Edward Cullen is a Monster: A Review of Midnight Sun

If you’ve read any of my previous posts about vampires, you know how I feel. And, it’s complicated. I am absolutely obsessed with them and have spent a lot of my life reading about them, learning as much as I can about them in folklore and literature, as well as how they are perceived in popular culture. On the one hand, I think vampires are sexy and interesting and they are some of my favorite fictional characters. On the other hand, I have some concerns about how vampires are depicted in paranormal romance in relation to the acceptance of violence against female protagonists. You can find my 4-part blog series, “With This Ring, You’ll Be Dead: Violence Against Female Protagonists in Romantic Vampire Fiction” over at Speculatve Chic, as well as my thoughts on vampires and white privilege. Sexy yes, but monsters nonetheless.

Edward Cullen is a monster. This may come as a shock to some of you. Or, maybe not. Some of you automatically assign him to that category because he is a vampire. Vampires are monsters. But some of you many not think of vampires that way because of the way they have been portrayed in popular fiction, and particularly in paranormal romance. Traditionally, and by tradition I mean folklore and myths, vampires were undead creatures who rose from the grave to feast on the living and thereby create more of their kind. They infect the living with their disease of undeath and cause villagers to panic and perform strange rituals when burying their dead. Vampires or vampire-like creatures appear in some guise or manifestation in almost every culture worldwide. So, if you think vampires are something Anne Rice invented in the mid-70s, you’re off by a couple thousand years.

Speaking of Anne Rice, her vampires were monstrous at times, but they were still attractive, well-dressed, wealthy and powerful. They led interesting lives, fell in love, felt remorse and loneliness, befriended humans, and even became rockstars. But she still made a point of making them visibly different from humans and capable of unspeakable acts of violence and murder. While there were guidelines in place to limit exposure to humans, vampires were still expected to drink blood and kill humans at least occasionally. Vampires are pretty and interesting, but don’t get too close if you value your life.

I’m not sure why, but many folks who haven’t read the Twilight Saga assume that because the vampires sparkle in sunlight they are somehow less dangerous than other monsters. In fact, I would argue that many people don’t even think about the vampires in the Twilight Saga as being monsters at all. To be fair, some of the doubt around Edward Cullen’s monstrousness comes from how Stephenie Meyer wrote him in the narrative and the way he is portrayed on film. Just because he refrains from drinking human blood and tries not to kill people doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to do what comes naturally to him. In fact, Edward makes it clear that he is dangerous and could easily slip back into his natural vampire habits if given the right amount of temptation. Edward and his family choose not to feed on humans. And, much like a freshman who decides to become vegetarian at college, they must fight the urge to take a bite of turkey or ham when they come home for Thanksgiving. Every day is Thanksgiving for a vampire and humans are the buffet.

His human love interest, Bella Swan, could be played by a lemming in a wig given how desperate she is to die in the arms of a vampire. Technically, Twilight is a love story. But it is the story of an unhealthy love, in which a teenage girl falls in love with a literal monster and continually puts her own life at risk in order to maintain their relationship.

Stephenie Meyer has this to say in the dedication of Midnight Sun, which is an alternate perspective on the Twilight Saga told from Edward’s POV:

This book is dedicated to all the readers who have been such a happy part of my life for the last fifteen years. When we first met, many of you were young teenagers with bright beautiful eyes full of dreams for the future. I hope that in the years that have passed you’ve all found your dreams and that the reality of them was even better than you’d hoped.

Given the fact that Meyer’s narrative romanticizes the idea of willingly dying in order to be with the one you love, and that stalking is okay as long as you really care about the person, and the best way to live your life is to live in denial of your true nature, then I hope her young impressionable readers were able to find healthy relationships that didn’t put their lives at risk out of a sense of loyalty to a handsome partner with extremely controlling behaviors.

One of my good friends recently used my blog series in her classroom, and after several of the young women read the articles, they were shocked to realize that they didn’t actually think of vampires as being monsters. They viewed them as they had been written by some of their favorite authors: ideal partners. When my friend shared that with me, my emotions were all over the place. First, I felt a sense of validation because I realized that what I had written wasn’t just me ranting into the void. And second, I almost hated to be right. What I had proposed in those blog posts was that there was a certain level of danger in normalizing romantic relationships with monsters, but vampires specifically, because they are essentially serial killers. In Meyer’s Twilight Saga and Deborah Harkness’ Discovery of Witches series, vampires are portrayed as being the ideal sexual and life partners, to the extent that they also normalize violence against female protagonists and make excuses for abusive and predatory behavior.

