after Dessen, and I followed Ellen Witltinger’s work, but it was more casual. It didn’t feel like this pulsing drive to preorder every single book they put into the world. I think publishing caught on. It felt like the equivalent of cereal companies realizing that parents would be forced to purchase cereal if the commercials made kids desperate to get the prize inside the boxes.
MW: I remember going to Barnes & Noble during the height of the Twilight phenomenon and seeing entire sections dedicated to paranormal romance. Twilight inspired so many writers in the genre in the same way that The Hunger Games created a boom for dystopian YA fiction a few years later. I have such fond memories of searching through the YA aisles for what seemed like hours looking for the next series I would become obsessed with.
How did you react during the original Midnight Sun fiasco, when the book was hacked and leaked and Meyer refused to release it as a result?
JR: A friend actually got me a copy of the original Midnight Sun manuscript once it was leaked. We handed it around in class and read it. I was disappointed that she decided not to finish then and I didn’t really grasp that I was contributing to the reason it didn’t get published. I immediately turned to fan fiction to fill that void because people quickly started trying to continue the story.
GE: I remember being devastated. I read the manuscript a bunch, just trying to soak up every bit of Edward’s point of view. . The travesty of never getting a complete Midnight Sun was all anybody could talk about for weeks. I think The Host came out around the same time that the leak happened, and I turned to that to feel sated.
RCL: I was so shocked. It was definitely my introduction to paying attention to publishing on a larger scale: there were rules, drafts, agents, and people who could do wrong. I also respected her response, which was basically like, “Fuck you guys. This is my work, and you betrayed me.” I still respect that move.
MW: That was a wild time. I also read the leaked chapters, and I was definitely bummed that I would never get to read it in its entirety. I do have very vivid memories of Meyers spending pages in Edward’s POV complaining about a sweater Bella wore, and I’m honestly here for that level of horrible pettiness. I’ll read a whole book about Bella’s frumpy sweater choices.
“It’s okay to hate everything about the Twilight saga and still be excited about Midnight Sun. We can be critical and also let ourselves enjoy things.”
What kind of impact do you think Midnight Sun will have, especially given that it’s being released during a quarantine?
JR: It could go either way. People are going to love it or hate it. I think any big author who releases a book during a pandemic will probably reach a different audience than they normally would have. It all depends on what she did with the book. If she’s learned since then and tried to remedy or at least acknowledged some of Twilight’s problematic aspects, I would be pleasantly surprised. I think that will also impact how people will react.
GE: This is what I’m most nervous about. As I mentioned before, I’m really excited for the fandom to be resurrected. I plan to buy the book and read it right away, though I’m mostly expecting the writing to still feel uncomfy. This is a great opportunity for Meyers to rectify some of the perplexing and controversial choices she made the first time around. Now that so many of the readers are adults, we’ll be paying more attention to the story and how it’s presented. But just based off this incredibly strange release time, I don’t think Midnight Sun will be that forward-thinking. It feels like this is intended to celebrate the book’s legacy and cause a ripple—nothing deeper than that.
RCL: I feel a little bad for Midnight Sun: People are going to be so critical about it because it’s a part of the Twilight series and because, especially now, so many people have nothing better to do than be cultural critics on Twitter in hopes of getting retweets. But I also feel a softness toward Midnight Sun because its release has fired me up in a way I haven’t felt in months. I know there’s nothing radical about that or especially feminist, but it’s made me feel like I have something to look forward to for the first time in more than a month. I hope the book will also give other people something to look forward to. Midnight Sun is not going to be a feminist manifesto and it was never meant to be.
MW: I’m a little worried after what happened with Life and Death, which seemingly failed to create the same hype as the original series and didn’t have anything of value to add. It will definitely be interesting to see how readers feel about the new book now that they’ve “aged out” of the YA genre. My hope is that Midnight Sun provides older readers a sense of nostalgia and community, and we can all enjoy it, critique it, and laugh about it together. At the very least, I want a lot of good memes to come out of it.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
GE: If you haven’t yet been consumed by sexy TikTok dances to the Twilight score, you should be.
RCL: It’s okay to hate everything about the Twilight saga and still be excited about Midnight Sun. We can be critical and also let ourselves enjoy things.
MW: If anyone wants to have a Netflix Party and watch the Twilight saga, I’m down.