“You only have to risk your life every second you spend with me,” Edward to Bella, in Twilight.
“We’re also like sharks in a way. Once we taste the blood, or even smell it for that matter, it becomes very hard to keep from feeding . . . . to actually bite someone, to taste the blood, it would begin the frenzy,” Alice, a “good” vampire, to Bella, in Twilight.
So what is love for a teenage girl? Is it to be watched unknowingly in the night by a non-human man who has lived 90 years longer than you have? Is it to have him attracted to the smell of your blood and have the desire to drink it? To fear that the one you love might lose control and tear your flesh with his teeth? To desire to give up your humanity for him? All this and more is the warp and weave of Twilight, a book (and also movie) raved about on blogs and fan sites, and praised by masses of teens and adults.
The Twilight craze centers on a 17-year-old high school girl (Bella) who falls for a vampire disguised as another teen in the school named Edward. Yes, disguised. When Bella later sees Edward as he really is, and feels fear, she refers to his human persona as a “carefully cultivated facade” (264). Edward is not really 17 but is actually 90 years past that, having crossed over into vampirehood in 1918 through the grisly ministrations of his mentor and pretend-father, Carlisle (Carlisle was lonely and wanted a companion, so he “saved” Edward from a human death — but the full account comes in the next book, New Moon).
And, of course, Edward is not really a live human, but a dead human turned vampire. In fact, his cold flesh and lips are featured page after page in the book, as though dead icy flesh is charming or perhaps even sensual. Edward’s “marble chest,” “stone chest,” “frozen lips,” “cold lips,” “cool fingers” and other such parts dot the landscape of the book like so many pieces of refrigerated meat. Speaking of meat . . . Edward and his clan are supposedly “good” vampires because, rather than drink blood from humans, they imbibe blood from animals (and they jokingly call this “vegetarian,” which is rather distressing to true vegetarians like the writer of this article).
What is the motivation for this? Although it seems commendable that Edward and his “family” do not want to attack humans, why do they, as vampires, decide to refrain from this? And how are they able to resist their natural animal-like impulse for human blood day after day, month after month, year after year, for so many decades, even centuries (in Carlisle”s case)? Can a vampire not act vamprirish and still be a vampire? Even a fictional work must have credible characters within its own milieu.
Despite their “vegetarian” way of life, and exerting herculean restraint, these vampires continue to be tempted by human blood. In fact, Edward is so fiercely drawn to the smell of Bella”s blood that he continually struggles to hold back the urge to attack her. He even says to her, “You only have to risk your life every second you spend with me” (305). As time goes by, his control is better but not total. In a harrowing scene at the end of the book, when Bella has been attacked by a “bad” vampire, she lies broken and bleeding on a floor. Edward and some of his clan get there just in time to save her, but Edward and his “sister” Alice have to hold their breath to keep from smelling Bella’s fragrant blood and attacking her. Carlisle, who, oddly, is a doctor, is not as affected, but two vampires, Emmet and Jasper, are unable to contain their urges and leave the room. (In New Moon, when Bella is bleeding from an accident in the vampires’ home, all the vampires except Carlisle end up leaving the room to avoid attacking Bella).
Edward and the vampire clan all have supernatural powers. Edward can read minds (although he can’t read Bella’s), and his “sister” Alice can see the future as long as people stay with their choices. They all have incredible physical strength and can move and talk at hyper-speed. Why vampires would have these abilities is not explained. Apparently, the author sees vampires as beautiful angelic super-beings, and Edward is presented as though he were the prince of angels.
Ironically, despite the angelic imagery, the vampires are also animal-like creatures who are near-slaves to their instincts. Edward candidly reveals to Bella that when they hunt, “we give ourselves over to our senses . . . govern less with our minds. Especially our sense of smell. If you were anywhere near me when I lost control that way . . . ” (225). In another scene, after Bella lies to Edward about finding him scary, Edward growls, “a low sound in the back of his throat; his lips curled back over his perfect teeth. His body shifted suddenly, half-crouched, tensed like a lion about to pounce” (345).
Bella deceives her friends and her father, with whom she lives, to be with Edward; she gets quite good at lying and covering up and is even proud of it. Edward becomes her reason for living. In fact, her family and her human friends pale in comparison to the pale divine Edward, who has “unbearable beauty” (289) even to “an excruciating degree” (227). Edward is described in terms reserved for the ancient gods or for angels: “Edward as he hunted, terrible and glorious as a young god” (343); Edward has an “angel’s face” (262, 341), a “gentle angel’s smile” (340) and “exquisite face” (459); Edward is the “beautiful one, the godlike one” (357). Bella cannot imagine how “an angel could be any more glorious” (241), and she finds herself so captivated by him that she cannot move: “His golden eyes mesmerized me” (263).
Edward does not disintegrate or burn in the sun. In fact, Edward sparkles in the sunlight: “His skin, despite the faint flush from yesterday’s hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface” and Bella notes his “sculpted, incandescent chest” and “scintillating arms” (260).
