I started writing this late last week while pondering what it is about Edward that has folks so addicted to the Twilight series, and so willing to overlook or excuse what critics find to be some creeptastic behavior on his part. Since then, the first 12 chapters of Midnight Sun have been leaked, much to author Stephenie Meyer’s dismay, and she’s halted progress on the project indefinitely. Whether the leak was a publicity stunt or whether someone she gave the chapters to was too tempted not to share them, there remains a LOT of interest in Sir Edward of Sparklyville, and I’ve been spending way too much time comparing him to Alpha Heroes from Days Of Yore to determine what it is about him that’s so transfixing, so addictive, so amazing that people are literally going bananas over the idea that they won’t get the rest of his perspective from Midnight Sun. And of course, I’m reading Midnight Sun and wondering how much time I can spend in this guy’s head before I go bananas. I warn you: this entry is holy shit long. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
While there seems to be some divide between the folks who love them some Jacob, I remain fascinated with the people who are over the moon about Edward, particularly as he’s portrayed in Twilight.
The more I think about it, and look back on Edward’s appearances and interactions with Bella in Twilight, the more he reminds me of the same old-same old Alpha romance hero —specifically, the old-school Alpha hero recast in glittery YA paleness. The same Alpha hero characteristics that so many readers find either tiresome or downright terrific are present in Edward, and serve to make him addictive and alluring.
Many people have noted how conservative and conventional Twilight is as a romance. They are not wrong, in my opinion. Joanne Renaud was the first to give me the heads up on her opinion that Edward was old-skool all the way down to the punishing kisses. I agree: Bella and Edward’s romance echoes the old skool romances of the beginnings of the romance genre: stories told deep within the point of view of the heroine, wherein the hero is a mysterious figure whose desires and intentions are not known, let alone his feelings. The old skool romance hallmarks are all there, most notably, as Candy pointed out to me after her glut of the old skool romances earlier this year, the idea that the hero’s worldview must be adopted by the heroine in order for her to secure her happy ending, complete with increased social status, wealth, and possible title.
Twilight fits that mold. Bella must become complicit in the secrecy of Edward’s world, and in fact she’s the one who presses to adopt his worldview – by becoming a vampire herself. Within Edward’s family, Bella is special merely because she is Edward’s choice and is absorbed into his family simply on that basis, leaving her father’s home for his, literally and figuratively, following the traditional pattern that takes a virginal woman from her father’s possession and guardianship to her husband’s, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
What set me on the Edward-as-Alpha road to much pondering were the interactions in Twilight after Edward has decided to cease ignoring Bella. Every time he shows up after he’s decided to talk to Bella, he rescues her, and immediately following sweeps in and manages every detail of her life. Moreover, that first occasion of rescue is telling; it comes at a moment of great vulnerability for Bella.
She’s alone at home on a snowy day, convinced she’s going to fall down on the icy sidewalks or wreck her truck on the roads. But she realizes after she gets to school that her father had put chains on her tires early in the morning, before he left and before she woke up, purely to keep her safe. As Belly realizes that her father was quietly watching out for her, an experience she has little familiarity with, in swoops Edward- literally – to save her by bending flying vans to his will. It’s a subtle moment of underscoring: Bella literally travels from her father’s care to Edward’s care in that moment. From then on, Edward saves her over and over again, sweeping in and managing every detail for her. Her father’s role is merely as a figure in the household, and readers of Midnight Sun know that Edward was as much a figure in that household as Charlie, whether Charlie or Bella knew it or not. Consider the sequence of Edward and Bella’s interactions:
She gets nearly crushed by a van. He saves her life.
She faints in science class. He carries her to the nurse, then gets her excused from classes so he can bring her home.
She is followed by creepy guys in a coastal town. He shows up after reading the thoughts of the villains and rescues her at the last moment before they act on their intentions.
Edward’s Alpha Heroism is solidified by the degree to which he micromanages Bella after those three rescues. He knows whats best. But he takes it one step further by becoming an overseer in her life. Because he doesn’t sleep, he can literally stay with her all the freaking time, aside from when he’s not hunting, and even then he worries about her safety. He makes sure she eats; he watches her as she sleeps. He pretty much rebuilds his entire day around being with her. He meets her after class, he follows her home, and her day in the Twilight narration becomes measured by when she’s with Edward vs. when she’s not. He pays a great deal of lip service to the idea of keeping her safe but it’s more a taming of the Alpha Hero, on speed with added crack and angst, because not only does Edward hover over her and pretty much glue himself to her side, but she wants nothing more than to be with him. Every. Minute. All. Day. He drinks blood to survive; she drinks the experience of being with him to avoid depresson.
He tames his desire to kill her and eat her, but he still consumes her, which is the point that made me the most uncomfortable, but may also serve as a primary reference as to why Edward is so alluring a character. While Edward and Bella don’t knock boots in Twilight, Edward manages to insert himself figuratively into her life and become the center of every moment of Bella’s life – and she’s all for it. More than one person commented to me privately after reading my review that the manner in which Bella subsumes her identity and becomes absorbed by Edward almost symbiotically made them as readers profoundly uncomfortable, because it echoed abusive relationships they witnessed or experienced. It wasn’t romantic for them, that totalitarian management – it was creepy.
Plus there’s the fact that Edward doesn’t really do anything else with his endless days. The only one who does anything with that whole vampiric sleeplessness is Carlisle. He doesn’t need sleep? He’s a butt-trillion years old with light years of medical experience? Holy shit, he’s the best ER doctor ever. Imagine what patient lessons he could relate (thanks to Taylor for the link).
But Edward doesn’t DO anything aside from attend school in presence only, play baseball, and drive cars rather quickly. He plays music but he’s already excellent – a virtuoso, in fact. Bella, for all intents and purposes, becomes his hobby. Being near her, whether she knows it or not, is what he does. But because he has more of a life and routine than she does, she is absorbed into his world, partly because she has no real life in Forks herself, and partly because the secrecy of their society demands it.
The biggest characteristic of an Old Skool Alpha Hero is The Rape of the Heroine, which doesn’t literally occur in Twilight, though one could argue that James’ biting Bella could be interpreted as rape, and Edward’s refusal to change her into a vampire as the refusal to do so. Edward does invade Bella’s privacy and home without her permission in order to watch her, and if his commentary is to be believed, to try to resist killing her. That leashed intention to kill, I think, can be interpreted the same as the leashed intent to rape. But in a strange turn, Bella begs for that violation: she wants to be the same as Edward, and she wants him to kill her and change her.
Regardless of who asks for what form whom, Edward’s possession and possessive attitude are alarmingly Alpha. When anyone—his brothers, random serial rapists hiding in small towns, or another vampire—threatens the human he considers his own, Edward goes berserk. His possession of Bella, even in his mind, is complete and total, and her willingness to follow that possession, since he knows what’s best for her, casts her in a sheepish model that I never recovered from as I read Twilight.
Reading Midnight Sun’s first 12 chapters (while I try to intersperse reading The Jewel of Medina at the same time, speaking of going berserk) hasn’t helped much. Edward’s self-loathing is evident, but the “I’m not good enough for her but she’s MINE MINE MINE EDWARD SMASH” attitude reinforces my suspicions: that Edward is an old-skool Alpha male hero in the classic model, dipped in sparkles and dispensed to a younger audience. Perhaps that explains his allure – there are many, many readers who adore the Alpha model in their romance hero, and Edward is no different.