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ESCAPING THE VAMPIRE
DESPERATE FOR THE IMMORTAL HERO
By KIMBERLY POWERS
David C. CookCopyright © 2009 Kimberly Powers
All rights reserved.
Allure of Darkness
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, "I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won't have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life."
(John 8:12 NLT)
* * *
I dug through my purse for my little notebook, squinting in the dim theater light. Attempting to eat popcorn, sip Coke, and frantically write in the dark is not something I suggest. But I had to jot down all the thoughts flying through my head about this film that had captured so many hearts.
What could possibly be so appealing about a vampire story? I needed to find out what so many teens were raving about.
As I watched Twilight, I waited tensely for a devious, dark villain to appear. But he never showed up—at least, not in the way I expected. Instead I watched Edward, an intriguingly handsome character, sweep the heroine, Bella, off her feet. Edward was Bella's dashing prince, a prince with a bit of modern dark knight. A noble character. Desperate to love and be loved. Charming, and yet ... he was still a vampire.
Does Bella understand that he could kill her at any moment? Or does she even care? In scene after scene, Bella's devotion to Edward deepened. By the movie's end, I found myself intrigued.
As the credits rolled, I gathered my things and dusted popcorn crumbs off my scribbled notes. That's when I noticed dozens of girls still seated, staring at the screen. They wanted more.
IN THE BEGINNING
Several weeks ago, I walked into Borders and saw a long table piled with books on clearance. Near the top was a 960-page, hugely scary-looking paperback titled The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead. An evil-looking fanged vampire stared at me from the front cover, begging me not to pick it up.
As I glanced around at shelf after shelf of books, I noticed many titles with the word vampire in them. Vampire lit is hot. When and how did this frenzy begin? And what is fueling the excitement over this material?
To be honest, my experience with vampires up to this point was limited. My connection to them before that day was the impression I'd gotten as a five-year-old on Halloween: They were fake, scary, and dangerous. As a result, I've steered clear of the fanged creatures my entire life.
Needless to say, I never dreamed I would pick up a book like The Vampire Book. But I was in the middle of researching to write this and thought it would be a good resource. So for one entire day I read, highlighted, and learned more about vampires than I ever wished to know.
What I learned is that vampire mythology has existed for millennia. Ancient cultures including the "Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks, and Romans had tales of demons and spirits which are considered precursors to modern vampires."
Clearly, this is not a new phenomenon. I think Solomon said it best when he wrote, "There is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9 NIV). The same applies to vampires, too.
"Throughout history, vampires have been known ... to be dead humans who returned from the grave and attacked and sucked the blood of the living as a means of sustaining themselves." Wow. That's not a pretty picture! But it certainly matched the image in my head.
I read further. From the sixteenth century onward, the myth of vampires became ingrained into cultural belief systems in eastern Europe. Story after story spread to cultures around the world. Eventually, the idea of vampires "came to the attention of both the scholarly community and the public in the West because of such creatures in Eastern Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries."
The end of the twentieth century and beginning of the twenty-first surged with interest in vampire books, movies, TV shows, magazines, and Web sites—the Vampire Academy series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Morganville Vampires series, True Blood, and Blade, to name just a few.
And then came Twilight. Since 2005, Stephenie Meyer's breakout series about a family of morally upright vampires living in Forks, Washington, has sold more than 42 million copies with translations into thirty-seven languages around the globe.
These upright vampires are a part of the most recent portrayal of "good-guy vampires" established in fiction literature and media over the last fifty years.
And what exactly is a good-guy vampire? Margaret L. Carter, a scholar of vampire literature, defines them as "vampires who act morally when dealing with mortals, and, as a whole, conform their moral perspective to a human ethical perspective."
Many readers and moviegoers have become even more intrigued by this new image.
Just breathe ...
So what do you think about this "new image" of good vampires? Does it change the way you see them in your head?
At this point, I felt like I had a basic understanding of vampire mythology's roots and its rise in popular culture. The problem was, I still didn't understand why it was such a hot trend today. I had to know more.
I got my answer from an article quoting Ken Gelder, author of Reading the Vampire: "'America has taken the vampire story and tied it to teen romance.' Rather than being attracted to the darkness of the vampire, the female leads love their fanged paramours for their essentially decent personalities—along with their bad-boy allure—and are able to get beyond the whole lust-for-blood thing."
This, finally, made sense to me. After all, good girls attracted to bad boys is an old story. The promise of excitement and the allure of danger is an appealing combination, particularly if there is a chance for redemption.
