Twilight and a Female Protagonist's Hero's Quest

I am a Twilight fan. No matter that it's very popular today to disparage Stephenie Meyer's vampire novels, I'm still a fan. On a plane to Atlanta several years ago, I stumbled across a podcast that had an interview with Jacqueline Carey and the hosts mentioned how great the Twilight series was. In full disclosure, I had thought that Meyer's books would be similar in theme to Carey's, but I was pleasantly surprised with Meyer's books. Although many disagree with me in liking the Twilight series, I wanted to spend a few minutes discussing why I like the series. I am tired of reading/hearing haters trash the books without reading them and discussing their impact on the youth of today. Like it or not, 70 million plus books have been sold and the movies are breaking box office records.

To take a step back, I first read these books in 2007. What I liked about the series is that Meyer plays around with typical vampire lore. Her vampires have special powers (mind reading, projecting pain, shielding one's thoughts, etc.) and are able to walk in sunlight. I also liked that Bella Swan is one of the main characters: She's quirky, accident prone, geeky and a bit tormented. She falls in love with the unattainable god-like Edward. He is kind, patient, a good listener, courageous, understanding, loving and basically a proto-typical Prince Charming who is perfect in nearly every way. Yet Edward's honor code and love for Bella captured my attention. He is one of the main characters of the series, but neither Jacob nor he are the central character. Bella is the core of the novel. We, as readers, go on a female hero's quest. Back in 1996 I wrote my thesis for my M.A. in English Literature on "Memory and the Quest for Self: A Jungian Reading of Alice Walker and Margaret Atwood." Here's a passage from my thesis that I believe is relevant to my discussion on the Twilight series:

"When archetypal images are applied to literature we can recognize a protagonist's behavioral patterns as being universal to the human condition. By analyzing the protagonist's behavior in relation to four specific archetypal images (persona, shadow, animus, and self), we will be able to better comprehend the feminine individuation process. Simply put, individuation is defined as 'coming to selfhood' or 'self-realization' (Storr 418). According to Jungian theory, a personality on the road toward individuation consists of four parts.  Atkinson defines Jung's theory and explains that:

        a personality striving for full individuation or
        integration has four aspects . . . (1) the ego (or
        persona), that person (or role) we consider ourselves
        to be in normal waking consciousness; (2) the shadow,
        that figure of the same sex as the ego who embodies
        negative and positive traits which might have been
        conscious but which have now been repressed; (3)
        . . . animus, the man within the woman, representing
        the male consciousness with which the woman must
        reconcile herself; and finally, (4) the Self, that
        perfect wholeness which the individual can become
        when [she] has reconciled [herself] . . . with her
        shadow and animus and become [her] own potentiality
        for being. (Atkinson 85)"

For me, the Twilight series represents Bella's journey on the process of selfhood and individuation. Awkward, quirky and unsure of herself, Bella's struggles lead her to the final climatic battle with the Volturi in which she has not only become a wife and mother, but, most importantly, she has discovered her own power and her ability to utilize it for defense and revelation. The typical male hero's journey is filled with weapons of power and destruction: A hammer, a lightsaber, a bow and arrow. Such typical masculine weapons have shaped our literature for as long as humans can write. But with Meyer's work, Bella is withdrawn and has the ability to shield herself from outside influences. Protected and blocked out from society, Bella struggles to overcome her inner demons and fears, realizing in the end that her shield can be used as a defensive tool to protect those she loves. But in a telling moment at the close of "Breaking Dawn," Bella lifts her shield up to allow Edward to be intimately close to her. Throughout the series, she has been an impenetrable shield to his mind reading ability, but upon discovering her true power and confidence, Bella opens her inner core to Edward.

Bella's journey through ego, shadow, animus and self plays itself out naturally through the course of the four books. No, Bella is not a classical hero in which she realizes her potential from the start and strives to embrace her destiny. Rather, she stumbles, falls and chases after her animus--split between the wolfman Jacob and the bloodsucking Edward. Her journey of obtaining everlasting love with her soulmate, Edward, is tattered and broken through her using Jacob to help fill a void within her psyche. Abandoned by Edward in "New Moon," Bella's struggle for self-actualization is hampered by her inability to reconcile her feelings of grief after Edward's departure. Her journey is slow, crooked and unusual for a typical male hero's quest. It is only through death, marriage and birth of her daughter that Bella is reborn as a vampire and fully cognizant of her powers. Still relatively young and inexperienced, the Twilight series ends on a high note. Hopefully, we will see Bella's growth in future books.

However, I am concerned about Twilight's impact on today's youth. Young girls are flocking to see the film, screaming their undying love to Jacob and Edward. But here is what bothers me: Edward is a hero who is near perfect. I wonder if the young girls of today, who are fans of the series, can separate themselves form their wanting of Edward to the reality of life. In the books and movies, Edward loves Bella without question. His only flaw is that his love blinds him to abandon Bella in her hour of need. No man in reality is like Edward. The darker sides of our Prince of the Night are glossed over: He likes to drink blood and is also rough at sex. Will today's tweens see beyond Edward's and Jacob's good looks to Bella's journey toward individuation? Will they see Bella's journey as a hero's quest? Or are they blinded by beauty and unable to put into perspective Bella's growth?

No matter what naysayers might voice about the Twilight series, the books' influence on women/girls today is overwhelming. My thought is this: Stop mocking the series, read it and then decide. Meyer portrays a young female hero from her earliest days to her most powerful in standing her ground during the Volturi faceoff in "Breaking Dawn." In the end, to each his own, but there's more beneath the surface of the Twilight series--if you're willing to look. Give the series a read, but don't mock it if you've not read it. There is much to like in these books. And in just scratching the surface, the complexity of a Jungian interpretation is well worth pursuing. So, sit back, relax, enjoy the books. Constructive criticism to this post is encouraged, but flaming behavior is not.

Ron Vitale is the author of the young adult fantasy novel "Cinderella's Secret Diary" and a proud Twilight fan since April 2008.