Every few years there comes a phenomenon that takes the world by storm. It starts as a book, continues as a blockbuster movie, and, once it becomes a franchise, it just never ends. The Harry Potter series encouraged kids all over the globe to believe that they, too, would one day escape their surroundings, discover a magical world full of wonders and riddles and possibly help uncover its mysteries. The latest such phenomenon, the Twilight saga, solves all the mysteries for its readership – mostly teenage girls, ugly ducklings (it is no coincidence that the heroine of the series is named Bella Swann) and social rejects dazzled by the prospect of romance with a beautiful, tormented bloodsucker.There is magic here, but no riddles to solve, as any unknown fact in the saga is usually divulged forthwith by an omniscient cast of characters who can conveniently read minds and tell the future. There is not much bloodsucking going on in Twilight, either. Author Stephenie Meyer makes it clear from the outset that drinking human blood is akin to giving into temptation, which is something every good-hearted vampire would be keen to avoid. Of course, temptation includes other activities, like going beyond kissing. Eternally-17-year-old vampire Edward Cullen tells his mortal girlfriend Bella in the newest film in the series, Eclipse – so far the only movie in the saga with a pulse – that he would rather die all over again than squander her soul. When Bella tries to reassure Edward that the notion of abstinence as soul-destroying is “ancient,” the vampire goes on about the Victorian values that were all the rage back when he had a heartbeat (“We would have taken chaperoned strolls and had iced tea on the porch”), leading some to believe that girls read Twilight because they don’t have the patience to read some real English classics from centuries past.AMERICAN GIRLS drifting away from typical teenage boys and cardboard-cutout Disney princess stories, and opting for mysterious 100-year-old outcasts (but only if they look 17) is actually a positive development.What’s surprising is that these girls are embracing puritanical values with such unprecedented fervor, that they aren’t insulted by the often-absurd moralizing that lies rather transparently behind the vampire love story. Even though the entire backstory is surreal, one cannot help but grimace at the awkwardness of certain scenes. In the Eclipse film, for example, Bella’s police-chief father Charlie tries to have a birds-and-bees talk with her after she asks him why he did not find another partner after his divorce from her mother.“Marriage has value ... you definitely don’t want to have to get married because you weren’t careful,” says Charlie. “There’s things to think about if you’re going to be physically intimate.”When Bella explains that Edward is “old-school,” Charlie replies, “Great, what’s that, like, a code for something?” Instead of rejecting this rehearsed, obsolete, unrealistic rhetoric, Twilight fans actually embrace it, possibly because the small-town setting lends the dialogue a little bit of credibility. This is shot to pieces in the fourth and final installment of the series, Breaking Dawn, in which Bella marries Edward, gets pregnant almost as soon as the ring is on her finger and refuses to abort the half-vampire baby that could seriously threaten her life. Her reward for being so morally upstanding is finally getting her immortal husband to “turn” her after a particularly harrowing birth sequence that leaves her dying.Twilight fans do their utmost to avoid diving headfirst into the real world to find out what real love (as opposed to true love, a concept summarized by Muse in their contribution to the Eclipse soundtrack as “Love is forever / and we’ll die together”) is actually like. Instead, they lose themselves in Meyer’s fantasy world and, fancying themselves small-town Juliets, fall in love with a pseudo-complex Romeo who has a knack for smoldering silently and lashing out overprotectively. The third character in the love triangle, a Quileute werewolf named Jacob, would have been a rather lovable character were he not prone, like the rest of the cast, to making melodramatic statements (“Maybe I’ll get myself killed and make it simple for you”).EDWARD, ON the other hand, is a stereotype of tall, handsome and mysterious. On the big screen, his character is portrayed by pretty boy Robert Pattinson – according to some ‘Twi-hards,’ a controversial choice.Pattinson’s Edward looks like the most popular guy in high school, only with too much makeup on, and his skin even glitters in the sun. He is a far cry from the vampires of German expressionist cinema, whose characters played on the xenophobia of early 20th century European society to instill dread in the hearts of young maidens.His supernaturally swift moves are accented by usually subpar CGI (rectified in the latest film by use of better editing), and his eyes glow an eerie amber. This may serve to teach teenage girls on the sidelines of society that they will only ever find love with strange, beautiful men whose only imperfection is a heart that doesn’t beat.The Twilight books and movies overuse contrasting motifs like life and death, love and hate, passion and restraint, ice and fire. Good is a vegetarian vampire or a benevolent Native American werewolf; bad is a murderous bloodsucker, and the rest of humanity doesn’t really matter. If there are any shades of gray in Twilight at all, they can be found in its placid protagonist, who seems to be completely driven by her environment and dependence on those around her. What’s really sad is that after reading thousands of pages dealing with the life and love of a high-school girl, a spunky young werewolf and a handsome, tragic vampire, all we are left with is the story of a rather doll-like young woman who is always either looking after men, brooding over them or wishing they would show her some affection – preferably by taking a bite.