It also explained how something so obviously evil as a vampire could become the hero of a love story. After all, what could be more impossible—or irresistible—than a devastatingly handsome, reformed vampire? Right there is the formula for a captivating love story. It's Romeo and Juliet (plus fangs) all over again.
A CLOSER LOOK
In 2008, the four Twilight books were the top four novels on USA TODAY's bestselling books list. I recently received an email from a conference attendee named Trina, an avid fan of the Twilight series. Her analysis of the characters and story was so honest and eye-opening to me that I asked to share her words with you in this book. I think you'll see, as I did, how her examination of the books reveals the longing heart that beats inside each of us for a hero and a protector.
Subject: Obsessed with Twilight
I've read the entire series and the first book, Twilight, twice. I was spellbound with this series ... . The feelings that I have for these characters are unexplainable. No one knows the obsession I have over these books.
The draw. There's the average girl, Bella: popular, beautiful, and talented. There's a beautiful and perfect boy, Edward: extremely handsome, infamous, talented, but intimidating, smart, not friendly.
The story. Boy and girl see each other. Girl is drawn to him by his looks. Boy is drawn to her by his instinct (her blood/his thirst). Boy is also drawn because of curiosity. She is "different"—he can't read her thoughts. Boy struggles against his natural instincts with such intensity he has to flee.
Edward is a NOBLE character. He resists his nature because of the love he has for his family. It would cause them problems, and he knew he would be a disappointment to them. And also as he gets to know Bella he starts to value her life more than his own selfish desires.
Edward falls in love with this average girl, but to him, Bella is extraordinary. He sees her soul and loves it. He does indeed see her physical beauty when she can't. Edward sees her as the most beautiful girl in the world. He has never been so enthralled by someone. He is amazed at his own feelings for her. He finds the feelings confusing and dangerous and exciting.
Through hours of talking, he starts to trust her and reveals his secret. He opens up completely, and it's a big risk to his whole family. TRUST becomes a huge issue for both of them.
He PROTECTS her at all costs, even at the price of revealing his secret.
He becomes VULNERABLE. Sex doesn't seem to be an issue because his natural instincts are not the same as other boys'. Edward's lust is for blood, Bella's in particular. But as he discovers more of who she is, he learns to control that lust and puts her best interest before his own.
He becomes SELFLESS. He feels that her very existence is more vital than his desires. Edward knows that allowing Bella near him is extremely dangerous, life threatening. So he lets her in on all the details of what a vampire is. He is hoping all the while that it will be too frightening and bizarre for her.
He lets her make the CHOICE. If she leaves, it will break his heart, but he knows it will be for the best and he will not pursue her. He loves her that much. This is a SACRIFICIAL type of love.
Bella makes her choice to stay. She loves him so much that she wants to spend eternity with him—meaning she would have to become what he is, a vampire.
Edward refuses. He will settle for a short time with her until her natural death, just to be able to be with her. There is the SACRIFICE again.
Look again at these qualities: Trust. Protection. Selflessness. Choice. Vulnerability. Sacrifice. Love.
Who doesn't want this in a boyfriend? The perfect guy with incredible looks and talent to boot! Perfection (except for the vampire part). He is still flawed because he battles with right versus wrong and temptation and guilt and lust.
By the time I reached the end of these books and she finally is changed into a vampire (in order to save her life) I found myself thinking, Wow, finally, now they can be happy and have their happily ever after.
"The feelings that I have for these characters are unexplainable. No one knows the obsession I have over these books."—Trina
I loved Trina's honesty. Through her email, I saw the books and film from her perspective and started to think about a few things myself.
So why do we devour these books whole and memorize quotes from the films?
Perhaps it comes down to two main reasons:
1. The love story between Bella and Edward is captivating.
2. We desire our own epic love story in real time.
Just breathe ...
What do you think it is about Bella and Edward's story that draws so many to the books and film? What do you love or not love about it?
Let's take a close look at Edward. I have to admit, he seems like the full package: charming, attentive, noble, and mysterious. His devotion is evident in the way he talks to Bella, how carefully he protects her. He even watches over her as she sleeps! And his desire to really know her is flattering. He wants to figure her out.
So why do we devour these books whole and memorize quotes from the films?
An article in Vanity Fair characterizes Edward this way: "Everything a girl could want in one dreamy envelope, Edward is the answer to a princess's prayers—doting, fiercely protective, carrying his beloved great distances in his arms like a groom forever crossing the honeymoon threshold."
