Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Adolescent Military Genius versus the Friendly Neighborhood Vampires: An Analysis of Orson Scott Card and his Influence on Twilight. (Part III)

(This is the continuation of a series of posts. See here and here. I wrote the first two parts of this piece back in February. Sorry for the delay.)

As with the work of Orson Scott Card, the issue of society/family building and maintenance plays a large role in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, lying just beneath the romance and the vampires. The Cullen family is a perfect example of the Cardian society/family. The Cullens are a group of seven individual vampires brought together by circumstances beyond their control. What keeps them together is not friendship or love but their shared commitment to a “vegetarian” lifestyle; they do not kill humans, just an occasional grizzly bear or mountain lion.

The Cullen family can be seen as a support group or even as a religious congregation. They are bound together by more than common beliefs; they need each other to keep on the path. With the exception of Carlyle, none of the Cullens can be described as a non threat to any human within a several mile radius. Left to their own devices they would turn lethal and they all know it. The Cullens therefore keep a constant watch on each other to make sure that no “accidents” happen.

Meyer does an excellent job striking a balance between keeping the Cullens likable and making them threatening. The Cullens have their charm, but they could go off on a killing spree and it would still make perfect sense in terms of their characters. It is more than just a matter of each of the Cullens having an overwhelming desire to kill anyone on sight or smell. Underneath their lovable exteriors, they are, to put it simply, evil.

The fact that the Cullens, as vampires, are irredeemably evil is the foundation of their whole way of life. They believe that they are evil satanic beings and crimes against nature. They therefore hate themselves and strive to go against the most basic element of their nature, the need to kill.

This is essentially the doctrine of human total depravity, which many Christian groups believe in. The fact that Meyer made Carlyle an ex Anglican minister is probably not a coincidence. He is preaching a religious doctrine, complete with heaven, hell and salvation. At its basis, though, Carlyle’s faith is one built around the belief in the utter depravity of himself and of the congregation he now leads. Whether the Cullens actually kill any innocent people or not is beside the point; the very fact that they can be tempted already puts them beyond the pale of righteousness. Carlyle is actually the religious optimist in the group. He believes that vampires have souls and might have a hope of getting into heaven, as opposed to Edward, who believes that they are all damned no matter how righteous they manage to be.

We view the Cullens through the lens of Bella, a modern human teenager. In theory she believes in God and is a person of faith, but in practice she is fairly indifferent to matters of religion. As a modern, takes an optimistic view of human beings. She tends toward the belief that people, when left to their own devices, are basically decent. She takes a very non judgmental attitude toward people, believing that people can be left to their own devices and they will find their way to righteousness. Because of this she has no way of comprehending the notion of seeing oneself as a totally depraved sinner, standing under the glare of a judging God. It should be enough for God that we are basically nice people, right? The Cullens, with their very unmodern religious views, is a culture shock for her. Part of the fun of her character is how she plows straight through the world of the Cullens with her modern female teenager logic, taking everything in stride.

The running debate between Bella and Edward, over whether she should be made into a vampire or not, should be understood within this religious context. Edward wishes, above all else, to protect Bella’s soul. Bella does not think in terms of souls; for her the only issue is whether she might end up killing someone in the end, but she is confident that the Cullens will be able to protect her until she develops the sort of self control that they have. For Edward, it irrelevant if Bella ends up killing someone, she would still be, for all eternity, an utterly depraved monster just like him. Part of Bella’s development as a character is her coming around to the religious worldview of the Cullens, with its concern for souls, heaven, hell, damnation and above all else their view of themselves as totally depraved. By the end of Eclipse, Bella, even though she intends to join the Cullens, has come to the realization as to the true nature of the stakes involved. The fact that Edward seems to be willing to go along with this would indicate that his religious views have also evolved at least somewhat; he now is willing to acknowledge the theoretical possibility of salvation.

Ultimately the Cullens are a model for a religious society. It is not a religious society as most people would think of the term. They are not a group of righteous, sin free people, or even people who think they are righteous and sin free, joining together because they believe that they are better than everyone else. The religious society that the Cullens form is a society created by utterly depraved sinners for utterly depraved sinners and out of the recognition that they are utterly depraved sinners. The fact that they form this society does not make them any less depraved; what it does do is give them the strength to transcend their own depravity.

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