OK, so seriously, I’m going to stop my Twilight obsessing after this post. Promise! I’ve just finished reading the final book anyway so there’s no more left (although the movie comes out soon….) There’s no doubt that I enjoyed reading them, not for their literary value (I don’t need to add my voice the many denouncing the writing) but because they tapped into something primal and essential for women (Karen Beilharz is interesting on this issue.) But I’ve felt vaguely guilty for that – what is it that makes them so captivating?
Part of it is that there is so much good in Twilight, as I was trying to suggest with the porn vs. classical art analogy. When I was describing Edward to my small group, someone asked if he was like Jesus and, in many ways, he is, loving Bella just as she is, sacrificing himself for her. And there was plenty for me to reflect on in my own life as well. As I read of Bella’s love affair with and marriage to Edward I was reminded of the first heady days of my own relationship with Arthur and got to think about all the things I adore about him. So I wondered, was my earlier assessment of Twilight too harsh?
Karen Beliharz is not that keen on Bella as a character. She considers her selfish, although I have to admit, I think I was identifying with Bella too strongly to feel the same way! But Twilight seduces the reader into a world where selfishness is wholesome. Thus, as Bella comes to love, marriage, sex, motherhood and immortality, she is gently eased into this world by a loving family and, what’s more, finds it completely natural. Being with Edward is life itself, even when he’s frustrating; her in-laws are cool and fun and accepting; sex is always exquisite and ecstatic; her child is a delight at all times.
There is little sense of Bella having to deny herself for the sake of others. Far from putting to death her selfishness, she can indulge in whatever she feels and that will be the right decision for everyone. At one level, this sounds like paradise, a heaven that Jesus will some day bring on earth when our bodies will be perfected, our emotions redeemed, our relationships healed. And yet, Bella’s world of immortality is focused on herself and her family, not on the glory of God and his family.
In essence, the world of Twilight is easier to handle than Jesus’ call on my life, this side of his return. Because the world of Twilight is one where I can bumble along in my sin, being loved anyway, until I am magically changed so that I no longer desire to sin. And one day, it’s true, I will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. Longing for that is a good and right thing. Come Lord Jesus! But this view of the future, that is ours and yet, not yet ours, ought not to lead us to despair, not to despise that which is here. After all, this is not Jesus’ attitude to the world. He is still busy at work by his Spirit, changing, renewing, redeeming. Rather, knowing what is to come ought to lead us to know more of what it is we are waiting for that we should live well now.
This is the element missing from Twilight, the sense of hard work, of self-denial. Where Twilight teaches me to love others because it’s easy or fated or imprinted, Jesus teaches me to love others because he does. We work together, his Spirit sanctifying me, me choosing to live for him. So one day, I will love others because it’s easy. In the meantime, Jesus loves me enough to teach me how to love others as he does – when it’s hard.
Categories: Written by Tamie
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.
hi tammy, great post. indeed i have enjoyed all of your posts about twilight as thought-provoking… getting me to think beyond my reading of the frivolous twilight series. as i have seen them as just that – frivolous escape from the stressful realities of life.
i would say though, that what bella had to give up was her life. she wasn’t entirely selfish – she gave up her mortality, risked her life, lost her human relationships (as what they were).. and so she denied her instinct for a human life – surely a denial of self!? she loved him so much she wanted to be with him, but in doing so, she gave up her (human life)…. much like we do when we follow jesus – we love him so we want to, but we have to die to the sinful desires.
this doesn’t come through in the book, as her love for edward blinds her to the (very real) loss of human life she suffers, but it is certainly there.
oh i spelt your name wrong. sorry – very bad…. i have another ‘tammy’ friend. but i do know you are tamie!!! sorry, so sorry! x
Thanks for the comments. I think you’re right – part of the struggle of the third book is whether she can leave Charlie or not and what that would do to them. And I like your analogy of loving Jesus enough to leave our current lives behind.
But I don’t think I’m convinced that Bella did end up leaving her old life behind. Charlie still comes to visit even after she’s been made immortal so even if she expected to have to give him up, in the end, things work out in her favour.
I guess at end of the books it looks like things are in her favour on the surface, but she can never have the same relationship with her father again – never the ‘flesh and blood’ relationship she once shared with him…. i see what you’re saying though.
