Hollywood’s hottest teen movie, “Twilight: Eclipse” has arrived with the latest chapter in the love story between Bella and her vampire beau, Edward. But while the drama of a first crush is clearly driving ticket sales, the story also resonates with young readers who may have little interest in adolescent passion, but respond to its timeless quality of adventure and sense of wonder, say trendwatchers, literary critics and media experts.
One in every five Yahoo! searches for the book’s Wolf Pack pups is from a pre-teen, says the company’s trend analyst, Vera Chan. “There is an understanding of the mystical world,” she says, adding that they have not been immersed in the real world, “and their imagination where wizards, witches and werewolves are real is very much a part of their daily lives.”
They relate to the pure sense of adventure, says pop culture expert Rob Weiner, librarian for Texas Tech University Libraries in Lubbock. “They have a deep desire to ask ‘what if?' ” he says, and the “Twilight” tales do a good job of taking that question to a new level.
The books, he says, strip away much of the other-worldliness from the space in which vampires, werewolves and other fantastical creatures dwell, and make it all seem everyday. “They normalize the experience of loving a vampire and knowing werewolves,” he points out, adding that this speaks to an important desire in this age group – "a great desire to make the fantastical real.”
Ohio State University junior Jon Caswell – a forum moderator for the online fantasy world Gaia, which monthly hosts 9 million fantasy fans age 13 to 24 – maintains that this sense of realism is what makes the “Twilight” books particularly attractive to this demographic. “I have triplet nine-year-old cousins who are really into the books,” he says, which he dubs a first. “They’ve never really been into fantasy all that much, but these books just make it seem so normal,” he says, adding that it probably helps that their mother – who is also a Twilight fan – “is very practical.”
This emphasis on a youthful ability to navigate the otherworldly is part of a modern push toward seeing children as “a portal to the magical and mysterious,” says University of California Davis writing instructor Amy clark, pointing to such classics as C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia." She adds that “children are a good conduit as they haven’t been taught out of it.”
The focus on youthful abilities flowered in earnest during the 19th century, says University of Southern California sociologist Karen Sternheimer, noting such icons as “Peter Pan” and “Alice in Wonderland.“
“These books all tap into this view of children as able to tap into magical, primordial powers in different ways,” she says, all the way up to the “Harry Potter” series, “in which Harry and his friends literally have the fate of the world in their hands.”
But while most of these youthful protagonists experience the angst, confusion, and tribulation common to all coming-of-age adventures, a growing focus on any sort of primal wisdom invested in the young can be both misguided and destructive, say some who do not see the magic in the Twilight series.
“People better wake up and stop this youth obsessing,” says Rwandan-born Canadian author Louise Uwacu, in an email, adding “we, the young people, have no magical powers whatsoever. And our beauty is as temporal as yours was.” She explains that her cultural traditions rely far more on the wisdom of elders than youth. Show a teenager “Twilight,” she says, and he may think he can live like a wolf and go wild “which is exactly how a lot feel as teenagers anyways, so it does not help to now have permission to be the animals they seek to tame. It does not help for that to become glamorized. And it particularly does not help if the parents, especially the Moms, have also fallen for the illusion.”
In the end, she continues, we are all confused with parents and children obsessed by the same ideas. “Who leads who? We need to go back to storytelling, real-life story sharing from the older that would inspire the young to grow up and follow. Because they sure aren't going to become Vampires when they
grow – or so we hope.”