Criticism of the Twilight Series

My husband sent me a couple of articles on the Twilight series written by Kellen Rice for PSA:

  • ‘Twilight’ Sucks… And Not In A Good Way
  • Twilight: A Follow-Up and a Promise

The articles are actually well-written critiques of the books, and I agree with many of Rice’s points about both the writing and the characters in the books.  Rice should have expected the teenage girls to freak out over any criticism of the books they love, and I felt her second article — an answer to those critics designed to belittle them for their taste in reading — really could have remained unwritten.  It’s hard not to respond to the critics, but it would have been wiser, in my estimation.  One of the commenters she responded to in her second article insisted (albeit ungrammatically) that the main problem Rice seemed to have is that she forgot it was “This is a BOOK a FICTIONOUS BOOK” and another said, “YOU JUST THINK TOO MUCH JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE !”  Yeah, I was cringing, too, but I think what these two commenters meant to say and couldn’t articulate for who knows what reasons, is that they understand the books are not a role-model for conducting relationships, that they don’t take them seriously, and that they understand they’re literary junk food.  I, too, cringe at Bella’s “I’m-so-not-worthy-of-Edward” attitude.  For reasons my own daughter can’t articulate, she thinks Edward is a jerk, and she is right.  She is a fan of Jacob, who is a bit more realistic despite being a werewolf, and Bella’s relationship with him was slightly more healthy.  I think what these readers were trying to say to Rice is that yes, we understand these stories are not models for our lives.  We like them anyway because they’re like cookies or chocolate.  I don’t think we really need to worry that an entire generation of girls is going to idolize the men in their lives or accept abuse at rates any more alarming than they currently do.  Rice’s comparison to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (also not the most well-written read) are somewhat alarmist and, I believe, baseless.  Harriet Beecher Stowe and Stephenie Meyer wrote for different purposes and audiences entirely.  I can’t fathom the notion that Meyer is hoping to turn a generation of girls into Bella Swan in the same way that Stowe was hoping to examine the evils of slavery.

I had a student in my class who wouldn’t read.  I pointed her to these books, and now she does.  If you need to use cake as a lure, then I say why not let them eat cake?  Will it always lead to Nabokov, Dostoyevsky, Shakespeare, and the like?  Certainly not.  But reading nothing at all won’t lead there either, whereas reading a little, even if it light, fun fluff, might lead somewhere.  And if nothing else, that purple prose is good for vocabulary development.  I think what Rice didn’t understand in her criticism is despite the fact that lots of impressionable teens are fans of the books, they fully understand it might not be a good idea to live the books.  After all, despite fears by the Christian right, we don’t have an entire generation of readers thinking they’re wizards and abandoning Christianity for Wicca.

I think Rice needs to let the criticism of her opinion roll off her back and rest assured that she is right about a great deal, but she missed the big picture: sometimes folks like to read junk food books like romance novels, horror, pop fiction, and the like, and it’s okay.  Even if it’s a steady diet, in my opinion.  Because, as the commenter so astutely noted, we understand they are just fictionous books.

Update, 1/9/09: I appreciate some of you do not like the books.  This is not really an “I Hate Twilight” Vent Forum.  I see legitimate reasons not to like the book, but you know what, I enjoyed it anyway, and so do a lot of other folks.  You don’t have to, and that’s really fine.  What I am seeing is people who do not regularly read this blog chiming in on this one topic alone, and keeping up with the comments is proving onerous.  I suggest you all start a forum where you can vent (or join one — I’ve seen one personally, and I would bet there are more).  I am closing comments on this post.  Thanks for visiting.

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23 thoughts on “Criticism of the Twilight Series

  1. I'm glad to see a post about this. I really enjoyed the Twilight books. Made me feel like a teenager again. But I know that I will not allow my daughter to read them until I am sure she is mature enough to understand they are fiction and not an example of a healthy relationship.

    I hope you are right, that most girls understand this. But I am afraid for the few that don't.

