Sunday, August 3, 2008

Twilight (part one) Non-Spoiler

"But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest therof thou shalt surely die." ~Genesis 2:17

It was the fact that this verse started out Stephenie Meyer's book "Twilight" that ultimately was responsible for the four books sitting next to me as I type this. It was the philosophical/spiritual question of "can anything be ultimately good or bad- even a vampire? Don't we all have a choice?" that intrigued me enough to pick up the first book and start ruffling through chapter one. It was reviews from other Christains that pointed this out and made me think that, rather than glorifying something that was evil, Meyers was actually taking a much more realistic approach to the subject of vampires than we humans have for the past hundred years.

Let me be clear. I hate the vampire myth. I only got halfway through Dracula and did not sleep well at all that night. But thereine lies the differance. Dracula and his creations have no choice about their evilness. They simply are demonic creatures. And yet, even demons made a choice, long ago, to follow Satan rather than God.

So what possible reason could there be for a young man, by name of Carlisle, to automatically become evil simply because he was bitten by a vampire that he was trying to drive out of London? None. Absolutely none. His physical needs (to drink blood) and looks (pale skin, etc) might change, but ultimately he still has a conscience. He still can choose "what is right over what is easy" (to quote another fantasy sage).

And Carlisle Cullen becomes the head of a vampire family that strives to live as "vegetarians", drinking animal blood rather than human's. Carlisle himself forces himself to become immune to the scent of human blood so that he can use his vampire strengths to save the lives of humans as a doctor. Whew! Talk about sacrifice!

And there are benefits to this lifestyle. Most vampires, because of their bloodlust, are unable to form any kinds of bonds besides those with their "mate." However, the Cullen family not only consists of three pairs of mates, but also of adopted parental and sibling relationships that are just as strong (or stronger) than those in a regular human family. They are unique in the vampire world- but ultimately, I believe they will lead the way for a world-wide conversion. (Nope. This isn't a spoiler, because even in book #4 it doesn't actually happen. But I personally believe that it will.)

All of this is what has been so captivating about this series. I point this out because I'm not the sort of person who would read something because it has vampires in it (quite the contrary) or because it has a wonderful teen romance story (again, the contrary).

But for those of you who might be frightened off by rumors of extreme Romance between Bella and Edward...yes. It's there. But it's not nearly as consuming as I expected. Or at least- as unrealistically consuming, especially once you move beyond book one. Bella and Edward both mature and change and believe me, once you read "Breaking Dawn" you will not have a shred of annoyance left with either of them. Well, perhaps old habits will die hard, but Bella Swan-

Nope. I'm not going to talk about Bella here. I'm going to do more reviews in which I don't have to be spoiler free and I can really go in depth on the character issues.

For now, I'm going to issue a general warning that this is a mature series. Sure, it's morally cleaner than a lot of stuff there (no pre-marital sex, or descriptions of sex, very resistant to murder of the innocents, pro-life, etc) but that doesn't mean that it doesn't deal with some very adult issues. It's a series that starts out fairly light, but, like it's characters, grows, darkens, and matures. While book #1 is appropriete for 16-year-olds, I would highly recommend that Breaking Dawn be reserved for the more mature.


Ella said...

Great review, Elena! You definitely peaked my curiosity even more. After reading this, I think I'm going to HAVE to at least start reading it. :)

Delaney said...

Very good review, Elena! I've read many many many things about this series, and I had already been planning to wait a few years to read them. Regardless of spoilers, I plan on reading your more in-depth reviews when you post them. :) Because I just love reading your blog. ;)

Elenatintil said...

Thank you, Ella! It really is an intriguing series. I think you will find it very, very interesting!

Elenatintil said...

Oh- and Thank you Delaney! (just saw your post now) I think you will like the series when you're a bit older! but I'm quite flattered that you will read my spoilerific reviews anyhow...;)

MJ said...

