“Real vampires don’t sparkle.” This is a common line heard from the Twilight haters, along with “Real vampires burn”. I can understand the concern of those who think the story is sexist or just think the story is cheesy. Those are valid opinions, but I just don’t really get the hatred of the story element in which the vampires sparkle in the sunlight. I think it’s an unusual divergence of the vampire mythology, but makes as much sense as anything in the context of the story. I think the whole backlash against the sparkling may be influenced by ageist and sexist lines of thought that associate sparkling with the aesthetics of young girls, and Edward is thus considered “sissy”.
First of all, vampires aren’t real. Sorry, but I have to go there. Vampires are an idea, one that has changed a lot over the years. In their standard mythical form, vampires are evil spirits that reanimate corpses of heretics or people buried in a heretical fashion, and rise from their graves at night to drink the blood of the living and also function as incubi (I believe because the decomposition process causes blood to show up at the mouth, and make males appear sexually aroused). Bram Stoker took the vampire concept and historical Romanian leader Vlad “Dracul” Tepes, and created Dracula, which utilized the vampire myth to make the closest thing to a trashy romance that could be accepted in the sexually repressed Victorian era. Dracula brought many new elements considered today to be standard vampire fare to the vampire concept, such as the turning into a bat to name one example.
When critics of Twilight say that Stephenie Meyer’s vampire mythology is unrecognizable as proper vampire lore, I suspect they are comparing it to contemporary vampire movies, mostly based off of Dracula. Dracula movies have been made and ripped-off all throughout the 20th century, and have standardized vampire conventions. If you ask a random person the image in their head when they think of a vampire, it would probably sound something like “It’s a blood-sucking undead person with fangs who sleeps in a coffin to avoid being burned by sunlight, who can be killed by a wooden stake through the heart,” right? Twilight fulfills only the blood-sucking undead part of this classic vampire image, and their vampires may seem rather unrecognizable in contrast.
However, many of those elements were introduced after the book Dracula itself, established in popular movies and reproduced in remakes and rip-offs. The original Dracula owned sharp teeth, but had no real fangs, a trait shared by Edward. Fangs were introduced in the 1958 film adaptation of Dracula and have since become synonymous with vampires, but were not present in the book or the previous Dracula films. Wooden stakes were in the original book and were used to kill vampires, but Dracula himself was slain with a knife to the heart.
And what of sunlight? In the original Dracula, the Count was a nocturnal creature who did indeed sleep in a coffin, but aside from his sleeping patterns there was no aversion to sunlight itself. A protagonist briefly mentions that he has never seen the Count in the daytime but that’s just his paranoia talking, as the reader can tell by flipping back in the book to an earlier scene, and the Count does disprove this later in the story. The vampire’s aversion to sunlight itself was introduced in the 1922 Dracula rip-off Nosferatu, which contained the classic movie moment of a vampire shrinking back from dawn’s light and vanishing into a puff of smoke.
After Nosferatu, there was the proper Dracula movie made in 1931 with Bela Lugosi, which kept true to the book by having the Count just fine with sunlight. In the 1958 remake, however, Nosferatu’s addition to the mythology was included. Since then sunlight has been a serious problem for the vampire. It tends to function as napalm, incinerating the vampire, which then may turn to smoke, ash, or dust. However, there are a few variations. Sometimes sunlight doesn’t incinerate them, but it does sap their strength away. Sometimes it harks back to Dracula, where the vampire is only a nocturnal creature. It could be the brightness that hurts their eyes. I Am Legend had it that vampirism is a man-made disease, and their skin highly susceptible to sunburns. Sometimes daytime isn’t a problem at all, the element of the mythology dropped as easily as the garlic thing often is.
And in Twilight, the reason vampires avoid sunlight is because it causes their skin to sparkle, exposing them as inhuman. Now, sparkling is a pretty major departure from the vampire convention, so I can understand initial bafflement at the idea. Within the context of the story, however, it does make sense – or as much sense as sunlight burning vampires, at any rate. The Twilight vampires’ power derives from extreme strength and hardness of the skin. Their skin is so hard and dense that it is often compared to cold marble, and when seen in sunlight it appears as though thousands of diamonds have been compressed into the vampire’s flesh, which leads to sparkling. It makes a sort of sense, and seems more thought out than the “sun = holy; vampire = unholy” explanation featured in many vampire stories.