  2. I have been having intense discussions about the first book (which is all I have read, so far) today in class with my female students (I too teach at a private, Orthodox, Jewish school where the girls and boys are separated for high school). I COULD NOT put down Twilight last night, staying up much, much later than is advisable with my circadian rhythms. The first few chapters were so awful, I almost put the book down. Thirteen years out of high school myself, I wasn't keen to take any strolls down memory lane by accompanying Bella to all her classes. However, as the story forged ahead, I felt so disturbed and so drawn to this obviously dysfunctional relationship that I felt compelled to discuss it with my students, who have read the books, in class this morning.

    Of course, there is much more I'd like to say on this, but alas, the bell has rung.

  3. Like the others, I enjoyed consuming Twilight in my imagination. It gave me a free ride back to my teenage years (I'm 23 right now). Though I have to agree that Bella might not be a good role model for girls today now that they are utterly more liberal. Bella being so emotional and devastated when she was left by Edward in New Moon might not be healthy to young readers. They might think that it's ok to dwell on someone who've decided to leave for good and for them to still chase the man. Anyway,it's nice to hear that these girls don't think Bella will be a good one as well.

  4. I enjoyed the books, too. Not sure about the last — I'm still reading it, and so far, I don't like as much as the others. I think Meyer certainly captures the insecure feelings of a teenage girl well, and perhaps that's why Bella seems such a realistic character.

  5. I appreciate this. However, I would like to say that I think that youth (especially teenagers) need to read more than just "junk food" literature. I also think that just what they have to read in English class won't instill any love of language.

    So hopefully fans of Meyer's books will look for more writing elsewhere and dig in to greatness, because Meyer's stories leave a lot to be desired. More teens should delve into the wondrous world of well-written work.

    –Thanks for an honest, calm article

    Erika (a sixteen-year-old)

  6. Erika, thanks for your comment. You might be surprised to hear this from someone who teaches English, but I agree with you. The way I see it, if Twilight gets someone to read who otherwise wouldn't, I'm all for it. Of course I would hope they "delve into the wondrous world of well-written work," too, but just reading is a start, and you're very right about what students read in English class not always being the material that will instill a love for books.

  7. As a fan of much "junk food literature" I must agree with you that Kellen Rice is being a bit of an alarmist in her criticism. There's no need to immerse yourself in the literary greats all the time. A little trash fiction is good for the soul and a helps with stress. Plus, anything to get kids reading.

    On the other hand, it worries me that in a literary world full of strong (if flawed and sometimes whiny) female characters like Buffy Summers, Hermione Granger, and any of Amelia Ahtwater-Rodes' heroines', the Twilight books have gained such popularity. What makes these books so appealing (and please no one say Edward) and is this the beginning of the end for strong females in speculative fiction?

    Also, can we not group entire genres under the heading of "junk food literature"? After all, Jane Austen wrote romance and Ray Bradbury writes terrifying horror.

  8. I very much dislike the Twilight series. Though I understand that it's fun to read "junk food" novels every once in awhile (I do it myself; classics can get repetitive and boring, and sometimes it's nice to take a break), there are far better-written fun reads. I've even read cheesy romance stories that were better than this.

    My entire problem with the book was its sheer ridiculousness. I understand perfectly that it's a fiction novel, but Meyer doesn't even work within her own rules. (If you read the last novel in the Twilight series, you'll understand what I mean, but I'd rather not give any spoilers here.)

    It kind of scares me that her books are so popular. Are we that far removed from good literature that we need to have books where self-insertion is easy in a romanticized and idealized world in order to enjoy them? A junk food novel doesn't have to be badly written or even all that cheesy. (Many Stephen King books are good examples of this.)

    I enjoyed your article and agree with what you say. I, also, don't believe that there are many girls whose views of what love should be will be warped by this book. My criticism is not about the content, but rather the quality of the content. There are far better places you can turn for a fun read.

  9. I think the difference between the concerns of the Christian right that we would all turn into "wizards" after reading Potter books and the concerns of people that the Bella-Edward relationship would legitimize abuse are quite different. Girls and women I know idealize the Bella-Edward relationship and say "why can't I have a guy like that." I personally ask why anyone would want a guy like that. I don't think Rice is overreacting and while I'm glad some girls who otherwise wouldn't read are reading, I think there are other books to steer them toward: the Anne of Green Gables series (especially the last book Rilla of Ingleside), the Nanny Diaries, Nancy Drew, etc. It's a cop-out to say that Twilight is the only series a teenage girl will read.

