Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Book Review: Fanpire: The Twilight Saga and the Women Who Love It, by Tanya Erzen

Fanpire: The Twilight Saga and the Women Who Love It
Tanya Erzen
Hardcover, 184 pages
Beacon Press, October 30, 2012
Cultural Studies, Nonfiction

The title of this very interesting and entertaining book refers to the worldwide Twilight phenomenon, which is indeed an empire of devoted fans (of which I'm one).  As with its predecessor, the Harry Potter phenomenon, the 'fanpire' has made news to such an extent that it has become a permanent part of popular culture. 

Erzen, who is an associate professor of comparative religious studies at Ohio State University, is also a recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, and a visiting scholar at the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington.  She's no stranger to the Saga's allure herself, so she decided to take her interest further, immersing herself fully in the fan experience.  The result is this book, which explores every facet of that experience.

The introduction welcomes the reader to what has become affectionately known as 'The Twilight Zone', that land of obsessed Twilight fans who meet in Twilight conventions, create Twilight fan websites, and even get Twilight-inspired tattoos (something I would never do myself).  

Throughout the book, Erzen offers the reader multiple examples of the love this series of books and movies has inspired in so many fans.  She presents many anecdotes, as well as analyzing just why The Twilight Saga is so very popular.

It all starts, the author states, with the love for a fictional character --  Edward Cullen, the vampire who falls in love with Bella Swan, a human girl.  Erzen analyzes his personality traits, the most endearing of which are his romantic gestures toward Bella, as well as his total devotion to her.  This is something that appeals not only to the teen fans of the series, but to older females, as well.  Even grandmothers love these books!  Although we all know that this is idealized love, we can still sigh and dream...  As the author herself states, on page 4 of the book: "Even if fans acknowledge that Twilight's representation of love is a fictional ideal, the possibility of fated romance triumphing over the messiness and confusion of everyday life is potent."

At the first independent Twilight convention, TwiCon, which was held in Dallas, Texas, in 2009, Erzen met the Bella Cullen Project, a trio of high school girls whose music is Twilight-inspired.  Their names are Chandler Nash, Ally Kriger, and Tori Randall.  She also met several enthusiastic fans like Chelsea, a college student who was making a film about Twilight fans, as well as Andie and Jenna, fans who had traveled from Huntsvile, Alabama to attend the convention.

The activities at the convention included such things as an aerobics session, titled, comically enough, "Cardio with the Cullens".  At subsequent conventions she attended, she even participated in vampire proms.  She saw the premiere of "New Moon" with a mostly Mormon fan audience in Utah, went on Twilight Tours, and interviewed hundreds of fans.

Throughout it all, the author saw the power of Twilight to bring its fandom's most cherished fantasies alive, as well as the bonding power of a shared obsession, as fans quickly became lifelong friends.

Erzen herself, although enchanted by the Saga, does have some criticisms of it, not all of which I agree with, although other critics of the books would.  Like them, she points out that Edward is 'controlling', 'manipulative', and a 'stalker'.  Young girls and women would feel uneasy by the behavior he displays when he's getting to know Bella --  climbing through her window at night in order to watch her sleep (without letting her know beforehand) is one example, as are his later attempts to prevent her from seeing Jacob, in Eclipse.  

Admittedly, Edward's sneaking into Bella's bedroom at night, before they're even a couple, would be rather creepy if it were happening in real life.  However, I have to say that, in the context of the novel in question -- Twilight -- it somehow doesn't come across like that.  Instead, it comes across as very romantic.   I think that's because Meyer has taken pains to make sure the reader knows a lot about Edward before she presents this scenario.

Erzen also points out that the whole Saga is a postfeminist fantasy.  Postfeminism, she explains, insists that feminism is no longer necessary because women have already achieved equality with men.  Therefore, Bella's choice to give up not only her plans of attending college, but also her human family, and even her life, is justified as her choice, not something imposed upon her, either by Edward or anyone else.

I don't agree at all that women have already achieved equality with men, so the postfeminist assertion that they have is totally ridiculous.  Paradoxically, however, I do agree that Bella has made her choice based on what she wants.  So has Edward, for that matter.  The thing is, they both want each other,  and nothing is more important than that.  Edward is just as driven to choose Bella as she is to choose him. 

Interestingly, the author's criticisms do not deter her from participating in the fan phenomenon even as she attempts to study it objectively.  It's clear that she thoroughly enjoys herself throughout!

The book touches upon different aspects of the Saga, as well as of the fanpire, in each chapter.  Although I enjoyed most of the book (except for a section dedicated to 'smut' fan fiction, in which the author discusses the work of several fan authors that place Edward and Bella in very graphic sexual situations), I especially liked the author's assertion that the Twilight series fulfills a need in the girls and women who love it--  the need for romance, the need to see marriage as the only viable lifestyle, with all of its imperfections, even as they long for the passion and devotion of Edward and Bella's marriage.  Indeed, this seems to be the Saga's main message -- that heterosexual love and sex can only be seen as special, even sacred, within the context of marriage.  In a perfect world, that's exactly what would happen.  And Meyer also seems to be saying that it's highly ironic that a creature traditionally seen as evil, one feared throughout the ages, should be more capable of the highest love and commitment than a human male.  Although Erzen doesn't actually come out and say this, I think that she implicitly agrees.

Reading this book was a pretty enjoyable experience.  My only regret is that it wasn't longer; I do think it needed a bit more depth, in spite of the fact that the author does cover quite a lot of material in the span of only 136 pages of text, the remainder of the book being taken up with her well-researched notes.

Of course, I heartily recommend this book to any Twilight fan!  Even those who are less enthusiastic toward the series would learn something from reading this study.  They would at least understand just where we Twihards are coming from!


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  1. Thanks for posting this. I'm quite intrigued by the book. It's nice to hear that there's a scholarly analysis that seems to take a non-biased view of the series. Usually everyone just rags on it.

    1. Hey, Alison!

      I'm SO sick and tired of people taking shots at The Twilight Saga!! Why, oh, why do they criticize it so much?! This series is absolutely BEAUTIFUL, and so very ROMANTIC!!! I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it!!! Well, YOU understand! Lol.

      You know, with so many fans worldwide, I can't figure out why few book bloggers like the series.... So I sure am glad that YOU share my love for these books, these characters that obsess Twihards like you and me!!

      You're very welcome for the review. I discovered this book on Amazon. I just typed in the words, "the Twilight fan" in the Search bar, and accessed a list of books which analyze the Saga!!!! You can imagine my EXTREME happiness!!!!

      Although I, too, am happy that Tanya Erzen wrote this book, I really wish she had gone into more depth about the series and its ramifications. However, I did enjoy the book!

      I'll be posting more reviews of these books, since I've bought several of them on Amazon (where I have one wish list titled "Everything Twilight"). If you're the only one who comments on these reviews, that's fine with me! I'll be happy to get at least one person posting positive comments, and NO ONE posting negative ones!!!!

      Thanks for stopping by, fellow Twilight lover!!!!! : )


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