Book review

Genre, reception, and adaptation in the "Twilight" Series, edited by Anne Morey

Amanda Retartha

New York University, New York, New York, United States

[0.1] Abstract—Anne Morey, ed. Genre, Reception, and Adaptation in the "Twilight" Series. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2012. $99.95 (236p) ISBN 978-1-4094-3661-4.

[0.2] Keywords—Antifandom; Fan studies; Film adaptation; Genre; Reception studies; Romance

Retartha, Amanda. 2013. Genre, Reception, and Adaptation in the "Twilight" Series, edited by Anne Morey [book review]. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 14.

Anne Morey, ed. Genre, Reception, and Adaptation in the "Twilight" Series. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing, 2012. $99.95 (236p) ISBN 978-1-4094-3661-4.

[1] Given the recent surge of mainstream and scholarly meditations on Fifty Shades of Grey and its origins in the Twilight fan fiction community, the release of an edited volume that, in part, examines the generic problems of romance in Twilight as well as the complexities of its fandom is, for an academic publication long in the works, incredibly good timing. Though an essay on Fifty Shades wouldn't be out of place among the collection that editor Anne Morey has brought together in Genre, Reception, and Adaptation in the "Twilight" Series (April 2012, Ashgate), this volume covers plenty of ground as it is, engaging with everything from Jane Eyre to Lacanian psychoanalysis in an effort to explore Twilight's cultural position from points both close to the text and deep in the heart of fandom. Its goal appears to be to take a wide view and put some of the loudest gripes from the series' detractors—its perceived antifeminism and support of Mormon values, its neutering of the vampire novel, and its attraction of young, rabid, and/or unsophisticated fans—into a more balanced perspective, foregrounding the text's productive possibilities and reading its popularity as proof enough of the stakes at play.

[2] Morey has divided the 13-essay collection into three parts, signaling those divisions in her introduction rather than providing any definitive breaks or section headings. The first section focuses primarily on genre and gender, and comprises six essays, including Morey's own contribution; the second section, with four essays, examines the reception of the series and its fandom, with an essay by Matt Hills (Fan Cultures, 2002); and the third section of three essays addresses filmic and international adaptations of the text. Though clearly a top-heavy volume (almost to a fault), concepts introduced in that first, long section, like fulfilled and subverted generic expectations, the reader-narrator relationship, and the hierarchy of taste, continue to resurface throughout, justifying Morey's choice to eschew clear section breaks.

[3] As anyone even peripherally familiar with Twilight knows, the series' final novel, Breaking Dawn, was explosively divisive among readers and is the fuel for some of the most vitriolic criticism of Meyer's purported conservative agenda. So it's intriguing, and fitting, that every essay in section one uses Breaking Dawn as the complicating element of its argument. This is in part because Breaking Dawn troubles the series' generic associations as well as its relative feminisms—issues with which five of the six essays engage (with Alexandra Hidalgo's "Bridges, Nodes, and Bare Life: Race in the 'Twilight' Saga" as the outlier).

[4] Morey leads off the section and the volume with her essay on Jane Eyre as an unacknowledged intertext for Twilight, linking the two through their plot and thematic parallels before foregrounding their primary difference—Twilight's explicitly fantastic element—as that which offers a distinctive spin on gender politics. While wisely refusing to enter into a battle of Jane as feminist versus Bella as feminist, Morey does point out that neither text has a straightforward relationship with feminism as such, and ends up positing Jane in her female rage and Bella in her female suffering as two halves of one whole romantic heroine. Morey suggests that Bella's eventual vampirism mitigates her physical suffering, but in doing so speaks to the impossibility of uncomplicated female empowerment. Complementing Morey's approach is Kristine Moruzi's essay, which argues that Twilight's blending of gothic and romance genres mirrors the complexities of the postfeminist subject position, with the dark and dangerous elements of the gothic revitalizing the stability of the romance narrative. Moruzi also attributes the popularity of the series to its ability to represent such complexities, with the Bella of Breaking Dawn proving that her roles as wife and mother do not exclude her from an equal partnership with her husband.