  10. I have to admit I like the novels myself for reasons I can't explain, but at the same time, I also see truth in the criticisms levied against them. I agree with Sarah's point that Meyer doesn't work within her own rules. I agree with Kate's point that there are better books. I totally think Rice's criticisms are legitimate, too. I don't think I said these are the only books teenaged girls will read, but I can testify that it's a fact they got more than one girl to read who didn't before, and I am not about to tell them — when they didn't read before — that they should read "better" stuff instead. I have to say that I don't like the idea that a girl would get the idea that this Bella/Edward thing is the perfect relationship when I see it as very imperfect, but I honestly don't think it's as much of a concern as Rice thinks it is.

  11. I'm a sixteen year old guy who reads the Twilight books. I understand everyone talking about "junk literature" and such. But were all the novels and such written by Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, etc. classics when they were first written? No. They were once considered junk literature as well. While Twilight may be considered as some to be that now, I'm confident that it will become a classic in the future.

    Also people are taking the "dysfunctional relationship" thing a little too seriously. If the relationship worked perfectly fine then there wouldn't be a story to write about. People who read this book know that it isn't a book to base a relationship off of. No book ever written is an example to base a relationship off of. It's kind of like saying if you read Harry Potter you'll think its a good idea to jump off your roof with a broomstick.

    Just my thoughts. I came across this site when looking for information on Stephenie Meyer for an English paper I'm writing.

    1. Tyler, I'm glad you read and enjoyed the books; however, you are not correct in your assumption that folks didn't look differently at literature produced by Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and William Shakespeare when it was published. Of course people recognized it as good or else no one would read it today. Lots of other books were popular in their day and are no longer read. Popularity alone isn't enough to convert a book into a classic, but it helps if a lot of folks read it. However, it has to have something more lasting to encourage people to continue to read it hundreds of years after it's written. In fact, there are a great many books published today that I think in the years to come will be viewed as classics. I think you are probably right about people taking the book too seriously. I think it's fun reading. I'm reading it again right now. Thanks for visiting the site.

  12. For the most part, I agree with you. I, for one, intensely dislike the series. I read the first book and watched the movie. I then read synopses of the rest of the series and found them all to be extremely flawed.

    The sane fans who understand that what they are reading is fiction, has flaws, and is not an ideal to look up to, I have no problem with.

    It is the impressionable teens that I am worried about. The target audience encompasses young girls who are trying to form their identity, blossoming into womanhood, and curious about love. Therefore, when a book like Twilight comes along and portrays "perfect love" as borderline abusive among other things, it is something to be worried about.

    There have been multiple accounts of violence being displayed in defense of this fiction. Quite a few girls have broken up their relationships to pursue an "Edward" of their own. The intensity with which some of these girls love this series is frightening. I myself have been personally insulted just by pointing out logical flaws within the book.

    A man who sneaks into a girl's bedroom to watch her while she sleeps, follows her to another city, forcibly grabs her by the arm and drags her to his car against her wishes, threatens to kill her, and displays aggressive, destructive actions within her presence, is not to be desired. For the women and girls who have read quite a bit and understand this for what it is, I do not worry for you. By all means, enjoy this book.

    As for the girls who have attacked other girls, and made verbal threats in defense of this read, I believe we need to take heed. Many of these more intense fans have not had a prior cultivated interest in reading. Thus, the undertones in the series may not be apparent to them. Since they are displaying physical actions against others, we can assume that they are picking these actions up from a book that almost condones these types of actions.

    1. I think we want to be careful blaming a book for the poor discernment of its fans. That's a slippery slope, and it often culminates in attempts (successful and otherwise) to censor reading materials.

  13. Censoring books, by all means, should be avoided. I am not advocating for the censorship of Twilight, nor do I advocate censorship of any books.

    However, with the mounting acclaim the series has reached, the millions of adoring fans, and a seemingly dwindling voice of opposition on the very dangerous themes presented in the series, I have to say that there is much to be desired on the anti-twilight front.

