Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Mythology of Twilight

(Updated a second time to actually change the title, lol, and to add my third review.)

(Updated to change the title from "Twilight, The First Few Chapters", and to add my ideas on the next few chapters. I'll update this post at least one more time.)

::Spoiler Alert::

Second Update:

When I started reading _Twilight_, I assumed it was a teen romance novel with vampires thrown in for the benefit of postmodern, desensitized young adults. Surprisingly, it is not. It is a myth.

I don't know why I didn't see it before-- the superhuman strength and other extraordinary talents of Edward, the story location (the Olympic Peninsula), Bella's lack of power to resist. When I realized the story is a myth, all those things fell into place.

(I finally got it as the Cullens played a family game of baseball, with Bella watching. They wait until there is a thunderstorm to play, because their power is so great that on a regular day, the noise of their game disturbs the humans around. Duh, right?)

A myth is for organizing principles and beliefs about God, self and the world around us. So how does Stephanie Meyer do that in _Twilight_?

As Edward gave Bella the history of each member of the Cullen clan, I saw fiery sanctification of a base, evil nature. Each member of the group has been ashamed of what they are, and they have moved from active engagement in evil to redemption through love and self-control. For instance, Carlysle, the father, was the son of a witch-and-vampire fighting Protestant minister in 17th century England. In taking up his father's cause (with reluctance and great discernment, I might add), he was attacked by a vampire, but not finished off. (Being attacked by a vampire but not finished off is how people become vampires in Stephanie Meyer's parallel universe.)

He wandered, forlorn and terrible, his compassion compelling him to starve himself rather than give in to the blood lust that seized him; until one day he came upon a herd of deer and, unable to help himself, feasted. And realized there was hope for him. He then began the practice of only hunting animals and trained himself to resist the temptation of humans. Down through the centuries, he furthered his education, eventually becoming expert at many things, including medicine. In Forks, Washington, he is employed as a doctor.

As the ages passed, he gathered around him his adopted family and taught them his ways. Two of the clan, his wife Esme as well as Edward, he "helped" to become vampires as they lay dying.

You guessed it, this is a problem for me. At one point, as Bella begs to be made one of them, Edward finally says to her, "I refuse to damn you to an eternity of night!" This is the crux of the matter. They have been accursed, condemned to this existence. None of them is happy about it, and they continually work to make it better.

Kind of reminds me of the Apostle Paul saying "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" Can't we all identify with people attempting to control their evil nature, to overcome it with good? But no Messiah is in sight in this tale-- which fits in with Greek and Roman mythology. There was Zeus, but he had assorted human-type foibles just like the rest of those gods and goddesses. No Christ figure he.

However, I can't deny that the Cullen family is highly motivated by love and kindness. They use their powers for good. During the baseball game, as evil approaches Bella in the form of baser vampires, the entire clan encircles and protects her, placing themselves in danger and uprooting their lives for her benefit. This is where it gets exciting. The Cullens' love for Edward and Bella is repeatedly illustrated in the tense and terrible saving of her. The dramatic and violent climax is completely necessary to the plot, containing key character elements-- especially for Edward. (And just fyi-- the violence, in the first book at least, is much less graphic than something you would see on CSI or E/R.)

In Greek drama the hero frequently had a tragic flaw-- a trait that clouded his judgment, and eventually caused his demise. It remains to be seen whether _Twilight_ is comedy or tragedy, but at this point, I expect Bella's irrevocable love for Edward is her tragic flaw. This one point is enough for me to be extremely cautious in recommending the series for any teen not firmly grounded in truth. A thoughtful reading *with* discussion is advisable.

Edward may also have a tragic flaw in that he is very used to doing all things amazingly well and has spent this first book realizing his strength of resistance where Bella is concerned. (He doesn't only love her for her-- he also loves her for her blood, the smell of which is very tempting to him. I know, gross. But he's a vampire.) I can see him getting arrogant and slipping up in a future book. He constantly reminds Bella that he is very dangerous to her. (She, for her part, feels very little fear, poor foolish child.)

I see the myth of the Cullens teaching a great deal about love and self-control, which is fine as far as it goes. It doesn't go far enough for me-- I would like to see an eternal God come forward to guide and redeem these folks. Also, I am concerned about some of the love-teaching in this book. Bella still worries me. It is not okay that she is willing to be damned in order to follow her lover. I wonder how that plot-line develops through the other books. I guess I will have to read the whole series.

