“You don’t see yourself very clearly, you know.”
These words, uttered from the (“perfect”) lips of sparkly vampire, Edward Cullen, to the disbelieving ( and presumably very normal) ears of a clumsy, teenage girl named Bella, made an entire generation of fiction-devouring adolescent girls swoon.
I know this, because I was there. Okay, fine.
I was one of them.
You have to understand, that Twilight (because of course, I’m referring to Stephanie Meyer’s outrageously popular, Twilight Saga) was the first of the many YA supernatural love stories of its kind. Despite the fact that it essentially gave birth to a whole new sub-genre, aspects of Twilight’s formula were very old and almost (like Edward himself) antiquated.
It’s apparent (via numerous literary references within the Twilight saga) that part of the intent of the series was to re-imagine the kind of love-at-first sight/ forbidden love story that one finds in classic tales like Romeo and Juliet, or the more gothic– Wuthuring Heights. It had that whole instantaneous, “you are my soul mate” kind of love + the whole “We can’t be together. It would never work” thing.
“I love you. It is torture to be with you.”
“I’m like, literally dying to be with you.”
You get it: Good, old-fashioned, love angst, set in modern times.
Plus the stakes were higher than ever, because – in Edward and Bella’s case- they truly could not be together. I mean, Edward is literally torn between his desire to protect Bella or eat her. (It kind of takes the “all consuming love” thing to the next level.)
And maybe this antiquated, almost parodic level of love angst is the reason that.
- Teen girls were immediately obsessed with Twilight.
- Just a few years (and an awkward film series later) people whole-heartedly scoff at Twilight. The super intense love of two teens (one who is actually 107) comes off as a bit…errr…creepy. “What modern girl would let herself fall into such an unhealthy, all-consuming relationship?” asks the once-obsessed teen girls who are now in their twenties.
Let’s explore that, shall we?
Enter Midnight Sun
Over a decade later (actually more like 15 years) Midnight Sun follows the exact same plot as Twilight, only this time, it’s from Edward’s perspective.
My initial thoughts when I found out that this long-rumored re-imagination (which was temporarily shelved when it got leaked about 10 years ago) was finally making it’s appearance, I thought it was pretty brilliant.
Honestly? 2020 is a great year for the release of Midnight Sun.
We could all use a little nostalgia + escapism, and this “return to Twilight,” novel presents itself as just that.
So I read it. There was definitely some nostalgia. There were also some dramatic eyerolls. Ultimately, however, there was a big surprise in Midnight Sun, too, as I realized that it took me back to my younger self in unexpected ways that turned out to be surprisingly important.
Firstly, let me say that the book is advertised as “Twilight from Edward’s perspective,” it is pretty much exactly that, plot-wise. There are a few minor detours from the familiar story because we are traveling through this book with a different character, but nothing that really changes the story.
At times I got annoyed because much of the dialogue was exactly the same. Come on, we can be a little more creative, can’t we?
However, that’s not to say that the story itself didn’t change. In fact, what struck me about Midnight Sun was how much it changed because our point of view (and therefore perception) of the characters is changed…and also, perhaps, because how much us- the core audience – has changed.
First, let’s talk about Edward. I re-read Twilight a few years ago, and as a late- twenty-something, the constant references to, “Edward’s perfect lips,” had me in stitches. What kind of unbelieveable leading man is this? I thought. How did I ever fall for this level of flat-ness?
But in Midnight Sun, Edward is very deliberately not a perfect character.
For starters, he’s controlling, perfectionist and has obvious anger issues. Plus, he actually does want to eat his girlfriend (sometimes). Told from Edward’s perspective, this truly becomes more of a “Beauty and the Beast” story, wherein we care a lot less that the Beast is attractive and a lot more about the fact that he’s recovering cannibal.
Think Kiefer Sutherland Batman, but from 1917. And sparkly. Touch of Hannibal. That’s about right.
While we already had hints of the other personality traits in Twilight (we just ignored them, because “hotness.”) Edward’s also surprisingly insecure. He’s anxious and probably OCD, and we see how the sort of arrogant façade that we got from Twilight is a direct response to those underlying insecurities.