    This is not to say that there should be censorship. However, when a book reaches so many and has become a phenomenon, there should also be an opposing voice that points out flaws. This gives the books a balanced and educated analysis, a reality check so to speak. Unfortunately, Twilight is relegated to YA status so many write it off as "teen fluff".

    The YA status and screaming fans have overshadowed the borderline abuse, the issues with succumbing to a controlling partner, the deeper sexist messages, and the pedophilia in the last book. These issues are almost universally acknowledged as dangerous. Thus, when a book has such a hold on an impressionable audience, caution in the form of logical, caring criticism is needed.

    Rice, granted, has taken a more vehement approach to criticizing Twilight. But even her opinion is overwhelmingly countered, so much so that she wrote a rage-filled second piece that almost wrote off her credibility on the issues in Twilight.

    The anti-fan voice, even those that seem moderate, is often silenced or discredited with the phrase "It's just fiction." Fiction itself has shown to be influential to men, urging them to act for beliefs ranging from civil rights to genocide, from calling for artistic poets to contemplating religion. Although Twilight may not belong on the list of the most influential books of our time, it should not be casually cast off because it is fictitious. It has very deep and disturbing themes in the series that should be taken seriously.

    Again, I am not for censorship at all. I would just like people, educated people who care about what our youth reads, to pay attention to these dangerous themes, to make the youth aware that what they read in this series does not, and most importantly, should not, be desired in reality. Too few people are pointing these issues out either because they write off the YA status of the series or because they write it off as poorly written fiction.

    People should draw attention to the themes present in the series and truly give the series a serious and thorough analysis. We should not censor books. We should not ignore them either, especially if they harbor potentially threatening ideas.

  14. I am a fifteen year old girl, but no, don't roll your eyes, listen. Edward is definitely not ideal. Bella is a fool. A shallow one. As one who has read the first two chapters of Twilight and seen the movie, I think she should have ignored the Cullens and hung out with Eric (prolly don't even remember, most of you, the underrated, sweet, nerdy chessclub boy), at least he was nice! But of course in the book he had greasy hair and "skin problems", totally rules that boy out, eh? Tart

    I don't necessarily MIND Twilight, however, the fans scare the Hell out of me (mostly, not ALL).

    The more I heard about Twilight, the more I tried to hide from it. Mum eventually took me to see it, and a woman I rather fancy gave me the book. She sent me the sweetest note with it. It's THE book, of course.

    What I couldn't get over was the inarticulate, illiterate fans. They swoon over Edward and fancy his behaviour acceptable. Of course, I'm probably only wiser because of my disability, anti-social behaviour, and abuse in the past.

    No, it is likely that the abuse reports won't skyrocket. Girls/women will probably not be less liberated. I don't think that they even noticed how insane Edward was, they just noticed how "good-looking" he is. If you asked me, I'd be a little less charitable regarding his appearance.

    The only characters I grew to actually like were Eric (as stated above), possibly Jacob (so far), Charlie, and ALICE! I like these ones, despite knowing that two of the four are "stock" characters, meaning stereotypical.

    Eric-Nerd

    Charlie-Good Ol' Dad

    I actually found the story to be too "real". Normal high school. Normal classes. Normal teachers. Normal students. Most of the movie reminded me what a dull, narrow-minded world I live in

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Thank you so much for posting this article! This is the only review page I have read with a straight face 😀

    Girls really need to find better role models, like Elizabeth Bennet from 'Pride and Prejudice'. She's brilliant, I think. That's a woman with self-respect!

    That's my two cents, or possibly a lot more 😉 Sorry, I ramble a lot, never vented like this about Twilight because I was afraid I'd get murdered by Edward's Secret Police 😉 I'm just happy that now I have some articulate people to die with 😛

    1. Emily, much of what we would call great literature, even Pride and Prejudice, has stock characters. Stock characters are a handy characterization device because we can bring a lot of understanding of who the characters are without the author having to do a lot of work to describe them. The Canterbury Tales relies on stock and stereotypical characters!

