The twilight gospel: the spiritual roots of Stephenie Meyer’s vampire saga
Monarch, 2009, £7.99, Pbk., 159p., ISBN: 9781854249760
The Twilight Gospel is difficult to categorise – the author makes no claim for its being literary criticism rather calling it a “respectful engagement”. The runaway success of the Twilight series has caused him to look critically at this phenomenon which might threaten to capture the hearts and minds of impressionable young people or others who read the series as the latest best seller.
The target audience is broad and in a hundred and fifty pages the author explains a range of concerns about the Twilight series which runs to some 2,500 pages so his treatment is not exhaustive. He gives a brief overview of the stories and identifies key issues for Christians in chapters on fantasy and the supernatural, physical appearance and consumerism, sexuality, the occult and finally distinctions between the Christian and Twilight gospels.
A survey of other vampire fiction and its origins sets the scene and Dave Roberts talks generally about the power of story. He finds interesting parallels with other best sellers such as Harry Potter and Dan Brown. He points out that the Vatican came out against both of these, although it has softened on Harry Potter. It is to be hoped this will not prejudice the case for caution with regard to Twilight. The author declares his position ‘mainstream Christian orthodoxy‘ but deals fairly with the books giving credit to characters that do portray Christian values and demonstrate Christian behaviour.
He argues against the consumerism rife in the novels and the vaunting of appearance rather than character. He identifies this influence as stronger and more insidious than the glamorous background in many other contemporary novels. Alice, an otherwise appealing character, is a mega shopaholic who has created the wealth of the Cullens by using her psychic foreknowledge to play the financial markets rather than by the Protestant work ethic!
Dave Roberts points out differences between the orthodox Christian gospel and its distorted manifestation in the Twilight books. Stephenie Meyer has stated her intention to explore free will, but the author points out very clearly how she diverges from the Christian doctrine of free will and salvation by grace. The representation of immortality is obviously sub-Christian, as achieved by vampires and it is this deviance which has been cited against the series by the Vatican.
Many people (including myself as the Librarian of a Catholic school) welcomed the books as promoting chastity before marriage but Dave Roberts points out how erotically charged they are and that Edward is chaste for practical reasons because he is a vampire – an argument unlikely to weigh with most young people who are not vampires!
The points with which Dave Roberts contends are linked to the Twilight series at the end of the book whereas it might have been easier to use in conjunction with the books had the references been footnotes throughout the text or at least at the end of chapters.
The title Twilight Gospel is an interesting comment when ‘twilight’ is defined as ‘dim light’ or ‘imperfect light’ which sums up Dave Roberts’ conclusion about Meyer’s works.
The Twilight Gospel would be an excellent starting point for discussion on the Twilight saga. I wish it had been available when my school parents’ reading group met to discuss Stephenie Meyer’s vampire series. I plan to pass on my copy to the leaders of our church Youth Group and feel confident that it will be very helpful in identifying issues and guiding a discussion about this astonishing phenomenon in youth culture.
Contributed by: Mary Barker, BA, MCLIP, who is School Librarian of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School and serves CLIS Library Assistance Manager.