We are enthralled by the idea of our very own Edward. Is this fascination because he is a vampire? No. We are drawn to him because of the many awesome qualities he possesses. Let's look at those qualities again: Trust. Protection. Selflessness. Choice. Vulnerability. Sacrifice. Love. With Edward, Bella is desired. Protected. Loved and fought for. It's obvious in his continual attentiveness to her every thought, his desire to understand who she is. To receive this kind of attention from a mystifying, handsome, talented, intelligent guy—and to have that guy so interested in every detail of what she considers an otherwise boring life—would be enough to enrapture any vulnerable heart. If we're being honest, it's the connection we all long for.
But there's more to it than just connection. The fact that he is a vampire makes things exciting. A popular blog recently posed the question, "What is it about a vampire hero that is so irresistible and sexy?" One reader left this revealing comment: "It's got to be that irresistible combination of Alpha-ness and possessiveness ... of course all mixed in with a huge dose of deep internal torture." Edward's untouchable, "forbidden territory" vampire self is attractive. But Edward calls himself a killer and a monster. He knows his tendencies and attraction to Bella are dangerous.
But lots of girls have told me that they admire many qualities of Edward's character. He is from a family of "good" vampires who control their thirst for human blood. He is chaste and self-controlled. He continually holds himself back from getting too physically close to Bella. It is not the vampire's passion that is captivating but his self-control. Ken Gelder has said that "there is that sense that because Edward is such a self-restraining vampire, he's not really a vampire."
In other words, maybe Edward can't help who he is, but he can control what he does and doesn't allow himself to do. It's an admirable example of self-restraint. We girls love that, don't we?
And then there's Bella, the girl next door. She's clumsy and self-mocking. Not totally insecure, but not wildly popular either. I think we can all relate to her in one way or another.
"It doesn't surprise me that girls identify with Bella, a character that cannot imagine she is lovable," writes Beth Felker Jones, an assistant professor of theology at Wheaton College. "Her clumsiness and willingness to erase herself form an apt portrayal of the self-understanding of many young women today. Dark romance, a love that erases the awkward heroine, is an answer to desire and self-loathing that draws on the worst cultural assumptions about what it means to be female."
Just breathe ...
If you have seen or read Twilight, how would you describe Bella? (For instance, clumsy, brave, normal.) Did you find yourself relating to her character at all? If so, how?
Looking back on the notes I took while researching vampires, I see one thing very clearly. At some point in the late twentieth century, the vampire's persona became a "gray area." By that, I mean he was no longer considered altogether bad. Oh, vampires were still "bad boys"—but it was cool to like them. Maybe you'll agree with what Diane Robina, president of the cable horror channel FEARnet, said: "Vampires are the new rock stars. They are the bad boys your parents don't want you to date."
"Vampires are the new rock stars. They are the bad boys your parents don't want you to date." —Diane Robina
It's a truly interesting transformation. Is it just an example of literary creativity, or could it be just another blurred line between good and evil? It does seem that we're having a harder time telling right from wrong, truth from lies these days. You don't always know who the villain is when he enters the room. And vampires? Hey, they might even be the heroes.
So what do we do with all of this? It's clear that we are so drawn to this story and others like it. Despite the fact—or maybe because of the fact—that Edward is mysterious and dangerous, we're almost irresistibly swept up in the adventurous romance. We so desperately want to experience such a story ourselves. But then the credits roll or the last page is turned, and we're back in our own reality. Our lives are just the same as they've always been. There are no good vampires—or even vampires of any kind—and Edward remains that character in our head.
Have you felt this way? Like you wished you could really live in Bella and Edward's world and leave your own behind? It makes me start to wonder if there's actually something more going on here, a deeper reason that we're all so attracted to and drawn into this story.
Just breathe ...
God thinks that your reality is way more interesting than Edward and Bella's. Think of at least three things about your own life that you are proud of. Maybe it's people in your life or the way you can make someone smile ... or maybe something unique that makes you uniquely you.
Recently, I was talking with a group of girls after a conference. Their faces lit up when I mentioned Twilight. One of them told me that she couldn't stop thinking about the movie. Twilight was her obsession. She began sharing quote after quote. Soon the whole group joined in—how many lines could they remember? I could see that they were reliving the adventure together. You could hear it in their voices and see it in the excitement on their faces.
Excerpted from ESCAPING THE VAMPIRE by KIMBERLY POWERS. Copyright © 2009 Kimberly Powers. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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