      Again, as I said to Isabel, be careful of lumping all fans together and painting them with the broad brush — plenty of very smart folks I know like this series, and they are not inarticulate or illiterate by and large, though I'm sure a few people who like just about anything you can name can be described that way.

      Maybe it's because I'm old, but I actually liked the normal high school, normal classes, normal teachers, normal students bit of the book 🙂

  15. Like other people have previously mentioned, I also think there is something lacking in the series. I think it has to do with the quality of the work. I read the first few pages, PAGES of the first book and got so terribly bored it was almost disgusting. Not to mention the bastardization of classic horror characters such as vampires and werewolves. What kind of vampire glows in the sun? Don't they disintegrate in the sun or something? I think that's what bothered me the most, actually.

    The second thing is…the fanbase. All the little girls obsess over Edward and his LOOKS, not his actions (I didn't read the book but apparently he is really, really abusive). One time I wore a Dartmouth College sweater to school and a girl came up to me squealing about how "Edward is going to that college! OMG!" I was almost ashamed. I don't think I would mind the series as much if the fanbase wasn't so…annoying. Oh, and they're quick to jump on any criticism of the book be it aggressive or calm, which is even more annoying. The fanbase definitely makes it difficult to ignore the series exists, but then again, how could they be reasonable when something as complicated as love has been so simply idealized?

    1. Most traditional vampire stories have their vampires avoid sunlight because it kills them automatically in some way — Anne Rice's vampires burn to a cinder, for example, unless they are very powerful. I actually thought the way Meyer got around that was clever — yes, they can get in the sun, but that gives them away as supernatural, which is why they avoid it. Surely that would cause all sorts of stories about what happens to vampires in the sun.

      I have to point out that if you haven't read the book, you need to be careful in your assertions. Edward is not what I'd call physically abusive, but he is really controlling, and after reading her story from Edward's point of view, Midnight Sun, it makes sense — he sees Bella as essentially very fragile, and he is really afraid something will happen to her. It doesn't justify his behavior, but it explains it. Be careful about lumping the fans together, too. Not all of them are like that. After all, I like the books and even am able to criticize them and point out their flaws on my Web site! In way, I hope Bella's reading habits rub off on some of her fans — she reads Jane Austen and Emily Bronte. Wouldn't it be good if those authors had new fans as a result of Twilight? If you think about it, if you really like something a lot and someone criticizes it, it does bother most of us, so I can understand their feelings to an extent if they do kind of freak out when they see the series criticized.

      My husband hated the first pages he read, too. I think it's a series you either really like or really dislike. I've yet to see lukewarm reaction to it.

  16. I'm a teenager and i think that what these woman said is wrong beacause Twilight and all the series are the best books i ever read and i also think that people are smart enough to understand that is a fiction plus the author did a great job writing all these book.

  17. The problem with the Twilight series is NOT that it is junk young adult fiction. Rather, it is fiction written at about the fourth-grade level, but dealing with adolescent themes and issues. The short, childish sentences, illogical plots, babyish vocabulary, Bella's daughter-daddy relationship with Edward (he tried to deny her a Coke, for heaven's sake!) all show the books for what they are. These are what you read when you are approaching physical maturity, but are intellectually, let me say this nicely, rather young. This is what the American educational system has left our girls able to read. Garbage.

    1. Jayne, there is actually quite a lot of purple prose — unnecessarily flowery and therefore "big" vocabulary in the books. On the first few pages alone, I see words such as "inconsequential," "omnipresent," "verbose," and "permeable." I don't call that babyish vocabulary. Setting that argument aside, I resent the implication that schools shoulder the blame for reading choices. In fact, in large part it is what parents do from birth to kindergarten that sets their children up to be good readers or not. They need to read to them. They need to read to them even after they can read on their own. They need to model reading. I cannot think of a single school that I know of that has Twilight in the curriculum. My own students are reading Macbeth, The Canterbury Tales, Beowulf, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility, Frankenstein, The Lord of the Flies, and Gulliver's Travels (that's the reading list just from my two British literature classes). I could go on. Furthermore, I have never worked in a school that didn't teach the classics alongside good contemporary literature.

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