I read the “Twilight” Saga out of order so my mom wouldn’t know what I was up to. I was in the sixth grade, a time in my life when if I wanted to access the Internet to pirate a book — or even look up the saga’s correct ordering — I had to sit down at the massive desktop computer in my kitchen before my entire family. Even in the unlikely event that the kitchen was vacant, the constant hum of the computer would surely expose me, alerting someone that I was online. Not happening. I was left guessing about the characters’ origin stories and relationships before I realized I had skipped an entire book.
Years later, I would learn from mom that she didn’t even own a copy of the first book. Our next-door neighbor had fallen victim to Twilight-mania and insisted my mom borrow her copy; a few days later my mom ordered “New Moon” without even finishing “Twilight.”
I read “New Moon” in the nook between my twin-sized bed and my room’s lavender walls, careful to conceal my reading. After finishing the series (and going back to read “Twilight,” courtesy of my local library), I feigned ignorance to every reference toward the books and acted disinterested at any suggestion that I read them. Simultaneously enthralled and unimpressed, I couldn’t get through the novels fast enough, but was also hesitant to cash in on any of the cultural capital — or lack thereof, depending on who you asked — that came with them. I wanted to say I had read the books everyone was talking about, but didn’t want to endure detracting remarks from critics. “Why would you read that?” “You know that they’re not any good, right?” Maybe I was in a “not like other girls phase,” where I rejected anything marketed toward women and felt silly for picking the books up in the first place. Maybe I just didn’t like “Twilight.”
By 2011, around the time I was reading the books, the “Twilight saga” had sold over 120 million copies and turned into a blockbuster film franchise. It had also received widespread criticism for its portrayal of toxic relationships, religious undertones and appropriation of indigenous culture. In 2009 and 2010 it made the American Library Association’s list of most commonly banned books. Simultaneously loved and hated, the media couldn’t stop talking about “Twilight.”
Young adult fantasy-romance was admittedly not to my usual taste; I was in the middle of a love affair with historical fiction at the time, and basically all I read was “Little House on the Prairie” knock-offs. I’m not sure if I would’ve picked up the saga if it hadn’t been all around me. I remember classmates wearing “Twilight” merchandise in sixth grade and their impassioned fights over Team Jacob vs Team Edward. I was eleven, I wasn’t even the franchise’s target demographic. It was nearly impossible to exist in the late 2000’s without absorbing some knowledge of it.
After the media frenzy died down, it seemed like the saga was destined to die the same quiet death most mid-2000s young adult novels did. A whole era of teen literature — ranging from major successes like “The Hunger Games” to mediocre variations on stories like “Divergent” — became media empires, immortalized in film and merchandise, only to quietly fade into pop-culture obscurity. The merch goes on clearance, the discourse dies down, something else takes its place.
Then came the Twilight Renaissance. A catch-all term for the series reemergence, the Twilight Renaissance was sparked by fan’s creativity and unapologetic love for the saga.
Despite my ambivalence toward the original saga, I was an early convert to the second wave of “Twilight” hysteria. In my mid-teens, about three years after I read “Twilight,” I was border-line addicted to Tumblr, but felt a weird sense of shame about being on the platform. I hardly mentioned the hours I spent working on my blog making GIFs, themes and text posts to any of my real-life friends. Tumblr was also where I accidentally discovered that a “Twilight” community was still alive and thriving. I began seeing posts from @keepingupwiththecullens on my dashboard, a blog that bravely asks “what if twilight [sic] were a trashy reality show?” The blog edited the movie cast into Kardashian-style confessionals, perfectly combining the absurdity of the original books and reality TV. It was funny and nostalgic, it breathed life into some of the flatter moments and characters. I was hooked.
Some writers have traced the Twilight Renaissance back to May 2020, when Stephanie Meyer announced the release of “Midnight Sun”: a retelling of “Twilight” from Edward’s perspective that had been thirteen years in the making.
