“Some questions are better than some answers,” reads one of my favorite quotes. True, but then again, one good answer beats a dozen good questions any day.
In her books, Stephenie Meyer raises the question: is it better to be a human or a vampire? But in her final installment, she emotionally answers the question: vampire, hands down. Of course, she framed the question in such a way that this answer was a given. For three books, Bella’s vampire boyfriend/then-husband, Edward, seemed to think that it was better for Bella to be a human being: to grow old, marry, and mother children instead of joining the undead and having a perfect body and a diet of blood.
But in Book Four: Breaking Dawn, after Bella undergoes a rather horrific pregnancy and labor, Edward changes her into a vampire to “save” her life when she begins dying after giving birth to their half-vampire, half-human daughter Nessie. Bella experiences not a shred of regret at losing her humanity; tellingly, she feels more alive as an undead immortal as she battles to save her daughter from the prejudices of other vampires.
What does this mean? It means that in the great scheme of things, unfortunately, Stephenie Meyer doesn’t seem to have anything to add to the great question of what it means to be a human being. And that is very sad. I won’t say tragic, because it’s not clear that Meyer ever intended to tap such depths in her stories–or even that she had the power to do so. But it’s a shame all the same.
Sure, I admit, it was a lot more FUN for Bella to end up as an über-cool vampire in a fantasy world of unlimited materialistic living with a hottie for a husband, and on the side of the angels, as it were, to boot. But this has taken the books definitively out of the world of profound reflections on humanity and into the realm of virtual reality and comic-book values (and that’s almost an insult to comic books).
I realize it’s almost ludicrous to talk about the importance of being human. After all, most people don’t think it’s so cool to be the dominant species and big polluters on our planet. It seems everyone from environmentalists to cartoonists like Bill Watterson (“I’m with you,” Calvin tells Hobbes the tiger at one point in Watterson’s famous comic strip) eagerly chime in their hatred of being human. Whereas in older stories, monsters like the werewolf and Frankenstein longed to join the human race, these days, most fictional non-human characters–animals, angels, extraterrestrials, dragons, monsters–are more than proud that their blood isn’t human.
This is really a shame, and makes me think most of their human creators haven’t really ever pondered the gift and responsibility of being human. Those who call themselves Christians should also consider that demons hate human beings: why should we rush to join the club? Especially if we believe that God Himself became a human to save us. I was hoping that Meyer’s Edward would give Bella, and us, a reason to keep breathing–but no.
Stephenie Meyer took on the question of whether or not it’s worth it to be a human being and answered it with all the logic of a romance novel: not really. Better to be a vampire, with lots of money and designer clothes and a dangerous lifestyle with your soul-mate for eternity. The Twilight saga started out as a fantasy that could have been a novel about real things. It ended up being just another fantasy.
Even more limited than that: a woman’s fantasy. Given that real men and regular guys don’t end up making a great showing (Edward is hopelessly imaginary), I can’t see guys sticking with this series.
What’s more human than pregnancy and birth? Unfortunately Meyer’s depiction of Bella’s pregnancy in Breaking Dawn is troublingly negative (though we see most of it through the hostile lens of Jacob Black, who thinks Bella should abort her child). Obviously, carrying a half-human, half-vampire baby is a extraordinary scenario, but Bella’s experience is so gross-out horrible (when the baby kicks her, for example, Bella’s pelvic bone cracks) that it’s likely the reader is going to carry away some pretty disturbing and unrealistic pictures of what pregnancy is actually like. Kudos to Meyer for showing Bella’s determination to keep the baby at risk of her life, when her glamorous vampire husband and friends pressure her to abort (the moral high point of the book), but the overall picture still is fairly repulsive.
As far as sexuality, Meyer’s characters never rise above remaining virginal without ever really attempting purity. Generally, the Meyer books are an odd bunch when it comes to morality. In a certain sense, I can’t think of a better example of a book that legalistically obeys Christian precepts while their emotional content is almost directly at odds with Christian practice. The characters practice “Christian morality” without being the least bit tainted with any actual Christian virtue.
Alas, although the series attempted some profound reflections on everything from humanity to romantic love to marriage, those reflections were about as deep as a puddle. As to whether it even had anything true to say about romantic love, I’ll save that for another article.