The Twihard Years: the language of the Twilight Saga
Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga has been one of the most successful franchises of the decade. On the back of her four incredibly successful books, there have been four box office hits (the fifth being released in the UK this month), a spin-off book, extensive fan fiction – indeed the mummy-porn sensation, Fifty Shades of Grey originated from this – and of course, an enthusiastic fan-base often referred to as ‘twihards’.
Although initially pitched at the young adult market, the book has captivated adults and teens alike, sparking numerous debates about whether readers are ‘Team Edward’ or ‘Team Jacob’. So what is it about the series that has grabbed people’s attention?
There be monsters
Unless you have been living like a vampire yourself over the last few years, you’ll undoubtedly know the general premise of the books. Awkward Bella Swan moves from Phoenix (warm, sunny, and exotic sounding thanks to its mythical bird namesake) to tiny Forks (as cold and dreary as it sounds), to live with her father Charlie.
In Forks, Bella meets the ‘impossibly gorgeous’ Edward Cullen who is part of a coven of vampires. However, the Cullens are not typical vampires; they’re ‘vegetarian’, which means that they don’t eat humans.
Meyer’s world is one in which monsters (not just vampires, but also wolves, or shape-shifters) live amongst humans. These are not exactly new creatures – the word ‘vampyre’ was first recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary back in 1734, in The Harleian Miscellany. Nevertheless despite being nearly 300 years old, we’d still recognize as a vampire the creature described in the 1734 quote:
‘the bodies of deceased persons, animated by evil Spirits, which come out of the Graves, in the Night-time, suck the Blood of many of the Living, and thereby destroy them’.
The word ‘werewolf’ dates back even further to Old English, suggesting that the werewolf has much more ancient roots (at least in English) than the vampire. Meyer’s wolves aren’t stereotypical werewolves – they don’t howl at full moons for example. Instead, her wolves are meant to be descended from ancient Native American legends. Likewise Meyer’s vampires don’t adhere to strict stereotypes: they are not particularly offended by garlic, and they can go out in the day, rather than having to lock themselves in coffins.
By subverting stereotypes and putting her own spin on the legends, Meyer helps to make her monsters more believable, encouraging the reader to see them as people rather than creatures. She also creates a long-standing rivalry between the two parties, with the wolves seeing themselves as protectors of the humans against the ‘cold-bloods’. Vocabulary plays a vital part in the way Meyer writes this rivalry; the wolves use the slurs ‘bloodsucker’ and ‘leech’, trying to emphasize the danger the vampires pose to humans; the vampires call the wolves ‘dogs’, in an attempt to belittle their power.
What’s in a name?
All of the novels are written from Bella’s perspective, and this is what helps to make the books so engaging, particularly amongst teenagers; Bella’s frequent self-deprecation and uncertainty is something to which any teenage girl can surely relate.
Even though we see the action through Bella’s subjective eyes, we are still able to gauge a lot about the characters through the language Meyer uses, and even from something as simple as the names she uses. For example, although Bella regards herself as ‘plain’, and she hardly exudes elegance, claiming ‘if I move my foot, I will fall over’, her name is the Italian word for ‘beautiful’, which immediately implies to the reader that there’s something appealing about her. We wonder whether Bella is more attractive than she lets on: after all, neither Edward nor Jacob is complaining.
In addition, Bella’s surname (‘Swan’) seems like a poor fit for someone who is so wobbly on her feet; swans are considered to be beautiful, graceful birds. It almost alludes to the classic tale of the ugly duckling, as by the end of the series Bella goes from being a plain Jane, to ‘dazzling’.
Meanwhile, the name ‘Edward’ is very traditional – he is chivalrous, protective, and respectful – and reflective of the fact that he was born not long after the turn of the 20th century. His name is never shortened to make it seem more modern: he is only ever known as Edward, while Bella is rarely called Isabella.
Meanwhile Rosalie, Edward’s spiky yet stunningly beautiful ‘sister’ has a name derived from the word for ‘rose’ – a beautiful but thorny flower. Nevertheless, the vampire clan’s surname ‘Cullen’ alludes to their more monstrous side, with the inclusion of the word ‘cull’ and its connotations of mass killings.
