Twilight creates a unique backstory regarding Edward Cullen’s death and his transformation into a vampire. All vampires are immortal and must drink blood to survive, but TV series and films often flip the script when it comes to the widely-accepted folklore surrounding these supernatural creatures. Over time, multiple incarnations of vampires such as in The Lost Boys, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and True Blood have left indelible marks on the pop culture landscape, and Twilight was no different, adapting vampire lore for a young adult audience and adding in the elements of teen romance to propel the story’s plot.
When Bella Swan arrives in Forks, Washington, she immediately becomes infatuated with Edward Cullen. He’s handsome, mysterious, and stand-offish at times. Bella learns all of the Cullen siblings aren’t related but are the adopted children of Dr. Carlisle Cullen and his wife, Esme. The Cullens are close and keep to themselves, but Edward becomes increasingly drawn to Bella who begins to notice Edward appears to be more than a typical 17-year-old high school student.
Thanks to a lot of Native American legends and a series of otherwise inexplicable occurrences, Bella confronts Edward who confirms he is a vampire. As the twosome spend more time together, Edward confides in Bella about his family and debunks a lot of the widely-accepted myths about vampires. They are predators, and everything about him is meant to lure unsuspecting prey. But Edward and his family choose to feed on animal blood and live among humans, drawing as little attention to themselves as possible. The fact that the Cullens have chosen to quell their killer instincts isn’t the only thing different about them. Carlisle chooses to turn Edward, Esme, Rosalie, and Emmett when they’re on the brink of death. Alice and Jasper join the family later and are not sired by Carlisle.
Carlisle encounters Edward during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Carlisle is working as a doctor, and he decides to save Edward by turning him. Edward doesn’t die from the flu, but the vampire venom travels through his body via the circulatory system and Edward’s still-beating heart. Carlisle only turns those on the verge of death because as Edward says, “He’d never do this to someone who had another choice.” The venom invades and mutates the body’s cells, a process that takes several days. When it reaches the heart, it causes it to stop beating, and the transformation is complete. Edward tells Bella the venom is “excruciating.” So what ultimately kills Edward is the same venom that ultimately keeps him alive.
In the Twilight universe, a vampire bite doesn’t automatically mean the victim’s fate is sealed. When James bites Bella’s hand, Edward can extract the poison by sucking it out before it spreads through the rest of her body, though fans have questioned how Edward can do this without exposing Bella to his venom.
Through Edward’s story, fans understand the changes that Twilight novelist Stephenie Meyer made the classic vampire lore, and while the “vampire venom” is not the most controversial of her changes, it still explains how Edward died and was able to live as one of the undead.