The Twilight Series


The Jesus Review

I confess that I’m almost always behind the curve on the cultural phenoms of our day—I got on board the Harry Potter train when book four came out. I don’t really like movie theaters and so often don’t see movies until they come out on DVD. I pay some attention, but not a ton, to what’s going on in the world of youth- and young adult-culture, and I tell myself that I need to know these things because the youth I work with live in that world more than they live in my world…but I still tend to be a little bit behind.  

When Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight became a big hit, I sort of
missed it.  It wasn’t until the
fourth book, Breaking Dawn, was released that I decided to go ahead and buy the
first book.  “Just so I would know
what my youth are reading,” I told myself. I am Buffy fan. I figured this would
be just another example of a mediocre writer ripping off the great writing of
an old idea and grabbing the youth audience with some sex appeal, regardless of
the quality of story or writing.

Not so much.

It is not the best-written piece of literature; but it’s not
mediocre.  Meyer doesn’t follow the
same vampire formula we’ve come to expect, and the mythology she develops is
vastly different.  It takes some
adjusting for those fans of other vampire stories.  After all, I’m a Buffy fan.  Once I got past my internal cries of “that’s not how
vampires work!,” the story itself kind of sucked (pun intended) me in.

Meyer’s tells the story of a relatively normal teenage girl
from a relatively normal broken family, and her self-imposed exile from sunny
Arizona to the drizzly Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.  This is Bella. On her first day of
school in Forks, Bella meets Edward Cullen, who is…a little strange.  It later turns out that Edward is, of
course, a vampire—but a “vegetarian” one, part of a family that doesn’t drink
human blood but instead hunts animals, and is therefore disciplined enough to
be around most humans without being so overpowered by their smell that one ends
up dead. Except for Bella, whose scent is so alluring to Edward’s attempts to
control himself lead Bella into a spiral of insecurity and anxiety about
herself and what she must have done to make him hate her so. Twilightcover

Throughout the series we are introduced, along with Bella,
to the whole Cullen clan, their personalities and idiosyncrasies, their special
talents, their family dynamic, and some family history.  We also get to experience teenage love
through Bella’s eyes.  Edward falls
in love with her too which is complicated by his special talent of hearing
other’s thoughts.  The real
excitement lies in Bella’s association with the Cullens who are discovered by
other non-vegetarian vampires that hunt Bella down and try to kill her.  Edward, of course, saves the day. 

Thus ends the first book, Twilight, but this storyline carries
throughout the Twilight series—Bella is in danger, Edward saves her life.  Later in the series, a twist arises
when Jacob, Bella’s best friend, rescues her. Interestingly, this doesn’t
usually feel paternalistic or heavy handed.  By the end of the series, Bella saves not only Edward and
Jacob but the whole family and their friends from certain destruction, as her
special gift turns out to be much more valuable than we would ever have
expected.

Forks is not only name Bella’s hometown.  It is what happens in Bella’s story
where she makes choices without being able to see all the paths ahead.  The story forks beyond the critiques
against Meyer’s possible subtext of abstinence until marriage.  Saving one’s virtue is certainly a
theme, as a coming of age story. This is a part of growing up, which is what
the Twilight series entails—insecurity, anxiety, hormones, passion, forks in
the road, figuring out relationships, and finding people to help along the
journey. Reading about this average high school student made me feel like I was
in high school again – but it is not just about the anxiety and
insecurity.  I believe it’s about
salvation, which Meyer’s finds only through relationships.  Rugged individualism just doesn’t cut
it, and those who try it end up only a shell, a portion of who they are made to
be.  Only in relationship (whether
familial, friendly, communal, or romantic) are the characters truly
themselves.  They can’t do it
alone.  And that, to me, sounds
just like some challenging good news I’ve heard somewhere before.


8 replies
  1. Mary Sue
    Mary Sue says:

    Reading this article, I wonder greatly what book Teri Peterson was reading. I found the Twilight book to deny the concept of free will and insist that relationships where one partner’s insistent control of the other’s life were a-ok because, of course, it’s true love.
    Then I remembered that not everyone is healing from an abusive relationship and would be triggered back into that kind of headspace by a tween novel.
    I worry, though. I worry about all the little girls reading this who are holding it up as a shining example of how their partner should treat them, and how they deserve to be treated.

