I read ‘Midnight Sun’ so you don’t have to

The latest addition to the ‘Twilight’ canon is a harsh reminder of how problematic the series we were obsessed with a decade ago is

Midnight Sun was released in Aug.
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I started reading The Twilight Saga in 2007, right at the forefront of ‘Twilight fever,’ and the novels were a defining moment in my childhood.

The series was banned in my elementary school, so I ran an illicit library out of my backpack, lending the books to my classmates so they could experience the preternatural desire to move to Forks, Washington, and sparkle in the sunlight. After the first Twilight movie came out, I pored over the accompanying director’s guide and listened to the soundtrack on repeat. My friends and I adorned t-shirts and rubber bracelets that declared our allegiance to either “Team Jacob” or “Team Edward.”

This summer, when Twilight author Stephenie Meyer released the long-awaited—and hopefully final—addition to The Twilight Saga canon, Midnight Sun, it piqued my interest. I remember, back in 2008, when the first 12 chapters of the novel were leaked and Meyer vindictively pulled the plug on the rest of the novel, pledging to resume working on it only when everyone had forgotten Midnight Sun had ever existed.

And forget I did. There’s more than enough Twilight material out there—no one was reasonably missing a retelling of the series’ first novel from Edward’s perspective. Yet, in a summer with little else to do, I trekked to the bookstore and spent too much money on a novel I didn’t need.

I didn’t go into reading Midnight Sun planning to have a bad time. I was hoping for an entertaining, guilty pleasure read. Instead, I was met with an unbearably massive heap of repressed sexual and vampiric desire.

Midnight Sun manages to capture the monotonous, never-ending torture of immortality that defines Edward’s existence as a vampire—though it’s entirely unintentional. Suffering through nearly 700 pages of Edward’s bland narration of a story that’s nearly identical to one you’ve already read has to be the closest a person can come to empathizing with the Cullens as they attend high school for the 20th time.

This latest installment, while undoubtedly fan-service, had the potential to expand on some questions die-hard Twilight fans have been asking for years: what’s Edward thinking when he’s acting weird? Is there something Edward sees in Bella we couldn’t? What do vampires do other than sparkle?

Midnight Sun doesn’t answer any of these questions in an interesting or meaningful way. Edward does more mental math than you would probably expect. Bella’s somehow even less likeable when distorted through the lens of Edward’s heaping praise and horniness. Most opportunities to expand on vampire lore are squandered in favour of oddly stretched out retellings of moments we already read enough about through Bella’s perspective.

In short, it’s not a good read.

Twilight is, for me and likely many others, a point of nostalgia. My obsession with the series was short-lived—I’m not sure I even went to see the second movie in theatres—but it was nevertheless exciting to participate in such a significant pop culture phenomenon. Most former Twilight fans recognize the books were cheesy, campy, and ridiculous, and the movies were undeniably terrible and quite possibly an offense to the medium of film. At the time, that didn’t make us like the franchise any less.

But revisiting the Twilight universe as a 20-year-old has made me confront something the eight-year-old version of me, sitting under the creepy gazes of my Twilight movie poster listening to Linkin Park’s “Leave Out All the Rest,” failed to grasp: Twilight is more than mockable—it’s actively problematic.

Twilight criticism is nothing new. At the time of its release, it was rightfully accused of romanticizing a gross and unhealthy relationship between a 17-year-old girl and a 104-year-old man. The saga is riddled with careless and insensitive Indigenous representation. Jasper Cullen’s backstory was that he was a Confederate soldier, a fact that went far too unacknowledged during Twilight’s heyday.

As someone who read The Twilight Saga as a child, I’m disappointed to say a lot of the worst aspects of the series went over my head. In the years since I read them, I haven’t thought much about the books, and when I would, I chalked up the odd and uncomfortable moments to misremembering. Reading Midnight Sun, while a somewhat tortuous experience, gave me the opportunity to re-engage with the series with a necessary level of criticism.

To the other former Twilight fans out there, I’m not encouraging you to read Midnight Sun—I’m not that cruel. But you should take the renewed hype around the franchise as an opportunity to reexamine the series’ contents and engage with the communities levelling serious criticisms. That way, when you look back on your Twilight days with nostalgia, you can acknowledge that you’ve outgrown a series that’s better left in the past.

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