Holley Hyler is an IT consultant and published freelance writer living in New York.
It Began as a Writing Exercise
Midnight Sun was released on August 4th, 2020, sparking joy among Twilight fans. It is a story that fans of the saga already know well, but this time, it's told from Edward Cullen's point of view (the original book was written from Bella Swan's perspective). Stephenie Meyer herself said, "Midnight Sun is an exercise in character development that got wildly out of hand. I started to wonder how the first chapter of Twilight would read if it were written from Edward's perspective. There is so much more to his side of the story than there is to Bella's in that first chapter." (source)
Why bother to read Edward's perspective? While the story is essentially the same, reading the thoughts of a seventeen-year-old who has been seventeen for over a century, comes from a family of vampire "vegetarians," has a self-loathing complex, and by self-admission is a stalker, is interesting and makes the book hard to put down. As Meyer said, there is so much more to his side of the story—but not just in the first chapter—all throughout, we are given intel on the Cullens that we never received from Bella's perspective and a clearer view of what makes Edward act so strangely at the beginning.
When I read the book, I got the sense that Meyer was genuinely enjoying herself as she wrote. Unfortunately, during the early stages of the book, the first chapters were leaked. There was also a Twilight backlash around the time the movies came out, criticizing Meyer's writing, the nature of the story, and the problematic way it could cause teenage girls to look at romance. Midnight Sun was put on hold for several years, and Meyer said that she no longer enjoyed Twilight. I am glad enough time passed for her to change her mind. As a writer, I can see how the above could make one's passion project turn into a stack of dusty papers shoved to the back of the desk.
This scenario poses an interesting question for any writer: Should one abstain from reviews and commentary for the sake of continued enjoyment or engage in both the good and bad but risk the desire to work on the project disappearing? Had Meyer not handed over the early chapters for the sake of the film and Robert Pattinson's portrayal of Edward, we may have seen a significantly different movie.
Whenever we give away a passion project as a seedling, we risk the fun and creativity dissolving. I often hear the advice, "When you have an idea for a book, don't tell anyone about it." It speaks to the fragility of a work in its early stages and how much importance we give to outsiders concerning our creative endeavors.
My Favorite Passages From Midnight Sun
"We stared at each other for a moment while I processed the fact that, just as she was my first love, according to this I was also her first... infatuation at the very least. This alignment pleased me in some strange way, but also troubled me. Surely this was a warped, unhealthy way for her to begin her romantic life. And then there was the knowledge that she would be both first and last for me. It would not be the same for a human heart." (Meyer, 296)
I love the touch of self-awareness in these thoughts Edward is having about his new love with Bella. He knows he is not best for Bella, especially not as her first love. He also knows there is the possibility that she could move on from him someday. It could have been Meyer's way of telling her critics that she was aware of their concerns, but more than likely, it would have been written without her awareness of the backlash.
Edward knows he is not what a young human girl should want, and yet his feelings run too deep for him to simply walk away. This is a fact that causes him pain and self-loathing. Yes, this is a work of fiction, and it is meant to be read that way. Fiction often depicts things that we hope never to experience for ourselves or our loved ones.
I say this passage has "a touch" of self-awareness because in the same vein, Edward is blinded by his love. He feels in that moment that Bella, who he has not known for very long, will be his first and last. Yes, she is the first person in nearly a hundred years who has caught his eye in a romantic sense. Life is full of possibilities, but often we are short-sighted when it comes to falling in love, and we feel as though the first person we fall for is "it"—that there could never be anyone else. Of course, we know how it turns out in this story.
"I compared the feelings, the ache and the soaring, to my life before Bella. I'd been so jaded, so world-weary, as if I'd experienced every emotion there was to be felt. What a fool. I'd barely sipped at the cup life had to offer. Only now was I aware of all I'd missed, and how much more I had to learn. So much suffering ahead, more than the joy, certainly. But the joy was so sweet and so strong that I would never forgive myself for missing a second of it." (Meyer, 319)
Emotions seem to be Meyer's strong suit in writing as evidenced by this snippet. She does a great job of articulating what a century-old 17-year-old vampire might actually be thinking and feeling upon falling in love for the first time. I have created characters, including supernatural ones, as I have dabbled in fiction. For some, it is harder than others to put to page the thoughts that these beings might have in certain situations without reaching for low-hanging fruit or over-simplifying them.
Edward is a complicated character who is fun to read. While he is a stalker, that fact is made less cringe-worthy by the fact that he knows what he is and feels apologetic for it. The reader cannot help but root for him.
Immortality, Humanity, and Depression
Before he meets Bella, Edward's view of immortality is bleak. He likens high school to "purgatory." The Cullen "children" typically start out as high schoolers when they move, as it allows them to stay in one place longer. It is easy to see how that might drive one batty—to have to repeat high school over and over for the sake of keeping their secret.
The suffering Edward speaks of in the last passage above seems to be all-encompassing, whether he is in the high-school phase or not. The picture Edward presents of life is that it was not worth living before Bella.
One of Edward's sisters, Rosalie, misses her humanity and sees Bella as not respecting her own by wishing to be like Edward—to stay with him forever. This is the cause of Rosalie's strong dislike toward Bella for most of the series. Edward wishes not to be a "monster," but he does not seem to remember enough about his human life to truly miss it. (All the Cullens survive on animal blood, although a few of them did drink human blood at one point.)
We do find that one thing Edward envies about humans is their ability to sleep. Meyer's vampires cannot sleep. Of all the things to miss about humanity, I do not think sleep would be one of them for me. With how much there is to learn, do, and read in this world, I think of how much more I could get done without the need to sleep for so many hours!
If you look at Edward's thoughts regarding non-Bella life, as I said, it is pretty bleak. It would be interesting to explore whether Edward experienced depression during his human existence and if that could be something that he carried over with him. It does not seem to be a universal for these vampires, since Emmett, for example, is completely accepting of what he is and seems to enjoy being immortal.
Whether you like it or not, and whatever you may think of Meyer's writing, Midnight Sun touches on some pretty deep themes. It is not a simple or mindless love story, and it is not wrong for a book to be more emotion-driven than plot-driven. It is a fun read and a byproduct of the author having fun while writing it.
Should You Read It?
I wasn't bothered that Midnight Sun was a retelling of a story that I already knew, especially since it was presented so differently. I first read Twilight after just starting college, nearly 10 years ago now, so it brought up some nice nostalgia. I hear rumors that Meyer is considering writing two more books for this series, but they would not be about Edward and Bella. Instead, she would write about their daughter, Renesmee, and Jacob, the chief werewolf in the story and Bella's best friend.
If you've missed Twilight, Midnight Sun will be a nice way of getting immersed back into that world. I do hope Meyer will write more about it . . . and that she will publish what she writes!
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 Holley Hyler