Thursday, July 1, 2010

My Issues With Twilight

"In the end everything will be all right, nothing can harm you permanently; no loss is lasting, no defeat more than transitory, no disappointment is conclusive.  Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement and death will be part of your journey, but the kingdom of God will conquer all of these horrors.  No evil can resist grace forever." - Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

I've read the entire Twilight series, and seen every movie that has come out so far.  While Stephenie Meyer is not a terrific author, and the movies don't meet my high standard of quality in filmmaking, I have been reasonably entertained.  The storyline is fascinating and very creative (witness all the people trying to copy it - from True Blood to The Gates).

Down through history, many stories have featured romantic love and obsession, and the books allude to stories such as Romeo and Juliet and Wuthering Heights to (not-so-subtly) flesh out the relationships in Twilight.  Just as in works by Shakespeare and Bronte, these characters are consumed with themselves and with each other.  Twilight's prose is of a lesser quality, but the themes are not new.

However, as a wife and a mother, I have some deeper issues with the series and its characters.

Bella is a whiny, bratty, self-absorbed girl, and I don't want my daughter to be anything like her.  She is described as plain, klutzy, very ordinary.  That's fine.  Every teenage girl feels this way, whether she admits it or not.  However, Bella somehow manages to attract a beautiful, "perfect" specimen and his every desire is directed toward her.  As a former teenager, I can tell you that this is a recipe for disaster.  She is now desired for her scent, her blood, and sex.  He wants her body and soul, and she is all too willing to give it all up for him.

This flies in the face of the wisdom taught to us in Proverbs - the desire of particular types of people (and to be desired BY them) invites destruction.  The opposite of wisdom is death.  Bella comes to see death as a desirable outlet, and living without her boyfriend is impossible.  Wow.  I am teaching my daughter to be obsessed with Jesus, and her mind, soul and strength belong to him.  While she may marry someday, her first love is Jesus.  God's blessings will be given to her through her husband.  Her husband should not be the center of her existence.

He is so beautiful and perfect that mere mortals cannot compete.  All of the vampires are portrayed as having "remarkable good looks," and they have the money and clothes to complete the whole package. Bella longs to be accepted by them, no matter the danger or the cost to her family.  In the first movie, Edward even tells Bella, "I'm the world's most dangerous predator.  Everything about me invites you in.  My voice, my face, even my smell.  As if I would need any of that.  As if you could outrun me.  As if you could fight me off.  I'm designed to kill." 

At multiple points in the book, Bella feels pain and anguish over the absence of Edward.  Beyond the warped desire to be with a boy who wants to hurt her, this screams of female lust to me.  At the risk of seeming stereotypical, there are different kinds of lust for men and women.  Men look at women and desire, and women want to be looked at and desired.  There is the sin of lust for both men and women, and the danger of destruction in both the desiring and the being desired.

Edward is set up in the books as a savior for Bella, the person who can deliver her from her normalcy, the mundane aspect of her life.   I don't want my daughter to think it's okay to be fascinated with a boy to the extent of her own destruction, especially a "bad boy," a dangerous person.  An obsession with Edward (or Jacob, for that matter) feeds into the idea that a woman needs danger and fear in a relationship.  No!  I want my daughter to yearn for a godly, upright man, who loves Jesus more than he loves her.  With those priorities in order, she will live a blessed life.  God will be her constant, her steadfast companion.  "For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you." - Isaiah 54:10

The biggest challenge I have is with the idea of "imprinting."  Jacob and his wolf brothers can become imprinted on a person, instantly experiencing love at first sight, and a deep connection to that person as a soul mate.  The last thing Elisa needs is to feel like she has no choice in the matter when a boy falls in love with her, or when she falls in love with him.  Young love will come and go.  True love is a choice, a decision that mature people make every day.  Love is work, not hormones or instincts.

Every decision Bella makes leads her deeper into danger.  We need to realize the consequences of our actions and our choices, and question where our steps are leading us.  There is not much in the way of redemption in Twilight, beyond the good "works" and choices made by the Cullen family to help humanity instead of kill people.  There is a great deal of struggle over whether the vampires are damned because they have been transformed into vampires.  Vampire legends are rooted in the idea that vampires sold their souls to the devil in exchange for eternal life.  Twilight vampires do not have the same choice (although Bella seems to choose vampirism even with the chance that her soul could be eternally lost). 

I almost wondered at the idea of works salvation - how the Cullens seem to be trying by their actions alone to be "good."  Their fate was chosen for them, so they did everything they could to fight their nature and do good works/deeds.  Bella even says, "you couldn't be damned" because she sees Edward (his actions) as good.  People/vampires/wolves seem to be relying on good works instead of relying and trusting in the goodness of God.  The topic or personhood of God is not introduced into Twilight saga at all, beyond the concept of damnation.  No vampires, wolves or humans are introduced to God or his offer of eternal life.

Yes, but only with me reading along with her to discuss themes and choices made by the characters.  I want my children to know that I'm not able to be shaken by what interests them, and we can talk about anything.  I don't want to be the "cool mom" that lets them participate in all aspects of the world.  However, I want them to see me seek after God while in the culture, either contributing to it or battling it, and finding true joy by seeing Christ in my fellow man and maybe even in the culture around me.  I don't believe that ignoring Twilight or any other aspect of culture is the way to do that.  My mom caught flak for my obsession over Michael Jackson in fourth grade, but she knew that withholding and restricting me from all things Michael would only feed my desire and create a stronger devotion.  My parents helped me balance my interest in "Thriller" with more wholesome pursuits and helped me develop into a person who could - not always successfully - navigate my teen years IN the world but not OF it.

I would also allow her to watch the movies, with me, and with my finger firmly on the pause button.  I do this with most movies.  I don't want my children to absorb things without questioning the legitimacy of the worldviews and statements put forth in movies and TV shows.

I am aware that evil comes in many disguises and is made to look alluring and fascinating to appeal to our senses.  Like Twilight, like many things in our culture.  Many times songs and images have become embedded in my mind and I realize that I need God's divine help to remove them from my soul.  I know that Twilight has become just such an obsession for many people.  I'm not ready to call Twilight evil, but I am recognizing its dangers and drawbacks.  Twilight is deeply in the American culture, and we need to find ways to discuss it and transform its followers into devotees of the true God, grateful recipients of the real sacrificial love of Jesus.

Interesting article for teens and how to talk about Twilight at


RR said...

Jamie, I appreciate your in depth review and am thankful that someone will actually take the time to read the books before making comments on them. I have read them as well and although like you there are points in the book that I take issue with, I think it is very important to discuss these with our children and other students we might come in contact with. If they read in isolation and don't have anyone to dialogue with - they are left with only their own interpretations and are not challenged to think through what they have just read. Thanks for being such an involved parent!!

Jamie Hatfield said...

Thanks Ruthann! I know I may be a little too "middle of the road" for most people who either love or hate the series. My daughter is 9 now, and a few of her friends are really into it. I don't want her to just accept everything without seeing things through the lens of her faith. Thanks for your encouraging words!