This review is great and I can't wait to see your later ones. Im so glad to see these books reviewed by a Christian.

Isaac said...

I know you wrote this ages ago and its not really unfair to critique it, but I couldn't help myself.

You basically set up the argument that giving characters "choices" is what makes it more realistic. (To have someone turn demonically evil simply because they were bitten, they have no choice in the matter. To be born as a vampire is to be born evil.) But I remind you... humanity is also born evil. Take a look at Romans, Paul is pretty clear that its only through CHRIST and the Cross that humans can choose to be good. Even saying that 'human righteousness is as filthy rags' to God. The entire Gospel hinges on the fact that humans are evil, humans are sinful, and are unable to save themselves out of it. And without the Cross there is no choice, no freedom.

To me, vampires embody spiritual warfare. We can't see demons, but we can see Dracula. And like demons, we can do nothing to them. They can haunt, they can possess, and their mission is to corrupt and destroy. And once again, the only victory is in the cross. (The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but I have come to give life abundantly. - John 10:10)
Good vampire myths remind us of the incredible evil of the supernatural realm (quite real), our fragility as humans (real), and our dependence on a power greater than ourselves (real). Sure the details like bats and garlic are silly, but like so many other myths (Star Wars, for example) at its core is something profoundly interesting. Which is probably why Dracula is the #1 most filmed character of all time.

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

Isaac, you're right, we're all born evil. However, we DO have the cross. Why should the cross be taken away just because someone got bit by an evil creature? That seems to me like saying that a girl will go to hell because she was raped.

To say such a thing about either situation implies (IMHO) that God is not greater than all. It's saying that there are rules that overcome even the rules that God himself laid out, which is that we all have a choice to be saved. Even demons had a choice, long ago, when they first chose to fight on Satan's side rather than God's.

This is probably why I don't like the traditional vampire myth -- that one can, in any way, without choice, without doing ANYTHING, be locked out of the hope of salvation. That is NOT a Biblical doctrine (other than that God can do anything, but he's made it pretty clear he's not going to do that).

There's a reason the picture on the cover is of an apple. It's meant to represent the forbidden fruit, the temptation of Eve. Likewise, vampires struggle with a terrible temptation, the temptation to drink human blood. Yet I think saying that that temptation is compulsive -- that it can't be overcome, is like saying that humans cannot overcome the temptation to sin (lust, envy, hatred, etc). We all have terrible temptations to sin. Yet God says that there is no temptation so great that we cannot overcome it. That, in essence, is what Carlisle, the heart and soul of the novel, says. That vampires MUST resist the temptation, despite how hard it is.

And our God is a just and merciful God... though Eve did succumb to the temptation of eating the fruit, God did not abandon her or condemn her forever for that fall... he loved his children far more than that and created a salvation out of that.

You talk about spiritual warefare and the power of the darkness. But through my eyes, to deny a person inflicted with the bite of bloodlust the chance of redemption is to give the darkness too much power... yes, it is powerful, but it is NOT powerful enough to overcome the grace of God.

To sum up... We absolutely do depend on God to rescue us. We also have to choose whether we will allow God to rescue us. Futhermore God is merciful and extends this gift freely to all. Were vampires real I would find nothing less plausible about them than the idea that God, our wonderful amazing all powerful merciful God, would deny them salvation when he has allowed everyone else (demons included) the chance to love and serve him.

Okay, I hope I read your points correctly and responded to them properly... if I got confused or misread something, please let me know! :) Also I hope I didn't come across as harsh or anything... just passionate about this topic.

Isaac said...

Aha, I get it now. You're really narrowing your focus to the bite itself. I'm guessing that's because the female lead is usually seduced/bitten by the vampire and then her very soul is put in peril.
Often, (if I remember correctly) the character is not just bitten, they're seduced into it. This is a conclusion of their (albeit ignorant) choices. Which is a beautiful metaphor, how seductive and alluring sin is at surface level.
That seduction aspect works in the story, but the idea that any passerby could be bitten and eternally cursed is rather disturbing. While this is certainly a logical conclusion, I don't think that's what you're supposed to take away from it. (and correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that happens in the story. I think only those who 'want' (in some ignorant capacity) to be turned are turned).

