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.
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