HALLOWEEN 2011: BY EMILY RAGSDALE
I came late to the Twilight Saga, not reading the first book until Eclipse had knocked Harry Potter off the Number One Bestseller spot. I’d seen it at the library and even flipped through it a few times to see what it was about, but my lifelong avoidance of vampires as something that would guarantee nightmares was tough to break. But in the wake of Harry Potter I was feeling blue. What was there to look forward to now that Harry, Hermione, and Ron’s adventures had been wrapped up? The answer it seemed was this Twilight book I kept hearing about. I wound up at the bottom of a long list of people on hold for it at the library (number 57, I think) and impatience got the better of me one night at Walmart when I saw a display of paperbacks for $6. “What’s that?” my mom asked as I rejoined her in line.
“Some book about vampires. I dunno, it’s really popular right now,” I muttered when she gave me her skeptical, “Since when do you read that sort of thing?” look.
Three days later, having stayed up until three in the morning to finish Twilight, I left the store clutching shiny hardcover copies of New Moon and Eclipse, since I couldn’t stand the library’s wait to find out what happened next.
I’m always baffled when people criticize the way Stephenie Meyer writes. For me it was love at first word; her writing is hypnotic, drawing you deeper and deeper into the story. The rainy, gloomy atmosphere of Forks pervades every chapter. The contrast between Bella’s warmth (her cheeks are constantly burning with blushes) and Edward’s chill, his icy fingers brushing hers, leaves you feeling feverish. The details like what Bella eats for breakfast, the scent of her favorite shampoo, her clothes and the books she reads serve to anchor the fantastic elements in the real world. This could happen to me, you think. Bella, used to taking care of her mother in a similar way, takes over the cooking and cleaning when she moves in with her father. “Anti-feminist!” some cry. Nonsense. Was it anti-feminist when she cooked and cleaned for her mother? Or is it that she does it because someone has to, she’s used to it being her, and left to his own devices Charlie would subsist on pizza and only clean the bathroom once every few months?
And of course there’s Edward Cullen, the vampire who doesn’t want to be a monster. We fall in love with him along with Bella, reveling in every glance, each careful conversation, his golden eyes, carefully tousled bronze hair, the ability to read minds that is both a blessing and a curse. The chapter where he saves her in Port Angeles and they go to dinner is surely one of the most romantic scenes ever written (and by comparison, the scene in the movie is a travesty). “Creepy stalker!” some cry when Edward reveals he’s been sneaking through the window at night to watch her sleep, and they’d have a point if this was just a book about an ordinary high school romance. Edward has been living as an outsider too long to think about human rules. In his mind, Bella is fascinating and while she’s sleeping is the only time he can indulge his interest in her. He thinks he’s the worst thing that could ever happen to her and doesn’t want her to find out he likes her. In his mind, it’s better this way. He can watch her, listen to her talking in her sleep and maybe find out about her that way, and she doesn’t have to know. He’ll be able to walk away eventually and let her live her life in peace as a human, never knowing there are such things as vampires. Now, I don’t recommend that anyone let her boyfriend climb in the window every night but vampire romances aren’t meant to be a guide to real life!
As a Christian, one thing I like about these vampires is that their struggle against a desire for blood mirrors our struggle against our sin nature. The Cullens constantly thirst for human blood but rather than give in, they resist by drinking animal blood, which satisfies the thirst but allows them to keep their humanity. Bella and Edward’s relationship is fraught with tension, especially at first as he struggles with his desire to drink from her. Vampires can’t just take a little drink here and there; once they bite a human, they go into a shark-like feeding frenzy and can’t stop until all the blood is gone. Edward constantly fights against his vampire nature in order to be close to Bella. It’s a familiar fight for a Christian, a desire to do good in spite of the evil in our own hearts, and our need to guard against things which tempt us to sin.
While many Christians disapprove of how often Edward stays at Bella’s house, many non-Christians disapprove of the fact that nothing happens on those nights. They mock Edward for not wanting to sleep with Bella while she’s human and assume the author had a pro-abstinence plan in mind when she wrote some of the scenes in Eclipse, but what they miss is that not jumping into bed together “just because they can” is a key part of the romance. What makes so many girls swoon over Edward is that he is a gentleman and wants to do things the “right way.” At one point, Bella decides that before she becomes a vampire she wants to sleep with Edward. She’s just heard a bunch of horror stories about what it’s like as a newborn vampire and is afraid the intensity of her love for him will be dulled by her new obsession with blood. Edward puts her off not as she expected because he’s afraid of hurting her (though that does play a part) but because having grown up in the early 1900s he doesn’t believe in premarital sex. His marriage proposal that follows her attempt to seduce him is so romantic, I’m surprised more people don’t vow to save sex for marriage as a result! It was one of the few scenes the movie got right. I was sure they’d tone down the abstinence aspect, but thankfully it was left in.
Bella is such a fascinating character, it’s frustrating to find so many people who write her off as a Mary-Sue stand-in for the reader to allow you to put yourself in the story. I’ve always found her to be very strong and well-defined. It’s true that her descriptions of herself are vague, but that ties more to her disregard for herself than is an attempt to let you see yourself in her. Bella thinks she is the least interesting person around; shy and introverted, she wants to disappear into the background. Because she has such a low opinion of herself, she’s willing to sacrifice what she wants for the people she loves. When her mom marries a baseball player and wants to travel with him, Bella exiles herself to rainy Forks, a town she’s never cared for, so her mom can be happy. When a vicious vampire threatens everyone she cares about, Bella doesn’t even think about saving herself, she jumps in a cab to go find him, hoping he’ll be satisfied to kill her and leave the others alone.
Like a lot of shy people, Bella can be unintentionally snobby—when boys at school start paying attention to her, she’s more irritated than flattered. She doesn’t want to go on a lot of awkward high school dates. Her crushes are on literary men like Mr. Darcy. It takes Edward Cullen to attract her. He’s different from the other boys at Forks High. Not just better-looking but more courteous, easier to talk to, mysterious and intriguing… a literary man come to life. Edward is not without his flaws but hardly deserving of the criticism some people throw at him. He is overprotective, at times condescending, and has a tendency to overreact, but through the course of the series, he changes for the better. When he does things Bella doesn’t like she doesn’t just say, “Whatever you want!” and swoon into his arms. She stands up to him and asks him to see things from her perspective. By Eclipse they have both learned to bring up the difficult topics and talk them over to work toward a compromise, rather than be clingy and terrified that the other will leave them if there’s any problem. They both start out with flaws but grow together and change each other—literally, in Edward’s case, as he finally turns Bella into a vampire in Breaking Dawn. Finally on equal footing, Bella overcomes her insecurities about the relationship and Edward’s fears that she will hate him for taking away her life are laid to rest, and they live “happily ever after.”
It’s true, Twilight is a slow progression through meeting, getting to know each other, and falling in love with not much action, vampire or otherwise. Maybe that’s what some vampire fans dislike about it. It’s not Buffy the Vampire Slayer, with vampires being staked right and left and humans being attacked. The only action comes in spurts, with a lot of everyday life in between. But that’s one of the things I like. It is a vampire romance, emphasis on the romance. When it’s the other way around, I start sleeping with the covers held tight around my chin so Dracula can’t come out of my closet and suck my blood, and that’s not really fun. I’d much rather picture Edward Cullen watching me as I sleep! ■