THE TWILIGHT PHENOMENON: Forbidden Fruit OR Thirst-Quenching Fantasy?
By Kurt Bruner / Summary by Stacey Tuttle
Editorial Note: the name of satan is not capitalized in the following document in accordance with the choices of the author/publishers of The Twilight Phenomenon who chose to violate grammatical rules rather than acknowledge his name.
Kurt Bruner decided to read the Twilight series to see what all the hype was about when he realized that it was a bestseller, blockbuster hit and, with only one exception, all the girls in his son’s fifth-grade class had read the books.
He asks anyone who is skeptical of the Twilight books to reserve judgment until they have heard about the themes and ideas in the books and understand a little better why the books are so appealing. He also asks those Twi-hard fans to be willing to see the books anew with spiritual eyes .
Bruner is a Spiritual Formation Pastor, helping people along in their spiritual journey—helping them move upward towards Christ instead of slipping and tumbling downward. He believes that the arts (for these purposes more specifically fantasy and film) can aid people in that upward climb. (One example of that is Grimm’s Fairy tales which gave a moral compass for appropriate behavior.) He says that stories, (especially fiction) aren’t an escape from reality, but actually help us connect to the most important realities, which is why we love them so much.
Part of what makes Twilight so intriguing is the way it so successfully combines two very different genres: romance and gothic horror.
There are two key factors to consider in order to understand how a story will affect our spiritual formation: the author’s worldview/assumptions/attitudes which cannot help but leak into the story (intentionally or not), and the reader’s worldview/assumptions/attitudes which affect they way he/she ingests and interprets the story. It is important to have the right “lenses” on when reading/watching any story so that you are able to properly distinguish between the good and the bad material (or lessons) in it. “Remember,” Bruner writes, “just because something tastes good does not make it good for you.”
Bruner lists questions others have asked which he hopes to answer in the book:
- IS it OK for teen (and preteen) girls to read a series about forbidden love with a dangerous “boy”?
- Why are we so fascinated with dark characters like vampires, and what does that fascination suggest about our own nature?
- What are vampires? Do they have souls?
- What is the relationship between romantic attraction and true love?
- What sacrifices can or should we make for love?
- Are we defined by our nature or our choices?
- What is immortality and how is it lost? How is it gained?
- How do we discern between good desire and bad temptation?
- What is the nature of evil?
- What does it mean to be heroic?
- Is the emergence of the Twilight phenomenon essentially good or basically evil?
The first three chapters of the book look at the fantasy and vampire genres, so readers can read the book in context of the rules of the genre in which is written. The final two chapters will examine romantic love and its purpose.
CHAPTER ONE: THE POWER OF STORIES
Good stories are more than mere entertainment, “they encourage us, challenge us or even transform us.” Bruner lists several examples of books and movies which have made a significant impact on our culture (such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin which helped the abolitionist movement and even gets some credit for having started the Civil War). The ultimate example of a book which impacts lives and culture is the Bible.
HAPPILY EVER AFTER…
Bruner explores man’s longing for happy endings in stories and in life. He says that our love of a good story isn’t an escape from reality, but a desire to connect with it, arguing that good stories are good, “not because they distract our troubled hearts, but because they affirm our deepest aspirations” to connect to an unfolding drama in which we play a part. All good stories have some common elements: a central character (hero) whose normal life is thrown off kilter and thrusts him/her onto a journey or quest full of obstacles and challenges to his pursuit of the object of his desire. The climax generally includes a confrontation with a villain and requires the hero to sacrifice in some way, often including dying to himself in one form or another.
Two classic story examples of this story line are the “guy meets girl” and the “action-adventure” format. Once guy meets girl, ordinary life will no longer suffice and he has to find a way to get the girl – which usually requires he die to self in order to do so. In the action-adventure version, the hero has to risk his life, limb and/or reputation in order to save his world from the villain who threatens and to restore peace. Twilight has both story lines woven into its fabric, which partially accounts for its popularity.
According to Bruner, the hero’s journey, reflected in all great stories, is patterned after the Christian narrative. “A hero (Christ) leaves His ordinary world (heaven) on a quest to face His old nemesis (satan) in order to rescue an object of desire (humanity). Overcoming great obstacles, He eventually faces death to remedy the world.” Therefore, Bruner thinks the longings and yearnings which the hero’s journey in a good story stirs up in our hearts are God-given. He posits that the things we wish were true are meant to point us to the things which ARE true.
CHAPTER TWO: THE TRUTH OF MYTH
Bruner pauses to explain a little about the fantasy genre. Traditionally “myth” describes a story that reflects universal truth (not the current meaning of something untrue). “In this context, Christianity is the supreme myth—the true, transcendent story that all others are trying to tell.”
