Love at first bite
A series about a romance with a tall, dark, handsome and deadly stranger is a hit with sexually curious adolescents
BRIAN BETHUNE | July 16, 2008 |
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The genesis of Stephenie Meyer's bestselling series of teen vampire novels, now metamorphosing into a pop culture phenomenon that approaches — however distantly — J.K. Rowling territory, lies in a dream. A teenage couple are alone in a forest glade, she an average girl, he a creature of unearthly beauty, literally sparkling in the sunlight. Each the other's world entire (to borrow a phrase from Cormac McCarthy), they are intently discussing two colliding facts: they have fallen passionately in love and he, a vampire, can barely restrain himself from eating her, an ordinary mortal, right there and then.
Meyer's dream has become as iconic an image among her fans as the myth of welfare mom Rowling, madly scribbling away in an Edinburgh café, baby on lap, is among hers. What the Scottish author eventually wrought is known the world over: Harry Potter, all 350 million copies sold and five (so far) blockbuster movies. Meyer's saga of her star-crossed but chaste lovers, Bella Swan and Edward Cullen — three fat novels (Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse) with 5.5 million copies sold, a fourth volume (Breaking Dawn) set for release on Aug. 2, and an eagerly anticipated film version of Twilight due in the fall — is already getting the Rowling treatment from publishers, booksellers and fans.
When Meyer gives a book reading, lineups of 2,000 or more teen girls, many dressed as vampires, are the standard. Publisher Little, Brown and Co. (distributed by H.B. Fenn in Canada) won't be providing reviewers with advance copies of Breaking Dawn. As with a Potter novel, all 3.4 million North American copies will go on sale at once, at midnight on the release date. And many bookshops, including the larger Indigo stores, will stay open and hold Twilight-themed parties for the occasion. (But not even Rowling, a marketing master, hit on the ingenious idea of re-issuing past volumes with a poster, stickers, and the first chapter of the longed-for next volume, as Meyer has done with Eclipse and Breaking Dawn.) High as Harry Potter set the bar, Meyer's creation is the closest thing to the boy wizard's successor to appear yet.
The passionate, BrontÃ«-esque romance of Bella and Edward — with its hint of a love triangle, courtesy of Bella's good friend Jacob Black, a Native American who's also a werewolf — is an unlikely heir to Harry's throne. Vampire stories are almost too popular for any one of them to stick out from the herd. Enter "vampire" into Amazon.com's search function and an astonishing 44,000 titles will appear. Among the teen fiction titles, one genre stands dominant: romance with a tall, dark, handsome and deadly stranger, otherwise known as "chick lit with fangs."
Teen vampire chick lit mixes romance, horror, and comedy (not to mention shopping) in ratios that fluctuate as wildly as the configurations of heroine and love interest. The more the story is played for laughs, the more likely the protagonist is to be a vampire herself. In Sucks to Be Me: The All-True Confessions of Mina Hamilton, Teen Vampire (maybe) by Kimberly Pauley (August release), poor Mina is the bloodsucker equivalent of the non-magical squibs in Harry Potter. As the embarrassingly human daughter of vampires, she has to attend vampire remedial school, as well as juggle the everyday concerns of boys, friends and proms. In more adventure-orientated tales, like High School Bites by Liza Conrad (2006), the heroine can be a Buffy-level vampire slayer.
Most often, though, like Bella, she's an innocent abroad, inexorably sucked into something that will magically transform her (generally) unhappy and isolated existence. Or kill her. Her beloved, of course, is virtually always a vampire; when he isn't, she is: the romance has to cross the great divide, or where's the thrill of it? In VAMPS — that would be Vampire American Princesses — a new series by Nancy Collins (July), the title characters are the designer-draped teen daughters of New York City's vampire lords, Mean Girls types with blood fetishes. They practically rule Manhattan, sipping flutes of "chilled A-neg" at exclusive clubs, and occasionally slumming in the parks, draining dry the city's homeless population. Until, that is, poor-girl heroine Cally Monture — half human, half vampire — shows up at their exclusive vampire high school. A vampire prince is drawn to Cally, as is a descendent of Abraham Van Helsing, Bram Stoker's original Dracula hunter: as a half-blood (literally), she has romantic entanglements across the species divide in both directions.