Stephenie Meyer was truly on her bullshit when she wrote the Twilight saga, and over a decade later, we are still asking ourselves why we let her get away with it. However you feel about her work, there is no denying the cultural shift that happened when a vampire became a disco ball instead of a pile of ashes when they stepped into the sun. Meyers’… interesting… take on the undead has remained in the public imagination since the first book’s release in 2005, and people are still searching for the why and the how of Meyers’ universe more than 15 years later. The movies did literally nothing to tighten or clarify the books’ logic, but we got Shirtless Taylor Lautner for the duration, and if nothing else that was worth it. There are many questions one might be left with at the end of their Twilight journey, but perhaps the most pressing and what we’ll be discussing here is Renesmee and Jacob: How that work?
Breaking Dawn is the final book in the Twilight quadrilogy, closing out the “romantic” love story between Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. After years of Bella thirsting for Edward’s marblesque manhood, they consummate their wedding, resulting in a pregnancy. Vampires in this universe have only one bodily fluid, venom, which is basically vampire blood, pheromones, and a toxin that will cause immense pain that immobilizes prey, who turn into vampires themselves if they aren’t killed. It is also apparently… able to fertilize a human embryo. Bella has to stay human throughout the accelerated pregnancy, which is straight up not a good time. Meanwhile, Jacob Black, the wolf shapeshifter—not to be confused with Children of the Moon who are actual werewolves—feels an inexplicable pull towards Bella.
In the Breaking Dawn book (and its two-film adaptation), Bella Cullen gives birth to a human-vampire hybrid she names Renesmee, because Albus Severus was unavailable. The delivery literally kills her but Edward is able to give her several injections of venom (by biting her all over) which allows her to transform into a forest frolicking vampire over several painful days. Jake, who was going to kill the apparent demon spawn for killing Bella, took one look at his prey and IMPRINTED ON HER. In Twilight, the fictional Quileute wolves imprint on the person they are supposed to be with forever. According to Sam Uley, this ensures they end up with the best match to propagate the pack or whatever. Somehow, despite the species differential, Jacob imprints on newborn Renesmee and he has no choice but to Stan.
When the Vulturi learn about Renesmee they assemble a squad of vampires to “witness” the abomination live and in color. The Cullens assemble a ragtag band of their own to prove that Nessie—Jake’s unfortunate nickname for the unfortunately named Renesmee—is actually a living, growing human-adjacent girl. Jake protects his charge throughout her entire babyhood which is only like months, and when the Vulturi come to kill an immortal child—a child turned into a vampire at an age too young to control their behavior or conceal themselves— they find a whole entire aged-up child instead. Before they decide to just kill her anyway for being an unknown quantity, Alice brings forth Nahuel who is also a hybrid. He tells the assembled vampires that he was born to a human mother and can subsist on human food as well as blood and that he aged hella fast but stopped aging at adulthood. He was proof that Renesmee would grow up and settle into permanent young adulthood.
Now… to the question at hand. The imprint bond is explained by Jacob thusly: “It’s not like love at first sight, really. It’s more like… gravity moves… suddenly. It’s not the earth holding you here anymore, she does… You become whatever she needs you to be, whether that’s a protector, or a lover, or a friend.” This doesn’t necessarily require romantic connection even though the rest of the text absolutely alludes to that inevitability. Jacob is just going to watch his future partner grow up and then when she’s old enough they’re going to date. “But he’s not a vampire, he’s going to die!” You say.
Well. The Quileutes are effectively immortal. When they phase into a wolf for the first time, they stop aging. There are plenty-a-plot-holes here BUT if Jacob maintains a regularly scheduled shape shift, he can essentially stay young forever. This is a good thing because Renesmee will be Jacob’s age physically in a mere few years. Jacob being frozen in time at least let’s Renesmee catch up, and when it becomes romantic in a few decades (hopefully) they’ll both be emotionally mature and physically young together forever. Jacob imprinting on Renesmee may be the most problematic choice Meyer made in the entire series because it has so many bad implications, like grooming and taking away agency. It is also, I imagine, one of the trickier things to translate into a visual medium.
When asked how he found the line between Jacob being caring and creepy, Taylor Lautner said in a 2012 press conference for Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (via Collider): “Yeah, it’s a fine line and I was worried about it. We were very lucky to have Stephenie Meyer, the author, on set with us for these last two movies, and I definitely had quite a few conversations with her. There was nobody better to ask about it than her, and she basically told me, ‘Stop over-complicating it. Think here and now. That’s all you really have to focus on. It’s simple.’ She said that it’s a lifelong bond between two people, and that’s it. At this point, it’s more of a brother-sister protective thing. That’s really all it is. I couldn’t allow myself to think ahead and go beyond that, so that’s the zone I had to stay in. Bill [Condon], our director, did a tremendous job with it because it is delicate. I think the fans are going to be happy with it.”
Lautner did the best with what he was given, but the source material left very little room to improve upon this… awkward relationship dynamic. At least there are in-universe rules that allow for a more appropriate relationship to form between Jacob and Renesmee over the course of many, many, many years. Whatever happens with Nessie and Jake in the future, shippers can sleep well knowing that Renesmee will never be alone, as long as she wants to keep Jacob around.