Keep your hair on, folks; I’m not here to claim Twilight is the next Pride and Prejudice, 1984 or Harry Potter in terms of its intellectual messages.
Editor’s note: This article is in response to actress Shailene Woodley’s comments about the Twilight series last week.
I fully appreciate the controversial nature of certain relationships and character choices in the Twilight series. But in this article, I’m going to examine some of the more positive lessons that I personally drew from the series’ three (arguably) most popular characters. Lessons that made an impression on me, when I first read the books at age thirteen; lessons that stayed with me, throughout my teenage years; lessons that I continue to draw on, to this day.
1. Carlisle Cullen: Stick to your beliefs, even if the world is against them. Respect the world’s beliefs, even if you are against them
“Like everything in life, I just had to decide what to do with what I was given. (…) I’ve done the best I could, with what I had to work with.” – Carlisle Cullen, New Moon
When was the last time you felt alone with your opinions? Alienated from the norm? Desperate for everyone to just agree with you?
Transformed into a vampire against his will, Carlisle Cullen chooses to pursue the impossible; to never taste human blood. Never mind the agony of overwhelming thirst. Never mind the fact that not a single vampire he encounters agrees with his lifestyle. Never mind the vampires who laugh, who scorn, who expect he will “weaken with time” (Aro, New Moon). Never mind the crushing loneliness he will endure. Never mind any of it. Carlisle minds only one thing – doing what he believes is right. Stick to your beliefs, even if the world is against them.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t respect his fellow vampires’ choices. Quite the contrary. He spends twenty years living and learning amongst the Volturi, though he disagrees with their nutritional lifestyle. Despite having an overzealous pastor for a father, he understands that forcing his beliefs on other vampires isn’t the way to go. But that doesn’t mean he has to agree with other vampires’ beliefs, either. Respect the world’s beliefs, even if you are against them.
2. Alice Cullen: You can be a girly girl and still kick ass
“Nobody dressed by me ever looks like an idiot.” – Alice Cullen, Breaking Dawn
Snow White. Lara Croft. Barbie. Black Widow. Yeesh, all the extremes. It’s sometimes tough trying to find a female character with a blend of characteristics that draw from both opposite ends of the spectrum. Most of all, it’s easy to feel like one cancels out the other, which as we all know, isn’t true.
Look no further – Alice Cullen is your woman. Painting Bella’s nails one minute and taking down vicious newborn vampires the next, Alice’s “girliness” is always presented a strength; never a weakness. Her love for fashion design and dressing-up are never once trivialised; she works for a degree in the former and delights in the latter as a much-loved hobby, dolling up Bella whenever she’ll let her and doing a darn good job of it too. She delights in throwing the kind of parties you only ever see in magazines, but is still a force to reckon with on the battlefield, defeating one of the saga’s most adept fighters (Jasper Cullen) with ease, during Eclipse. In Breaking Dawn, she takes utter joy in organising a spectacular wedding for her best friend – but still finds time to use her precognitive abilities to defend her family against the Volturi.
Alice has always been a fan-favourite – and it’s easy to see why. She’s living proof that being a girly girl is something to be celebrated, not stifled; the Elle Woods of Twilight. You can be a girly girl and still kick ass.
3. Edward Cullen: Let people make their own choices
“I’m going to try and be more reasonable and trust your judgement. (…) I’m not your father.” – Edward Cullen, to Bella Swan, Eclipse
We’ve all been there, even if we won’t admit it. We’ve all tried to make a decision for someone; tried to butt in; tried to take the reigns when we have no right to.
And that’s Edward, in Eclipse. Anxious, overprotective, just-watched-his-fiance-almost-die-three-times Edward. No wonder he gets in a flap when she starts hanging out with packs of rambunctious werewolves. Edward’s greatest flaw gets its greatest comeuppance as he fails to stop Bella’s “dangerous” visits to La Push, and it takes him almost half of Eclipse to realise that maybe, just maybe… he needs to back off. Take a breath. Reassess. Listen. Learn.
There’s a time and a place for everything, executive decisions included. Heck, parents have to make them all the time for their kids. But Bella isn’t a kid. Giving advice is one thing – trying to live someone’s life for them is another. More often than not, all of us need a gentle reminder that making your own choices, your own mistakes, and – if you’re lucky! – your own victories, is just another part of life. Let people make their own choices.
Sure, Stephenie Meyer is by no means the next Aristotle. But neither was I, picking up Twilight at age thirteen (come to think of it, I’m still no Aristotle, at age eighteen). But Twilight isn’t a book you read for that level of intellectual wisdom. It’s a book you read for pure enjoyment, for relaxing on the sofa, for light-hearted escapism. It is, after all… a vampire romance aimed at teenage girls.
But that shouldn’t mean for a second that you can’t learn a positive lesson or two from it, as well.