Again, just to be clear, I am fascinated by vampires and I find them sexually appealing in many ways. However, as an adult woman who has been in several abusive relationships and have learned from those mistakes after finding the courage to walk away, it deeply concerns me that none of the female protagonists walk away from these abusive relationships. Even when the vampire warns the protagonist about the dangers of being close to them, this somehow encourages the protagonist to go against all of her instincts telling her she should be afraid and to run, and instead, insist on becoming that monster’s main squeeze.

So, when I read Midnight Sun, I was confused by the fact that I actually began to like Edward. And then, it dawned me; I liked him because he was honest about being a monster. His perspective is wonderfully unsettling. When we finally get to see what is going on inside Edward’s head, we get a real horror story. Think about all the novels you’ve read that are told from the POV of a serial killer. Some of the most horrific stuff you’ve read, right? Okay, now put an extremely handsome face on that serial killer and have him fall in love with one of his potential victims. By his own admission, humans are drawn to him because of his physical attractiveness, and since he is able to hear the thoughts of the people around him, he is disgusted by how often women and some men lust after him. Mainly because he thinks they are stupid for not being afraid. He feels relief whenever people feel uncomfortable around him, especially when he wants to control them. Edward is quite manipulative and makes use of his attractiveness as tool to essentially do as he pleases and come and go as he likes while attending Forks High School.

One of the most iconic scenes in the Twilight novel and movie, is when Bella has to share a lab table with Edward in their biology classroom. He spends most of the class covering his mouth and nose, not breathing, giving her dirty looks, and staring at her like she has a second head. When that scene is told from Bella’s POV, we get a lot of internal dialogue about the fact that she thinks Edward hates her on sight and is confused by what she could have possibly done to earn his hatred. Well, she wasn’t entirely wrong about his first impression of her. We learn that Edward’s weird reaction is due to the fact that Bella smells like the most delicious thing he’s ever wanted to eat. Even after Edward eventually tells Bella that his initial attraction to her was because of how delicious she smelled, she writes off his craving for her blood as a character flaw, and convinces herself that he would never really hurt her.

If she could have heard what was going on inside Edward’s head during that class period, she might not have been so quick to think about forming a lasting bond with him. And, it is this interal dialogue he has during biology class that made me fall madly in love with this handsome predator. In the first chapter of Midnight Sun, Meyer allows us to peer behind the curtain and witness Edward Cullen’s thought process the first time he meets Bella Swan. It is terrifying, and I love it.

I desperately want to share the entire scene with you word for word, but then I’d be robbing you of the opportunity to read the internal thoughts of a vampire –a monster– in the throes of bloodlust. I will however share some of my favorite lines with you, and you can judge for yourself if Edward Cullen is a monster or not:

I knew what had to happen now. The girl would have to come sit beside me, and I would have to kill her.

The innocent bystanders in this classroom, eighteen other children and one man, could not be allowed to leave, having seen what they would soon see.

I flinched at the thought of what I must do. Even at my very worst, I had never committed this kind of atrocity. I had never killed innocents. And now I planned to kill twenty of them at once. (p. 11-12)

Does that sound like the beginnings of a romantic relationship to you? It shouldn’t because during the first encounter Edward has with the girl who will eventually become his wife, he has a murder fantasy about her, calculating step-by-step how he would need to kill everyone else in the room first so he would be able to savor killing her and drinking her blood.

Let’s examine this scene again, but with Edward’s thoughts in mind.

I’d like to point out that the title of this video clip, that was most likley uploaded to YouTube by a fan of the series, implies that they think this is a romantic first meeting of people who are obviously destined to be soul mates and live happily ever after. As I’ve mentioned before in other posts, in order to have a happily ever after with a vampire, they will eventually have to murder you. Perhaps it will be the sexiest murder ever, but you will nevertheless be dead in some fashion or other.

If you’re a weirdo like me, and if you decide to read the novel, you will probably share my hope that Edward will somehow invert the narrative and live out his fantasy, embracing the true monster he really is. Each time he admitted his desire to kill and how easy it is for him to literally crush the humans around him, I liked him more. As much as I love paranormal romance featuring sexy vampires who are smoking hot and excellent lovers, it was just as thrilling to see the deviant inner workings of a monster with the face of a young man who would easily be at home on the covers of teen heartthrob magazines.

