My conversation with Claire last week about Midnight Sun and Twilight reminded me of some previous thoughts I’ve had on the series. In October of 2015 when Life and Death, the gender-swapped reimagining of Twilight, was released, I reposted two essays I’d written on the first book in 2008 and 2010, respectively, which I’m sharing on this week’s podcast episode, and which you can read here.
Claire and I discussed whether we thought Midnight Sun was a necessary addition to the saga, and basically came to the conclusion that it’s probably not, but good for Stephenie Meyer, I guess?
But I also wanted to address an issue that we alluded to in our conversation but didn’t elaborate on, and that’s the problematic aspects of the books. The Twilight books contain content that many have rightfully called out as misogynist and racist. So let’s discuss that.
First off, I can see where the misogyny claims are coming from–and I agree that if the characters were real people who acted that way in real life, that would be unacceptable, and these claims are completely valid.
But we also have to take literary context into account. Twilight is romantic gothic fiction. Gothic romance is a literary genre whose essential tropes include a corruption of innocence and a character whose darkness and volatility is misunderstood by everyone except the young heroine. I wouldn’t call Twilight literary, exactly, but it is very much a gothic romance novel.
A lot of concern raised about this issue is focused on the fact that the majority of Twilight’s audience is teen girls and young women, who might be impressionable and think that some of the problematic behavior of certain characters is acceptable and even desirable in real people. It’s the same concern that’s been raised about gothic fiction since the 18th century. But I think we can give girls and women more credit than that, don’t you?
Of course we wouldn’t want a boyfriend who acts like Edward–or even Jacob–in real life. But they are not in real life; they are fictional. We can tell the difference between fiction and real life because real life doesn’t have vampires (as far as I know). We can read about people and actions that would be unacceptable in real life, but they are perfectly acceptable in fiction–because they are not real and do not harm real people.
I understand if that’s not something that everyone wants to read, though, and if that’s the case, maybe gothic fiction just isn’t for you. That is fine and 100% valid. This is something I think we can agree to disagree about.
But what I have to give weight to as something about which there really can’t be two equally valid opinions is the series’ racist aspects. This is something I’ve only really been made aware of in the past few years, as many Native and Indigenous people have spoken out against the books’ harmful and exploitative portrayal of the Quileute people and culture, and they have been speaking out since the books were first published. Their voices just weren’t being heard by everyone.
I don’t think this harm was intentional, but the harm was still done. And I think we have to take that into account in any discussion we have about the Twilight series.
Many Midnight Sun readers have pledged to donate the same amount of money they pay for the book to the Quileute Tribe or to organizations that support Native communities. I think that’s a nice gesture, but the book is still making money when people do this. I don’t know if that’s something everyone has considered.
So if you want to read Midnight Sun, I’m not going to tell you not to. I might read it eventually if I can ever get it from the library, though a lot of reviews I’ve seen don’t make it sound promising. I did watch some pretty entertaining YouTube reviews that probably gave me more joy than the book would
But I would ask you to thoughtfully consider before you read it, and to educate yourself about the issues that have been raised about the series, and especially about its harmful representation of the Quileute Tribe. You can go to their website and learn about the current issues that community is facing.
And also consider donating, if you have the means, to the Quileute Tribe’s Move to Higher Ground campaign or another organization that supports Indigenous communities in your area. Native populations have been some of the hardest-hit in the U.S. with the Coronavirus pandemic, though their numbers are under-reported, and could especially use assistance.
Here are a few organizations to consider:
- Partnership With Native Americans
- Association on American Indian Affairs
- Native American Rights Fund
- National Indian Childcare Association
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