So today I thought I'd write some of the reasons why I think Twilight isn't nearly as bad as people make it out to be. (Though it's also not nearly as good as other people make it out to be. Chill out, Twihards.) A great deal of this defense is based off of the theology of the LDS church, which Stephenie Meyer and I are both members of. If you don't think you can handle that, off you pop! *Spoilers ahoy*
I've been a Twilight fan since I was in middle school, when one of my friends introduced me to it. At the time, I was struggling from a severe bout of mental illness, and Twilight, for me as for so many others, was an escape. I also had a great appreciation for the voice, which I still do today.
After a while, my friend went kinda crazy about it--a definite Twihard, trying to become Bella--which made me distance myself. I still liked Twilight, but I have to admit, there are a lot of people out there who get way too obsessive. There are plenty of reasons why this isn't a good idea: for one, Bella and Edward's relationship does match all the red flags for domestic violence (which surprised me at first--I consider myself to be very educated about abuse, but hey, turns out, I missed it here). Also, as much as I love fiction, let me make this clear: you should never try to be anyone but yourself.
Soon after the release of the final Twilight book, I became more integrated into the literary community on the Internet, which is how I discovered the Twihaters. Which is basically everyone but the Twihards. Pretty much, people act like liking Twilight makes you an uneducated idiot because it has no meaning except that you need to have a boyfriend. (As famously stated by Stephen King himself.) But I disagree with this, and I'd like to share some thoughts on why.
I will agree that this is hardly the best book series. Again, there's the domestic violence issue, it does have a big focus on how important it is to have a boyfriend, and it's not the most high-quality thing ever--purple prose, anyone? But there's still a lot to be learned from it as a writer. And I'd like to add that there's more meaning to it than people realize--because they don't know Mormon theology. This novel series is steeped in it, sometimes in subtle, brilliant ways.
First, to analyze the basic plot of the series: Bella meets Edward, a perfect vampire-dude, and they fall in love despite tons of roadblocks, and lots of things happen, and more things happen, and there's some werewolves too, and the entire time all Bella wants is to be turned into a vampire so she can be with Edward forever. Eventually this does happen and they make themselves a clear place in the vampire world by proving to the other big bad vampires that everything's good.
So what does this have to do with Mormon theology? Basically, being a vampire represents heaven.
In LDS belief, there are a set of three heavenly kingdoms where everyone will be sorted--and they're all good. But the ultimate goal is to get to the highest kingdom, the Celestial Kingdom, because while all the kingdoms are good, the top one's the only one where you can be in God's presence. (There is a hell, which we call the Outer Darkness, but it's really really hard to be bad enough to get there. You basically have to be the devil.)
We also believe in eternal families, in living together in that kind of a unit in heaven, and in having perfected bodies. (This does not necessarily mean "sparkly", but it's interesting to me that Bella feels better after she becomes a vampire, as though she was always meant to be one.) In basis, the entire focus of the Twilight novels is Bella trying to get into the highest kingdom of glory--and she needs Edward in order to do that.
While you don't need to be married to get into heaven, or even to the Celestial Kingdom, you do have to be married in order to become the most exalted within the Celestial Kingdom. These most exalted people will then become godlike themselves. This is a status that can only be achieved in partnership, for men and women both. This is reflected by Bella's desire to become a vampire and be with Edward forever, and how Edward describes being forever changed and made better by his love for Bella. Edward's insistence upon getting married first is also related, though this is also a reference to the Mormon law of not having sex outside marriage.
That's is the main meaning of Twilight, but there's more. The reason the series is so long is that Bella and her new eternal family keep running into trouble. There's the problem with the blood lust thing, which, besides being another chastity metaphor, is a general metaphor for how hard you have to work to resist temptation in order to get to that highest kingdom. The "bad vampires" who also cause trouble through the series represent the impact of giving into that sin, and many of them may even represent demons.
The sanctity of the family is both a huge theme in Twilight and one of the strongest underlying beliefs of the LDS church. The bad guys are always trying to destroy the vampire family. The chastity thing that appears throughout the novels is also a big part of the sanctity of the family, as well as protecting your children, which is the entire message of the final book. People have pointed out the very strong anti-abortion metaphor in the last book, but that's just one piece of how Bella and Edward end up fighting to save their child, Renesmee.
So what do the werewolves have to do with anything? Well, they turn out to be a variant on the vampires. Werewolves are also perfected, eternal beings, but they represent more directly the Twelve Tribes of Israel. The LDS church believes that the Ten of the Twelve Tribes, having been scattered across the Earth , must come together again and accept their true birthright before the Judgment can occur. The werewolves are made to be a representative of the Tribes, which is clearly seen through the names of their grandparents. Jacob is a direct descendant of Ephraim (which is the birthright tribe of Israel), and through that, has the birthright of leader of the pack--but he gave it over to Sam, the descendant of Levi (another, very important tribe in Israel which watches over much of the priesthood), because he didn't want it. In the end, the werewolves and vampires can only come together to protect the family and reach their full eternal potential once Jacob accepts his birthright.
Now, if you're wondering about the love triangle deal here, the reason I think Bella had to choose Edward over Jacob to reach that "heaven" was that she could only be "adopted" by the vampires, which relates to the Mormon belief that Gentiles can be "adopted" into the Tribes of Israel. I'm not totally sure why the werewolves couldn't adopt Bella in this way, but I do know they represent the natural descendants of the tribes whereas vampires would be the adopted ones.
Another cool LDS aspect to the novels is in the powers a bunch of the vampires get, where their greatest skill in their human lives becomes an outright superpower in eternity. (For example, Edward can read minds, Bella has a protective force field, and Alice can see the future.) Another thing we Mormons believe in is spiritual gifts. Basically, everyone has at least one (but usually more) special gift. These gifts are amplified when you receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism, and, presumably, will also be stronger in the afterlife. Many of these gifts, like many of the vampires's gifts, are basic, logical things--faith, loyalty, intelligence. But some of them are a lot more on the supernatural side--prophecy, discernment, healing. All of these gifts are real, I can testify, and people do have them.
So that covers a lot of the more unusual LDS theology, but where's the actual "Christian" aspect in all of this? As best as I can tell, Carlisle represents Christ. He's an ancient, immortal, perfect being, once friends with the worst of the vampires before they fell too far, and he created his vampire family by saving those who were so broken they were destined to die, making them perfect immortals like himself. Without him, none of the good vampirism is possible. Throughout the series, Carlisle acts as a figure of care, guidance, and protection to everyone around him, though he refuses to tolerate threats to his family. What's more, he has made the medical profession his focus in his immortal life, because he is more gifted at saving people than any human can be (You might note that Christ is also sometimes called "the Physician"). Carlisle is also so accustomed to blood in his profession that temptation no longer affects him at all. It's a pity the series didn't focus more on him, but it's really Bella's story.
What I'm saying here is not that Twilight doesn't have some real faults, because it does. But I am saying that it actually means a lot more than just "you need a boyfriend." Mormon theology is very rich in the series, and although Meyer got off-track a lot because of the escapist nature of the story and, probably, her own prejudices, it has a lot of meaning and therefore, some real value.
(For the record, the church is very very against the mistreatment of women and children. I mean, abuse is really not in the favor of the sanctity of the family, not to mention, it's just plain wrong. So in that, Stephanie Meyer didn't do quite so well. I do think the relationship between Alice and Jasper, two of the side characters, is a better one in that way.)
Thanks for reading, guys. Give me your thoughts! And come back next time for our Short Story Saturday. *Post has been removed.*
Images via Fanpop, boomsbeat.com, and wearemoviegeeks.com.
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