A Christian Review by C.A. Smith
At first glance, a series of vampire novels written for the young adult crowd might raise warning flags for Christians. Truth be told, those warning flags are worth heeding, though perhaps not for the obvious reasons.
But let us begin with the positives: the Twilight series is well-written without being pretentious, a balancing act that is not always found skillfully accomplished in young adult fiction. As such, it can be expected to influence young readers to read more and, hopefully, more widely. Coming back from a speaking engagement in Rhode Island last month, I sat next to a middle school librarian who said that she had seen a definite increase in the popularity of reading among her students recently. She gave credit for this to the Twilight series.
The Twilight series also contains a strong emphasis on friendship and loyalty. Along with those themes, it regularly stresses the importance of making decisions with more than our own self-interest in mind. Certainly these are themes that can be affirmed by Christians.
Somewhat surprisingly, especially given the almost cloying romantic tension that I’ll address in a moment, the first two books of the series also emphasize a remarkable degree of self-restraint and abstinence. (I have not yet read the last two books in the series, so I don’t know if this is sustained.)
I was also rather surprised to find a thin presentation of the teleological argument for God’s existence woven in the text of the first book. Moreover, there is an ongoing interest in questions of God and the existence of the human soul that provide interesting opportunities for discussion of significant issues with fans of the series. But these recognitions should not be construed as a blanket endorsement of the novel series. Given the fact that the book is about vampires and werewolves, one would assume that this occult-oriented subject matter would be the primary objection Christians would have to the series. However, I did not find this much of an issue. The vampires and werewolves in Twilight are not occult figures in the traditional sense. Rather, they are human beings with something that might be characterized as infections, though the nature of the infection is not really explored.
True, those with whatever causes vampirism are prone to less than ideal impulses, but this is perhaps the most intriguing issue in the series as a whole. The natural impulse of the vampires is to drink the blood of humans, which of course requires murdering them. However, the main family of vampires in the Twilight series have vowed not to obey this impulse because they recognize that such actions are evil. What is intriguing about this is that it suggests to readers in a remarkably effective way that an impulse may be morally wrong even though it is “natural.” I will leave it to you to make the connection between this and some analogous real-life issues that we are currently debating as a culture.
The most negative feature of the series is not the occult connections (which are nearly non-existent, at least in the traditional sense) but something that, on the surface seems far more innocuous. I am referring here to the nearly overwhelming relational angst that permeates the storyline. The main character of the book is a teenage girl, Bella, whose entire sense of self-worth and identity becomes wrapped up in her relationship with the youngest member of the vampire clan, Edward. The unhealthy degree of her obsession is never really addressed (at least in the first two books) and it is not entirely clear that it is even recognized as unhealthy. To be perfectly frank, the doting, pining, brooding, swooning and exalting is very nearly nauseating. Furthermore, to the extent that it legitimizes this sort of thing, Twilight is quite possibly dangerous, especially for teenage girls who may already be prone to such excesses.
On the other hand, Twilight does provide some interesting opportunities for discussion. In addition to the point about natural/moral impulses above, the novels could easily pave the way for a discussion about where our sense of worth and value should really be grounded. There may also be room for conversation about why the novels are so popular in the first place. I suspect a great deal of their popularity (at least for girls) is that Edward excels at making Bella feel safe and loved. Given the current cultural and familial climate in which so many girls are growing up, safety and a sense of being deeply loved are in dreadfully short supply.
In short, the fact that the novels are about vampires and werewolves is probably nothing to get worked up about. The books do not encourage or even condone occult activity as far as I can see. A pervasive romantic tension (which trends towards sexual tension in my opinion, though the first two books are remarkably chaste) and an unhealthy perspective on teenage love are of far greater concern.
Would I let my teenage daughters read the books? Probably not, although it would depend on their individual tendencies to some extent. I don’t think the books are inherently dangerous. But this sort of question may miss the real point. Teenage girls are already reading this book in astounding numbers. Given this fact, the Twilight series does provide some opportunities to speak into their lives and we ought to be ready to take advantage of them. In that spirit, here are several questions you might think about asking your daughters or their friends who are reading the series:
1. What do you think Bella finds so attractive about Edward?
2. Do you think their relationship is realistic? Why or why not?
3. Do you think their relationship is healthy? Why or why not?
4. What do you think of the Cullen’s (the vampire family) commitment not to give in to their vampire impulses? Do you think it would be wrong if they gave in to them? Why or why not? [the key discussion point here is to help them see that there are some things which are wrong regardless of why we may want to do them. For example, the genetic abnormality which causes some men to be born with an extra Y chromosome also makes them very prone to extreme violence. But do we allow them to perpetrate this violence on others. Of course not.]
1 Stephanie Meyer, The Twilight Saga, Books 1-4 (New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2005).