Mar 9, 2010

Twilight... Some Thoughts

Some thoughts on Twilight…

Bella Swan ( played well by Kristin Stewart) moves from sun-drenched Phoenix, Arizona to perpetually drizzly Forks, Washington to live with her father, where she encounters the intensely striking but initially boorish Edward Cullen, a somewhat pasty taller version of Jason Priestly (remember Beverly Hills 90210? No? oh…). Edward is drop-dead gorgeous, wears designer clothes and drives a Volvo S60R (I had to look that up – I’m no petrol-head). After being saved by a display of superhuman strength by Edward, Bella learns that he is a vampire, but he and his ‘family’ are vegans – i.e. they take blood not from humans but from animals (and not just any animals – only those that are over-populated; humanitarian and eco-friendly…). They fall head over heels in chaste love. She meets the family, bad vampires turn up, one of whom stalks her, which leads to a difficult time for our star-crossed lovers…

The enduring popularity of vampires -- from Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel Dracula. to 1994’s controversial Interview with a Vampire with Cruise and Pitt, from HBO’s graphic TV series starring our own Anna Paquin, to Buffy and Blade, and Hammer Horror and Anne Rice, and countless other expressions -- has been attributed to two key factors: the representation of sexuality and the perennial dread of mortality. (1)

Author Stephenie Meyer takes a different approach to sexuality than the sordid approach often associated with the vampire theme. Meyer’s devout Mormonism is reflected in the film’s attitude to sex, which has our couple maintaining carnal abstinence. One reviewer says that this allows young girls “to splash around in a pool of obsessive love without having to swim in the turbulent waters of scary teenage sex.”(2) This is a pleasant change from Hollywood’s usual laissez-faire treatment of issues of teen sexuality. Edward’s efforts at self-control are admirable in a postmodern world that says ‘if it feels good, do it.’ Edward’s ‘family’ also attempt to fight their  inner struggles and powerful urges, choosing rather to live lives that help, rather than use, humans.

I decided to read the first book in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga about a year ago. It’s not a boy book. Man, was I bored. Nothing happened. Edward looks gloweringly at Bella, Bella’s heart palpitated a lot when his finger brushed her skin, they pledge undying love, teen angst, etc. etc. And the main bit of action at the novel’s conclusion we don’t even get to experience because Bella – who’s narrating the story! – is unconscious! Here I was expecting a big climactic fight, and my commentator is out for the count!

Okay – I’m a 38 year old male, not a teenage girl, which may have something to do with it. And I think that’s significant – the novels are written with teenage females in mind, and lack the broader appeal of the Harry Potter books, which were read by young and old, male and female alike.

But before I dismiss all the hysteria as including only a horde of hormonal teen girls, I also found out that one of the most active and popular fan sites is Mums who love Twilight.  I went to a John Rowles concert recently, and there were women fawning over the iconic singer, but at least they were the same age. I mean, imagine if you had a bunch of Dads screaming over a group of 17 year old girls – they’d either be arrested or beaten up. Can you imagine Billy Ray would have a fit. Sad; so sad…
Anyhooo… as tedious as I found the book, the written page gives more scope for the relationship to develop and allows the minds eye to be utilized to envisage some fantastical images. For example, when Edward shows Bella why vampires can’t go in the sunlight in the novel, the imagination is employed to startling effect; on film, it comes across kind of lame. “Oh, is that it… Sparkly.”

Some parts of the film are likewise unconvincing. I’m not sure why the movie Bella suddenly falls for Edward and trusts him so much. Perhaps this was an issue stemming from condensing 460 odd pages into a couple of hours viewing time, but it just didn’t ring true. By the time Bella eventually declares that she’s “unconditionally, irrevocably in love” with Edward, I’m still not sure why she feels as powerfully as she does. You trust him with your life when he says he’s not sure if he can control himself around you? Why? You don’t know him. I found it rather unconvincing…

Strangely enough, the presence of vampires and wolves wasn’t the major concern for me in considering the appropriateness of the book/film. Not that I’m Vampire Goth or horror fan; it’s just that I agree with Wendy Lee Nentwig that the biggest issue I have with this series is the one that probably seems the most innocuous on the surface: the love story. (3)

