Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thoughts on Twilight

I apologize for a somewhat 8th-gradish essay, but here are some thoughts on Twilight by Stephanie Meyer:

After being asked by several people if I had read the Twilight series and hearing several interesting reviews, I decided that if I wanted to continue to call myself well-read in today’s juvenile lit, I had better read it. I have read and enjoyed everything from AVI to Rand to Austin to Shakespeare, and I knew if nothing else, I would be entertained. And I was.

Stephanie Meyer’s novels pull the reader into a world where vampires and werewolves are possible and somehow all drawn to the main character, Bella. The plot line is thin, centered almost exclusively around Bella, her thoughts, and her feelings, without digging very deeply into these thoughts and feelings. Considering the audience, though, this is in some ways appropriate. The story accomplishes what it sets out to do: stretches the reader’s imagination and gives the reader an almost undeniable impulse to read on in the story.

Other than their readability for teens, what most interests me is the values that these novels imply, and that those values are not disguised in any way. A 15 or 16-year old reading these novels would have no problems picking out the relatively conservative principles.

The first of those values is the most important and the largest theme throughout the novels. It is the fact that Bella understands that love is not about being safe and comfortable. Love is about risk and sacrifice. I don’t know if Stephanie Meyer was aiming for this at all, but it is there—Biblical and counter-cultural though it is. Several years ago I heard a leader of a missions organization speaking about a shameful mistake that the American church continues to make: we teach our children that the church is a safe and comfortable place. This leader spoke out against this by saying that our children will either look elsewhere for excitement and adventure or they will stay in the church and shrivel up and die. Loving Jesus is risky, and Jesus himself defined love as laying down one’s life for one’s friends. In the Twilight series, Meyer’s Bella is agreeing with this. She figures out very early that loving Edward is going to ultimately mean her death, and love is worth that for her.

Throughout the series other value issues arise as well. Sex and abortion are both dealt with in somewhat surprising ways. Edward insists on marriage before sex, and though this is mostly treated as an antique and outdated view, it is also mentioned as virtue before God. After Edward and Bella are married, Bella becomes pregnant with a child who will ultimately take her life. She insists on carrying this child to term anyway. She feels a bond with this child and even realizes after the child is born that there was pre-natal communication. Meyer definitely weaves the value of the unborn into her fiction.

Another idea carried through all of these novels is that of calling or gift. Most of the vampires carry a special power that was theirs when they were human as well. The idea is that most humans have special gifts without realizing them. Bella’s gift of protecting others was shown before becoming a vampire and was enhanced afterwards. Teens today need to know that they have gifts and that those gifts should be used for the good of God’s kingdom.

In Waking the Dead, John Eldredge uses fiction to teach three overarching life principles: there is more to life than what we see; there is a big battle or quest; and we have a part to play in that battle or quest. In Meyer’s Twilight series all of these principles are present. She adds to them the culturally conservative ideas of saving sex until marriage and valuing the lives of the unborn. She speaks of individual’s gifts and our calling to use them for the good of others (or the Kingdom). And Meyer allows her Bella to understand love in a way that possibly many church leaders do not: it is about risk and sacrifice. So all in all, this series is worth the read. If your teens are reading it, it is worth some deeper discussion. And by all means, be entertained as well!


Jonathan and Audra Payne said...

Great essay! You have my curiosity piqued, but I still don't think I can read the books - vampires creep me out!!!! :) I feel a little more in touch with the culture now though. At least I know who Edward and Bella are. ;) Glad you enjoyed it!

The Oster Five said...

Audra, these are definitely not creepy vampires. They are probably a disgrace to the vampire name. I think you'd probably like the books--it's definitely an escape from reality for a while. Our realities are great, don't get me wrong, but it's always nice to escape once in a while.

Cindy said...

I read the first book because my niece was into them and my mother was very concerned. I was pleasantly surprised. It has been fun to discuss them with moms of teenagers and to encourage them to bring out some of those values. I so appreciate your take. I totally agree.

The Oster Five said...

Thanks, Cindy!