Life under lockdown has warped many people's sense of time, but I never felt it as strongly as I did last week. After nearly two months of living with my parents again, facing a recession and losing any semblance of a social life, my regression into teenage years became complete with the news that the final instalment of the Twilight series has a release date. Is it really not 2008 any more?
Yes, Twilight is returning on August 4 with Midnight Sun, a retelling of the events from the perspective of Edward, the sparkly vampire soulmate of protagonist Bella Swann. You may feel that the last thing we need in a post-MeToo world is a detailed account of a centenarian vampire's obsession with a teenage girl. In fact, the idea for Midnight Sun has been around since at least 2008, when its publication was postponed indefinitely after 12 chapters were leaked online. Stephenie Meyer shelved the project, describing the leak as "a huge violation".
Twilight was the series that launched a thousand rip-offs, all featuring supernatural love triangles. But although it seemed to invoke less mania in its fans, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games was just as successful as Twilight, and arguably left a larger cultural footprint behind in the form of the young adult (YA) dystopia boom.
The world of Panem will also return to our shelves in A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes on May 19. A prequel set 64 years before the first book, this standalone instalment will delve into the backstory of a young Coriolanus Snow - the villain of the original series - as he mentors a District 12 girl in the Tenth Hunger Games.
Prequels, sequels, reboots, even 'parallequels' - the return of former teenage cultural juggernauts seems to be everywhere at the moment. Philip Pullman's The Book of Dust trilogy takes place before, during and after the events of His Dark Materials, while there are rumours that Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series will be getting a Disney+ reboot.
Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is a darker take on the 90s sitcom, and there is even a reboot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in development. Maybe this reliance on not-entirely-new material shouldn't be a surprise. Hollywood depends on this model, after all, especially with superhero movies. There's an undeniable comfort to the familiar characters and stories, and that's precisely what a lot of readers are seeking at the moment.
The desire to revisit, however, does seem particularly strong in YA literature, and the vast amount of YA fan-fiction is testament to this. At times, it's a two-way process - YA influences fan-fiction influences YA. Cassandra Clare's City of Bones was itself adapted from Harry Potter fan-fiction, although it's almost unrecognisable as such now. Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl writes fan-fiction about the fictional Simon Snow series, which in turn becomes the setting for two further Rowell novels. Most famously, Fifty Shades began life as Twilight fan-fiction. EL James' companion series told from Christian Grey's perspective was presumably a homage to the then-shelved Midnight Sun; rather ironically, Meyer had just begun to work on the novel again when this announcement hit the headlines in 2015, and once again, she abandoned it.
Critics always loved to pit the Hunger Games against Twilight, usually preferring the prickly yet sympathetic Katniss to the lacklustre Bella. Comparing the two always seemed to end in scrutiny of the fan culture, with the Twilight fans portrayed as more than slightly hysterical.
Now, as before, fan reactions to the new releases are divided. Collins has already drawn criticism from certain corners of the internet, due in no small part to the fact that Coriolanus Snow is a fascist dictator whose myriad crimes include the torture and forced prostitution of several main characters, and the use of children as human shields. Conversely, so-called 'Twi-hards' are finally getting what they always wanted. Twilight is, after all, a chastity fable at its core, and perhaps the fans have learned a thing or two along the way about steadfastness. They have been waiting patiently for Midnight Sun for over a decade now.
Edward Cullen, famously, became a vampire in the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak. The symbolism of 'dying' during one pandemic only to be resurrected in the midst of another is pointed. Old series such as The Hunger Games and Twilight bring back happy memories, which are extremely welcome in the current climate. But let's also appreciate how far we've come. Diversity is a priority in YA novels now, with far more people of colour and LGBTQ characters. I don't think a central woman as spineless as Bella would be written today. And maybe one day we'll stop romanticising abusive behaviour.
Until then, however, I'll just enjoy the top-quality memes about both series. That's definitely an improvement on the last time we had a Twilight book.