Allow me to explain:  The idea of Romanticism grew extremely popular through the efforts of the Romantic poets of the eighteenth century When I did my BA in English Lit, one of the papers I did was a 2nd year paper entitled “Romantic Poetry and Prose.” I thought it was about writing love poems. It actually looked at the poetry of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats, as well as the writings of guys in floppy shirts like Shelley and Byron. These guys argued with great passion that it was a travesty, a crime, to marry for any reason other than “love,” by which they meant intense feeling and grand emotion.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Katherine Anne Porter lamented the surreptitious creeping of romance into marriage over the centuries, “bringing its absurd notions about love as eternal springtime and marriage as a personal adventure meant to provide personal happiness,” and rather declared that the reality of our humanity means that we must “salvage our fragments of happiness” out of life’s unavoidable sufferings (4)

“What?!” I hear you cry. “Are you trying to say that romance is bad?!” Not at all. Buy flowers. Go out for dinner. Speak often of your love for one another. Romance and feelings are important – it’s just that they are not everything. Consider: when I no longer feel as intensely passionate about my wife now as I did in the heady days of our courtship, can I leave? Or is a more muscular and mature form of love called for?

Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage To Make Us Holy More Than To Make Us Happy?, writes (and I wholeheartedly agree), “Romantic love has no elasticity to it. It can never be stretched; it simply shatters. Mature love, the kind demanded of a good marriage, must stretch, as the sinful human condition is such that all of us bear conflicting emotions… This is the reality of the human heart, the inevitability of two sinful people pledging to live together, with all their faults, for the rest of their lives.” (5)

And that’s a concern of mine with the books and movies. Edward is too good to believe. He has those old-fashioned values (he was, after all, born in 1901). He shows Herculean physical restraint around Bella. He is powerful and can protect her always. He runs as fast as the Flash and is as strong as the Hulk. He’s always there – even while she’s sleeping. He drives a $100, 000 car (way too fast) and appears to have almost limitless disposable income. The slightest touch from him sends her heart into overdrive, and her scent drives him crazy. What real man can compete with that? I love my darling wife, but she doesn’t give off this natural perfume that sends me into heady spins of delight in her presence... (but please; just keep that between us).

When the Harry Potter phenomenon was in full swing, I remember reading an article in which author J. K. Rowling suggested a reason for the popularity of the young bespectacled sorcerer. Rowling believed the main reason for the success of her stories was that people were having their desires to be special met through empathising with Harry Potter, particularly young children. Using Harry’s orphan status as an example she told CBS, “It’s a very common fantasy with children: “These boring people cannot be my parents. They just can’t be. I’m so much more special than that.”

Rowling continues: “Nearly everyone I knew went through that…Not only are you leaving this boring existence, but you really are special. You’re not only magical, but you’re famous as well.” (6)

Harry Potter – orphaned, nerdish, unwanted by his uncaring muggle uncle and aunt, harassed by his spoiled cousin (bullied by a kid named Dudley, no less!), forced to live in the cupboard under the stairs… life sucked for Harry. Until he found out this whole other world, in which he was rich, famous… special. “Everyone thinks I'm special,” utters a humbled Harry. (7) And so off he goes to Hogwarts school, where he makes new friends and has lots of adventures…

Think about it… Shy Bella Swan moves to a new town. She drives to school in her 1953 Chevy pick up hunk-of-junk truck (shaaaaame!), makes friends and boys compete for her attention. Then in walks dreeeeamy Edward Cullen… he can read minds (but not Bella’s – because she’s special) and the scent of her – no other girl’s, just Bella -- drives him crazy (because she’s special). She frustrates him, but he just can’t get enough of her; and as for Bella, Edward has this citrus scent and mellifluous voice that are incredibly seductive to her… wow; like, eternal attraction… coooool…

