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In August 2008, Stephenie Meyer announced that she had stopped working on the fifth Twilight book after the first 12 chapters of the unfinished manuscript were leaked online. She wrote on her website at the time, “If I tried to write Midnight Sun now, in my current frame of mind, James would probably win and all the Cullens would die, which wouldn’t dovetail too well with the original story.” Benevolently, she made the leaked chapters available for free on her own site for readers, but the project was put on hold indefinitely.
And that seemed to be the end of the saga until May of this year, when Meyer resuscitated her dormant fandom by announcing that after 12 long years, fans would finally be able to get their hands on Midnight Sun, which retells the events of the first Twilight book from the perspective of vampire paramour Edward Cullen, rather than the series’ usual narrator, Bella Swan. Below, in an edited and condensed conversation, Slate staffers and recovering Twi-hards Rachelle Hampton and Rebecca Onion discuss reading Midnight Sun and what light it sheds on the rest of the series.
Rachelle Hampton: Let’s start by laying out our Twilight bona fides. How did you come to the series?
Rebecca Onion: I was in grad school and I had a bunch of friends who liked to ironically (and not-ironically) consume pop culture together, usually stuff that had hot men in it. We did Vampire Diaries, Misfits, the Outlander books. We did Twilight together in sort of a quasi-book group and watched whatever movies were available. Mind you, we were all between the ages of, like, 27 and 32, but we were all pop-culture nerds, so we had an excuse.
What about you?
Hampton: I was in middle school when Twilight came out, so it was quite literally everywhere for the majority of my adolescence. I don’t think I could have avoided reading the books even if I wanted to, which luckily, I didn’t. It’s probably one of the first series that I really imprinted on—pun intended.
Onion: Hahahaha CREEPY
Hampton: My friends used to play a game at lunch where they’d flip to a random spot in one of the books, read a section, and then I’d tell them what happened before and after. That is the level of Twilight obsession I was at.
Onion: What was your favorite book?
Hampton: Oh Eclipse, 100 percent. I am ashamed of how quickly I pulled that out a decade later, but Eclipse had the most plot, which my girl Stephenie Meyer is not great at, and also the most Jacob before he fell in love with a baby.
Onion: “The most Jacob before he fell in love with a baby,” from which I infer that you are Team Jacob.
Hampton: All the way Team Jacob (before he fell in love with a baby, which, once again, I have to disavow). My Jacob sympathies made Midnight Sun a bit of a slog to get through. I think if I wasn’t Team Jacob before, this book would have turned me. But before we get into this absolute unit of overwrought angst, what team are you on?
Onion: I am so torn!!!! I love Jacob for who he is—forthright, sincere, honest, a hot woodsy werewolf—but I also really, really like everything about the early 20th century. And so to the degree that Edward is an … Edwardian … I like him for being extremely, like, well-read and intelligent and piano-playing and concerned about moral rectitude and such. But at the same time, he’s a stuffed shirt, and reading Midnight Sun is like being stuck inside a stuffed shirt’s brain for 10 hours.
Hampton: Wow that is exactly what repels me from him (and Bella). Every allusion to classical literature or music or anything of note made me want to gag from pretension. Oh, you both love Jane Eyre and hate disco? How original. Liking Victorian fiction is not a substitute for a personality!
Onion: Yes, it’s personality by way of syllabus. I was going to ask you how much you remember about the Bella-POV first book and which parts of this one felt super new as opposed to that one.
Hampton: Unfortunately, I have a near photographic memory for this series, which causes me nearly as much pain as Edward constantly seems to be in. The parts that are new speak directly to the criticisms that Meyer has faced over the past decade. From fleshing out Bella’s character by having her go out of her way to be kind to some poor lonely children in school to the ways that Edward’s inner monologue directly addresses his stalking tendencies to finally gaining insight into how Alice’s visions work, this book definitely serves as a bit of a middle finger to everyone who’s spent the past few years nitpicking the series for plot holes.
Onion: I noticed that a bit re: the stalking thing. You get to see the part where Edward decides to sneak into Bella’s room and watch her sleep, several nights in a row, before they even really KNOW each other … from his POV. And I guess he did it because he’s worried about her dying? He needs to be there to crush any brown spiders that come out of her closet (which he does one night to one poor spider).
Hampton: Yes, Meyer seems to think that accountability means addressing how toxic your behavior is and then continuing to do it anyway, but it’s fine now because you know it’s wrong.
Onion: The explanation is just as unsatisfying in this book. He is extremely overbearing! I also felt like this POV on the reasons they “fell in love” is maybe even more upsetting. He loves her mostly because she’s self-sacrificing, which isn’t really something I remember from “her” books or the movies. He sees her as a complete Angel in the House type, Victorian shy lady who will do anything for her family and friends.
Hampton: I am not a person who thinks that fictional characters need to model how to behave in the world, but I will say that as someone who read this series as a teen, it sets a really, really bad example of what a relationship needs to look like. The self-sacrificing bit was definitely played up more here than it was in the original books.
It’s a choice I don’t quite understand because Bella is fundamentally pretty selfish, which is the only interesting thing about her. She wants one thing and will stop at nothing to get that one thing, to the exclusion of all other things.
Onion: Yes! I have always thought of her as deeply annoying because after the first blush of meeting Edward, etc., she just won’t freaking shut up: “make me a vampire make me a vampire.”
Hampton: It is deeply annoying but also we love a girl who knows what she wants!
Onion: Like, poor everyone else in your life who you’re planning to leave behind. But, like, Edward keeps being like “you’re 17, you don’t know what you really want” and I’m like … he’s correct honestly.
