There’s a lot of hype about Twilight, and it’s not coming just from teenage girls. For better or worse, the series has captured the interest of readers with a wide range of age and experience. Much like Harry Potter and other fiction with an element of the fantastical, the supernatural parts are far from being entirely new. Twilight puts a current spin on the decidedly vintage idea of the vampire.
That most famous of vampires, Count Dracula, was first incarnated in the book Dracula, written by Bram Stoker and published in 1897. (In the Twilight world, this is only four years before Edward Cullen is born, meaning the poor guy has been plagued by negative vampire stereotypes his whole life.) Whereas the Cullens move to Forks, Washington, to adhere to a “vegetarian” diet and avoid the sunlight that would reveal their sparkly skin, Dracula relocates to Great Britain from his native Transylvania (modern-day Romania) precisely to feed on as many people as possible. They say that English cuisine leaves something to be desired, but for Dracula, London is the perfect place to find serving after serving of his favorite dish.
In short, Dracula displays none of Edward’s restraint around Bella. Desirable women are promptly bitten and turned into vampires, and this is the enduring image of vampires in our culture. We don’t even find out that much about him; most of the book consists of other characters – the good guys – trying to hunt him down. As these Twilight quotes show, the series doesn’t stray away from acknowledging this literary heritage.
[Bella:] “Don’t laugh – but how can you come out during the daytime?”
[Edward] laughed anyway. “Myth.”
“Burned by the sun?”
“Sleeping in coffins?”
Take that, Mr. Stoker – your information is clearly out of date. Twilight characters spend a fair amount of time dealing with the past, though, and Bella makes some observations about other myths she digs up in her research on vampires. “It seemed that most vampire myths centered around beautiful women as demons and children as victims,” Bella decides. “[T]hey also seemed like constructs created to explain away the high mortality rates for young children, and to give men an excuse for infidelity.” In other words, Bella has figured out that the way we explain things we don’t understand has a lot to do with the current cultural climate.
So if we take a step back from Bella, and look at her and Edward as a fictional characters, we could look at Twilight the same way. The book has taken a well-known cultural figure and distorted it into something recognizable and approachable by today’s standards. Twilight is really about the plight of teenagers, and, in Stoker’s time, adolescence wasn’t as popular a theme (and didn’t sell as much merchandise) as it is today. A common reading of Edward and Bella’s struggle to be together without any deadly fang action is that it mirrors the teenage desire for, and anxiety about, sexual experiences. Edward is attractive, but dangerous; Bella is willing, but overemotional. Vampirism in Dracula is highly sexualized, but in a different way. In adapting the vampire for modern times and trying to leave Dracula behind, Twilight deals less with vampire stereotypes as it does with stereotypes of adolescents. As is evident, though, the figure of Count Dracula has endured to the present day, and it remains to be seen whether Twilight will have the same long lasting influence on how we imagine vampires.