The Oxford English Dictionary records the first idea of the vampire in 1734, although a similar concept shows up in Germany almost a decade earlier. Coming out of Balkan legends in Eastern Europe, the vampire is an old fiction, and even in stories where the reader knows there is something wrong with the vampire’s seeming allure, to characters within the story there has often been some kind of “sparkle”, a kind of charm or intrigue, that draws them in. In one of the earliest fictions – Carmilla– we see a young girl seduced by a female vampire, preying on more than just the supernatural fears a father might have for his innocent daughter.
It may have just dawned on you, then, that there’s nothing new about Twilight.
Actually, I knew Bella and Edward from way back when they went by the names Buffy and Angel (and personally, I’m still Team Christopher Lee). While there’s quite a bit of controversy and fear surrounding the “affection unto obsession” being poured into this franchise by girls and even older women, it’s just the flavor of the season: as someone once equally as immersed in the Star Wars universe as a young man, this is really nothing new. It’s the same dalliance or distraction, just a different day.
Impressionable boys had the same narrative dichotomy and love triangle growing up in my day – I was Team Solo, while my brother was Team Skywalker, and we had just as much distracting temptation to get obsessed with the pseudo-spirituality of the Force (or a bikini-clad Carrie Fisher) instead of true faith. In fact, Solo’s “I don’t buy it” sort of dismissive, functional atheism profoundly affected my attitude for the first twenty-five years of my life.
Likewise, others have found themselves steeped in the magic and myth of Tolkien and Lewis without acknowledging or embracing the faith of either men, or their intentions for application and allegory respectively. Even well-intended fiction can be a lure into fantasy and fetish: it doesn’t take tales of supernatural creatures to create lost boys… or girls. Stories can compel as easily as Damon Salvatore.
Like any fiction, the Twilight stories need good discernment by parents and friends who can sift intriguing notions from easy missteps that might lead some to obsessive behavior. Subcultures of blood drinking and acting like vampires have been around long before these novels or movies, and caution should certainly be taken with those we care about who are prone to such destructive snares. However, let’s be clear: although these garish expressions may be more obvious to see as wrong or harmful, someone emulating Tony Stark’s ego, imitating Iron Man’s womanizing ways and embracing his self-centered traits (or someone punching out a teammate for laughs like The Hulk) could make The Avengers just as culturally damaging a franchise in the long run (or perhaps more, as its less overt in the short term).
Question is: can we learn ANYthing from the adventures of an over-groomed vampire, and the shell of a girl readers can pour themselves into so they might fall in love with their fantasy boy?
Of course we can.
Despite the roll-eye realities of this young adult franchise, it’s cultural presence creates prime opportunity for conversation on the vampire myth itself: it’s origin, evolution, and narrative uses in culture from before Bram Stoker to Blade. The vampire is a versatile metaphor: this curse, or disease, or “gift” has been used to illustrate mankind’s fears regarding sexuality, his fears of societal isolation or outcast status, the seduction of an amoral worldview, our desire for immortality… even the AIDS virus. In the last few centuries, the visceral image of this bloodsucker has been used to image a wide array of our anxieties. I deal with this and other fictional creatures more in my upcoming book, but at a fundamental level vampire stories deal with fears and longings:
FEAR that our basic nature may drain the very life out of those around us.
LONGING for a relationship that offers eternal love and life, providing us with new eyes and restored vigor.
Where many fans are immersed in this fiction, longing for these ideas to be reality, my blood quickens with knowledge that there IS a real and more satisfying answer to these sparkling dreams than the Cullens.
The first Twilight made for a great film event I was blessed to speak at a while back, and this audio presentation spends the first half-hour peeling back those centuries-old layers, and then (after a viewing of the film) the second half sinks teeth into how this latest – ahem, loose – adaptation of the vampire legend shifts gears – and fangs, and metaphors – to make a very different point.