Twilight: The Author, the Rabid Fans, and the Strange Things the Books Inspired

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For four days this week, July 30 through August 2, Dallas is playing host to the most rabid fan base outside Red Sox Nation. Thousands of fans of The Twilight Saga will be flying into town for what organizers are billing as the largest Twilight conference in the US, TwiCon 2009.

There is virtually no one on the planet who hasn't heard of the Twilight saga "“ a series of four books, Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn, about a human girl and the complications arising from her budding love for a vampire. In an era of massive blockbusters fueled by zealous fan bases, Twilight is one of the biggest; the first book in the series, Twilight, debuted in fifth place on the New York Times bestseller list in 2005, hitting the top spot shortly after. Together, the books in the series have sold more than 53 million copies and been translated into 37 languages.

The books have even spawned a resurgence in the vamp-lit market, with hosts of would-be Twilights littering the shelves, hoping to catch some of the wave that the series created.

They have also engendered a film series, which has itself inspired a weekly television show about a film that's not coming out until November, and a graphic novel (manga style, in keeping with the predilections of the books' fan base) version.

[In the interest of full disclosure, I should say here that I have read all of the Twilight saga (and, this being the part that might get me beaten up, I loved the first three books but found the final one seriously lacking, primarily because it seemed that the author had fallen far too in love with her characters for the good of the story).]

Sadly, TwiCon is already sold out "“ so if this is the first you're hearing of it, it's too late to buy tickets. But had you been on the ball, you would have been able to have your picture taken with actors Peter Facinelli, Jackson Rathbone, Billy Burke and others from the original Twilight cast; you could have attended breakout sessions to meet other Twilight20somethings or talk about the role the film has had in shaping Twilight fan fiction; discuss the role of the female, specifically the heroine, in the books; relive prom at the Volturi Mask Ball; or relax at a concert with the Bella Cullen Project and the Twilight Music Girls.

Please consider this post looking at all the weird and wonderful things around Twilight like a tiny, tiny fraction of the universe of experiences you could have had at the TwiCon:

In the beginning"¦

stephanie-meyer-2Stephenie Meyer was a Mormon stay-at-home mother of three when the idea for Twilight came to her came to her in a dream. She says on her website that she woke on the morning of June 2, 2003, from a particularly vivid dream in which two people were having "an intense conversation in a meadow." One half of the couple was just an average girl, but the other was "fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire." The subject of the conversation will be familiar to readers of the books, since Meyer says that Chapter 13 of Twilight is basically a transcript of the conversation: The vampire and the girl are falling in love, but the vampire really wants to eat her because her blood is like his particular brand of heroin.

Meyer says that from that day on and for the next three months or so, she was writing the Twilight saga every day, in between taking her kids to swimming lessons and taking care of her recently born baby. It took Meyer awhile to figure out what to call her heroine and the gorgeous "vegetarian" vampire (he only eats animals, not people); in the first write-up of the dream conversation, she simply referred to them as "she" and "he." Eventually, she settled on "Edward," finding it a romantic name straight out of a Jane Austen novel, and "Isabella," which she said was more difficult to hit upon as she'd come to love the character "like a daughter."

After finishing the book, which was originally titled Forks after the small and super rainy Washington state town in which the story is set, Meyer shopped it around to about 14 agents before finally hooking one. Her agent took the story to nine different publishing houses before Little, Brown finally picked it up, offering her a $750,000, multi-book contract. The whole thing took about six months and, of course, has completely changed Meyer's life.

Meyer also started writing a companion to the first book called Midnight Sun, which told the Twilight story from the perspective of Edward. However, the author abandoned the project, for the moment at least, after chapters from it were leaked on line.

The author has a cameo in the Twilight film: In one of the scenes in the Forks diner, Meyer is seen sitting at her laptop at the diner counter and ordering a sandwich.

Are all Twilight fans really teenage girls?

When the final book in the series came out, bookstores everywhere battened down the hatches and prepared for a long siege of teenage girls wearing glitter make-up and chattering ecstatically about Bella and swooning over Edward or Jacob, depending. I know this because, well, I saw it happen "“ waiting in line for the last book to come out, I was the only person over the age of 18 not there as an accompanying adult.

twilight-partyThe Twilight fandom has stereotypically been associated with teenage girls. Recently, Psychology Today blogger and PhD Gina Barreca explored the question "Why Do Smart Teens Love Twilight?" by asking the teenage daughter of some friends to explain why she loved the books Among the reasons the girl highlighted were the total escape from reality Twilight offers and the fact that so many other young girls were also eyeballs deep in the Twilight universe, creating a community of shared experience - at a time, I would add, when girls tend to need community the most. [Image courtesy of TwilightSeries.ca.]

Even early on in the phenomenon, reporters noticed the link between teenage girls and the nascent Twilight saga, often engaging in a little pop psychology themselves and theorizing that it was the chaste but desperate passion between Bella and Edward, who are unable to consummate their love owing to the fact that Edward is a vampire, that inflamed the imagination of teenage girls. And there is also some evidence that vampires, especially tall, handsome and wealthy vampires, are particularly attractive to women.

And are they dangerous?

While for the most part, Twilight fans are no more dangerous than your average sci-fi or fantasy fan, for some reason, Twilighters have gotten a bit of a bad rap.