FANTASY AS TRUTH ENCOUNTER
It was fantasy which awakened in C.S. Lewis a desire for the joy that fantasy pointed to and ultimately led him to Christianity. Lewis’ fantasy stories, most notably the Chronicles of Narnia, have awakened those same desires in scores of readers. And, as readers come to love Aslan for the things he says and does, Lewis explains that they are really, through Aslan, coming to love Jesus in deeper ways than before.
A worldview—the way in which we view the world—is heavily shaped by our religious perspectives and greatly affects the way we interpret stories and events we encounter, and the lessons we take from them.
THEE QUESTIONS (that every worldview must answer)
- 1. What are we made for?
“Regardless of religious perspective, every one of us senses that life has to be more than meets the eye.”
- 2. What is wrong with our world?
All the pain and suffering in the world tells us something is wrong.
- 3. How will it be made right?
“Even while shaking our fist in anger at a God who seems cruel or distant, we reach for a God we hope can set things right and redeem our pain for a greater good. We don’t know how. We don’t know when. But we know things should not, cannot be left wrong. They must be made right again.”
CHAPTER THREE: THE REALITY OF VAMPIRES
Though the literary version of vampires as fanged, bat-morphing creatures is not real, what vampires represent is a very real and very disturbing thing…and it relates to the second worldview question: “What is wrong with our world?”
WHAT IS VAMPIRISM?
Bruner explores the history and various definitions of vampires.
- Psychic vampires are people who seek to feed on the energy of others
- Random House Dictionary: unscrupulous (without regard for moral rules/restrictions) exploitation (taking advantage of the unfortunate), ruin, (tearing down the strong, corrupting the good) or degradation (disfiguring beautiful, spoiling the sacred) of others.
- Merriam-Webster’s Medical Dictionary regarding vampirism: “a sexual perversion in which pleasure and especially sexual pleasure is obtained by the drawing of the blood.”
- Summarily: “vampirism is the process of draining life from others” and ranges in extremes from being needy and clingy to abuse and rape.
In a search for the origin of the vampire myth, Bruner lists six vampire-like legends from cultures around the world. It appears that these stories have arisen from a superstitious response to some unexplainable and painful events in the world. (Such events were common in a world that understood nothing of germs and diseases…making illness and death seem a complete mystery.) Whatever the origins, common characteristics of these stories include:
- Blood Drinkers (blood is believed to have magical potency)
- Shape-Shifters (not limited to bats)
- Cross Haters (because they embody all things unholy, they despise the sacred)
- Garlic Avoiders
- Lust Indulgers (compulsively driven to satisfy wicked urges… for both blood and sex, etc.)
- Undead Creatures (“Like demons, angels who were banished from their proper place, vampires exist in exile haunted by the memory of human joys now out of reach.”)
VAMPIRE HALL OF FAME
A list of the most popular and/or most influential vampire stories includes:
- The Vampyre: credited with starting the fascination and transforming the folklore into a fiendish aristocrat preying upon high society
- Dracula: So named for the Romanian word dracul meaning devil. Dracula can only be defeated by virtuous men who serve God are willing to sacrifice themselves. The most famous of all vampire stories.
- I am Legend: “the first to portray vampires as victims of a contagious disease rather than monsters who choose evil.”
- Interview with a Vampire: by Anne Rice, one of the most successful vampire novelists of all time.
Even worse than the vampires in literature are the acts of real-life vampirism documented in history.
- The Real Dracula: Vlad Dracul, or Vlad the Impaler (his surname, Draculae, means “Son of the Devil”). Credited with the death of about 80,000 victims (men, women, children, even babies) by impaling, German stories say he also tortured, burned, skinned, roasted, boiled and cut off limbs of his victims. Also, he reportedly fed their flesh to friends or relatives.
- Blood Bath: A Transylvanian noblewoman, Elizabeth Bathory, a.k.a. the “Blood Countess”, believed she could hold on to her youthful beauty if she bathed in the blood of beautiful young virgins. One method was to cage a virgin above her, poke her with sharp spikes and hot irons and literally shower in the blood pouring down. Her journals record some 600 victims.
- Vampire Butcher: German butcher Fritz Haarman molested and murdered homeless boys 12-18 years old by biting their jugular and drinking their blood. It is believed their bodies were then used for sausage meat and eaten.
- Acid Bath Vampire: Englishman John George Haigh in 1940s dissolved victims bodies in acid thinking the police couldn’t find him guilty without a body. He doesn’t seem to have been motivated by bloodlust himself (he made money selling victims’ property), but the heavy metal band Macabre was inspired to write a song, Acid Bath Vampire, because of him which reeks of bloodlust.