Edward Cullen is so monstrous at times in this retelling of the “love story” between himself and Bella, that I can almost forgive him for sparkling in the sun.

Fifty Shades of Self-Awareness: Why It’s Good to Read Bad Fiction

Recently, I did something I swore I would never do. I picked up a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. Actually, I picked up the audiobook from my local library and listened to it in my car on my way to work and back and while running errands. It took me roughly two weeks to listen to the entire audiobook, during which time I laughed out loud, screamed “shut the fuck up” at the narrator, and said, “no duh” when something so unbelievably obvious was brought to my attention. This novel, much like the series of novels that inspired it (the Twilight Saga), is not a well-written work of fiction. In fact, it’s abysmal. So, why read/listen to it at all?

You Have to Read If You’re Going to Write

As a writer, I feel that it’s my duty to become better at my craft. Most good writers will tell you that to become a better writer, you need to read. A lot. I would argue that you should not only be reading the best of the best, but also the worst of the worst. This is especially true if you write popular or genre fiction. Genre fiction, when written well, can enlighten us, make us think about difficult subjects, and reimagine the world we live in. It is the fiction of the masses, so genre fiction is in high demand, and there is so much of it out there that I wouldn’t even begin to know how you would read all of it in a lifetime. Lots of people believe that it is easy to just sit down and crank out a romance, horror, or science fiction novel. If you are one of those people who think writing a novel-length work of fiction is easy, go ahead. Do it. But, your first attempt probably won’t be the masterpiece you’ve envisioned in your mind.

freddie-marriage-92621

Image by Freddie Marriage via Unsplash

While there’s a lot of good genre fiction out there, there is perhaps more that isn’t so good. And yet, people read it. I read it. Happily.

As a consumer of genre fiction who has a great love and appreciation for literary fiction and the classics, I am not ashamed to say that I will read, listen to, and or watch just about anything with vampires in the narrative. I have been obsessed with vampires since I was twelve, and I’ve never lost interest. Vampires are scary, dangerous, mysterious, and sexy as hell. Anne Rice’s novels were my gateway drugs. Thanks to her Vampire Chronicles, I have consumed a lot of vampire fiction, which enhanced my interest in classic horror films, Victorian horror novels, and inspired my own writing (both academic and fiction).

Over the years, I’ve expanded my obsession to include werewolves and demons, and I’m especially fond of Lucifer. I like to read, and attempt to write, about romanticized monsters. Monsters, in my opinion, make excellent leading men and love interests. But, I’m also aware that in some ways this is an unhealthy perspective on romantic relationships. But let’s not kid ourselves, unhealthy romantic relationships make fiction interesting and marketable.

The Danger of Romanticizing Monsters

Fifty Shades of Grey is not going to end up on a canonized list of great works of fiction (at least, I hope not), but it sold a hell of a lot of copies, became a series of novels, and has a film franchise. And, much to my chagrin, like the Twilight Saga, I feel a compulsion to listen to the rest of the audiobooks. When I read Twilight several years ago, I absolutely hated the protagonist, Bella Swan. I hated her because of her self-doubt, her lack of self-preservation, her inability to let go of the boy/man she loves who is LITERALLY a monster, and the fact that regardless of the danger ahead of her, she clings to this romantic fantasy that has no real basis in reality.

The risk you take with falling in love with a vampire is that death is always on the table. Whether you are “accidentally” murdered in a passionate moment when the lines between sexual arousal and hunger are blurred, or you accept the inevitability that in order to get your happily ever after with a vampire, you’re going to have to become one. Of course, other consequences include nightmarish, life-threatening pregnancies, and inexplicable acts of self-sacrifice.

Bella

‘Bella Swan’ [Source: Summit Entertainment]


So, yeah. I hated Bella Swan. Not just for her lack of self-esteem and willingness to die for love. I hated her because I could see myself in her. Guess what? I hate Anastasia Steele, too. There are plenty of reasons for me to hate her. She’s a ridiculous twenty-something virgin who is completely clueless about sex, and has never masturbated in her entire twenty-one years on Earth. Despite her high GPA, she seems to have almost no grasp of human behavior and psychological motivations. Her internal dialog and incessant over-analyzing of EVERY. SINGLE. SITUATION. made me insane. But you know what really pisses me off? The fact that, like Anastasia, I am often riddled with self-doubt and second guess myself to the point of insanity, and I have also been manipulated by interesting men who turned out to be monsters.

