In lieu of the holiday season, where the midnight hour is close at hand and creatures crawl in search of blood, let’s take a dive into one of the more beloved, complex, and frightful monsters our generation has lived to see: Edward Cullen.
More specifically, I mean the relatively recent release of Midnight Sun, a companion novel to Twilight as told through Edward’s perspective. After 12 years of announcements, leaked previews, and cancellations, MS finally saw the sunlight on August 4th and was promptly met with backlash, criticism, and unironic love from adults who once fawned over our favorite sparkling vampire.
In this exciting installment, we are thrust into Edward’s perspective of the events unfolding in Twilight, from the moment he first fights against his murderous instincts as newcomer Bella Swan waltzes into his biology class, to a bittersweet prom dance where he promises to stay with Bella forever whilst already plotting how to dump her in the following book.
There was one reason, and one alone, as to why I was desperate to get my hands on a copy of this book: a phrase I’ve yet to see anyone comment on, a single phrase which has haunted me for over a decade, a phrase that was written as part of a dialogue and thus has no added description or narration to help clarify the reasoning behind said sentence.
Spoken over the phone by Edward, to Bella, on page 418 of my copy of Twilight as soon as they lose their track of James and begin planning on reuniting in Phoenix for an uncertain future:
“I love you,” I reminded him.
“Could you believe that, despite everything I’ve put you through, I love you, too?”
And I was like:…Excuse me?
I would like to preface this unnecessarily long and winding analysis of a phrase within a book that was published in 2005 by admitting that: Twilight is a book for which I have zero comprehension skills.
What do I mean: for starters, I don’t blame Meyer’s writing style nor am I going to claim that this is a piece of literature far beneath me, the genius with a BA in Literature. Simply put: what I’ve noticed in myself while reading Twilight (and its other iterations, Life and Death and Midnight Sun) is that I always seem to get confused by the manner in which certain events in the books are written.
I get the feeling that in an effort to create suspense where none exists, even in the most meaningless sequences, Meyer writes scenes with vague descriptions in order to keep the reader out of the loop and doesn’t reveal important information until the very end of a scene. And while this may be a basic storytelling technique, I always wind up more confused than compelled in Meyer’s hands, left trying to decipher what happened on the page before moving on.
A couple of examples:
- In Twilight, during the meadow scene. There’s a point where Bella leans in to kiss Edward and he abruptly stands and runs from her. I got a better sense of what was happening thanks to Midnight Sun, but I hadn’t realized that he was about to kill her at that moment. I now know we’re supposed to infer that he nearly gave way to his instincts when she leans in too close but given Bella’s apology, how frustrated he acts with himself at seeing how attracted she is to him (due to his vampiric nature), and how both scared and in awe she is of Edward, I felt the meaning of that moment was muddled and confused.
- In Midnight Sun, Edward’s sitting in Spanish class with Emmett, where he checks out mentally before suddenly grinding his teeth with so much anger that other students look around for the source of the noise. Once again, trying to create suspense, Meyer delays giving us the context behind Edward’s sudden anger, narrating first how Emmett apologizes for thinking something the audience has no idea about and having Edward mentally count the minutes until he can punch him before properly revealing that the Cullens had made bets over Bella’s fate that weekend. It’s a small moment in an otherwise irrelevant scene but I was just so confused by Edward’s reaction, I nearly reached for my copy of Twilight to see what I’d missed.
I’ll leave it at these two examples. And while this is neither here nor there, I simply want to express how Twilight has a writing style that confuses me more often than not, and I wonder if this general misunderstanding I’ve had with the original story and its other two iterations is what makes me so confused as to the meaning of this particular phrase.
I may also be reading too much into it.
Going back to the phrase at hand — Edward answering Bella’s “I love you” by stating that he loves her as well despite the danger he’s put her through — I’m left wondering: why is Edward’s answer phrased like this? Why is the focus on his bitter regret than on Bella’s feelings when she’s the one being hunted by a vampire? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the scene to play as follows:
“I love you,” he whispered.
“Could you believe that, despite everything you’ve put me through/despite everything that’s happened, I love you, too?” I [Bella] said.
What does Edward mean?
I have three ideas because I have zero clear answers.
Edward is, in general, a selfish character. It may be true that everything he does in Twilight is in service of Bella yet most of his actions are driven from a holier-than-thou place. He claims to know better, he claims to be protective, and he claims more than once that he’s the one who loves more in the relationship, simply because: he’s an immortal vampire with feelings stronger than that of the average human being, as well as the fact that he believes he would be more willing to let her go than she would.
And while the joke has always been that Edward’s a drama queen stuck forever as a teen, this perception of him becomes so much stronger with Midnight Sun, in which Edward constantly thinks of himself as better than the rest of humanity, sometimes even better than his own family.
Much like Mr. Darcy — that’s right, I went there — Edward believes he is stooping down to a shameful level in order to love Bella and despite the danger he’s dragged her into. During this moment, he seems almost surprised by his own affection, intent on focusing on this ordeal as his own predicament rather than a situation that could cause a severe disservice to his family, let alone lead innocent human beings to their deaths.
And since a great bulk of the criticism surrounding Twilight centers around Edward’s abusive behavior, it wouldn’t surprise me if this answer to Bella’s declaration of love is equivalent to I hit you because I love you. As One Love so clearly puts it in their advice on how to tell if you’re in an emotionally abusive relationship: if they didn’t care, they wouldn’t get so angry — right?
2. Coming to terms with his feelings
One of the many new insights we get with Midnight Sun is a deeper look into the Cullen family and how their powers work. While it’s interesting to learn more about how Edward navigates his daily life through a constant stream of intruding thoughts from the people that surround him, how he’s able to filter out thoughts as well as expand the range of his powers to reach a distinct voice in his head, I find that this exploration of their powers, specifically Alice’s precognition, completely recontextualizes certain events of the story.
