First published in Midwest Christian Outreach Journal, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2010; it has been slightly altered for the website.
The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer has sold over 85 million copies in 50 countries (http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/). Eager fans have stood in line to get the first copies of each succeeding book, and have excitedly queued up for the movies.
The books depict the romance between Bella, age 17 in the first book, and a vampire, Edward, whom she meets at school. The obstacles and dangers in the romance, along with Bella’s deepening bond with Edward’s vampire clan, are the focal points of the story. A secondary plot involving Bella’s friend Jacob, a Native American who is genetically a werewolf (though called a shape-shifter in the last book), ties into the romance and ultimately is resolved, though rather bizarrely. Bella’s longing to become a vampire leads to explosive drama in the fourth book based on the fulfillment of that desire.
Stephenie Meyer’s Dream
What was author Stephenie Meyer’s inspiration for this tale of a human-vampire romance? Meyer, an observant Mormon, had a dream in 2003 (Lev Grossman, “Stephenie Meyer: A New J K Rowling?” Time Magazine, April 24, 2008, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1734838,00.html). In the dream, she saw a young girl talking to a sparkling vampire in a meadow; they were in love, and he was explaining to the young girl how hard it was not to kill her. This dream was the impetus for the books, and Meyer quickly wrote the first book, Twilight, later following up with the three sequels. There was another dream to come, a terrifying dream, which will be discussed later in this article.
EROTIC ABSTINENCE, BLOOD ROMANCE
One of the earliest praises of the Twilight books was based on the fact that Bella and Edward do not have intimate relations. While it is true that they refrain, the reasons are not moral. Rather, Edward, as a vampire (which Bella discovers in the first book), is afraid that in his passion he will actually kill Bella. Although Bella often tries to persuade him to cross the line, Edward, aware of his vampire strength and what it can do, resists.
The romance that is the linchpin of these books is somewhat tainted by the fact that the reason Edward is attracted to Bella is the smell of her blood. This plays a significant role in the first book. Bella meets and gets to know Edward’s clan, who are called his “family” in the books. This group has sworn to drink only animal, not human, blood; nevertheless, they are still attracted to human blood and must control themselves when they are around people. In fact, Edward is so fiercely drawn to the smell of Bella’s blood that he continually struggles with the urge to attack her. He even says to her, “You only have to risk your life every second you spend with me” (Stephenie Meyer, Twilight, [NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2005], 305).
As time goes by, Edward’s control is better but not total. In a harrowing scene at the end of the first book, when Bella has been attacked by a “bad” vampire, she lies badly injured and bleeding on the 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. Two other vampires in the clan, Emmet and Jasper, are unable to contain their bloodlust and leave the room. There is a similar scene in the second book, New Moon, where Bella has cut herself, and the smell of her blood is too much for the entire clan, save Carlisle, the “father” who is also a doctor (he has mastered his appetite for human blood).
Despite the abstinence, the books are fraught with sexual innuendo and an undercurrent of physical passion steaming just below the surface. After Bella discovers that the pallid Edward has been watching her at night in her room, she allows him to get in bed with her. Although nothing untoward happens, Bella hides this from her father. Is this the kind of behavior that parents would hold up as a model for their children?
Eclipse, the third book, offers one rather racy scene. Edward, in bed with Bella as usual, reaches down Bella’s leg and then, as Bella recounts it, he “pulled my leg up suddenly, hitching it around his hip” (Stephenie Meyer, Eclipse [NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2007], 186). After kissing, Edward “rolled till he hovered over me. . . I could feel the cool marble of his body press against mine,” and then, “Cold as ice, his tongue lightly traced the shape of my lips” (Eclipse, 187).
