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How Breaking Dawn Broke Twilight

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

ImageWith less than a week to go before the premiere of the latest film in the Twilight series, New Moon, CC2K’s Book Editor and resident Twilight expert Beth Woodward looks back on the book series and reflects on why she hated Breaking Dawn.

Picture it: Washington, DC.  July 2008.  I was having an unusually slow day at work, so I got on the internet and browsed my way over to the Entertainment Weekly website.  They had just published an interview with Stephenie Meyer.  I had read Meyer’s book The Host, about a group of body-snatching aliens, a few months earlier and really liked it.  After I read the interview, I found another article talking about the Twilight series and the upcoming movie.  I had always been a fan of paranormal romance, so the concept–a normal teenage girl falls in love with a vampire–was intriguing to me.  So that day, I went out and bought the first book in the series.  And I devoured it.  (No pun intended.)  Within a week, I had gone through both New Moon and Eclipse, and I couldn’t wait until Breaking Dawn came out.

Yes, it’s true.  I drank the Kool-Aid.

Flash forward to early August.  My copy of Breaking Dawn arrived in the mail, and I stayed up all night reading it.  And when I finished, I was furious.  I felt betrayed.  How could a series I spent so much time reading end so…lamely?

The basic concept of the series is pretty simple.  In the first book, high school junior Bella Swan falls in love with Edward, who turns out to be a “vegetarian” vampire (one who only consumes animal blood).  Bella is crazy about Edward, always going on and on about how beautiful and wonderful and amazing and blah blah blah he is.  In New Moon, Edward, fearing that his presence in Bella’s life is putting her in danger, leaves town.  A devastated Bella finds herself growing closer to Jacob, a Quileute Indian teenager who has his own supernatural secret: he and other members of his tribe are werewolves charged with battling vampires.  Although she is still deeply in love with Edward, she considers pursuing a relationship with Jacob.  After nearly being killed by a group of powerful Italian vampire enforcers, the Volturi, Edward decides to return to Forks and resume his relationship with Bella.  But in Eclipse, Bella finds herself torn: between Edward and Jacob, an immortal life and her mortal one.

And then there’s Breaking Dawn…

In Breaking Dawn, Edward and Bella get married.  While on their honeymoon, Bella becomes pregnant with a vampire/human hybrid child, and this pregnancy becomes life threatening.   Bella manages to carry the child to term, but nearly dies in childbirth and is turned into a vampire.  Jacob, meanwhile, “imprints” (some werewolfy way of finding one’s soulmate) on Bella and Edward’s baby, Renesmee.  Meanwhile, the Volturi , believing that Edward’s family has done something illegal, travels to the United States to battle them.  Then comes 200 pages of setup for a battle that…does not happen.  The end.

After reading the first three books, I found myself favoring Jacob over Edward.  Edward was just so arrogant sometimes, and I never quite forgave him for taking off in New Moon.  But I have read more than one book in my life, so I never doubted the fact that Bella would choose Edward over Jacob.  But love triangles are not the kind of thing that should have a happy ending.  Bella chooses Edward, so by all rights Jacob should end the book unhappy–or at least unsatisfied on that front.  But the entrance of Renesmee as Jacob’s soulmate–even if you can ignore all the potentially icky implications of Jacob’s soulmate being an infant–is a deus ex machina.  In introducing Renesmee as Jacob’s soulmate, Meyer cheats the reader by basically saying, “You know that love triangle thing?  The plot thread that I’ve been building for the last two books?  Forget it.  It doesn’t matter.  The story was fated to end this way.”  The happily-ever-after-for-all resolution of the love triangle essentially invalidates the conflict of the previous two books.  Breaking Dawn might not have felt like such a cheat if New Moon and Eclipse had not existed at all.  And maybe that makes sense: Meyer has admitted that Breaking Dawn has essentially the same plot as Forever Dawn, the unpublished sequel that Meyer originally wrote after Twilight–before New Moon and Eclipse.

And then there’s the climactic battle that never happens.  For the last third of the book, Meyer builds up the conflict between the Cullens and the Volturi.  The Cullens invite many of their vampire friends to join them in what promises to be an epic battle.  Call me macabre, but I was expecting blood and guts and death galore.  Then after 200 pages of buildup…nada.  The Volturi show up on one side, the Cullens and their allies on the other.  They talk for a little while, the Volturi realize that Bella’s new superpower–the ability to block the mental powers of other vampires–blocks many of theirs, and they basically say, “Oh, well, never mind then, we’re going home.”  I mean, c’mon, how can you have a climax without a climax?

Of course, how can I critique the ending of this much loved (and much hated) series without talking about the character of Bella Swan.  Bella has often been criticized as an anti-feminist character, devoting herself entirely to a guy and getting married and pregnant right out of high school.  Meyer has defended Bella against these criticisms, saying that the essence of feminism is about women having the freedom to make their own choices, and Bella does that when she chooses to be with Edward.  But that’s not really the problem.

Bella spends the series talking about how wonderful Edward is and how she is unworthy of him.  And when Edward’s behavior becomes very controlling in Eclipse, she rationalizes it.  In her eyes, he is always perfect, and she is hopelessly flawed.  Then she marries Edward, becomes a vampire, and saves the day.  Great.  Fantastic.  But what about those of us who don’t develop superpowers?

The problem is, Bella devotes her life entirely to Edward.  And when Edward leaves in New Moon, Bella barely survives without him.  And when he returns, she fully forgives him, no questions asked.  And then she gives up college, her friends, most of her family, and her life, to be with Edward.  She is the girl with no life or ambitions of her own.  She’s described as intelligent and scholarly, but as soon as Edward enters the picture that’s all out the window. 

I realize that it’s not Stephenie Meyer’s responsibility to create good role models for teenage girls.  But the Twilight series has become a phenomenon, and millions of teenage girls are reading this books with the belief that this is a good model for romantic relationships.

And that, to me, is scarier than all the vampires and werewolves in the fantasy realm combined.