[5] Yet where Moruzi locates the success of the series, Jackie C. Horne locates its failure. Horne argues that Meyer's ultimate ideological move is to recuperate early, heterosexual marriage through a kind of bait and switch: connect with readers' desires, join them with Bella through her narration, and then convince Bella to choose to marry Edward young—her choice being the key element in the equation. But Bella's desires change dramatically in Breaking Dawn, switching from the sexual to the maternal and familial, and while Meyer tries to suggest the possibility of all three coexisting, Horne insists that the move is impossible for young female readers to follow. Horne's essay reads particularly well alongside Rachel DuBois's chapter in section two, in which she examines the reading of Breaking Dawn as an essentially traumatic experience that mirrors the trauma Bella herself endures.

[6] All three of these essays make recourse to Bella's narration as one of the keys to understanding the text's position on gender. Sara K. Day takes it one step further in her chapter and posits the reader-narrator relationship as the site in which Bella can safely explore the problem of intimacy, shielded from the sexual and emotional danger of her encounters with Edward and Jacob. Day understands the bond forged between Bella and her readers as one that creates a space of both sympathetic desire and submissive control, with the reader losing agency to Bella and her narrative whims. As Bella begins to relinquish her narrative control in Eclipse, she starts denying her readers the kind of intimate emotional details that populated the beginning of the series. And in an illuminating reading of vampire Bella's mind shield—an attribute touched on by several of the volume's essays—Day suggests that Breaking Dawn's ending, with Bella willingly letting Edward into her thoughts for the first time, signals Bella's full embrace of intimacy with her husband and relinquishing of her reader-surrogate.

[7] Catherine Driscoll's chapter is a useful transition between the themes of feminism and fandom, examining as it does Bella's relationship to girl culture and the series' ultimate idealization of permanent adolescence. Driscoll fluidly engages with the books and the films, and calls Buffy and other popular texts out of the shadows where they not so quietly lurk. It rounds out the first section nicely, with invocations of the generic convention of gothic romance and the problem of Bella as a model of feminism, and introduces the question of the young female fan taken up in section two.

[8] Inextricably bound up in discussions about Twilight is the question of taste, and Hills, Sarah Wagenseller Goletz, and Anne Gilbert all present nuanced approaches to this problem through the lens of fandom. This trio of essays—broken up by DuBois's previously mentioned piece, which may have been more usefully placed as a transition between sections—is obviously the group of most interest to fan studies scholars. All three provocatively pressure the idea of fandom as dichotomy that persists in essentially recuperative or defensive approaches to fandom, whether that manifests as fans against The Powers That Be, or fans against antifans.

[9] Hills at once challenges and supports Cornel Sandvoss's assertion (Fans, 2005) that such recuperative approaches are no longer needed now that fandom has become largely mainstream by positioning Summit Entertainment as the source of encouragement and the denizens of other fandoms as the source of derision for Twilight fan activity, effectively flipping the standard relations of pathologized fandom. Summit's use of official texts and paratexts to sanction the efforts of Twihards is not unproblematic, particularly because of their modeling of certain kinds of fandom, like the privileging of heterosexual desire through the marketing of Team Edward versus Team Jacob, but Hills is careful to note that this involvement in no way inauthenticates the Twilight fandom. In contrast, he notes the interfandom discord is actually premised on the idea that Twilight, as a threshold or feral fandom, is a potentially unacceptable or inauthentic form of fan practice. He focuses on the clashes between Twilight fans and other fans at Comic-Con and the online derision of Twilight fan activity by Buffy and Muse fans, pointing to the ways in which gender and age are at the center of what makes Twilight a somehow illegitimate fandom. At several moments in the essay, Hills mentions the deep irony of this brand of interfandom stereotyping and cautions that not only the media but also fandom itself should be subject to the fan studies scholar's critical eye.

[10] Goletz moves the topic from interfandom to antifandom, applying the affective term giddyshame to the complex love/hate relationship that many Twilight antifans have with the text. In a surprisingly compelling move, Goletz brings together the much-maligned fan fiction figure of Mary Sue (a trope also invoked in DuBois's chapter) and Lacan's mirror stage to explain the process of giddyshame, the simultaneous resistance to Twilight's ideologies and inability to fully break free of them. She links Bella and Edward with the two primary functions of a Mary Sue—self-insertion and wish fulfillment, respectively—as well as the two primary positions in the mirror stage—moi or mirror-gazer and Ideal-I. Goletz argues that the series' ultimate drive is the achievement of what is impossible for the reader: the fusion, through Bella and Edward, of two halves of a fragmented whole self.