In the same book, Edward, Jacob (a werewolf/shape-shifter who loves Bella), and Bella are in a tent during frigid weather. It falls to Jacob, a warm-blooded creature vs. the cold Edward, to keep Bella warm by getting under the covers with her and holding her all night. Edward, who is able to read Jacob’s impure thoughts, becomes sullen and angry, and Jacob taunts him with suggestive remarks and double-entendres. Later, there is a near-bodice ripper scene when Jacob imposes himself on Bella in the tent in Edward’s absence. Jacob kisses Bella “with an eagerness that was not far from violence” (Eclipse, 526). The scene is non-graphic but quite erotic, and continues with Bella giving in and responding fervently to Jacob’s advances (Edward, how soon they forget, huh?).
After three books of passionate abstinence and innuendo, Edward and Bella marry in the fourth book, Breaking Dawn. In spite of Edward’s fears and the fact that Bella is still human, they give in to the desire for marital relations. This leaves Bella horribly bruised all over her body, but alive (the description is uncomfortably reminiscent of a battered woman).
BETTER THAN HUMAN…
Noticeable in the first three books are the unending descriptions of Edward’s physical magnificence. Edward, being a vampire, is actually dead. He has no heartbeat and does not eat or sleep; he only drinks (animal) blood. Since he is actually a walking corpse, he is quite cold to the touch. This does not bother Bella. For her, Edward, has “unbearable beauty” even to “an excruciating degree” (Meyer, Twilight, 289, 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; “Edward has an “angel’s face,” a “gentle angel’s smile,” and “exquisite face;” Edward is the “beautiful one, the godlike one” (Twilight, 343, 262, 341, 340, 459, 357). Bella cannot imagine how “an angel could be any more glorious,” and she finds herself so captivated by him that she cannot move: “His golden eyes mesmerized me” (Twilight, 241, 263).
Edward does not disintegrate or burn in the sun; he sparkles. “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” (Twilight, 260). The breathless description of Edward as an angel or a god, and having a beauty almost beyond bearing, even possessing a “seraphic face” (Twilight, 283) as well as his sometimes glistening body, makes it nigh impossible not to think of “an angel of light (“No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light,” 2 Cor. 11:14).
In a later interview, 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” (MovieFone, “Stephenie Meyer Reveals Details of New Dream About Edward Cullen,” March 29, 2009, http://www.twilightgear.net/twilight-news-and-gossip/stephenie-meyer-reveals-details-of-new-dream-about-edward-cullen/2493).
Could Edward possibly be an unbidden spirit guide for Meyer? She first saw him in a dream, and then sees him again in this dream where he actually threatens her. It is impossible to know but it is not totally unlikely.
According to Meyer, every vampire has a special gift, usually supernatural. Edward can hear others’ thoughts; his sister Alice can see possible futures; Jasper can influence moods; Aro, the head of the Volturi (a sort of vampire ruling elite), can gather people’s memories and thoughts by touching them; Jane, a member of the Volturi, can cause people to feel burning pain. The list goes on, especially in the last book when more vampires enter the story.
Throughout the first three books, Bella longs to become a vampire. She wants to shed her humanity and family to enter Edward’s world, which will give her immortality. This entails losing one’s soul as well. Edward speaks of this possible change as “bartering your soul in exchange for an eternity as a vampire” (Eclipse, 541). Bella thinks of losing her soul as “almost insignificant” in light of her fear that Edward might not want her (Eclipse, 528).
Once Bella becomes a vampire in the fourth book, her memories as a human seem vague and indistinct. She exults in her ability to move so quickly that she is a blur to human eyes, that she is powerful and strong, that she never tires, and that she can detect multi-layers of odors no human can smell. “I was never going to get tired . . . We didn’t have to catch our breath or rest or eat or even use the bathroom; we had no more mundane human needs” (Breaking Dawn, [NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2008], 482-483). After Bella becomes a vampire, Bella and Edward, who as vampires do not need to sleep, have what is implied to be non-stop intimate relations, and this fact is touted repeatedly.
