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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Beneath This Twilight....."Life Starts Now"

Only a dream.  That's how it all started seven years ago.

The housewife woke up that summer morning with a vivid image of two young people deeply in love.  There was, however, a chilling difference to the male teen with the odd sparkling skin.

Something else strange about him.  He was sensitive, yes.  Yet cold to the touch and, all the while, overheated with passion.  He was protective of his love, without any question.

The biggest part about the dream, most palpable and most frightening, was that underneath this Romeo's peculiar skin was an utterly inhuman, unbearable thirst for his Juliet's blood.  Stephanie Meyer was so transfixed by what she saw that right after finishing the housework and tending to her three children, she sat down to the computer and began to write.  And write. And write.

“I started out just so I wouldn’t forget the story," Meyer remembers, "but I kept going. I really feel like it was a situation where I had a talent I was not using; I had buried it. And that was my kick-start. I was supposed to be doing something with this talent.  It sounds a little odd to say that you were inspired to write a vampire novel.”

As it turned out, Meyer didn't start it off with a chapter one.  She instead created first what turned out to be Twilight's chapter 13 ("Confessions") in the first-person narrative of the Juliet, teenage character Bella Swan, in a semisteamy interlude in that now-famous meadow with her dangerous Romeo, 104-year-old vampire Edward Cullen.

From the prose one reviewer described as "a gripping blend of romance and horror," an excerpt:

"I sat without moving, more frightened of him than I had ever been.  I'd never seen him so completely freed of that carefully cultivated facade.  He'd never been less human....or more beautiful.  Face ashen, eyes wide, I sat like a bird locked in the eyes of a snake.

His lovely eyes seem to glow with rash excitement.  Then, as the seconds passed, they dimmed.  His expression slowly folded into a mask of ancient sadness.

'Don't be afraid,' he murmured, his velvet voice unintentionally seductive.  'I promise....'  He hesitated.  'I swear not to hurt you.'  He seemed more concerned with convincing himself than me.

'Don't be afraid,' he whispered again as he stepped closer, with exaggerated slowness.  He sat sinuously, with deliberately unhurried movements, till our faces were on the same level, just a foot apart.

'Please forgive me,' he said formally.  'I can control myself.  You caught me off guard.  But I'm on my best behavior now.'

He waited, but I still couldn't speak.

'I'm not thirsty today, honestly.'  He winked."   

Meyer's "kick-start" ignited what would be the genesis of a literary and film phenomena sweeping the globe today.  This year the four-book Twilight saga sold over 100 million copies worldwide with translations into at least 38 languages.  The latest film from the series, Eclipse, has broken box office records, combining with the earlier Twilight and New Moon to rack in a staggering $1.5 billion in worldwide revenue.  It's anyone's guess what the riches from the final two films will be--derived from the fourth novel, Breaking Dawn--but no doubt they'll be nine-digit wonders.  

Meyer, who has a degree in English literature, says her fantasy romance stories are "about life, not death" and "love, not lust," and that each book was inspired by some classics she had to have poured over during her studies at Brigham Young University:  Twilight came from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice;  New Moon, from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (big surprise!);  Eclipse, based on Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights; and Breaking Dawn came from a second Shakespeare play, A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Meyer also states that Orson Scott Card and L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series  influenced her writing.

According to one source:

"Other major themes of the series include choice and free will. Meyer says that the books are centered around Bella's choice to choose her life on her own, and the Cullens' choices to abstain from killing rather than follow their temptations:  'I really think that's the underlying metaphor of my vampires. It doesn't matter where you're stuck in life or what you think you have to do; you can always choose something else. There's always a different path.'

Meyer, a Mormon, acknowledges that her faith has influenced her work. In particular, she says that her characters 'tend to think more about where they came from, and where they are going, than might be typical.'  Meyer also steers her work from subjects such as sex, despite the romantic nature of the novels.

Meyer says that she does not consciously intend her novels to be Mormon-influenced, or to promote the virtues of sexual abstinence and spiritual purity, but admits that her writing is shaped by her values, saying, 'I don't think my books are going to be really graphic or dark, because of who I am. There's always going to be a lot of light in my stories.'"

True enough.

