It has come to light over the past few years that, not only is Twilight the biggest teen book around, but that it has spawned literally thousands of copycats, each just as bad as the original. I can understand why; aspiring authors who desperately want to be published jump on the vampire boyfriend bandwagon to make a couple of dollars. But what makes a teen vampire book so successful? In this short essay, I'll attempt to bring kicking and screaming into the sunlight. And hopefully it won't burst into flames immediately.
Unless you've been living in a cave since 2005, Twilight has been one of the biggest things among teenage and pre-teen girls across the world, but nowhere is there a stronger, more cult-like following than in America. The story of Twilight is basically that Bella moves to a new town, meets Edward, who doesn't seem to like her very much, then she finds out that Edward is a vampire, they profess their undying love for each other, Bella nearly dies, then they go to prom. It is the exact fantasy of millions of teenage girls – that their boyfriends are super hot superheroes. This plot bas been repeated over and over again with slight differences; in Evernight by Claudia Gray, the girl is the vampire, in the Morganville Vampire series by Rachel Caine, neither of them are vampires, and in the Vampire Diaries by L. J. Smith, both (or all three) of them are vampires. This plotline is obviously a winner.
The main love interest is always a 16-18 year old boy that goes to the protagonist's school. They turn out to be some kind of supernatural being, be it a 200 year old vampire, a werewolf, a sorcerer, anything vaguely out of the ordinary. He is always very sexy, gaining a lot more physical description than any other character. He has a possessive personality, willing to give his life for his love in any situation, but at the same time will never let her go. He is usually rich, either from vast accumulated fortune from his long life or from having a conveniently rich family. However, he is usually deeply traumatised by something he did in his dark past, like murder or a past lover, which supposedly makes him a rounder character. That fact is, these male characters often have no flaws, making them 'Gary Stus', or perfect characters, thus proving the author can't write well enough to have decent characters. I have just described the fantasy man of most teenage girls. Doesn't sound too hard to write, does it?
The narrator or protagonist of the story is always a 16-18 year old girl, described as 'plain' or 'boring' by the author but is usually stunningly beautiful and more than enough to capture the hearts of every male from within a five mile radius. Not only is this grossly unfair on every other female character in the book, but it sets up unrealistic expectations for the reader. 'Plain' and 'boring' (read: normal) girls don't have men flocking to them. The fact the protagonist is supposedly normal looking supposedly makes her easier to empathise with, but the opposite is true when you realise that it was a complete lie. The protagonist usually has some kind of meaningful name; Bella means 'beautiful', Bianca means 'white', Elena means 'torch' and Poppy is a kind of flower. Again, these characters are 'Mary Sues', flawless characters, and sometimes (namely the case of Twilight) are author self-inserts living out their fantasy of being a teenage girl in love with a vampire. This character is invariably clumsy, which is not a flaw. Again, it doesn't sound too difficult to write.
The mythology of the story is very important. No teenage girl would want to fall in love with Dracula; he looks old, he has stinky breath, drinks blood very willingly and he doesn't angst about his past. Dracula is far too old fashioned for most teenage girls, who want their fantasy boyfriend to have the best of both worlds; super strength, super speed, magical powers, but also able to retain a conscience, fights the urge to consume blood, and can often go out in the sunlight. The fact their hero looks the same for thousands of years doesn't mean it's okay to date him. He could well be ten times the female lead's age, and no matter what you might argue, that is definitely paedophilia. The process of becoming a vampire is a metaphor for having sex for the first time, which is why it is described as excruciatingly painful (Twilight) or just weird, or even pretty nice. Either way, the fact the heroine wants to change to stay with their boyfriend forever, and that change is a metaphor for giving them your virginity.
However you look at it, vampirism is a metaphor for sex. In Dracula, it was a metaphor for rape, which then sexually liberated Lucy to make her the embodiment of the Victorian fear of oversexed women, in Twilight it's a metaphor for sex before marriage, which the puritanical Edward won't submit to until he and Bella are married, so it is no longer corrupting but necessary to be together forever, in The Vampire Diaries it's a metaphor for having sex for the first time. If you really think about it, you have the penetration of fangs, the exchange of bodily fluids and pleasure. This sounds exactly like sex, just replace the word 'fangs' with 'penis'. This explains why heroines are often anxious for their vampire boyfriend to bite them – they want to get into their pants. Because of the teenage market, authors aren't allowed to sell graphic sex, but they're allowed to use metaphor instead.
The relationship between the two main characters is always very simple – eternal love. However, the other aspects of the relationship, i.e. the fact he'll never let her leave, the way they react when they are invariably torn apart and the pressure to drink blood (read: have sex) reveals the reality behind the birdsong and Catherine Hardwicke staring scenes. Most relationships are co-dependent, which means neither one of the pair can literally live without the other because they've become so attached. Although this may sound romantic, it really isn't. A prime example is when Bella drives a motorbike, approaches dangerous men and jumps off a cliff just to try and hear Edward's voice again. Risking your life just be slightly closer to someone is not romantic, it's irrational. No love is worth your life. Returning to Twilight, when Bella is trying to be friends with Jacob but Edward won't let her shows Edward's unhealthy protective (read: possessive) streak. He treats Bella like an object, and jealously won't let anyone else be near her. Telling impressionable teenage girls that this is what 'true love' is is unhealthy.
The message behind these books is often not so sweet. In Twilight, the message is that women should not have sex before marriage and that all they could ever want is a baby. Stephenie Meyer even goes as far to break her own cannon, as well as the laws of biology, in the creation of Renesmee. There is no way that child could exist. Firstly, Edward was apparently a virgin when be met Bella, but he was still a man. Meyer said that he still had some semen left, and that apparently that had changed when he became a vampire. On that principal, shouldn't he also have one bowel movement left, too? And you're telling me that this teenage boy never masturbated? It's unrealistic. Meyer tried to explain Renesmee's half-vampire status by saying that she had an extra chromosome, but as everyone who has ever taken biology class knows; an extra chromosome means you have Down's syndrome. Amusingly, an extra two makes you a gorilla. The very fact that Bella is willing to throw away her education and possibly even her life during the pregnancy shows that Meyer is saying that it is all worth it, provided you have a baby, thus completing your life as a woman. No teenager should feel pressured to have children. We left that behind in the 1950's.
In conclusion, teen vampire books appeal to teenagers because it spoon-feeds them exactly what they want to read; that their boyfriend is special, but still loves them. However, the message behind these books isn't healthy, and in the case of some books is an attempt at indoctrination. The fact that biting equals sex means that it is okay to be pressured into sex, or even raped, because your boyfriend can't wait. Should these books be published? The answer is an all-resounding no.