Feeling out of touch because the last time you checked sunlight turned vampires to dust, not sparkling angelic creatures? You're not alone, even though it may sometimes seem like everyone and their mom has read Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga--or at least seen the incredibly successful movies based on the series. But having a working knowledge of the paranormal-themed zeitgeist so successfully captured by a 36-year old Mormon mother of three will stand you in good pop-culture stead for at least the next decade. And with Eclipse, the third installment in the film series, due in theaters this Wednesday, there couldn't be a better time to brush up on your knowledge of Meyer's vampires and werewolves--and the humans with whom they have passionate and complicated relationships.
Let's start with the humans. When Twilight begins, 17-year-old Bella Swan (played by Kristen Stewart in the films) has just moved to Forks, Washington to live with her dad, Charlie, the local police chief. Clumsy and awkward but quite intelligent--and, as her name suggests, beautiful--Bella hopes for nothing more than to blend in. Unfortunately for her, she has particularly delicious-smelling blood.
Which brings us to the vampires. Edward Cullen is a permanently 17-year-old vampire with looks "a male model would sell his soul for," as Bella often likes to remind us. (Robert Pattinson, the perpetually self-deprecating actor who plays Edward, has been known to disagree, but it's hard to hear him over the legions of screaming fans.) Edward is the only non-paired-off member of the eternally monogamous Cullen vampire clan, comprised of Edward's mom and dad Esme and Carlisle, and adopted children/couples Rosalie and Emmett, and Alice and Jasper. Edward finds the scent of the blood coursing through Bella's veins so intoxicating that he contemplates draining her dry the moment he meets her. Due in part to the fact that the Cullens are "vegetarian" vampires who only eat animals, Edward resists and soon falls deeply in love with Bella. She can't resist his beauty, his brooding, or his bloodlust (not to mention his undying devotion) and falls "unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him."
Because the course of immortal love never did run smooth, their relationship is not without complications. Edward has extraordinary vampire strength and is perpetually afraid he will gravely injure his fragile human love, meaning that anything more than relatively chaste make-out sessions are out of the question. And the scent of Bella's blood is so appealing that when non-veggie vampire James pays a visit to Forks in the first book/movie, he catches such a heady whiff of Bella that he will stop at nothing to get a taste. After a climactic showdown, James is destroyed. But his red-headed wench of a vampire lover Victoria is still out there, waiting to put her still-to-be-revealed-but-surely-vengeful plan into motion. This will be a major plot point in Eclipse.