There’s something sinister in the fact that a book I am content to mock from beginning to end, a work of fiction that is so poorly written that it’s laughable, and has the power to send me into fits of rage, can still entice me to keep reading. Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey are not the only novels that have made me hate-read them to the end. In fact, some of the most popular works of genre fiction I’ve read in the past several years have had a similar effect on me. And, surprise, surprise, they had vampires in the narratives, too. I know, Fifty Shades doesn’t have any vampires, but for the sake of argument (and this blog post), let’s just agree that Christian Grey is based on Edward Cullen, and he would make an excellent vampire if given the opportunity.

Toast

‘Christian Grey’ [Source: Focus Features]


Some other works of fiction that made me curse the narrator (and author) are the A Discovery of Witches Trilogy and Laurel K. Hamilton’s later Anita Blake novels. I’m not going to delve into either of those series in this post, because I have too much to say about them beyond their usefulness as examples of how not to write good fiction. However, I will say that the normalization of controlling and abusive relationships in romantic fiction has the potential to influence generations of female readers who won’t be happy unless they find a partner willing to threaten them with violence under the pretense of keeping them “safe.”

Don’t get me wrong. Vampires are hot. Vampire sex is even hotter. While reading (or watching) any work of fiction in which a vampire is shaping up to be the romantic love interest, I practically shout at the reluctant female protagonist, “fuck him already.” But, again, the consequence of engaging in a relationship with a vampire is death, and if not death, at the very least, exposure to a world often defined by violence and extreme power struggles.

rehost_2016_9_13_8343a64c-4120-4b06-9d9f-0f5a525bf28a

‘Elijah Mikaelson’ [Source: The CW]

I know. It makes for exciting fiction, but at what cost? Yes, you can readily find strong female protagonists with compelling character arcs in the pages of paranormal romances, but in most cases, vampire cock is their Kryptonite. I have no problem reading about fictional characters engaging in Olympian feats of sexual congress with vampires. In fact, when it comes to genre fiction, that’s my jam. What does aggravate me is the incessant internal dialogue about why it’s wrong to do it. And, if it is so wrong, why do they end up doing it anyway? I get it. Conflict, internal or otherwise, carries a story. However, denying your attraction to a smoking hot vampire, or questioning every compliment and expression of interest he sends your way, gets annoying after a while.

This is especially true of Ana in Fifty Shades of Grey. She not only has conflicting internal dialogue, but an entire chorus of inner voices that never shut up. I’m not that in touch with my own inner goddess, but I know she’s down with vampire cock. And cake. And bourbon.

michael-mroczek-199382

Image by Michael Mroczek via Unsplash

Even Bad Fiction Can Teach You Something

All kidding aside, this absurd work of fiction made me think about my own writing. I paid close attention to dialog, character development, and a lack of plot that didn’t involve the protagonist having sex with her monster while battling her (and his) inner demons. Beyond the useful exercise of recognizing what bad writing looks (and sounds) like, Fifty Shades of Grey also made me think about how I view myself, how I behave in romantic relationships, and what I want from my future sexual relationships. Here are some random thoughts that occurred to me while listening to Anastasia Steele prattle on about how hard it is to be the object of desire for a smoking hot billionaire with emotional issues due to childhood trauma.

Giving up control is hot. I consider myself an independent woman. I don’t have a partner and I’m a single parent, so I make a lot of decisions all day every day. And, I’m exhausted. I’m tired of having to make all the choices. I’m tired of being in control all the time. I fantasize about someone else taking the reins for a while. I wouldn’t describe myself as a submissive, but in the bedroom, I would prefer to be guided, encouraged, and yes, controlled. Like Anastasia, I have hard limits. I have had only minimal experience with BDSM, but for the most part I have enjoyed what I’ve experienced. Being told what to do, being bound, and wearing a blindfold have all enhanced my sexual arousal. I’m even down with occasional spanking, but I don’t like the idea of punishment. I’d like to explore BDSM more with a rational adult who doesn’t push me too far when I set my limits. But, outside the bedroom, don’t tell me what to do unless I’m asking for your advice. Feel free to step up, take charge, and pitch in, but don’t assume that you’re the boss of me.