(And wow! American teens are excited about a well-written book with a complex moral. That's kind of neat.)

(And updated yet again to add this link to Chuck Colson's talking points on the series. h/t DHM)

First Update:

I have gotten through the next five chapters, and also discussed the book with a brother in our church whose daughter is Triss' good friend. We laughed when we realized that I had a lowish opinion of Edward for the same reason he has a lowish opinion of Bella: there is danger, and neither one of them has any sense. He thought it was Bella's job to run the other direction, while I thought Edward ought to get far away before it was too late. We chalked it up to gender differences, and decided both of them are rather foolish.

Continuing my previous comparison of _Twilight_ to the novel _Jane Eyre_, I can now see that the two Edwards have more in common than I first thought. Both are haunted and driven, both attempt to resist the draw of the woman they love, both finally give in after putting forth a huge effort. Edward Rochester attempts to trap Jane into an illegal marriage, and she escapes narrowly, actually runnning away from the mansion to wander in and out of villages in the dead of winter until rescued by a kind family. I do not yet know what Edward Cullen will do, but it doesn't look like Bella will do any running-- at least not any time soon.

It is ironic that Bella picked up Austen's _Sense and Sensibility_ to read as she contemplated (and tried to escape) the news that Edward was a vampire. She is obviously Marianne in this romance, and there is no Eleanor anywhere to be seen.

She keeps analyzing her feelings, expecting to feel at least some fear at the news, and at the fierce yet controlled intensity that Edward goes through at times, but only feels a sense of loss when she thinks of distancing herself from him. She finally decides that she cannot escape her feelings. This is a major flaw in the book, imho. Do we really want to teach our daughters that they must follow their hearts without any common sense? I realize I am not taking the romantic view, but I am a parent. I appreciate the romance and falling in love, but we are called to use our heads as well as our hearts, and this girl needs someone else to talk to about her situation. The adults in her life have abandoned their responsibility to guide her. I do see one possible light in the Native American friends, who know about the Cullens being vampires, or 'cold ones'. The father of Jacob Black may be the one adult who attempts to give Bella the benefit of his wisdom, but he has no developed rapport with her, no cherished shared memories, and, at this point at least, I think she sees him as a possible threat.

Triss' friend's dad commented during our discussion that the storyline offered him an opportunity to discuss how to make decisions like this in light of scripture rather than simply following our feelings, though the feelings may be strong. That is a good point. There are definitely discussion opportunities for the involved parent-- but it is important to make sure the child has reached a level of maturity that will enable her to benefit from discussion, rather than become mesmerized or even lost in the compelling drama of the plot.

So that is where I am in the book. I can see that I might have been hasty in my judgment of Edward, but I think they are both foolish.

Original post:

Last night, while waiting for Triss to finish a Girl Scout gift-wrapping fundraiser at Barnes and Noble, I picked up the first Twilight novel to see what all the hype was about. Triss doesn't want to read the book, but several of her friends are so enamored of the story that, in their presence, it seems the only lively topic of conversation.

(Our taste in books doesn't generally run to vampires, although we have been known to take in a good murder mystery novel, and we went through a Lemony Snicket phase last summer. Rather funny, he is.)

I read around five chapters before we left last night, and it is definitely a page-turner. I think it is pretty well-written, but I am not the best judge. I really like Bella so far, though I am sad at her aloneness. (I can't really call it loneliness, because she seems to want her life to be that way.) I've gotten to the part where she refuses to ask anyone to the girls' choice dance.

I admit I want to kick Edward every time he makes an appearance, and I don't expect that to change. He seems to be selling Bella a bill of goods. I know, I haven't read the whole thing, but I have read a lot of reviews, and can see where it is leading. Sorry, not impressed with the noble-bad-boy-I'm-no-good line. If he's so noble, why doesn't he go far, far away before it is too late? Anyone who wants to see real selfless love in the face of evil and injustice needs to read Jane Eyre's refusal of her Edward when it is discovered that a very real and scary impediment exists to their marriage. Girls, it's all been done before, and usually with higher principles than what's being written now.

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