Hampton: Truly, she’s like: Parents? Don’t need ’em. Speaking of, Midnight Sun really made me think her mother is absolutely terrible.
Onion: Oh yeah, narcissist! That was an interesting twist. Bella always described her mom as sort of fancy-free and superfun, but Edward sees the way Renée reverses roles and makes Bella into the caregiver, and isn’t really on board with it. That’s one of the only times I found Edward’s mind reading intriguing instead of completely annoying to read about.
Hampton: Can we talk about age here? Meyer did not do a good job of making their age difference seem any less creepy. It was one of the things that I was really searching for. There were a few throwaway lines on how Edward is still actually 17, or Bella growing bored with him as she got older. But then he would go and call her contemporaries children! You can’t have both, my guy!
Onion: You mean, when he was fantasizing about ripping them all limb from limb, to get at her sweet, sweet blood???
Hampton: Honestly, it just made me think about Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women, which is a book I didn’t actually enjoy, but one of the characters is groomed by her high school teacher through Twilight. It’s honestly stunning when you read it through that lens, the ways that Edward makes Bella feel like they’re equal enough for a relationship but not equal enough to make her own decisions.
Onion: Honestly, a man born in 1900 MIGHT feel that way about a girl he likes. He might prize her self-sacrificing nature above all other things.
Let me ask you this, did Midnight Sun still grab you the way the other books did? Because despite how annoying all of the different devices were—Edward reads minds! His sister Alice has visions! Sometimes Edward is reading a mind with visions!—I still couldn’t stop reading, especially when I was first diving into it, in the first 300 pages or so.
Hampton: Ugh, I want to say no, but I stayed up till 5 a.m. reading this in one go and though I want to blame that on having to prepare for this chat, there were definitely parts where I couldn’t stop smiling.
Onion: Lolololol. She GOT YOU. Stephenie got you!
Hampton: But I wasn’t exactly invested in how Edward saw or fell in love with Bella? What this book brought me was a chance to see characters I loved from a different perspective. Getting to see more of Emmett (who is the absolute star of this book) and Alice and even hearing Edward’s first impressions of Jacob were really rewarding.
Onion: The way he describes his mind as restful and pure. Very sweet.
Hampton: This is directly in contradiction with the romance novels I’ve been reading where I was like, OK when do we see the main couple in a room together again?
Onion: Yes, usually you’re like “side characters, blah dee blah.”
Hampton: Yes, exactly! But I think that’s also because Meyer largely chose to do a scene-for-scene remake of Twilight. Despite the extra 100-odd pages, there’s really not much that happens in Midnight Sun that we didn’t already know about.
Onion: Right, so we don’t get any extra Edward-Bella stuff, really. It’s all, “meadow reveal of sparkles,” “Phoenix trip with tracker in pursuit,” etc.
Hampton: And Meyer seemed almost bored during the part where Edward and co. are tracking James, the big bad of the book who’s got it in for Bella. That’s really the only part we never saw any glimpse of before, because Bella and Edward separated at that point.
Onion: I totally agree about the parts of this that are about his family, though. His family was the worst part of the movies. They were like barely meaningful; you just kind of skimmed over them with your eyes. And even in the Bella POV books, there wasn’t much there. I found the backstory parts for especially Emmett and also Jasper more interesting in this book than before. Love Emmett!!
Hampton: Sweet, sweet Emmett, the platonic ideal of a himbo.
Onion: I guess it makes sense that obviously Edward would have more to say about them than Bella. I also felt like I “got” Carlisle, Edward’s father figure, a lot more from this book.
Hampton: Even Jasper, who I do not like based on the fact that he fought for the Confederacy, got a great edit here. I definitely understood his talent, which is his ability to influence other people’s emotions, a lot better when it was explained from Edward’s perspective.
Onion: I feel like I never even knew he HAD a talent before! Maybe I just forgot.
Hampton: Esme remains a cardboard cutout of a mom. I just want to know if the Cullen family has Black friends.
Onion: Cullen family, go on Ziwe’s show.
OK, question: Do you think this book will a) turn people on to Twilight who never knew about it/consumed it before, or b) remain interesting only to those who, like us, spent the 2000s mainlining this crap, or c) neither, be a flop?
Hampton: I don’t know if this book will turn anyone onto the series, though I also think it’s nearly impossible to have existed in the 2000s and 2010s without having consumed Twilight in some ways. Midnight Sun is definitely for the fans, though, and Meyer acknowledges that up front in the dedication. When I heard this book was coming out, despite how much I truly think Twilight is trash, I knew I was gonna spend real money on it. This is the trash that made me!!!
Onion: I will say, if any other former fans out there want to forget the intervening decade for a couple hours or escape from pandemic thoughts, this will do the trick for at least a day.
Hampton: On a slightly serious note, despite how irrevocably Twilight changed me—including by teaching me the word irrevocably—Midnight Sun mostly made me very happy that the YA space no longer looks like it does in 2005. Toxicity aside, I’m just glad that girls who aren’t white can find heroines that look like them.
Onion: Bella is so white, it’s part of what Edward loves about her! As Edward keeps saying in Midnight Sun, you can practically SEE her blood.
Hampton: If I had to read how her skin is apricot and cream one more time, I was gonna throw my Kindle across the room. That does bring me to a final point, which is that if people are going to spend money on this book, they should spend some time reading up on the Quileute Tribe which “has been forced to negotiate the rights to their own oral histories, ancient regalia and mask designs, and even the sanctity of their cemetery” in the aftermath of Twilight.
Onion: Yes, you make an excellent point. Twilight was Not Good for a lot of people just forming their ideas about romance, but it was REALLY NOT GOOD in this other way.