[11] Rather than seek an explanation for Twilight antifans' paradoxically intense consumption of the text, Gilbert positions her essay as a gut check for fan studies scholars in the manner of Hills's chapter, calling for an understanding of audience participation that exchanges opposition for spectrum, and acknowledges fandom as not necessarily a force of positive resistance. She relates the pleasures of Twihating to those of irony and camp, and frames the problem as ultimately one of cultural definition, of the old battle between high and low. The joy of Twilight antifandom is not one of poaching, but rather of proving one's own good taste through the informed dissection of a bad book.

[12] The third section is abbreviated in both scope and significance in relation to the rest of the volume, but Katie Kapurch and Mark D. Cunningham do provide a needed perspective on the films so important to the explosion of the Twilight franchise. Kapurch's method harkens back to the focus in the section one essays on Bella's first-person narration, examining the varying use of voice-over in the first three Twilight films (with an addendum about the fourth) and the relationship to the directors' goals of audience identification. She argues that the frequency of subjective-internal voice-over in Catherine Hardwicke's Twilight encourages an intimate connection between Bella and the viewer that eventually dissolves as the voice-over becomes more distant and less frequent in the films by Chris Weitz (New Moon) and David Slade (Eclipse). Cunningham's essay on the relative degrees of auteurism and adaptation in each of the first three films takes a similar tack, holding up Hardwicke as the most stylized—yet also the most faithful—of the group, with the other two struggling to leave their distinctive mark on the franchise.

[13] Hye Chung Han and Chan Hee Hwang's chapter on Twilight's reception and adaptation in Korea rightly serves as a capstone for the entire volume, as it underlines how the collection's focus on romance, female fandom, and literary taste can be further complicated by a shift in geography. They attribute the series' success in Korea to its similarities to works of soonjung manhwa or highteen romance, and to the conflation of Edward with the idealized, yet slightly feminized, Korean pinup boy. Though Han and Hwang suggest that Twilight's popularity is indicative of larger cultural changes that have encouraged Korean women to publically express their desires, they also point out that there is still a distinct hierarchy of Korean literary genres that relegates women's fiction or highteen romance to the bottom of the pile.

[14] As a scholarly product, Genre, Reception, and Adaptation in the "Twilight" Series fits as cleanly in the category of childhood studies as the books it examines do in the category of YA fiction. Like many of the existing academic treatments of Harry Potter—and Harry does pop his head in a few times during this collection—this volume takes its cue from the patterns of consumption that show Twilight's influence reaching far beyond the teenaged set, and frames the relationship between the series and girlhood as only one facet of its larger cultural position. The entirety of the volume reflects a dedication to interdisciplinarity that values not only the juxtaposition of diverse fields and methodologies, but also a connectedness among essays that is sometimes lacking in edited collections. The danger of this connectedness, however, comes when the repeated returns to the same textual moments and the same critical issues stop fostering a sense of dialogue and start becoming redundant.

[15] This volume succeeds at providing smart analysis where heated debate has reigned, and, because Twilight is an almost unavoidable commodity for anyone working in pop culture, it could be a useful resource for any scholar wanting a more nuanced understanding of the text and larger phenomenon. Hills's and Gilbert's essays in particular are valuable additions to fan studies, with Hills pushing back on the almost implicit notion in the field that fandom fights together against The Man, and Gilbert offering a complicating example of Jonathan Gray's antifan—both modeling an approach that treats fandom as an ever-evolving space requiring constant theoretical reassessment.

[16] Genre, Reception, and Adaptation in the "Twilight" Series is accessible to scholars of all levels, though given the positive response I received from students who saw the volume sitting on my desk during office hours, it may be particularly useful for introducing undergraduates to methods of analyzing popular texts they may not otherwise view as fodder for scholarship, or conversely, to complex forms of criticism through a more familiar channel.

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