Writing for ‘Twilight and History’ from the Guest Professor, Elizabeth Baird Hardy (EBH)

twihistory History is full of unexpected turns of events, moments that spin an otherwise directed course onto a completely different path.  Such moments also litter our personal histories. In the spring of 2009, suffering from a cold and just happy to curl up in a chair with my likewise afflicted daughter, I finally gave in to pressure from my students and began reading Twilight. I generally try to stay abreast of what interests my students, which is sometimes a challenge with the wide variety of ages and backgrounds in a community college classroom. On the first day of class, I have them fill out an interest sheet, telling me what movies and books they like. Of course, I often see books that I know were eighth grade reading assignments, giving every indication that the student hasn’t read anything with chapters since then. Sometimes they try to impress me by including War and Peace or the Bible (although I remind them that putting the Bible in the same category with Nicholas Sparks is close to blasphemy, and suggesting that it’s one’s favorite recreational reading is like saying one’s hobby is breathing). Time and again, I saw the Twilight Saga on these sheets, often the sheets of students whom I regarded as thoughtful and sophisticated readers and writers. So, I borrowed the well-worn paperback from the library, snuggled up with my fellow sickie and a big box of tissues, and was, completely against my will and my expectations, enchanted.

As I traveled the length of the whole Saga, I found that part of the enchantment came from the way in which the fictional story was woven though with threads of real history that made even Meyer’s fantastical characters quite believable. Although I am a teacher of English, my undergraduate minor was history, which has come in handy in my years of marriage to a professional historian. As a historic interpreter, I frequently labor to bring the past alive for the people of the present.  It is sometimes hard for me to tell whether I am more devoted to literature than I am to history, so I enjoy finding texts that speak to both fields.  I was intrigued by the motif of individuals uniquely marked by their own eras of birth and yet able to live on unchanged through the centuries.  Unsurprisingly, with all the character backstories, Eclipse is my favorite installment in the series.

I was thus already pondering the historical complexities of Twilight when, as Bella says in New Moon, kismet happened. Through some interesting twists that I ascribe to Providence (and some help from John Granger) rather than coincidence, I found myself in contact with Nancy Reagin, Pace University history professor and editor for the forthcoming Blackwell/Wiley volume Twilight and History.  I had seen some of the titles in the publisher’s popular culture and philosophy series, a series that will now be complemented by volumes on history and popular culture. I quickly proposed two possible chapters for the book, unsure which I hoped would be accepted.

I was fascinated with the concept of Jasper as Confederate soldier, primarily because I know Confederate soldiers. I am married to one, sort of. My husband and I and I actually met at a Civil War re-enactment and were married in a Civil War service. He is the author of numerous books and articles, primarily on the war, and I serve as editor, research partner, and armchair general on all his exciting projects. If that were not enough, we frequently don our 1860s clothes, turning back the clock for the kids as well, and participate in living history programs.  I was impressed by the way in which Jasper’s character really did seem to be a natural progression of what would happen if a young Confederate officer, already capable of influencing those around him, was swept into the bizarre world of Meyer’s vampires. His brooding, his struggles for control over himself, his relationship with Alice, and even his hobbies all demonstrate attitudes from the 1860s, frozen, just as Jasper is.

Yet, I was also drawn to exploring Emmett’s background and role as an Appalachian man. As a native of Appalachia and instructor of Appalachian Culture, I was intrigued by the ways in which loveable but terrifying Emmett, native of Sevier County, Tennessee, was both an embodiment of the stereotype we’ve all seen in Jethro Clampett and the Duke boys but also something far more complex. I could also see how the whole Cullen clan–isolated, misunderstood–could be seen as a parallel to the people of Appalachia. When yet another moonshine-swilling, Winchester-toting, incestuous, idiotic hillbilly is featured in advertising, movies, books, or television programs, the people of Appalachia feel much as the Cullens must at the sight of Count Chocula or plastic fangs and capes on trick-or-treating kids: a combination of amusement and annoyance. I was also eager to set straight the common misconception that the bear that attacked Emmett was a grizzly. There are no grizzlies in Appalachia, only black bears; but, with his amplified strength, of course Emmett would enjoy taking on the black bear’s more fearsome cousin.

Much to my delight, both of my proposals were accepted, and I began some of the most enjoyable research of my professional career. Although I was already well acquainted with the everyday experiences of the common Confederate soldier, it was exciting and challenging to learn more about Jasper’s milieu.  I looked into specific Texas regiments, trying, without success, to pinpoint his exact regiment while I researched the First Battle of Galveston, the last event of the war for one Major Jasper Whitlock. It’s a little-known battle, certainly not on the scale of Gettysburg or Antietam, and I still wonder if Meyer had some distant ancestor who saw service there, inspiring her to place the unfortunate Jasper in just the wrong place in October 1862.  Since she is a Latter-Day Saint, there is a high probability that she knows far more about her genealogy than the average American: historians frequently rely on the excellent research conducted by the LDS folks and collected in their remarkable online database.

