Adults fall prey to 'Twilight'

If you assume author Stephenie Meyer's insanely popular "Twilight" novels and the blockbuster movies they've spawned appeal only to teenage girls, you're wrong.

"I haven't been this crazy about anything in my adult life," says Mischell Christmas of Charlotte, who has read all four books twice and seen both films several times. "And that's fun, that's really fun to be just stupid and silly and girl-like at 46."

Think the "Twilight" series appeals only to members of the female sex? Wrong again.

"After the first 100 pages, I was hooked," says Fort Mill, S.C., dad Phil Grennan.

The only safe assumption is that "Twilight" - a franchise associated with teen girls because of its focus on awkward high-schooler Bella and her doomed romance with "vegetarian" vampire Edward - can captivate just about anyone.

Movie No. 3 in the series, "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," sees Bella forced to choose between her love for Edward and her friendship with a werewolf named Jacob. It opens Wednesday.

Since the first novel was published in October 2005, global sales of Meyer's four books - "Twilight," "New Moon," "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn" - have exceeded 100 million. By comparison, more than 400 million copies of J.K. Rowling's seven "Harry Potter" books have been sold worldwide since 1997.

"There still is a sense that 'Twilight' is much more of a girls' series than 'Harry Potter,'" says Robert Thompson, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University. "They move quickly, they're interesting, they're fun. ... They take a lot of really powerful themes in pop culture over the past century and a half and jam them together. It's not a stretch to see that that would have appeal beyond teens."

'Feeling of first love'

Although The New York Times has included all four novels on its lists of best-selling children's books (ages 12 and up), Meyer has said she did not write "Twilight" for preteens or young teenage girls.

"I had a very specific audience, and it was a 29-year-old mother of three," she told About.com in 2008. In talking to Time magazine, also in 2008, she said: "I don't know why they span the ages so well, but I find it comforting that a lot of 30-somethings with kids, like myself, respond to them as well - so I know that it's not just that I'm a 15-year-old on the inside!"

One of the deeper reasons the story of star-crossed lovers Bella and Edward resonates so strongly with women in their 30s and 40s: nostalgia.

"As we get older, all these little roles we take on - mother, caregiver, worker - all those things we do for everybody else, all of that gets lost," says Christmas. "We don't remember ever having that feeling, and that's what that book does: It reminds us of that feeling of first love, and the hope and the promise of being with someone who is your entire world, and vice versa."

Lisa Mainwaring, 38, a mother of two who is reading the series for the third time, says: "It sounds so corny. There's like a passion there that you forget you have, or like an innocence that you've forgotten about. Having kids and a husband and a life, you just sort of go through the same thing every day. Not saying that my life is boring, or I don't appreciate it, or I'm not happy with it, (but the books gave me) just sort of like a carefree feeling."

'Watch it in peace'

The film's hunky stars - Robert Pattinson (who plays vampire hero Edward) and Taylor Lautner (who plays Jacob, Bella's best friend) - have caused girls and women alike to swoon.

But older fans don't always want to be in the same room with younger ones.

In fact, Mainwaring plans to wait a few days after its release to see the new movie, "because I want to be able to watch it in peace, and not have girls screaming and whooping and hollering."

Hers is a solid strategy. According to exit polling by the film's distributor, Summit Entertainment, 75 percent of the first movie's opening-weekend audience was female and 55 percent was younger than 25. Tallies for the second movie were even more lopsided - 80 percent of the audience was female and 50 percent was under 21 during its opening weekend.

'There's a lot of action'

So what about the 20 percent to 25 percent of those audiences that were male? What's in it for them?

Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote the scripts for the first three films and is currently penning "Breaking Dawn" (which will be broken into two movies), explains: "There's a lot of conflict, there's a lot of action, there's a lot of tension and suspense, and some horror elements. I think that's probably what's appealing to men at the moment."

As for the books, publisher Little, Brown doesn't compile demographic data. But it's not uncommon for a guy to get sucked into reading them after being around a "Twilight"-obsessed woman.

Phil Grennan, 45, plowed through all four after encouragement from his 18-year-old daughter. His wife, Jennifer, is a huge fan, too.

Mainwaring's husband, Paul, said, "had to see what all the fuss was about."

Julie Cassell, 44, a Charlotte teacher who adores the books, says: "My husband made fun of me through the whole thing. Then when I finished them, he picked them up and started reading them. He read them all."

Even Christmas' 17-year-old son, Brian, has read the series.

"Partly for my love of cult fiction," he explains, comparing the "Twilight" appeal to literary phenomena such as "Harry Potter" and "The Da Vinci Code." "And partly out of coercion from my mother."

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