From the male lead's perspective, his role is to rescue someone before they've reached that point of corruption (in this point, vampirism). That's why he's usually given 24 hours or whatever to kill Dracula in order to save his love/bride/etc. This is very interesting to me, as people often walk down a road leading to depravity and death without realizing it. And sometimes, it IS too late to save someone.

As for angels/demons... It seems clear that they once made a choice and that's how it is. They're not given a chance at redemption. That's why demons don't make sympathetic characters (Hellboy being the exception).

I agree with the theological weaknesses you mentioned. ('neither height, nor depth, nor angels, nor demons... can seperate us from the love of Christ.') The truth is, whenever mainstream entertainment takes on a spiritual topic (fantasy or not) they're gonna mess stuff up. So it comes down to what's permissable (like Hellboy, imho) or Legion (yuck).
I think, despite its problems, that there's some merit in the traditional vampire mythos. Its a reminder that this is NOT a battle against flesh and blood, we are weak, and the cross IS our most powerful weapon.

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

Looks like we are pretty much in agreement. Any place I would differ would have to do with in regards to which text we are discussing... everything you've said fully applies to Dracula and traditional vampire lore.

Twilight, however, is very different and there were many characters in the book who became vampires without desiring so. This is because in Twilight it takes only ONE bite to be turned, as opposed to Dracula where it takes three, etc, etc.

It makes for a rather different kind of story, as you can imagine, and is why the discussion of the 'soul' is so important. Am I right in suspecting that you have not actually read the books yourself?

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

*Edit -- one bite, meaning that if a vampire is feeding on a victim, but is disrupted, that victim will still be turned. So accidental vampires are a very real possibility in the world of Twilight.

Also, a few characters turn other characters into vampires to save them from deaths (of influenza, date rape, bear mauling, murder, etc). The characters that carry out these actions make it VERY clear that they would NOT condemn anyone else to their vampiric fate if they were not very sure that vampires still had souls. This becomes an even bigger thread later on in the story, when one character believes that he DID lose his soul when he became a vampire and utterly refuses to turn the girl he loved into a vampire because he won't risk her soul.

Isaac said...

I haven't. I only watched the first movie.
and I have to be honest, its difficult for me to actually read a lengthy book. Reading is not my primary way of learning, so after spending my days studying stuff for work coming home and picking up a 500 page novel isn't too appealing. I'm a huge fan of audiobooks, however, and do a lot of 'reading' that way.

Your analysis of the temptation is quite interesting. That makes me want to read it now. But what I've noticed (between fan reactions and the movie) is that Edward's temptation to drink blood is more there for the fangirls to swoon over his self-torment and teen angst than to delve into the human psyche. just an observation.

Elizabeth Amy Hajek said...

LOL. To that I'll reply that the movies really watered down the philosophical questions and 13-year-old girls are usually unlikely to ponder deep questions.

Twilight is of course primarily a romance, but it does have depth to it that a lot of people choose to ignore in favor of praising or criticizing Edward. Which I find unfortunate.

However you seem to be asking about intention of the author... well, I'll throw this out there. As I stated at the top of my original post, the book starts out with a quote from Genesis 2:17. This and the cover art were intentional choices by the author and publisher.

If you do decide to read it or listen to it on audiobook, may I recommend that you ignore the mushier passages (and there are NOT as many as most people make there out to be, at least compared with typical romances), and instead focus on any scene that has Carlisle in it. This is pretty much what I did, as that's the whole reason I read the book and I still am neither team Jacob or team Edward.

(I only liked Edward after Book 4, when I felt he really grew up and became a calmer, less controlling man, instead of a brooding, obsessive boy)