It is true that in November 2008, Twilight fans started a mini-riot at an event at a Hot Topic in a mall in San Francisco. Basically, the event coordinators promised that the first 500 fans to show up would receive a free Twilight T-shirt and a chance to meet Robert Pattinson, the pale British hearthrob who plays vampire Edward Cullen in the films. When it became clear that there was virtually no organization to the event at all, the crowd of more than 3,000 turned violent, leaving one girl bloodied and other fans bruised, sadly solidifying the image of Twilight fans as a ravenous pack of screaming teenage girls.

But there are also "reports" on fan forums and blogs that Twilight fans, called Twihards, are lashing out against their anti-Twilight fellows. Stories range from an enraged fangirl beating an anti with a copy of the book, to encounters involving broken arms, cigarette burns, pencil stabs, acid and, probably best of all, improvised weapons a la the "shank" and "shiv." And then there's the Twilight-related suicides, typically involving young girls who want to be undead like their favorite vampires. Now, none of these urban legends have made it to the mainstream media (presumably because they're just as fictitious as Twilight itself), but they have been handily catalogued out there in the blogosphere and passed around as fact.

cullen-tattoo

What is true, however, is that more than a few Twilight fans have pledged their undying love to the series via that time-honored message board, the human skin. Remember, folks, a tattoo is (almost) forever.

Twi-merch

So, with a fan base as, ahem, affectionate as the Twilighters, it should come as no surprise that many a merchandiser has come up with ways to allow fans to express their love (and, of course, to pay for it).

There are the T-shirts ("Edward is a VILF"), the BBQ aprons, the infant clothing, the lunch boxes, the life-size cardboard cut-outs of Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen, the pillows, the bookmarks and posters, magazines and special edition film companion books, trading cards and board games. If you're looking for something a little more high-end, in October, Nordstrom is launching a line of Twilight clothing, which includes T-shirts reading "Team Edward" and "Team Jacob," after the two heroes involved in the books' central love triangle, and many jewelers are twilight-vocabmarketing the Bella bracelet, a recreation of the silver charm bracelet Bella wears in the third book, Eclipse, featuring a carved wooden wolf from Jacob and a diamond heart from Edward.

But there are also the items that only the truly Twi-hard fan would consider "“ like a weeklong cruise/floating convention around the Alaskan and Washington state coasts with a few of the actors from the film. The ship sets sail in August of 2010 and you too can be a part of the fun for between $1000 and $3300, depending on the accommodations.

And then there's just the weird stuff "“ like an SAT vocab prep book that references the Twilight books to help define SAT words: for example, Edward's "alabaster skin" and "ochre eyes" make an appearance.

Twi-rock? Vamp rock?

Like Harry Potter before it, Twilight has inspired legions of rock bands and musical groups who play music about and derived from the books.

Much of the music ranges from the angsty (unsurprising since the books also tend towards the angsty) to the blatant paean: The Bella Cullen Project is a trio of girls who sing acoustic guitar songs with lyrics like "Edward, won't you come and take me away," and started the band in their eighth grade year. Bella Rocks! sings "Twilight is not all about Bella/ Twilight is not all about Edward/ and Twilight is not all about Jacob/ Twilight is all about Alice," about how great it would be if your best friend were a "vampire fashionista."

The Twilight Music Girls sing sweetly angsty songs that seem to come straight from Bella's tortured, fictional heart ("I don't feel the pain/ I don't feel a thing/ I just see your face/ I know it's wrong/ but you don't care anyway"). And the Mitch Hansen Band might be single-handedly trying to smash the "Twilight is for girls" stereotype with songs from the Twilight male perspective that achieve a kind of Nickelback sound.

Even Rob Pattinson, who plays Edward in the films, is a bit of a Twi-rocker "“ two of the actor/musician's songs, recorded before the film, were heard in the film and appeared on the Twilight soundtrack.

Twi-tourism

In the wake of the series' mind blowing popularity, the tiny town of Forks, Washington, has been inundated with Twilighters making pilgrimages to the town of the book. More than 100 fans are pouring into rainy Forks, a former timber town that had long been abandoned as hard luck, and townspeople have been cashing in on the boom: Sully's Drive-In offers a Bella Burger that comes with a side of fake vampire teeth; Twilight T-shirts are available at nearly every cash register in town; Subway even offers a Twilight Special, bleeding with marinara sauce.

But Forks isn't the only Twilight town reaping the benefits of being association with the book: Volterra, the Italian town in which some of the major action of the second book, New Moon, takes place has seen an influx of tourism since the book came out. Like Forks, the small Tuscan town has embraced the Twilighters, with Twilight displays in many shop windows, as well as a special Volterra New Moon map showing sights from the book.

However, the director of the second film chose nearby Montepulciano to play the movie Volterra; Montepulciano is a tiny, beautiful hilltop Tuscan town that's been in a number of films, including The English Patient, and it was deemed more picturesque and more appropriate for the film. Volterra was understandably upset about it, as were a number of Italian Twilight fans, who all put together a petition to have filming moved to Volterra, to no avail.
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So, are you a Twilight fan? Would you buy a Bella bracelet or a spot on a cruise? And why do you think Twilight has become such a phenomenon?

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July 27, 2009 - 9:46am
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