Twilight tells the story of clumsy, awkward 17 year old, Bella, who falls passionately in love with a gorgeous young man, Edward, who just happens to be a vampire. It is a hugely successful series of novels and film, with millions of fans, grossing millions of dollars.
I’ve been wondering about its appeal. Fans of the series are often obsessed, reading the books over and over. Some Christians think the book is dangerous with its occult undertones, others think it’s highly moral, preaching a ‘no sex before marriage’ message. My view is that it’s neither good nor bad. It’s just a story but it’s a very compelling story so I’ve been asking myself what is it that makes it so compelling? What does its huge success tell us about the generation of women and girls who have embraced it? A friend of mine suggested that it works because it fulfills a ‘deep longing’.
A deep longing for what? A longing to be loved, to be known, cared for, intimately understood, accepted, adored and desired. We all have or have had a longing for someone to love us in such a way: someone who would be amazingly strong, totally obsessed with our welfare and completely attentive to our every need. Those with a heightened awareness of this longing are far more likely to ‘get’ this film, than those who either have satisfying personal relationships or have settled for an easier substitute (shopping? eating?).
But is this longing unreasonable? Is it just a teenage fantasy we all once held but now we are ‘grown ups’ we have adjusted to the fact that life isn’t like that. Actually I think it is a reasonable longing and it is one many of us have either forgotten or buried it beneath disappointment or replaced it with more easily achieved goals.
Stephanie Mayer, the author of Twilight, and I agree about one thing: no other human being can ever fulfill this kind of longing. Only a supernatural being is capable of delivering our deepest desires. For Stephanie, the supernatural being in question is a vampire.
Edward is incredibly strong and powerful as well as stunningly gorgeous to look at. His relationship with Bella begins with the act of saving her from being crushed by a truck. He literally races to her side, putting himself between her and the oncoming vehicle.
From his many other appealing qualities, she adores the fact that he can lift her like a feather and carry her effortlessly. Oh how deeply that fantasy appeals to women conflicted over their weight! He throws her over his shoulder and carries her to places she could never have reached without a great deal of stumbling and effort. He is obsessed with keeping her safe, he is protective and vigilant. For several months without her knowledge he keeps watch over her while she sleeps. In short he adores her and one of the tensions running through the books is the tantalizing possibility that one day he might transform Bella into a beautiful, graceful, eternal being like himself. Laying aside ice-cold skin and a proclivity for eating flesh, he is in all respects the lover we all desire.
To be loved so utterly and completely – is that unreasonable? Unattainable? I don’t think so. I believe we were created by a God who left within us a knowledge that we were meant to be loved in this way. That’s why we long for it. It’s not unreasonable but it does feel unattainable.
Maybe that is because we have forgotten that the God who made us is also obsessed with us. It was Catherine of Sienna who called God a ‘Divine Madman’ ‘drunk with love, crazy with love’. He has not left us alone in the world but came in human form to throw himself in between me and all the forces of death, hell and destruction that threatened me. He is strong, he is powerful. He watches over me by day and by night ‘he neither slumbers nor sleeps, he will not let my foot slip, he is my shade (Psalm 121), he watches over me while I sleep (Psalm 139). He has immense strength and supernatural power which is always for me and never against me (Romans 8). He also promises that one day he will transform me into an eternal being of grace and beauty.
We shy away from linking our romantic longings to God. Perhaps we are afraid of trivialising God or appearing too sentimental and matey in an undignified ‘Jesus is my home boy’ kind of way. But God does not shy away from using the language of romance and intimacy with us. He describes himself as ‘the bridegroom’ and we are his bride. He invites us to ‘remain in his love’. The idea of sexual union is actually used as the highest metaphor for the way that God loves us. ‘Husbands should love their wives… as Christ does the church’ a ‘profound mystery’ says Paul (Ephesians 5). Whatever that means, it clearly indicates that what God expects from this relationship is a level of intimacy we find hard to conceive.
I was made to be loved. I don’t have to settle for anything less than being loved completely by God. Impossibly beautiful but completely fictional vampires are not the answer to my deepest longings. There is a supernatural being who is real and much closer to us than we realise. He waits for me to turn, to recognise his presence and to open my heart to his love.
There is a moment in the book when Bella wakes up with a kind of creed on her lips.
‘About three things I was absolutely positive. First Edward was a vampire. Second, there was a part of him and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be, that thirsted for my blood. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him’.
My version of Bella’s creed is thus: About three things I am absolutely positive. First Jesus is God himself. Second that there is no part of him that he held back when he poured out his life blood on my behalf. And third he is unconditionally, irrevocably and unreservedly in love with me.