Even if her detractors go on about Meyer's stories being contrived and schmaltzy, what cannot be ignored is the wild sensation created and spread like a wildfire onto the big screen. "I've been in the movie business for twenty-five years, and I've never seen anything like it!" remarked series costume designer Tish Monaghan.  "Maybe it's the Internet, which has created this ocean of adoring fans -- there were fans we saw in Italy on New Moon that were recognized in Vancouver!  It's hard to fathom, but there are many different factors."

Right again.

Fused into three beautifully crafted films is surely the most salient of factors:  Life choices -- and their consequences.  Bella's everlasting love for Edward; worth sacrificing her humanity?  Or the good-hearted Cullen family's option for the high road, not feeding on humans, verses the bestial, murderous Volturi that "don't give second chances."  

Intriguing was the Eclipse review by Christianity Today ("A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction").  We all know how much our fundamentalist Dudley Do-Rights adored the "demonic" Harry Potter stories & films.  What, then, is their final word on this sordid tale of undead love and devotion?

The Evangelically Convicted reviewer surprisingly spared the film  a hellfire & brimstone baptism.  She even went as far to admit that "though the movie's view of marriage is not particularly Christian, it does hold the institution with high regard...." 

Lo and behold, baby.  There were even some "discussion starters" at the review's end, featuring some seriously thoughtful questions: 

"1.  Bella faced some tough choices that required her to hurt people she loved; did she make the right choices? Could she have handled the situation better?

2.  We see multiple examples of people being manipulated by those they thought loved them. What does true love look like? How can we tell whether we really love someone, or if we're just using them because they can do something for us? 

3.  In her graduation speech, Jessica tells her fellow graduates, "This is the time to make mistakes." Was this good advice? Why or why not? Are there types of mistakes that are okay? How do we know?

4.  Bella and Edward spend a lot of time discussing marriage. What are their reasons for and against it? Are these good reasons? What are good reasons for marriage?"

Now there's those talking points about choices & consequences.  Doggone well-stated, too.  Only wish the same could be said for one of the review's first comments. Note that raging indignant Believer Cherry Howell not once asked whether or not the spirit warrior Quileute wolves were God-fearing:

"People long for consuming love that will change them. This was put in us by God. This movie takes that longing and twists it. Edward is a romantic hero, who honors Bella by respecting her innocence and asks her to marry him. God intended this also. It's a shame that these virtues have to be intwined in a converted vampire saga. Did the Cullen clan read the bible? The movies are relatively clean except for some mild swear words and insertion of modern safe sex advice.

It's a shame Bella is not shone [sic] to be as virtuous as Edward. There is an interesting trend of making evil characters virtuous, i.e., Harry Potter. They are relatively clean entertainment. But there is something sinister going on here and it is directed at our children. Can blood sucking demonic vampires or worlocks [sic] display virtue? These movies are saying that the Bible and what God has told us is wrong. I think Satan has whispered in a few authors ears. There is just enough virtue in these films to deceive many." 

One thing's for sure, Cherry -- there's a hell of a lot of Satanic Author fans out there now.  And, yep, they're gaining strength.  More Twihard websites are popping up every day including the forces of "Twilighters Anonymous," whose battle cry is "Helping Addicts Since 2008 Because We Don't Want A Cure."

They'll be able to get their next fix at the end of November, 2011 if they can stand the wait.  It won't be easy, for sure, because this story has genuine pathos.  Underpinning all the fantasy and action in these superbly cast & directed films is the very profound question about choices we often must make and their inevitable consequences.

There's a song, "All Yours," that comes on when the credits roll at the close of Eclipse.  Contralto vocalist Emily Haines of the Canadian group "Metric" offers a stunning performance, with poignant lyrics and video (below) that could apply to God just as easily as any earthly--or unearthly--love.

Which makes it perfect.     

"Other lives, always tempted to trade
Will they hate me for all the choices I made?
Will they stop when they see me again?
I can't stop now I know who I am

Now I'm all yours, I'm not afraid
You're all mine, say what they may
And all your love, I'll take to the grave
And all my life starts now

Tear me down, they can't take you out of my thoughts
Under every scar there's a battle I've lost
Will they stop when they see us again?
I can't stop now I know who I am

Now I'm all yours, I'm not afraid
You're all mine, say what they may
And all your love, I'll take to the grave
And all my life starts

I'm all yours, I'm not afraid
You're all mine, say what they may
And all your love, I'll take to the grave
And all my life starts
Starts now....."      [ Click link! :]