For Emmett, I delved into my familiar store of Appalachian materials, delighted to bring in my favorite James Still poem—“I shall not leave these prisoning hills”—with  an ironic twist and happy to have an excuse to interview the president of our local bear-hunting club on historic bear populations and hunting tactics. After I saw him driving in the Fourth of July parade with a huge mounted black bear on top of his car, I couldn’t resist.  I also visited Emmett’s hometown of Gatlinburg, which I had visited frequently in my youth. I was struck though, on this visit, how the bustling tourist town has changed dramatically just in the past few decades. Interestingly, even though the Cullens return to the Olympic Peninsula, they have apparently not gone back to Emmett’s old stomping ground. I speculated that, in addition to the crowds, the transformation of Gatlinburg into a town indistinguishable from Myrtle Beach or Panama City Beach might be upsetting even to the unflappable Emmett. I did make one delightful discovery. I wondered if there were any actual McCartys living in the area. I knew the name wasn’t as common as the ubiquitous Ogles and Reagans. Much to my amusement, I found that there are a number of McCartys in Sevier County, some of whom run the funeral home in Sevierville.  What were the odds?

After collecting the information on Emmett and Jasper, I began weaving together the real history with the analysis of  the fictional stories of the two characters, grateful for extra hints Meyer has provided in her deleted scenes and the truncated Midnight Sun manuscript. This balancing act between historical analysis and literary criticism made for a unique writing experience that was thoroughly enjoyable. The opportunity to work with Nancy Reagin added to my positive impression.  She is the perfect editor: supportive, honest but kindly, and enthusiastic about the project. I am sure it was a challenge working with such a diverse group of writers, who include specialists in everything from witch hunts and the treatment of the mentally ill to the real Quileute tribe and Italian architecture. The resulting volume is equally diverse, and readers of all interests will find a niche within its black covers.

I look forward to hearing from the super-savvy readers here as you get the opportunity to read the book. The official release date is April 12, but I understand Amazon is mailing them now.  I hope this volume will continue to add to the useful and serious scholarship based on the Twilight Saga (and it looks very attractive next to Spotlight!).   We have a page on facebook, and most of the contributors are members on that page, so we invite your discussions and questions there, too. I will always be grateful for the chance to take part in this delightful project and hope it inspires Twilight readers, history buffs, and others to delve more deeply into the real past inhabited by Meyer’s fictional people.



  1. Arabella Figg says

    Great post, Elizabeth! I definitely have to read this book. The history of the characters intrigued me a lot, and the times represented are critical in terms of thought and how it affects the Saga. I’d not considered how all the characters are frozen in time, because Carlysle, Esme and Alice seem to be quite contemporary. Although Esme, as sterotypical “mom,” probably transcends most eras.

  2. Thanks for doing this post, Elizabeth. It doesn’t tell me what’s in the book, but it definitely whets my appetite.

  3. Arabella Figg says

    Sharon, the book is great! Almost every essay is very good, and I had several favorites, including Elizabeth’s. She really opens up Emmett and Jasper. My other favorites: the essays on Carlisle, Alice and insane asylums, the Volturi, the changing roles of the Cullen kids through the 20th Century, the Cinderbella chapter, the one on the ideal family, and the Quiliute history and Jacob. The other essay on Jasper was based on too many stereotypes. Some conclusions fell flat in the socio chapters because they didn’t take into account the Mormon understanding that John has laid out. But I enjoyed it very much and will definitely be rereading it.

  4. Thanks Arabella. Based on this post, I went out and bought it today and am half way through my first chapter, reading Elizabeth‘s content first. She has a very engaging way of writing. Just the right mix of Jasper and history, I think, so far.

    It’s good to be back here discussing Twilight. I seem to have missed a bit while I was away (of all places, in the states including in Forks).

  5. Elizabeth says

    Thanks, Sharon! I’m so glad you like the Jasper chapter and hope Emmett is just as engaging for you! I’m eager to hear what you think when you finish. Welcome back to the conversation!

  6. Arabella Figg says

    When I wrote above, “Some conclusions fell flat in the socio chapters because they didn’t take into account the Mormon understanding that John has laid out,” I also meant to include that to some of these writers, the endgame is unification of Bella and Edward, when Renesmee the androgyne is the true endgame (see Spotlight. If these authors had known of alchemy and the Mormon influence, their conclusions would have been more fascinating, but they’re still good despite this lack.

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