I just wonder – what happens when a teenage fan walks out of the darkened theatre or places her bookmark neatly between the pages, and wanders back into reality? No man can be Edward. Only Jesus is perfect (that’s not excusing poor behaviour on our part as men – just acknowledging the false and unreachable standard of trying to measure up the literary creation of Edward Cullen).  I would hate to see the false notions of romance set people up for disappointment, and fuel the thinking that such feelings are normal if one is truly in love, and that such emotions remain at the same level of intensity for the duration of a marriage. Nentwig says,

[Edward is] more than a boyfriend and even more than a vampire, he’s her own personal god. Edward is the one she goes to for help, advice, protection and love. With Edward in her life, Bella’s parents are completely superfluous. She only hangs around because her scatterbrained mom and absent-but-loveable dad need her so much. It’s dysfunction with a capital “D”. (8)

I think Twilight taps into the secret longing of lovesick teenage females – to be special and adored. I believe too often that we’re born into this world asking the question, “Am I valuable? Am I worth being loved?”, and sadly, too often the answer is in the negative: “No. You are not. You are not beautiful enough, sexy enough, clever enough, popular enough. You wear the wrong clothes. You buy the wrong shoes. You drive the wrong car. No boy will ever love you.”

However, because of Christ’s love, we now regard no one from a worldly point of view (2 Cor 5:16). The world may reject us and find us laughable, but God says that we are of infinite worth:

It was the glory of Christianity that it made people who were things into real men and women, nay more, into sons and daughters of God; it gave those who had no respect their self-respect; it gave those who had no life life eternal; it told men that even if they did not matter to men they still mattered intensely to God. It told men who, in the eyes of the world, were worthless, that, in the eyes of God, they were worth the death of God’s only Son. Christianity was, and still is, literally the most uplifting thing in the whole universe. (9)

Bella seems to look to Edward to be her all in all; we cannot make the same mistake. No human being can fulfill us – it is God alone in whom we find security and contentment, ultimate acceptance and unfailing love, and through whom alone eternal life is found.

There is much in popular culture that is seductive to the child of God attempting to walk the narrow path. A lot of emphasis is placed on wizards and vampires, but there are other subtle thing around that we allow to erode our values on a day to day basis – music, TV, peer pressure, cutting corners, rationalizing our sin bit by bit. We must all give more thought to the things we allow for our own entertainment. Food for thought, anyway…

Oh, one other thing I did find odd though… Edward Cullen was actually born on June 20, 1901 (I didn’t notice this detail in the movie; only in the book). He was transformed into a vampire by his adoptive father Carlisle Cullen in 1918 in order to save him from the deadly Spanish flu, confining him eternally in a seventeen-year-old body (poor sod).

But here’s the thing…Edward’s not seventeen-years-old. In 2005 (when the first novel was released), he would have had his 104th birthday. Bella is seventeen.

Now, as a guy you may look seventeen, but mentally and emotionally you’re an undying centenarian, over a hundred-years-old – and you’re hitting on a teenager? Maybe I don’t understand the dynamics of human-vampire immortal relations, but that strikes me as kind of creepy… but maybe that’s just me.

Ps Simon Moetra


(1) Wayne Bartlett and Flavia Idriceanu, Legends of Blood: The Vampire in History and Myth (London: NPI Media Group, 2005), 46.

(2) Will Lawrence, “Review: Twilight”, Empire online; available online at:

(3) Wendy Lee Nentwig, “Taking on Twilight,”; available online at: [accessed 5 Feb 2010].

(4) Katherine Anne Porter, “The Necessary Enemy”, in John Gross (ed.) The Oxford Book of Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 437.

(5) Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 15-16.

(6) Mark Phillips, “Tough Times Ahead for Harry Potter,” CBS News, July 8, 2000.

(7) J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (London: Bloomsbury, 1997), 66.

(8) Wendy Lee Nentwig, “Taking on Twilight,”; available online at: [accessed 5 Feb 2010].

(9) William Barclay, Letters to Corinthians (DSB: Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 2nd ed. 1956), 24.


Anonymous said...

Hey this is a great article Clive. Sophie and I enjoyed reading it. Who wrote it?

Clive Smit said...

That was Ps Simon...
(Couldn't you tell : )

Glad you enjoyed reading it.