A DARK REALITY
Our dark imaginings are often rooted in things which are. Behind our vampire myths, infamous murderers, etc. is the dark, harsh reality that there truly is a very evil enemy: satan. Note that the following qualities are all also attributed to vampires.
- Shape-Shifter: He takes on various forms including: serpent, dragon, angel of light, lion. His servants are known to inhabit bodies (human and animal).
- Murderous Liar: He is cunning and seductive. His best weapon is that of deception because it leaves his victims clueless and willing to follow.
- Cross Hater: The cross represents satan’s greatest defeat (Jesus’ resurrection)
Satan was made for more (created to be an archangel) than he became (the worst of all enemies). (Note the similarity to vampires: once humans, they are now an enemy of mankind.) His fall was a result of pride and self-delusion; he saw himself as God’s equal. Now he is death itself. “Death is the opposite of life. It is not the end of existence, but the beginning of something far worse; an eternity of madness, separated from the source of sanity: continual deception, denying the clarity of truth.” And, Bruner cautions that the “seductive, life-draining, deceptive realities of vampirism are rooted in dark tendencies of the human heart…Like the book I am Legend imagines, humanity changed due to a contagious disease that spread to all but one. As Jesus, the One, put it ‘men loved Darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil’ (John 3:19)”
Three realities that vampire fiction hints at:
- Mankind has been deceived by one who seeks to drain the life God intended us to have.
- Mankind tends to rebel against the good/right—“making the seductive allure of evil something we crave rather than resist.”
- The memory of the life we were made to experience haunts us. (Something which the Twilight books have rather significantly tapped into.)
CHAPTER FOUR: LOVE HUNGER
The prevalence in literature and movies (ref. Twilight, Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, West Side Story, Titanic, etc.) of forbidden love that one cannot live without indicates that there may be more to it than mere melodramatic immaturity.
The desire for romance was created by God in the beginning (before the fall) – and the very existence of that desire indicates there is a satisfaction for it—one that is healthy and appropriate. However, there are also unhealthy and inappropriate ways to satisfy that desire (just as there are healthy ways and unhealthy ways to satisfy hunger/the desire for food). God created love and established marriage as the healthy way/place to satisfy our desires for romance and sex.
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
Bruner looks at the positive elements of the romance in Twilight, starting with a nod to the more obvious, but questionable elements of abstinence (till marriage) and faithfulness/celibacy.
- Drawn to Beauty—the fascination with beauty in the book echoes our human response to beauty and our desire for the ultimate beauty, (and creator of it) God.
- Masculine Strength—displayed most evidently in Edward who has physical strength, but more importantly strength of character.
- Feminine Mystique—The sole mind Edward can’t read is Bella’s and it greatly enhances her mystery and her beauty (a notable point for today’s world where women reveal all—physically, emotionally, mentally—much too soon).
Like all great love stories, there are obstacles to overcome on the road to fulfillment for Bella and Edward. Our longing for their union points to our longing for marriage itself, and ultimately for the marriage of the Church with Christ.
CHAPTER FIVE: LUST THIRST
Bruner answers a key question: “Does the Twilight series handle romance in a manner that provides young readers nourishing fruit or an unhealthy candy bar?” Answer: Both. He says that while they are about abstinence, they nonetheless evoke “strong erotic images and emotions.” He quotes Time Magazine, “they’re about the erotics of abstinence… they’re squeaky, geeky clean on the surface, but right below it, they are absolutely, deliciously filthy.”
Bruner outlines the progression of sexual tension throughout the books, drawing attention to the fact that Bella continually does her best to seduce Edward seeing no reason to wait for marriage to have sex. Bruner also draws a chilling comparison between Bella and the “crafty harlot” in Proverbs 5 and 7, questioning if this is the role model parents really want for their young daughters. He lists four messages girls are likely to take away from Bella’s example:
- Even good girls are eager for sex before marriage
- It’s OK to tempt a guy—just trust him and his self-control to protect you
- Go with your feelings in the passion of the moment
- A link between sex and marriage isn’t necessary
He also points out that Bella behaves more like a vampire than Edward does in her willingness to drain Edward’s resolve in order to get what she wants (sex without marriage) and outlines her repulsion to the idea of marriage found throughout the books.
TOO EASILY PLEASED
Our natural, God-given desires, have been twisted so that we are duped into seeking cheap, lesser imitations (Bella seeking sex without marriage), without realizing there is a far more satisfying fulfillment.