The breathless description of Edward as an angel and having a beauty almost beyond bearing, even possessing a “seraphic face” (283), as well as his sometimes glistening body, made it nigh impossible not to think of “an angel of light.” In interviews, author Stephenie Meyer has stated that she got the idea for this book from a dream she had in 2003: “In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately” (http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/twilight.html).
Is it possible that Edward is real, in the sense that he could be what is known as a “spirit guide?” In fact, in an interview with MovieFone, Meyer recounted a subsequent dream of Edward which frightened her: “I had this dream that Edward actually showed up and told me that I got it all wrong and like he exists and everything but he couldn’t live off animals… and I kind of got the sense he was going to kill me. It was really terrifying and bizarrely different from every other time I’ve thought about his character” (http://www.twilightgear.net/twilight-news-and-gossip/stephenie-meyer-reveals-details-of-new-dream-about-edward-cullen/2493 , March 29, 2009).
Having had spirit guides prior to becoming a Christian, I know that they can come in dreams or during meditation (the kind that suppresses the thinking mind). Such spirits, which are fallen angels, can pose as beautiful angels “of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
The only references to Christianity are negative. Edward tells Bella that Carlisle’s human father was an Anglican pastor who was “intolerant” (331). He “believed strongly in the reality of evil” and “led hunts for witches, werewolves . . . and vampires” (331). Otherwise, religion is largely absent in the book.
Much has been made of the alleged message of Twilight, that it is one of abstinence and shows control over desire. In truth, Edward is controlling himself because he does not want to kill Bella; her life is truly in danger from a ferocious vampire attack from the one who loves her. Aside from that, a vibrant sensuality of attraction lies just beneath the surface. A TIME reporter who interviewed Meyer wrote, “It’s never quite clear whether Edward wants to sleep with Bella or rip her throat out or both, but he wants something, and he wants it bad, and you feel it all the more because he never gets it. That’s the power of the Twilight books: they’re squeaky, geeky clean on the surface, but right below it, they are absolutely, deliciously filthy” (Lev Grossman, “Stephenie Meyer: A New JK Rowling?” TIME Magazine, April 24, 2008, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1734838,00.html).
Toward the end of the story, Bella desperately wants to become a vampire so she can be with Edward. One is forced to ponder: if a young woman is so in love that she is willing to give up her humanity for the man she loves, why not her virginity?
Aside from the constant deception in the book, the book reveals the often vicious nature of the vampire. Alice, one of the “good” vampires, explains to Bella that “We’re also like sharks in a way. Once we taste the blood, or even smell it for that matter, it becomes very hard to keep from feeding . . . . to actually bite someone, to taste the blood, it would begin the frenzy” (414).
Defenders of the book will say it’s just a fantasy and that Edward and Bella control their urges, and that Edward is a “good” vampire (an argument can be made that this is an oxymoron). However, is this superficial morality all it takes to make a book wholesome? And what is the morality based on? It is based on Edward’s struggle to overcome his natural desire to attack and drink Bella’s blood. Edward, by virtue of being a vampire, is a predator.
I fear that the popularity of Twilight is a prime example of a trend in society toward a love of malevolence as well as attraction to dangerous sexuality. This penchant is seen in the popularity of the HBO series with hunky vampires, “True Blood,” in the upcoming CW show, “Vampire Diaries,” and even in some advertisements. According to a July 16, 2009 Newsweek article, “In a new Gillette billboard that ties into True Blood, a vampire hunk caresses his cleanly shaven face next to the phrase ‘Dead Sexy.’ In another ad, for Marc Ecko cologne, a male vampire nibbles at a naked woman’s neck with the line ‘Attract a Human'” (Joan Raymond, “Bite Me! Why We Love Vampires,” in Newsweek Magazine, July 16, 2009, http://www.newsweek.com/id/207128?GT1=43002). The article makes the point that, although vampires have been portrayed with a sexy allure for decades, the current affinity for vampires seems more marked by an open desire for them.
The vampire is rather a dark theme and should naturally be repellent to us, but our culture has become so desensitized that unpleasant images and actions, such as a heroine longing for a vampire who longs to drink her blood and bring about her death, have actually become beguiling.
A word about the movie
The movie “Twilight” leaves out many of the more distasteful statements in the book. The characters are more glamorous in the movie because the actors are attractive movie stars, and the images and music converge to catch up the viewer in the story’s thrall.
I consider the book to have a stronger influence, except for the fact that the movie may lead many to read the books if they haven’t done so already.
A word about vampires
For the past two decades or so, there has been a subculture group of those who call themselves vampires (or vampyres). These range from those who play role-playing games, to some who believe they were born as a vampire, and to others who have been “initiated” through various means. So keep in mind that the vampire is not a fiction for everyone.
This article is not a critique of this group, for whom I hold no animosity, but rather is a critique of the book and its glamorization of the vampire.
In fact, to those in the vampire lifestyle, I urge you to read my article on this topic and let me know what you think. It’s posted below. Thank you in advance.
Summaries of each chapter of all four books in the series are here:
The Vampyre Underground