I was surprised to see that most if not all of the characters, Alice herself included, seem to regard her visions as infallible. It’s worth noting that, depending on the circumstances leading up to a specific event, her visions do alter and Alice emphasizes the role a person’s decisions play upon her predictions of the future. Most of the time, however, her visions are accepted as absolute.
And what’s horrifying about this inevitability is that it removes all agency the characters have in regards to their own lives, utterly tainting the romantic aspect of the story.
Twilight is a book in which relationships — specifically romantic ones — are the main driving force behind the plot; the focus of the story revolves around Edward and Bella’s relationship (made even messier with the addition of Jacob). No one in the series is left unpaired, vampire lore seems to treat significant others as lifelong mates, and let’s not even go into werewolf imprinting, where the wolf in question is bound for life to his imprintee and if she were to refuse his advances, it’s implied that it would drive the wolf to suicide.
As explored by Dominic Noble in his YouTube video series Twilight: Breaking Dom, Meyer’s take on the utter devotion and passion behind a romantic relationship is the stuff of nightmares when she unwittingly establishes a clear lack of will these characters have when it comes to love or relationships in general:
- Alice sees Edward (and herself) loving Bella, to which Edward reacts by crying out in denial.
- Even if Edward were to run away from Forks to keep from killing Bella, Alice sees that he would return to hunt her down if he didn’t fall in love with her.
- With no memory of her human life, Alice awakens as a vampire and sees visions of her and Jasper’s relationship, visions that “told her who she was, or shaped her into who she would become.” By the time she meets Jasper in person, Alice has centuries-worth of information in her head about their relationship, and Jasper is left overwhelmed by the depth of her love that he has no other choice but to reciprocate.
- When Alice and Jasper show up at the Cullen’s for the first time, she rushes forward to hug Edward, calling him her brother, with a lifetime of visions informing her of his character and their relationship. Edward, along with the rest of the Cullens, has no say in whether he wants a familial bond with Alice or Jasper.
- Even when properly introduced to Bella, Edward describes Alice as “halfway between this moment and a thousand future moments, exulting in finally getting to begin their friendship.”
By taking Alice’s visions of the future as truth rather than possibilities, her predictions become self-fulfilling prophecies; there isn’t a character who is immune to the destinies Alice sees, even worse when Edward recounts, several times over, how Alice accommodates her actions and behavior in order to achieve the best possible result from her visions.
While a topic for another essay, I believe Edward is so caught up in Alice’s predictions throughout the entire book that by the time he’s hunting down James in order to protect Bella, he’s finally able to examine the motives behind his actions.
Therefore, I wonder if Edward’s “despite everything I’ve put you through, I love you too” is his way of admitting that he does, in fact, love Bella. That despite his sealed future thanks to Alice’s visions, despite his thirst for her blood, he actually loves her as her own person and not because a vision told him to.
3. “I love you” / “I know”
Still a better love story than Twilight, this exchange between Leia Organa and Han Solo moments before the climactic battle of Empire Strikes Back remains, to this day, one of the most iconic phrases of all time.
There’s a lot of debate over how this exchange came to be, whether it was scripted as such or Harrison Ford improvised Han’s answer at that moment. And there’s plenty of interpretations over what his answer means: is it Han acting as lady’s man ‘til the bitter end? Is he acknowledging Leia’s feelings without reciprocating because, even if he does love her, he may die soon and there’s no point in leaving her behind with the weight of that revelation? Or, as my sister likes to believe, is Han acknowledging her feelings because Leia is suffering due to that love, and if he had never tried to pursue her, if he had left early after the battle of Hoth, then perhaps Leia wouldn’t be yearning for him as he descends, tears in his eyes, to his imminent death?
Who’s to say?
After Bella states one of her favorite films is precisely Empire Strikes Back, I have to wonder how much this was an attempt to make Bella more relatable, or if Meyer actually took inspiration from this famous exchange and made an effort to insert a similar sentiment into her own novel.
Edward’s response echoes Han’s, admitting the bulk of his feelings in the last exchange they have before knowing if they’ll meet again in person. As mentioned before, Edward never meant to purposefully place Bella in danger; before concern developed into affection, he always seemed to care at least for her wellbeing, even if from a moral standpoint.
At this point in the story, however, Edward has surpassed his instincts, coming to accept this part of himself as inevitable while also holding it as a testament to his love for Bella; he accepts that he loves her, not due to a perilous situation they happen to be in, but because his intent was to never hurt her, and his guilt and self-deprecation at this moment are far lesser than his genuine affection. By reminding her that he did this to her, he admits his fault but continues to reinforce that he loves her despite his mistakes, that his underlying concern for her surpasses any and all fear or perils they should encounter.
This is why, when Bella says she loves him, he responds that he does as well, in spite of the danger she’s in.
So, where does this leave us?
I’m not entirely sure. Up to this day, this phrase continues to ring alarm bells in my mind each time I read it, and something about its phrasing seems indicative of the kind of romantic interest Edward is: dismissive, emotionally abusive, and controlling.
Although published fifteen years ago, it seems the internet and the world at large will never stop finding mistakes — or even reasons to love — Twilight and the vampire lore it gave us.
With Midnight Sun only just released and the promise of Jacob/Renesmee centric-books on the horizon, perhaps it’s time for Stephenie Meyer to put this book series to rest at least (especially after three retellings of the same story in the course of fifteen years).
I will admit, though, part of me still enjoys it, enjoys remembering the age in which I first read these books, enjoys the mood emitted from the first film adaptation, and enjoys to this day the artists featured not just in the films’ soundtrack but also from Meyer’s playlists back from the days of her blog.
Still waiting on that Host sequel though.