However, the accounts I followed on Tumblr had been active since at least 2015. Media coverage of the Twilight Renaissance seemed to come well after the fan communities had established themselves and trickled into the mainstream. While there’s no clear distinction between when “Twilight” went from a washed-up teen franchise to something that felt fresh and interesting, it was the rise of accounts like @keepingupwiththecullens in the mid 2010s that caught my attention. Fans had practically rewritten the novel, and the versions that these niche communities built began spilling onto my Tumblr feed.
What’s often unsaid in commentary and arts pieces about the series’ resurgence is that the original source material isn’t that bad. Make no mistake — ”Twilight” has its flaws. But Stephanie Meyer did manage to create some fascinating characters with rich backstories, albeit they were relegated to being set pieces for the main story. Between the beloved protagonists, Edward and Bella, and a wealth of underdeveloped material, there was plenty of room for accounts to explore and reimagine the books.
Accounts like @keepupwiththecullens took advantage of the novel’s potential head-on. Rosalie, Edward’s adoptive sister who killed her abusers after becoming a vampire, was vilified in the original series for her coldness toward Bella. In the Twilight Renaissance, she’s been rebranded as a feminist folk-hero. Edward is no longer the handsome and charismatic lead Meyer envisioned — he’s a “fucking 110-year-old ginger virgin who wears vests and beige slacks.” Personally, I liked to imagine that Jasper wasn’t actually a major in the Confederate Army. Sometimes I’d shift his timeline to place him in the Spanish-American War, other times I’d craft an entirely new backstory. Regardless, the more problematic details and plotlines have been reworked by the imagination of readers, making the “Twilight” of the Twilight Renaissance something almost entirely different than what its creator imagined.
The revamp was a massive success, breathing life into minor characters and adding depth to the series’s mythology, which often felt underdeveloped. The original “Twilight” was first and foremost a love story, centered around the two protagonists. Fans brought it up to par with the other literary universes and ensemble casts that characterized young adult fiction.
Still, revision is not renaissance.
Fanfictions, headcannons, alternate universes, discourse — this was the basic lingo of Tumblr fandoms. None of it was enough to spur a pop culture movement. What really shifted our collective understanding of the series was how it redefined what it meant to be a “Twilight” fan. You didn’t need to accept the series if you didn’t want to, you could craft it into the story you had always imagined. The incessant media attention on “Twilight” made a lot of us reluctant participants in the series’ heyday. You either caved in or defiantly resisted, perhaps claiming some intellectual and moral superiority for not engaging. It’s problematic. It’s for girls. It’s stupid. It didn’t matter; we all experienced it’s rise and decline together.
In my Tumblr days, during my second exposure to “Twilight,” I was more of a connoisseur of content than a creator. But I found myself experiencing a strange nostalgia for the first time I read the books. When I read the books as a pre-teen, I didn’t fully grasp many of the troubling undertones in Meyer’s work nor think as deeply about them as I’d be able to when I was older. I view the original work differently now — and rightfully so.
To me, the Twilight Renaissance was a collective acknowledgement that the books sort of sucked but also sort of didn’t. The novels that I read in secret, that I found too cringe-worthy to talk about with anyone but too addictive to put down, were actually sort of good. They were good in a comically-absurd way — in the way that fans have completely rebranded Edward as an emo virgin but adore minor side characters like the Volturi, the governing body of the vampire world.
In the absurdity of the Twilight Renaissance, we can all enjoy the series without shame, keeping the parts we like and reimagining the ones we don’t. You can focus on the romance, the mythology, the setting, the supernatural, the whatever. It’s yours for the taking.
Maybe the series will go down in pop-culture history as a cult classic, and critics will lament that it wasn’t appreciated in its time. Maybe it’s still on track to fade away like other YA novels, and we’re just prolonging it’s death. Either way, the series is on Netflix now, waiting to be rewatched and reworked all over again.
During a stress-induced shopping spree last spring, I bought a “Twilight” t-shirt on a whim. I share the occasional “Twilight” meme on my Instagram story and put on the movies whenever I’m not sure what to watch. Looking back, I don’t think I read the series wanting to become a fanatic. I just wanted to pick up the book all my friends were talking about and participate in a pop culture moment. I was too embarrassed to enjoy it then, but I can now.
Statement Columnist Haley Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.