    Reply
  2. D.
    D. says:

    I have to agree with what Mary Sue wrote. My kids at church are *obsessed* with these books. I am a huge Buffy fan and find that Joss Whedon’s vampire lore and redemptive storylines are more complex and more real than Meyer’s drivel. Yep, I said it. Drivel. I am a huge juvenile fiction fan and cannot stand bad writing. Her writing slowly improves as the series goes along, but there are MUCH better writers out there.
    I enjoy a coming of age story immensely, but as someone who has come from an abusive marriage, the way that Edward and Bella’s relationship was characterized freaked me out. Bella’s whole purpose in life was to be like Edward – a vampire – forsaking her own gifts and strengths as a human, just so she could conform to what she felt was her ideal love story. Since when do we subtly encourage our teenagers to give up themselves for the love of a teenage boy? I know that I don’t.
    Yes, I know this is fiction and I know I come by my views from my own suffering, but it is still scary to me what our teenagers are imbibing into their brains about what relationships should look like.

    Reply
  3. Teri
    Teri says:

    I think, Mary Sue, that that sense of no free will is more prevalent in the first book than it is in the series as a whole. There is an overarching theme that Edward thinks Bella should be better off without him, as he’s a monster, but ultimately Bella makes the choice to be with him, and both Edward (the stereotypical “savior” figure for a while) and Bella (the stereotypical damsel in distress…for a while) end up learning that they can’t do it alone. At the end of the series it’s Bella’s gift that saves all of them, the whole family. And the Cullens, compared to other vampires, have discovered that in their family relationships lies their strength to overcome their “nature”…perhaps we might even say their “sinful nature.”
    It’s true that the novel has an amazing ability to toss us back to some places we don’t want to be–for me it was the anxiety of teenage-dom–I could literally feel the adrenaline, the worry, the insecurity, that I felt when I was in high school. I even began to wonder if my friends really liked me whenever they didn’t answer my instant messages. Cuz that’s healthy behavior. 😉 So I see where you’re coming from and how the novel could bring up the feelings from an abusive relationship very easily.

    Reply
  4. Steph
    Steph says:

    I began to read this series for the same reason as Teri – my youth (well, the girls anyway) were so excited about them, and about the movie. I found myself thoroughly sucked in too, as have a good number of my adult friends, male and female (though they are usually embarrassed to admit to it).
    I appreciate the moral, ethical dilemmas that are presented, and how the characters attempt to deal with them…sometimes very poorly, sometimes quite well. I like that it may encourage my youth to see their choices and how they navigate through the world as based in ethics and morals, and needing to know what is at the core of their own.
    The sour note for me echoes Mary Sue’s. Edward is possessive and very controlling throughout the series, and gives a rather disturbing image of a romantic relationship. Of course, one can say that a relationship between a vampire and a human should not be taken by anyone as a model of how relationships work, but I don’t think our teenage boys and girls can reflect on it that critically. For the girls in my confirmation class, this is the epitome of the idealized romantic relationship – an ideal that disturbs me, to say the least!
    I think the series does open up possibilities to talk to my youth about some of those very issues, however. It is a common point of reference (and they think it’s cool that I’ve read them – me, cool?!?!) that allows for conversation.

    Reply
  5. A.Lin
    A.Lin says:

    Teri, you are the reason I read this series after seeing your fb status that you were reading them.
    I like them purely for the escapism, but it is good to connect with the teenage girls in my congregation.
    Edward’s possessiveness bothered me some, so I ended up liking Jacob better. I do think there are redemptive themes in the books however, and I look forward to exploring them more.
    Also, this is a great series for mothers to read, as demonstrated by this post by a friend of mine: http://www.mommiesmagazine.com/twilight-mommies/2747/

    Reply
  6. Teri
    Teri says:

    this conversation is so interesting to me–I don’t see Edward as the possessive one, I see Bella as the possessive one. I do think Edward is a character who tends toward paternalism, but not in a “this is my property” kind of way. Bella to me feels like the one who is so insecure in herself that she has to own something, and she is constantly plagued with self-doubt that she’s worthy of having this relationship.
    Obviously it’s time for a re-read, trying to read through some of y’all’s lenses that are so different from mine.
    I do love that having read this series (and now, having talked about it with all of you!) gives me a way to talk with my youth about these things…sometimes these are hard topics and this is a good way in.

    Reply
  7. Yejide
    Yejide says:

    Like many of you, I reluctantly decided to read/watch Twilight this fall. I found it to be quite different than I expected, not fine literature, but neither is it drivel. It is a fascinating look into the Platonic ideals of love that are held not only by our younger members (the tween set) but also by many adults. The nature of love, the soul, and the body are deep archetypes which wait behind the scenes of most romantic tales. I did find it concerning that the erotically charged relationship between Bella and Edward was possessive and seemingly “inevitable”. What *will* young people (and old) learn from this story of true love?

    Reply
  8. Katie H
    Katie H says:

    I actually haven’t read these books – but I’m very interested in the fact that the movie script was written by an ex mormon (as was Milk). I think it was on Fresh Air that I heard the suggestion that the Mormons are the new Catholics – the experts on unrelenting desire since consummation is only allowed within the bonds of heterosexual marriage.

    Reply

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