The Twilight universe has its own mythology and added some new attributes to creatures that already have their own unique characteristics. Among those is the concept of “imprinting,” which only happens to werewolves, but like many other elements in Twilight, it became very confusing when Jacob Black imprinted on Renesmee Cullen when she was a baby – so how does imprinting really work? Back in 2005, Stephenie Meyer shared her vision of vampires and werewolves in the novel Twilight, the first entry in a series of four books following the romance between vampire Edward Cullen and mortal Bella Swan, who came across different types of obstacles – from a group of vampires known as the Volturi to a pack of werewolves, among those Bella’s best friend, Jacob Black.
Bella and Edward’s relationship soon became a love triangle thanks to Jacob, who had feelings for Bella and was pretty sure she was the one he would imprint on, meaning she would be his companion for life. In the third book of the Twilight saga, Eclipse, Bella revealed to Jacob that she loved him but not more than she loved Edward, and thus couldn’t be with him. However, that wasn’t a reason for Jacob to stay away from Bella, and he continued to look after her (in his own way, of course) until she was turned into a vampire in the final book, Breaking Dawn. Bella finally became a vampire after giving birth to her and Edward’s daughter, Renesmee, a vampire/human hybrid who to everyone’s surprise, was actually the one Jacob was meant to imprint on, even though she was still a baby.
Imprinting is an involuntary mechanism through which shape-shifters of the Quileute tribe find their soulmates, and as such, it can’t be forced on anyone, as it’s a profound and intimate phenomenon. This is why as hard as Jacob tried to imprint on Bella, he just couldn’t do it, leading to a lot of frustration and tension between them and making the love triangle more complicated. A werewolf can imprint anytime during their life, regardless of previous personal feelings, and there are four stages to it. First, if the imprintee is young, the werewolf will act as an older sibling; second, as the imprintee grows older, the werewolf will become a best friend; during the third stage, their feelings change into romantic ones, with the imprinter falling in love and putting the imprintee above everything and everyone else; and the fourth and final stage is when the werewolf’s feelings grow into romantic love.
In Breaking Dawn, Jacob was convinced Bella died during birth and Renesmee was to blame, and was determined to kill this “monster” – but the moment he looked at baby Renesmee, he realized he had imprinted on her. He later explained to Bella that he was never actually attracted to her but to Renesmee, as she was inside of her (as creepy as that sounds). Imprinting is described as being “gravitationally pulled” toward the imprintee while “a glowing heat fills” the imprinter, and everything and everyone else becomes secondary, leaving the imprinter with a need to protect and please his soulmate at all costs. By imprinting on Renesmee, Jacob’s werewolves can’t harm her, and following the above-mentioned stages of imprinting, Jacob would first act as an older brother to Renesmee until she grew up – which wasn’t going to take long given her hybrid nature, which makes her age more quickly. Of course, if Renesmee wanted to, she could reject Jacob, though that’s supposedly virtually impossible as the imprinter is deemed the “perfect match” to the imprintee, but if it was to happen, the imprinter would supposedly feel unspeakable pain that could lead him to end his life.
As for why imprinting happens, the reason was never revealed but members of the pack have their theories on this matter. Sam Uley, for example, believes that a shape-shifter imprints on the person he has the best chance to reproduce (though in Jacob’s case that seems highly unlikely), while Billy Black, Jacob’s father, thinks imprinting happens to make the shape-shifter stronger. Even with all the rules/stages established by Meyer, Jacob imprinting on newborn Renesmee has a “creepy factor” that has been criticized since Breaking Dawn was published (and continued when the movie was released), and doesn’t make it “romantic” at all. Imprinting could have been an interesting concept in Twilight had it been addressed differently, including Jacob not imprinting on a newborn human/vampire with an even weirder explanation on why he thought he was going to imprint on Bella.