COLUMBIA — The story is timeless. Sort of.
The players: klutzy heroine Bella Swan, who upon moving to a dreary town far from home falls for the mysterious Edward Cullen, a boy with otherworldly good looks who broods more than most.
A few things set this narrative apart from the classic "girl falls hard for bad boy" scenario. The boy is not a boy at all — he’s been 17 for about 100 years now. Oh, and the bad boy thirsts for Bella’s blood. It's the basis for the best-selling "Twilight" series by Stephenie Meyer.
Their turbulent relationship plays out over four novels that have spawned something of a craze. With "Breaking Dawn," the last installment released in August, and the first "Twilight" film, which grossed $35.7 million on opening day Nov. 21, pop culture is feeling the bite of a new attraction.
So, what is it about these vampire books?
“They have everything in them,” said Ellen Thieme, 14. “Romance, horror and humor.” Thieme participated in a “Twilight” book discussion for teens at the Columbia Public Library in November; registration took place ahead of time, and 10 spots were added to the original 20 because of high interest.
But the teens weren’t the only ones interested in discussing their favorite series.
“We had a lot of adults want to sign up for the program,” said Hilary Aid, a library associate. According to Aid, so many adults were interested that the library will be hosting a "Twilight" series party in the spring. Parties with discussions and crafts will take place in the Columbia, Ashland and Fulton branches of Daniel Boone Regional Library. They will be open to adults and teens.
“A lot of people like the romance, the vampires,” Aid, 30, said. “I liked the book because it was a book about an average teenage girl going through regular teenage problems.”
The supernatural element that has some people scratching their heads as to why legions of women, girls and men (those who are willing to admit it) are so enthralled with a vampire romance could also be because these vampires seem, well, human.
“(The books) seem real,” said Jami Dement, 21, a self-described mellow fan. “But it’s still an escape.”
Dement said the books serve to fill a “Harry Potter void.” This idea is reflected on Amazon.com, where the top five best-sellers are J.K. Rowling’s newly released “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” and the four “Twilight” books — “Twilight,” “New Moon,” “Eclipse” and “Breaking Dawn”.
Dement said her 25-year-old sister introduced her to the “Twilight” series over the summer, and in a matter of weeks, she finished the first three books — each about 500 pages. As with "Potter," "Twilight” readers aren’t just sinking their teeth into the books, they’re devouring them.
When “Breaking Dawn” was released Aug. 2, Dement and Thieme both attended midnight release parties at separate Barnes and Noble bookstores. Ryan McNeil was working at Barnes and Noble in the Columbia Mall that night.
“People really got into it,” McNeil said. “People started coming in in costume.” With trivia, a scavenger hunt and a countdown to midnight, the store was packed. McNeil said when he made the “15 minutes to midnight” announcement, he was “glad to be behind the counter.”
The film, starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, was received with equal levels of enthusiasm, despite mixed reviews.
“I have seen the movie three times in theaters,” Dement said. “Most people I know have seen it twice.” She thinks that with the film "Twilight" “isn’t just for girls anymore.”
Like Dement, Steve Boeckmann attended the midnight release of the movie in Columbia among a large crowd that was decidedly female.
“We were there an hour early,” said Boeckmann, who found that despite some less than Oscar-worthy acting, the film was not bad overall. “They’re suspenseful,” said Boeckman of the series. “I’ve read weirder books.”
For Dement, the success of the movie had a lot to do with the fact that director Catherine Hardwicke stayed true to the book and didn’t disappoint readers. “I think that it was a great portrayal of the book,” Dement said.
If the appeal of the phenomenon is still unclear, the consensus seems to be: See for yourself.
“I always try to convince people to read (the books),” Thieme said. “I talk to them about it until they get curious.”
“I’m converting people,” Dement said. “My mom is reading them.”