There is an almost-Gnostic downgrading of the human body and mind in favor of the vampires, who are described as godlike, brilliant, angelic, and are immortal. One cannot ignore Meyer’s Mormon roots and faith in these passages, since Mormons believe that everyone on earth was once in heaven as a spirit child begat by Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, and good Mormons one day will be gods ruling their own worlds.
Moreover, Mormon marriages “sealed” in a Mormon Temple are supposed to last forever. One reason Bella wants to be a vampire is because she wants to be with Edward forever; since Edward will not do this without a marriage, the future for them is to be together in an eternal marriage as vampires.
…Yet Slave to Instinct
Despite the vampires’ godlike qualities, looks, and talents prominently featured in the story, the vampires are also very animal-like. Edward and his clan often “hiss” and “snarl.” They curl their lips and show their teeth when angry; they crouch, ready to spring, if they sense danger. Edward and his clan only drink the blood of animals but know they can become unrestrained if they give in to their desire for human blood. Alice, a member of Edward’s clan, 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” (Twilight, 414).
Bella is told that “newborns,” that is, people who are newly made vampires, are unable to control their urge to attack people for at least a year or two. This does not sway Bella, who contemplates what it will be like once she is a new vampire. She realizes that members of Edward’s clan have been betting on how many people she will kill. Jasper, one of the clan, is hoping that Bella will be more unruly, since he is the newest vampire and has difficulty controlling his thirst for human blood. Playfully, Bella states “I guess I could throw in a few extra homicides, if it makes Jasper happy. Why not?” (Eclipse, 343). Then she imagines the possible future newspaper headlines proclaiming the list of names of her victims.
Edward candidly reveals to Bella that when the vampires 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 . . .” (Twilight, 225). In another scene, 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” (Twilight, 345).
In the final book, after Bella becomes a vampire and hunts with Edward, we read about her kill of a mountain lion: “My teeth unerringly sought his throat, and his instinctive resistance was pitifully feeble against my strength” (Meyer, Breaking Dawn, [NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2008], 422). Biting into the animal was “effortless as biting into butter” (Breaking Dawn, 422). The account continues:
“The flavor was wrong, but the blood was hot and wet and it soothed the ragged, itching thirst as I drank in an eager rush. The cat’s struggles grew more and more feeble, and his screams choked off with a gurgle. The warmth of the blood radiated throughout my whole body, heating even my fingertips and toes” (Breaking Dawn, 422-423).
Shortly after this, Bella remarks that it was a “surprisingly sensual experience to observe Edward hunting,” and she notes that with his lips parted “over his gleaming teeth,” as he is about to bring down a deer, Edward is “glorious” (Breaking Dawn, 425). Later, they hunt with their young daughter, who is so advanced that she can join them in this festive tearing of animal flesh and blood-drinking.
So while vampires are portrayed as superior to humans in every way – faster, vastly stronger, smarter, sharper senses, breathtakingly beautiful, possessing supernatural powers, and immortal – they still devolve to an animal-like state when instinct takes over. This is revealing of Meyer’s vampire unable to breach the distinction between God and man, because despite the vampire’s godlike powers, he is not free from the bondage to his thirst for blood.
This portrayal is also an attack on the biblical truth that a person is made in the image of God (“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” Genesis 1:27) because although vampires are not considered human in the books, they are actually dead humans changed into vampires. They still look human and have human qualities such as intelligence, will, a sense of right and wrong, and philosophical questions about the afterlife (vampires do not die but can be destroyed) – all traits that reflect the character of God. To give them bestial instincts they are unable to master and to describe them in animal terms disdains the distinction that God made between man and beast.
FROM GLORIOUS TO GRISLY
Once Bella is part of Edward’s world, she experiences the joy of superseding the limitations of being human, and enters a new world that seems thrillingly blissful. However, there are gruesome scenes that range from disgusting to utterly repulsive.