Perhaps one of the more bizarre names in the book is that of Edward and Bella’s daughter (yes, apparently male vampires can impregnate human females – who knew?!). Bella decides to call their daughter Renesmee. Personally not a name I would choose, particularly given the reaction of my friend who upon reading this name in the final book promptly messaged me at 3am simply saying “Renesmee? Back off!” (I have moderated the language there somewhat). Nevertheless, despite being a simple blend of Renee and Esme, the name helps to convey the uniqueness of the character.
Adjectives and allusions
Bella’s descriptions of Edward focus on his beauty, which highlights why Bella is so infatuated by him. For example, Edward is described as akin to a ‘Greek god’, which emphasizes his other-worldliness and his super-human qualities. His eyes are likened to topaz, his skin in the sun sparkles like diamonds, and his body is referred to as smooth as marble; essentially, he is seen as near-perfect. However, Bella on numerous occasions refers to her ‘favourite crooked smile’ of his. Although hardly a blot on what is meant to be a very handsome face, the very word ‘crooked’ implies imperfection, as though this somehow makes him more endearing.
Meanwhile, Bella is described as almost the opposite of Edward. She feels rather plain in her looks, and in contrast to his apparent grace, she is clumsy and careless. At one point, Edward even says she has ‘hair like a haystack’, implying messiness and disarray. However it must be remembered we are only seeing Bella through her own eyes and it could be said that Bella’s self-deprecation is a technique to get Meyer’s target audience on side by featuring an imperfect – and thereby relatable – heroine.
There is some respite to Bella’s ramblings in the book when Jacob takes over as the protagonist. His voice is very different to that of Bella’s; it’s much more colloquial, and his chapters are like a stream of consciousness. You could even say his tone is more brutal, more primal, evoking his animal nature. Meyer even reflects this in her chapter headings, so whilst Bella’s chapters are short and succinct, hinting at the chapter content such as ‘Long Night’ or ‘Distractions’, Jacob’s are conversational and reflective of his mood, for example ‘Too much information alert’, and ‘Some people just don’t grasp the concept of ‘unwelcome’.
From vampires to vultures
Throughout the series, Bella and Edward face a number of different obstacles to their relationship. One of the most intimidating and persistent is that of the Volturi, who, according to Edward, are ‘the closest thing we have to royalty’. Within the Twilight Saga, the Volturi are a clique of ancient vampires from Volterra, Italy, dating back over 3,000 years. It seems strange that a large coven of vampires would be so happy to live in a place renowned for sunshine and warmth – a place where they would by nature be out of place. However, Volterra is also a place steeped in history, so the fact that such an ancient clique of vampires are based there is certainly apt.
The Volturi have no respect for human life, and despite using brutal, torturous methods to ensure their secret never gets out, they view themselves as the ones who keep peace within the vampire world. The word Volturi is similar to ‘vulture’, birds that ‘gather with others in anticipation of the death of a sick or injured animal or person’- a definition that seems equally apt for this clan. Volturi also sounds somewhat Roman, not just their collective name, but the names of their leaders – Aro, Caius, Marcus – further emphasizing their age, legacy, status, and to an extent, wisdom. In comparison, the newest additions to their group have more modern names, such as Alec and Jane. Jane’s name in particular is very misleading. Described as looking like some kind of cherub, her name is short and simple, and yet using just her mind she can inflict agonizing pain.
Total eclipse of the heart
The motif of the moon is frequently repeated in Meyer’s books, most notably in her titles. Meyer’s titles tell a story in and of themselves, tracking different phases of the sun and moon and at the same time, tracking Bella’s journey. She moves from her old life into a period of transition, or Twilight, as she begins to immerse herself in Edward’s world. In New Moon, Bella is plunged into darkness, when Edward leaves her. Then in Eclipse, we see Bella caught up in the fight between the wolves and vampires, and therefore fire and ice; sun and moon. Finally in Breaking Dawn, Bella comes through the darkness, into her new life.
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day. . .
Through her Twilight Saga, Meyer certainly gave people a renewed thirst for vampire-related literature. On the back of her work, not only have new phrases been introduced, and new and existing names come to the foreground, but outside of Meyer’s world, fans have made the story their own. Whether it’s talk of the Twihards, or debates over Team Edward versus Team Jacob, the language and story of the Twilight Saga has engaged people across the world. Even though the final film is about to be released, Twilight-fever doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Image: Dave M. Benett/Wireimage
The opinions and other information contained in the Oxford Dictionaries Online blog posts do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of OUP.
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