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July 31, 2008

’Twilight’: The old bait-and-switch

Twilight_poster I've mentioned briefly, here and also here, that I'm working on a freelance article about Stephenie Meyer's hugely popular Twilight series, the fourth book of which comes out at midnight on Saturday. Reading the first three of Meyer's vampire romances (soon to be made into movies), I found a lot to be concerned about. Which is why I was a little nonplussed by this Newsweek article that Catherine recently found about mothers and daughters enjoying the books together:

The young adult series by Stephenie Meyer chronicles the seductive relationship between mousy Bella Swan and dangerously dashing Edward Cullen, who just happens to be a vampire. But Meyer's books have proved seductive in another way, and we don't mean as publishing's 7.5 million-copy selling Next Big Thing. The "Twilight" books—[including] "Breaking Dawn," the fourth and final volume in the series, which is due out on Aug. 2—have also turned into a remarkable mother-daughter bonding exercise.

One reason for that is the way they deal with sexual issues. Meyer, who is Mormon, has said that she doesn't want Bella and Edward to have sex before marriage. For most romance novels, the "no sex, please," notion would be blasphemous. But Meyer's fans have embraced it like a couple of teenagers just cuddling on the couch. Many mothers say they've used the books as a way to begin that awkward birds-and-bees talk with their teenage daughters. "I can discuss sex without being preachy because, well, we're just talking about Twilight," says Mary Ann Hill, mother to Tara, 13. "It's non-threatening and I see the book as extra support for what I want to teach anyway."

Okay, great. But what about "dashing" Edward's manipulative and controlling side? What about Bella's alarming lack of self-worth, her near-worship of her boyfriend as "perfect" and "godlike," and her self-destructive habits whenever he's away from her -- not to mention the way she constantly deceives her parents about him (for instance, having him stay in her room every night without her father's knowledge)? What about her desire to become a vampire like him, despite knowing that the process will involve days of torture, take away her humanity, and stop her heart, and that afterward she might not be able to control her thirst for human blood? (And what about the fact that millions of teenage girls are now eagerly hoping that she makes that very choice?)

What about quotes like "I wanted his venom to poison my system. It would make me belong to him in a tangible, quantifiable way"? Not ringing any alarm bells?

I'm not trying to be a killjoy. I know most girls adore a good love story, and most moms love to see their daughters enjoying a fun book. But parents who aren't yet familiar with these books, or who have overlooked certain elements in them, need to be aware of this: The "pro-abstinence" message is only the tip of the iceberg here. Underneath it are some dark and ugly ideas about men, women, and relationships, not to mention the value of human life. Parents that are gravitating to the books because they're clean are essentially getting the old bait-and-switch; they're not getting premarital sex, but they're getting a lot of other stuff -- stuff that can be every bit as dangerous -- that they hadn't bargained for.

I think the LiveJournal blogger Cleolinda put it best (profanity alert):

"I know that parents seem to dig these books because of the abstinence message . . . but... does the teen death theme not bother them at all?"

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Comments

LeeQuod

Wow, Stephanie - a "pleasure" is by definition something that is temporary, while "good" (a word which is closely related to "God") is eternal. So the pursuit of pleasure is actually the pursuit of the temporary and therefore the neglect of what is permanent and good. That's a powerful insight for me; thank you for helping me realize it.

I also notice that the characterizations of vampires themselves - from Dracula onward - are of people who are eternally unhappy but for momentary pleasures. In that sense vampires are indeed a depiction of Satan, and Satan's followers/victims - they seek desperately for something that promises a momentary consuming respite from the horror of their lives.

And in Hell even that momentary respite will be unavailable.

Gina, I'm almost... uh, "tempted" to read (or re-read) the various vampire novels - particularly Anne Rice's - to see if the authors allow the painful boredom and desperate, slave-like search for pleasurable relief to shine through in their undead characters.

And it occurs to me that had Adam and Eve eaten from the Tree of Life as sinners, they would have effectively become vampires - unable to die, but unable to really live (by experiencing true goodness) either.

Ben W

It doesn't hold up - God said that what he created was "very good", but yet heaven and earth will pass away. So good =/= permanent.

LeeQuod

Excellent, Ben! Two responses:
1. What was it that transpired between creation being pronounced "very good" and heaven and earth passing away? (Hint: Original ____)
2. Pleasures are actually *derived* from what is good. It is part of Satan's counterfeit that what appears to be permanent is merely momentary.

It's interesting to re-read Genesis 3:6 and consider what it was that Eve noticed about the fruit. In fact, one of its attributes was in fact permanent, but the other two...

Jo

Just to say... pre-marital sex is still an issue in these book as the way Edward and Bella still act in a manner that brings on the temptations. And if Edward is as 'smart' as Meyer's makes him out to be, then he should know that he's only putting himself in temptation's way. Yea, I know the'thirst for blood' issue is there, but just because there's one temptation present doesn't mean he should take a 'oh well. I'm screwed anyhow' attitude about it.


Either way, I'm very glad with this article. I'm sick of hearing about how great Twilight is for teens and such. I always wonder why people can't open their eyes and realize all the real issues involved.

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