After becoming a vampire, Bella is afraid to meet her father, Charlie, because she worries that she cannot stop herself from attacking him. She remarks, “Charlie smelled more delicious than anything I’d ever imagined . . . And he was just a few feet away, leaking mouthwatering heat and moisture into the dry air” (Breaking Dawn, 507). This is Bella’s father! But the same situation arose when Bella had her baby, Renesmee. Her daughter was taken away after birth and she could not see her because those around Bella feared she would attack her own child. Indeed, Edward himself tells Bella that the greatest pleasure for a vampire is to drink human blood.
The most grisly situation, however, is the labor and delivery of Bella’s baby. Bella became pregnant on her honeymoon while she was still human. Therefore, in her pregnancy, which progresses about nine times faster than a human pregnancy, Bella, still human, is carrying a half-human half-vampire child. Bella is not able to eat and the unborn baby is not getting nourishment. Consequently, Bella grows weaker while at the same time suffering great pain from the rapidly growing child who is breaking Bella’s ribs, one by one.
Edward figures out that the baby is craving blood – human blood. Fortunately, the clan has human blood available and they give Bella cups of blood (one wonders why they have human blood on hand). At first, Bella is unsure about drinking it, but after the initial drink, she declares it tastes good. Bella continues to down cups of blood until the stock is used up and Carlisle rushes out to procure more human blood.
The description of Bella going into labor is horrific. There is a “ripping sound from the center of her body,” a “shriek of agony,” and then Bella convulses and vomits “a fountain of blood” (Breaking Dawn, 347). Bella is so spent and damaged that the baby must be taken out, so Edward uses his teeth to rip into her flesh and gets the child out. Bella’s heart fails, and Edward plunges a syringe full of his “venom” into her heart. This starts the process of changing Bella into a vampire. Edward continues forcing his venom into Bella by biting her all over her body. For three days, Bella experiences an agonizing burning through her body as she morphs from human to vampire. The depiction of these events is grisly and repugnant, and odious particulars are not spared.
Jacob “imprints” on Bella and Edward’s baby girl. Werewolves like Jacob find their mate through an instinctive “knowing” of who their mate is, via an obsession for this person called “imprinting.” There is no choice. This resolves the Bella-Jacob-Edward triangle but in a rather creepy manner. That Jacob will one day mate with this baby and in the meantime cares for her as though he’s her babysitter or brother (it is hard for him to be apart from Renesmee and he does take care of her in the last book), is oddly repellent.
Although Edward and his clan do not hunt humans, when they host a large gathering of vampire friends in the last book, they accommodate those who do hunt humans (which is most of them). The vampires promise not to kill anyone within a 300 mile radius, and Edward, as “a gracious host,” lends them cars. Bella even remarks that there is “rampant murder being condoned” (Breaking Dawn, 607).
THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT
The cover of the first book in this series is illustrated with an apple, and Meyer acknowledges that it represents the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. Meyer states that it is appropriate because Bella gains a “working knowledge of good and evil,” and the apple says “choice” to Meyer (http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/twilight_faq.html#apple). To Meyer, it seems that the forbidden fruit is a good thing. Of course, in Mormon belief, the Fall into sin was a good thing, because it allowed spirits in heaven to incarnate as humans so that they could become a god in the future.
But the desire for a “working knowledge of good and evil,” or knowing evil firsthand, is exactly what caused Adam and Eve’s downfall (Genesis chapter 3). This resulted from disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit of this one tree (Genesis 2:7). The Fall brought the curse of sin to all creation and to the descendants of Adam, something the whole world is suffering to this day. It is because of this blight of sin that Jesus came and died on the cross, paying a penalty for those sins – a penalty so wrenching that we cannot imagine it – so that those who believe in Him can be redeemed and have eternal life with God.
This raises the question: Just who is God in this saga? Immortal life for Bella is trading in her humanity; heaven is trading in her soul to be wherever Edward is. The incessant descriptions of Edward as “godlike” and “glorious,” along with Bella’s passionate declarations that she is willing to lose her soul and that she does not want heaven without Edward lead to the inevitable conclusion that Edward is Bella’s god.