Content note: This blog post discusses domestic violence and abuse, child abuse, grooming, the sexualization of minors, and hetero-allonormativity in the context of the Twilight series.
I finished the Midnight Sun audiobook a little after midnight last Saturday, and a little after midnight-thirty wrote a quickie Goodreads review that was basically:
Liked the narrator, hated the second half. Meyer’s defenses of Edward have gotten more sophisticated since Life and Death. Mostly.
But I’ve slept since then, and I’m not so sure anymore.
About the defenses, I mean. The narrator really committed to growling Edward’s lines. 10/10, I want him to star in the remake.
So I’m doing the YouTuber thing and making a tier list for the ways in which Stephenie Meyer has attempted to justify, excuse, and minimize Edward’s–well, really just his entire character. I’ll be ranking defenses from 3 different sources:
- Life and Death
- Midnight Sun (specifically the published version, not the leaked version)
- Q&As on Meyer’s website and the Twilight Lexicon
I won’t be considering fanworks, film adaptations, or interviews. There’s too much Twilight content to examine it all.
In evaluating the defenses, I’ll only be considering 2 factors: Does it actually justify, excuse, or mitigate Edward’s actions? And if so, how well does it align with book canon?
I’ll describe the different tiers (S through F) in more detail in a second. First …
Why does Edward need defending?
I could touch on the fraught issues of fandom and author-reader relationships here, but this isn’t a three-hour long YouTube video and I don’t enjoy suffering.
Let’s just agree to accept that Stephenie Meyer is really attached to one particular interpretation of her characters. She wants the Twilight series to be read as an epic, overcoming-all-odds, star-crossed love story, and she’s been fighting (on and off, with varying degrees of intensity) against alternate interpretations for the past ten years.
Or, really just one alternate interpretation: that the Twilight series is about a young girl (Bella) with low self esteem and the old man (Edward) who gaslights and abuses her into believing they’re in love.
Some evidence in favor of this second interpretation:
- Edward is 104 when he begins a romantic relationship with Bella, who is seventeen.
- He stalks her, before and during their relationship, using his ability to mind read in order to observe her when he is not physically able to see her and sneaking into her bedroom to watch her sleep.
- He warns her that he (at least partially) wants to kill her, and he regularly reminds her how easy that would be for him, as a vampire.
- He consistently demeans her and insists she doesn’t know what she truly wants or what’s best for her.
- Edward threatens to leave Bella at regular intervals, keeping her on edge.
- He is terrifying and unpredictable.
- When Edward does lose control, he blames Bella: for making him want her, for being so fragile, for not following his orders.
- He isolates Bella from her human friends. She stops sitting with them at lunch and hanging out with them outside of school in order to spend all of her time with Edward.
- He attempts to isolate Bella from her werewolf friend, Jacob, going so far as to disable her truck so that she cannot visit Jacob without Edward’s permission.
- Edward uses information and affection as “rewards” for Bella’s “good” behavior.
- At other times, he withholds information in order to control Bella’s behavior.
- In addition to the above, Edward attempts to control every aspect of Bella’s existence, from the vehicle she drives to her short- and long-term plans for the future.
- He even attempts to force Bella to have an abortion against her will.
Interestingly, that last item on the list is the only one Meyer never attempts to defend. (She’s Mormon, and pro-life rhetoric permeates the books.)
S Tier: “Do I dazzle you?”
I don't think I'm going to find anything in this tier, but if we come across any defenses that fully line up with the text and make me think Edward's actions were actually justified, they'll go here.
A Tier: “Without the dark, we’d never see the stars.”
For defenses that are textually supported and make me think yeah, what Edward did wasn't great, but it was necessary.
B Tier: “I am not really breaking any rules.”
You know how sometimes people say things that are technically true but not at all true in spirit? Those kinds of defenses.
C Tier: “… love gave someone the power to break you.”
For defenses that only sort of do what they're supposed to. I'd guess 90% of these will not really match up with what's on the page.
D Tier: “What if I’m not a superhero. What if I’m the bad guy?”