Blindfold

‘Anastasia Steele’ [Source: Focus Features]

Even though Anastasia finds herself sexually aroused when Christian uses bondage and spanks her as part of their sex play, she still doubts her own feelings. If you got off and nobody received permanent physical damage, go with your gut and accept the fact that those things turn you on.

Trust is not something I give freely. For me to feel comfortable letting my guard down, I need to trust people. That isn’t an easy thing for me to do. I’ve been hurt too many times by friends and lovers to simply allow people to get close to me. It takes time for me to open up, which is one of the reasons I don’t engage in one-night stands. It takes time to build trust between people, and if I don’t trust you, we aren’t having sex. However, if we do get to know each other and have a falling out over a trust issue, make up sex isn’t necessarily off the table.

Throughout the novel, Anastasia keeps saying she can’t trust Christian because she doesn’t know what he’s thinking or feeling. Yet, he constantly reassures her, spells out exactly what he wants and what he likes about her, and demands she communicate her own feelings better so that he can trust her as well. Trust is a two-way street. You can’t demand it from someone without giving them reason to trust you in return.

Attractiveness comes from within. I don’t believe in love at first sight. No matter how good looking that person might be. Have I ever been physically attracted to a stranger? Of course. Do I make a habit of hopping into bed with everyone I find attractive? Or for that matter, anyone who finds me attractive? No. If I get to know you and find your character, mind, and soul attractive, your physical self will magically transform before my eyes and you will suddenly be the most attractive person on Earth. This is true for real people as well as fictional characters. Even smoking hot vampires need to have redeeming qualities to rev my engine. Speaking of vampires, take a minute to think about Eric Northman in the first season of True Blood.

Eric

‘Eric Northman’ [Source: HBO]

You can have more than a minute if you need it. I’ll wait.

He is without a doubt, a handsome man. I found him easy on the eyes at first glance, but the rumblings in my nether regions didn’t begin until he showed his true personality. Yes, he’s a monster. But he’s a monster who feels love, jealousy, and will risk his own life for the people he cares about. Sometimes he even risks his life for strangers. His kindness, sense of humor, intellect, and the fact that he can be a domineering control freak, are the qualities that make him most attractive in my opinion. Alexander Skarsgård is a very attractive man, but be honest, is he hotter as the complicated, Viking vampire in True Blood, or as the mentally challenged male model in Zoolander?

tumblr_nl3drcQQcU1qg6t4yo1_r2_540

‘Meekus’ [Source: Paramount Pictures]

Anastasia goes on endlessly about how attractive Christian Grey is. In fact, it seems that in her opinion, this is one of his best qualities. Oh, and his money. Is Christian Grey a domineering control freak who only wants to be in sub/Dom relationships? Initially, yes. Does he grow as a character and attempt to be more than that due to his feelings for Anastasia? Yes. In fact, each time we get a glimpse of his pain and the reasons for his behavior, and his willingness to change, he becomes slightly more attractive. Would I get pissed and tell him off if he spoke to me the way he speaks to Ana? Absolutely. I’m an adult. I decide what to eat, when to sleep, what to wear, and every other aspect of my personal upkeep. Would I enjoy having someone making sure I was taking care of myself and encouraging me to be a better version of me? Hell yeah! And, if that person wanted to give me expensive gifts, I wouldn’t say no. Of course, I’m a single, divorced woman who is raising her child alone. If I could spend my weekends with an attractive wealthy man who found me desirable, I wouldn’t question it every single second that I was with him. But…Christian Grey is an incredibly high-maintenance boyfriend with too many rules. And, I’m sorry, but he’s written as having the sexual prowess of a vampire. That just doesn’t happen in Nature.

There Is No Shame In Enjoying Bad Fiction

Despite its flaws (such as its super-fucking-annoying narrator), Fifty Shades of Grey does have some redeeming qualities. Authorial intent aside, this narrative provides some really great examples of 1) how not to write dialog between adults engaged in a serious BDSM relationship, 2) why you shouldn’t have your characters repeat the same inane words and phrases until your reader wants to stab them in the face, 3) why you shouldn’t adapt what I can only assume was shitty fan fiction inspired by terrible popular fiction into an even worse example of erotica, and 4) even in the worst fiction, you can find life lessons that illuminate aspects of your personal experiences.

Would I recommend that you read Fifty Shades of Grey? Yes, but I would recommend it in the same spirit that I would recommend watching a film like Blue Sunshine. It’s entertaining because it’s so unbelievably terrible.