I don’t agree that self-denial is absent. IMO, it is a major factor of all the books. The Cullen family, Jasper and Edward especially, are continually struggling with denying their desire to drink human blood. Remember the “think of a diet made up completely of tofu” comment? (You can read Edward’s experience and immense suffering in denial of his blood thirst in the first chapter of Midnight Sun, at the end of the Twilight special edition, or, with a whole lot more chapters, online from a link here: http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/midnightsun.html.)
The only one who seems to come naturally to this is Carlisle, who doesn’t appear to struggle any longer with the burning thirst for human blood. Even he had a major struggle with his thirst initially. I think Carlisle, of all the characters, is the most likely to be seen as a metaphor for God. But given that Meyer is a Mormon, it is easy to see why she focusses on the good works route to salvation (or at least, avoidance of damnation) rather than the idea that our sanctification is really only of worth if and when t it brings glory to God, rather than ourselves. This is a major flaw I see, considering from a Christian perspective, in that Carlisle is deified in the eyes of the other Cullens for his life style choices, but he can give them no direction to something higher than himself.
Having said that though, perhaps you could argue that since Bella didn’t seem to have as much trouble with her thirst as the standard “newborn”, maybe her experience wasn’t quite such a one of self-denial as the others especially Jasper, who had spent decades (centuries?) drinking blood before joining Alice and then the Cullens.
For Bella, the denial of self comes from the immense physical pain that she undergoes throughout her pregnancy, in order that their child might be carried as far as possible to “term”. Surely it would have been far easier, from a physical point of view, to give in to Edward’s insistence that the baby be [aborted?] so that she would not suffer? Bella takes a very unconventional (culturally speaking, not wrt Christian morality) route when she insists that she will risk death and the option of immortality, to birth her baby. Until she wakes as a vampire, there is no guarantee that she will survive through the pregnancy, birth and change. And then she is expecting to face the challenges of being a newborn!
In terms of a distinction between the Cullens (if one was to take them as a metaphor for Christians) and the Volturi (if one was to take them as a metaphor for wilfully rebellious and unrepentant sinners) then the deliberate denial of the natural thirst for human blood is the key defining feature of the Cullen’s “righteousness”.
I also don’t think that selfishness is portrayed as wholesome in the novel. Edward is older, wiser, more self-restrained and cautious and frankly quite selfless in many of his actions (such as his decision to leave Bella so she is no longer in danger). And it is Edward, in all his selfless desire to protect Bella from the possible loss of her soul, who is the ideal that Bella admires; for all of these traits, as well as the usual physical attractions (sweet vampire breath etc). He does admit that he was almost on the point of giving in to his desire for her and returning even before she went over the cliff, but then who among us can claim to be perfectly sinless? I think it is healthy for us to have a role model who is good (even great) but not perfect, otherwise we might come to believe that there actually are perfect people other than Jesus Christ.
I don’t think it matters that things turn out well in the last book. Surely that is the point? I can’t imagine that many people would become followers of Christ without trusting that the “sure hope” that Paul writes about will actually come to pass. Yes, Bella’s moment of glorification occurs while she is still existing on earth, but I don’t see why you cannot consider her existence as an immortal vampire as literarily equivalent, or at least parallel, to God’s gift to Christians of eternal life. Of course it is different for her, she’s a vampire, but then the Twilight saga never claimed to be the Bible, did it? It is different in the same way that CS Lewis’s Narnia series is different.
Oops! Sorry for such a long comment, I got carried away!
Thanks for the comments – sounds like you could write your own post on Twilight!
Yeah, actually I decided to read the series after I read your posts primarily so I could prepare a parents’ guide for the families in our church with kids reading the books. I was thinking we might have a parents and youth movie night closer to when New Moon comes out and show the Twilight movie, then have chats (parents and youth separately) examining the plot lines, themes, characters etc from a Christian perspective. So many parents have no idea what these books are all about yet they provide a great opportunity for analysing how media influences our thoughts and emotions wrt our faith, and an opportunity to explain the gospel clearly.
Thanks for pointing me to Karen’s posts on Twilight, they are very helpful for me in this. I’m in the middle of my first twilight post now.