Why specifically is the sparkling in Twilight? A dream. Author Stephenie Meyer first had her inspiration for the Twilight series from a dream featuring a beautiful vampire who sparkled in the sunlight while confessing his love to a human girl. Dreams are often quite random, and I personally would have culled the scene somewhere in the editing process. I think she managed to work it into the narrative pretty well, though. Bella has just committed herself to what seems either a certain death or a dangerous relationship with Edward. Edward is full of self-hate and shows her how deadly he is, how she can’t outrun him, nor fight him off. He steps into the sunlight to show her his clearly inhuman armored skin, and she can only see the beauty of his shimmering flesh. It works pretty well, all things considered.
“This is the skin of a killer, Bella.”
The hate shown for the sparkling seems to me to be based off of the association between sparkling and young girls. My Little Pony, princess outfits, etc. are the images that come to mind when sparkling is mentioned. Then preteen girls’ fashion has sparkly rhinestones, sequins, and glitter. Sparkling jewelry is another interpretation, and while men may wear jewelry the more sparkly items are often perceived as effeminate, the well-dressed gentleman probably gay. I’m quick to blame ageism, in that it is seen as ludicrous to have something as powerful as a vampire carry a property generally only seen in aesthetics targeted for young girls, but I think sexism is a prejudice worth considering as well. The dark and strong vampires have generally been masculine figures, based in the incubi legends that evolved into rape fantasies. Female vampires tend to be either submissive wives of powerful male vampires (as in Dracula) or dominant evil lesbians who still exist to be objectified by the straight male viewers.
Why is sparkling seen as laughable? It’s probably ageism, the disrespect of qualities favored of the young, associated with weakness. However, it’s probably also sexism, in that sparkling is associated with femininity, which in turn is associated with weakness. Both prejudices are likely to play a part in the disrespect of Edward’s sparkling skin, which makes it ironic in my opinion when critics of Twilight say things like “I don’t like Twilight because Edward is a misogynist and he sparkles”.
“I don’t like vampires. I’m gonna take a stand and say they’re not good.”
–Xander, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, episode “The Harvest”
–Xander, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, episode “The Harvest”
I don’t like sexism. I’m gonna take a stand and say it’s not good. I believe Twilight has themes based in sexism, but that the series itself is okay because of the nature of the story. It’s a fantasy about being a girl named Bella who is in an obsessive, edgy relationship with a vampire named Edward who is the hottest boy in the world. It was written by a female author for a female audience, and it’s really just a fantasy. It’s only an issue if some boy somewhere starts sneaking into some girl’s bedroom at night because he was directly influenced by Twilight, and even then it’s his own issues with mistaking fantasy for reality, and is probably the reason those Superman capes tell you they won’t enable you to fly. My point is I do agree sexism is a problem but think that the general negativity to Twilight based on sexism is overblown.
I think that how people generally think on a day-to-day basis is a more pressing issue. There’s this meme that boys and girls are intrinsically different and that any crossover between the two groups, be it in personal traits or items held in favor, is intrinsically wrong. Then there’s the overarching belief that men are better than women to add a different flavor to the whole thing, where females who become associated with masculinity may be accepted as doing a girl power thing, and males who are associated with femininity are seen as especially weak and laughable. This hate of Edward’s sparkling seems to be part of that whole mess.
In conclusion, the vampire is not a static idea. The concept of the vampire has evolved throughout the years and years of storytelling. If one were to actually look at the mythology that inspired Dracula, they would find a lot of stuff not used in Bram Stoker’s novel that sounds really weird. We have become used to the conventions of the vampire that evolved out of Dracula, but even so its nature is constantly in flux. Stephenie Meyer added a new element born from a dream, which will perhaps set the stage for future sparkling vampires – not from compressed diamond skin but from the retrovirus, perhaps. Who knows? The important thing is not to dismiss new versions based only on personal prejudices.