Fantasy is not my favourite literary genre. It was a struggle, I admit, for me to read The Hobbit, not to mention Harry Potter; and I didn’t even go near The Chronicles of Narnia. So when I heard about the next fantasy-series craze that was sinking its teeth into millions of readers around the world (of course, the Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer), I was about as excited as a vampire in a vege patch. But then I began to hear whispers that they weren’t your ordinary fantasy novels, and that what had Meyer’s mostly female readership hooked wasn’t spells and sorcerers, but the sexual tension between the main characters: the fact that they resist the urge throughout the entire circa 2000-page story to have ravenous vampiric sex.
Abstinence… exciting? My interest piqued, I decided it was time – two years after the book’s release – to break my ‘fantasy’ abstinence and find out what it was that made Meyer’s writing tick, or tickle, the fancy of millions of women readers.
I am currently half way through the first book, and what has struck me most so far (and what has me addicted) is not the repressed eroticism of the main characters’ impossible romance, but the way the female protagonist – Bella Swan – invites you to snuggle down into the cosy mentality of a small town 17-year-old girl whose only real concerns in life are love, love and love. The plot drugs you with carefree teenage themes, somehow making you believe that to be a weak and vulnerable woman who is highly dependent on a man for survival is something you want.
This is the confusingly intoxicating part: Bella is made up of qualities that paint her as the archetypal helpless female; she’s clumsy, wimpish, not particularly attractive in the glossy magazine kind of way, and every effort she makes to assert her strength and independence is undermined by her vampire-man love interest (Edward) who ‘saves’ her at every opportunity. And for all Bella’s apparent resistance to his coddling, she soon enough embraces the role. Feminists would ordinarily be critical of her ‘no means yes’ interactions with Edward; yet for some inexplicable primal reason she, and what she goes through, is so completely enviable that we, the readers, can’t stop turning pages for fear of going back to Real Life.
The thing is, in Real Life we don’t often get to play the part of the ‘weaker sex’, or the part of the woman that’s simply content with being loved and looked after for life. Confess you want this in reality and you’ll be shot down by a history of women who have worked hard to have it otherwise. But there’s no denying that behind every woman’s desire for the feminist ideals of financial independence and world-dominating career success is the knowledge that we would throw it all to the wind if the offer of a hot superhero who was desperately in love with us and would support us for eternity arose. Twilight lets us play out this secret longing to be cared for, kept alive and infinitely adored within the safe and short-lived confines of a paperback. Sure, in reality this way of life might become tedious – especially if forced to abstain forever from ravenous vampiric sex – but for 2000 pages, it’s a nice fantasy: one I won’t struggle to read.