Bad job, insufficient effort, are you referring to a different book?
F Tier: “… as long as I’m going to hell, I might as well do it thoroughly.”
If any of Meyer's defenses actually make me think less of Edward, I'll put them here.
Defense 1: Edward is actually 17.
Source: Midnight Sun, Twilight Lexicon. It’s actually in Twilight as well, which should tell you something about its effectiveness.
Effective?: Sure. If Edward had been cryo-frozen for 87 years, learning and experiencing nothing, his actual date of birth wouldn’t matter. But …
Canon?: This is super weird, because even though Edward claims to be seventeen “in every way that matters,” Meyer says herself:
Edward is emotionally and intellectually more adult than a modern seventeen-year-old, due to the times in which he lived. In his world, he was old enough to be considered a man. People his age were getting married and beginning their lives. He was about to join the military and go fight in the Great War. Developmentally, he was an adult. So he is able to understand and absorb this century he’s lived through, to gain perspective from it.
This perspective is what makes him think of his classmates as children, coupled with the fact that they are so helpless in comparison with himself.Personal Correspondence 9, Twilight Lexicon
✔ Thinks of his classmates as children.
✔ Remembers at least 87 years of un-life, with some hazy memories of his life before he became a vampire.
✔ Has 2 medical degrees.
✔ Can read the minds of everyone around him, witnessing and learning from their thoughts and experiences.
✔ Has outlived all his human family and friends.
✔ Has a completely different physiology than when he was a human seventeen-year-old.
✔ Is generally very emotionally even keeled (except when it comes to Bella).
In what way, aside from his appearance, is he “really” seventeen, Stephenie?
However, Edward still is a teenage boy in many ways. This is his first experience with romantic love, his first kiss, just as it is for Bella.Personal Correspondence 9, Twilight Lexicon
Cool, cool, cool. That’s not a fucked up or harmful thing to say at all.
I’m not going to dig into the implications of that statement because this was supposed to be a fun project, and I’m worried that explicitly saying that your maturity is commiserate with your sexual and romantic experience is both -phobic in like 87 ways and also exactly the kind of thing someone grooming a child would say will ruin it for everyone.
Verdict: Tier C
Defense 2: Bella’s really mature for her age.
Source: Twilight Lexicon. It’s part of the answer quoted above, and oh boy, you are not ready for it:
[Edward] thinks of Bella as just one of the “children” until he becomes interested in her. Then he begins to learn how mature she is for her age, just like him …Personal Correspondence 9, Twilight Lexicon
Effective?: NOPE. This is what literally every predator tells the child he’s grooming.
Canon?: I mean, I don’t want to call a teenager immature for meeting a cute boy and instantly deciding she wants to literally give up her life to be with him forever, but I wouldn’t call that the height of emotional maturity either.
Bella does take on an unusual amount of responsibility at home – cooking, cleaning, protecting, and otherwise caring for her parents – but that isn’t maturity either. It’s parentification.
Verdict: Tier F
Defense 3: Bella’s human friends suck (figuratively).
Source: Midnight Sun, Twilight Lexicon. It’s the part of the answer quoted above, and oh boy, you are not ready for it:
The other girls at school are fairly immature and petty. Their minds are a turn off … 🙂Personal Correspondence 9, Twilight Lexicon
Effective?: I guess!
Canon?: Technically, almost. Edward can hear the thoughts of all his classmates, and the only person in the entire school who’s ever had a single kind, unselfish thought about Bella is Angela. Which is gross, Meyer’s misogyny is definitely showing, but I’m not ranking these based on if they’re effective and canon but I hate them.
Verdict: Tier B
It’s once again midnight thirty, and this post is getting long, so in the tradition of Breaking Dawn, check back for an unnecessary but commercially lucrative part two.
I’ll go over the five blanket excuses Meyer tries to toss over all of Edward’s garbage fire decisions. If you’re good and don’t go anywhere or do anything without me, maybe I’ll also share my absolute favorite apologetic, for which Twilight fans had to wait fifteen years.