CHAPTER SIX: SOUL DESTINY
Ethics, morality and the possibility of punishment and reward in the afterlife are on-going themes in the Twilight series. Questioning if vampires have souls and if so, are they eternally damned? Can good works, discipline and self-sacrifice save their souls? The questions preclude two assumptions: “there is a moral code to respect and…there is an afterlife to anticipate.” 
While vampires are typically portrayed as monsters, Twilight’s vegetarian, heroic vampires rather force a reconsideration of definitions. The packaging is not the point (human, vampire, werewolf), the point is the inside, whether a person seeks to protect life or destroy it.
THE GOOD WE WANT TO DO
Edward’s desire to overcome his desires and urges for blood baffles Bella who seems to live by the code of do what you feel. Bruner points out that the apostle Paul would probably relate to Edward’s desire to wage war against his flesh, but also points out that without the saving grace of Jesus Christ no one can be good enough to earn their redemption (as the Cullen clan is hoping to do). Redemption comes not from self-discipline but from the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Here, Bruner explains a little of Stephanie Meyer’s Mormon theology (becoming as God through self-restraint and discipline) which certainly has a significant influence on the path of redemption for vampires in the Twilight series.
DESTINED FOR JOY
In the end, Bella is transformed—into wife, mother, vampire—but more importantly, into a joyful person full of strength, grace and dignity. Her changes come from self-sacrifice, “Bella found her life by losing it.” She gave her life to give life to her daughter and in doing so found inexplicable joy. Previous themes of self-discipline and restraint appear weak compared to the final theme of self-sacrifice as Bella sacrifices herself for marriage and motherhood. Bruner again notes some differences between Christian and Mormon beliefs about marriage and family. Mormon’s teach that marriage and family is not a symbol but an actual means to becoming a deity, therefore it is not surprising that Bella finds her salvation through marriage and family.
CONCLUSION: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
List of common questions and answers:
- Is Twilight a spiritual allegory?
- While it touches on spiritual themes (as all great stories inevitably do), it is not written as an allegory intentionally created to illustrate a deeper truth or lesson. Buner’s book is not intended to reveal Meyer’s conscious agenda, but to explore what her imagination has inferred.
- What is suggested about the nature of the soul from the Twilight series?
- “In Meyer’s theology, the ultimate destiny of the soul is celestial marriage with ultimate godhood attained through self-disciplined obedience. Christians believe the soul is destined for eternal life by trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (See John 3:16.) Mormons, in contrast, believe the soul is destined for godhood by following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.”
- Is Bella an admirable character (in Bruner’s opinion)?
- Bruner finds Bella a troubling heroine and thinks there is little in her worth mimicking. She’s self-consumed, manipulative, deceptive and moody through much of the story, lies to get her way, distances herself from her peers (thinking they are too immature) and is averse to marriage and motherhood. More desirable traits for a woman (especially a woman of God) would include humility and grace, an upbeat, joyful personality and a nurturing spirit.
- What do Twilight vampires suggest about the spirit world?
- Meyer breaks from traditional gothic horror, her vampires behaving more like Greek gods than traditional horror monsters, even down to the demi-god-like children produced by vampires and humans. Her stories are essentially polytheistic superhero tales.
- What about the spiritual significance of Jacob—is there any?
- Jacob continually sacrifices his own desires in order to do what’s best for Bella and therefore is arguably the most consistently heroic character in the series. His character is a reminder of the grace of friendship.
- What is the ultimate message Bruner would want readers to take away from the Twilight Phenomenon?
- To discern the spiritual message in any story, ask the 3 questions mentioned in Chapter Two: What are we made for? What is wrong with our world? How will it be made right? Like Bella, we all desire intimacy, but only those who find that intimacy in Christ will ultimately be fulfilled.
- How should we think of the Twilight series—as thirst-quenching fantasy or forbidden fruit?
- Bruner says it is both. Key concerns are Meyer’s theology and the mature themes which may be inappropriate for young audiences. However, it does present an “ideal opportunity to collectively explore the ‘true myth’ that lies beneath every great story.”
 Bruner, Kurt. The Twilight Phenomenon: Forbidden Fruit or Thirst-Quenching Fantasy? (Shippensburg: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc., 2009), 17.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 26.
 Ibid., 29.
 Ibid., 36.
 Ibid., 49.
 Ibid., 53.
 Ibid., 58-59.
 Ibid., 59.
 Ibid., 59.
 Ibid., 67.
 Ibid., 72.
 Ibid., 86.
 Ibid., 87.
 Ibid., 88.
 Ibid., 113.
 Ibid., 114.
 Ibid., 114.
 Ibid., 137.
 Ibid., 148.
 Ibid., 158.
 Ibid., 164.