Essentially, in Midnight Sun, Edward is actually better, more complicated character. I think this gets a lot closer to the original Heathcliff mark that Meyer was probably aiming for with Twilight.
We also finally see, from this perspective, how Bella changes him from the inside out. I don’t know about you, but I never found that part of this sparkly vampire saga to be believable. 😉
Essentially, Midnight Sun is much more fascinating, from a character development standpoint, than it’s companion novel, and I found that it made the love story more understandable, too.
And a big reason the love story becomes more believable is that we finally see and understand Bella’s value through Edward’s eyes, which brings me to the most important thing I got from reading Midnight Sun.
Bella really didn’t see herself clearly, and – as a generation of young, female Twi-hard readers- neither did we.
For years now, there’s been this joke about Bella being the “flat” character that was relatable to all teen girls. The theory goes that she is so bland that any reader can slide into her perspective easily, which is why the book was so instantly popular, (and maybe why it’s popularity didn’t hold up as well over time.)
For a long time, I believed this too. However, after reading Midnight Sun, I realize that (at least after a period of reflection on the author’s part) Bella isn’t an “anyone” character.
She’ s just quiet. She’s not cardboard; she’s simply a wallflower. From Edward’s perspective in Midnight Sun, I think we get a clearer image of the character envisioned by the author: we see her as shy, selfless, stubborn, smart, family-oriented, bookish, responsible and a bit insecure. She’s sort of a Season One Rory (for the Gilmore Girls fans).
She’s not every girl.
However, I do think she represents a certain set of teenage girl.
The girls who would have picked up a gothic-inspired love story in Books-A-Million in the early 2000s. The good girls. The bookish girls. The girls who absorbed classic novels on the beach and observed everything that happened in the local coffee shop. The girls who hadn’t quite figured out who they were yet, but who wanted to be seen for the strong, quiet potential that they had. These are the girls who would have become instant Twi-hards. These are the girls whom Bella was designed to represent (and I was definitely one of those girls, in case you are wondering).
From this angle, I come to see finally that I was wrong, all those years ago, thinking that boring Bella doesn’t deserve “perfect” Edward.
Bella was simply unformed, surfacing. The Bella we meet in Midnight Sun could have been or done anything in future years, and I came away from this novel feeling kind of sad that she never got a chance to realize her value, just as she was.
All of these thoughts lead me to the final conclusion that, maybe as a generation of bookish teenage girls reading Twilight, we fell into that same pattern that Edward rightly accused Bella of:
Maybe we didn’t see ourselves clearly. We didn’t see our worth, or that the processes we were going through had value in helping to develop our adult selves.
And maybe these traits and insecurities were part of the reason we even became Twi-hards in the first place, drawn to a story where that sort of quiet value was desirable and powerful to an inhumanly “perfect” leading man.
You might say that I’m going too far with this, or digging too deep.
Maybe I am, but I really don’t think so. Partially this is because Stephanie Meyer’s introduction to Midnight Sun specifically addresses the target audience as readers who were teens when Twilight came out, but whom are now adults living (hopefully full) lives.
As time passes, we all find things that we left hanging, that we wish we could go back and say, or that we wish we’d realized at the time.
For Meyer, I have to think that perhaps she wanted to use this reboot as an opportunity to address complaints about her characters–to show that Edward was never too perfect or that Bella was never an “anygirl.”
For me, seeing these iconic characters differently gave me a chance to think about things that I hadn’t realized were left hanging, instilling a new respect for the quiet, bookish girl who didn’t think she was good enough. Reading it, I glimpsed my own seventeen year old self through a different lens.
Is Midnight Sun a great book? Not especially. Ultimately, I’d only recommend it to the audience to whom it was dedicated—those who read Twilight in years past. However, I think if you did read and enjoy Twilight at any point, reading Midnight Sun is both nostalgic and interesting as a character development experiment and as a vessel of self-reflection.
It’s amazing what you can get out of a familiar story by simply finding a new perspective.