Last month Stephenie Meyer (above) released her latest novel “Midnight Sun” and the backlash that she received was immediate and rather predictable. It is ostensibly the prequel to “Twilight” told from the perspective of Edward Cullen, the Vampire character. Critics instantly leapt on to the apparent inadequacies of the narration, failing to recognise the central point that Cullen isn`t human, he is a Vampire and wouldn`t reason or perceive things normally. This is part of a recognisable literary tradition where novelists use an “unreliable narrator”. Writers like Emily Bronte, Mark Twain and J.D. Salinger have utilised this as a literary device to recount tales which are often troubling, contentious and/or emotive.
The most predictable criticism has emerged from the unlikely alliance of radical feminists and traditionalists. The former camp focus upon the supposedly “abusive” relationship between Edward and Bella, the teenage girl who is drawn to him. Again these feminists ignore the context of the story, and their outrage simply represents a collective failure of their imaginations. Art has always reflected troubling concepts and is therefore entirely separate from any political or moral convention. The latter camp are male critics and writers who often misunderstand the complexities of female romantic desires and the female experience generally. Their perspective of women`s sexuality is crude and reductive.
These traditionalists categorise women into three stereotypes, which have always been maiden, wife/mother or prostitute. These writers and critics cannot understand Bella or her motivations as she does not fit any of these categories, she is much more complicated. Ian McEwan fell into the same trap when he wrote “On Chesil Beach”, the story of Florence, a “maiden” on her honeymoon.
However McEwan appeared to be so fixated upon Florence`s “maiden” status that he seemingly forgot to write about the rest of her character.
In traditional novels only men can have interesting inner lives but women are solely defined by their sexuality. The character or notion of the Vampire is an example of a “trope”, which is defined as “a significant or recurrent literary theme or motif”. These themes and motifs are often used as metaphors for the human experience. Anne Rice used the Vampire as an allusion to the fear and panic that surrounded the AIDS crisis. Her novels then influenced Meyer who was a teenager in the 1980s and grew up in the strict atmosphere of the Mormon religion.
Meyer`s depiction of Edward is another representation of the fear that suffused sexuality in the wake of AIDS, and the connotations of danger that also surround sex. Meyer`s depiction of Bella is a masterful evocation. She is an adolescent who yearns for meaning but she is fearful of the world. Consequently the arrival of Edward and his Vampire family prove to be both alluring and captivating. Edward`s nemesis is Jacob, a werewolf from an ancient Native American family.
His family are from an entirely separate tradition. In native lore werewolves are symbols of courage and loyalty. In contrast Vampires are representatives of a much darker force of nature, but the promise of immortality is the key to their appeal. Bella must choose one path to her own destiny.
The path that we all choose to travel on is often fraught with danger of some kind, that is the nature of human existence. We are often faced with the choice between loyalty to our old way of living, and the promise of a more fulfilling life by breaking with our past. This is essentially the moral fable that lies behind “Midnight Sun”.