Thursday, May 29, 2008


Because several of my friends read it and recommended it with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and because it's enormously popular and I like keeping up on current literary trends, I recently read the book Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer. It's a new, populist, and much better-than-average incarnation of the vampires-in-high-school form of YA fiction. I quite liked the book, as light reading: it's the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries (or, to extend Gaiman's metaphor even further, a non-alcoholic Pina Colada).

However, it was not until I noticed the similarity between the two covers pictured above (while browsing Barnes and Noble) that I began to think of certain things that now seem painfully obvious.

When looked at through the lens one would use to view a book by, say, CS Lewis, certain interesting aspects begin to show themselves. (WARNING: spoilers beyond this point, and it will probably only make sense to those who have read the book.)

Several of the characters in the book could be, or at least have certain aspects of, Christ figures. In fact, on the very first page, when our heroine is contemplating her death, she does not regret it because she is dying in the place of someone she loves. Edward, too, in his constant protective role, could be seen as a Christ figure; his father, actually, could be seen in both the Christ and the Creator roles--he more or less raises Edward from the dead, for example, and grants him eternal life, and he has created this family of vampires out of loneliness--out of, we may infer, a desire to be loved.

The main character's name, Isabella Swan, is interesting too. Isabella means "My God is my oath" or "Devoted to God"; Bella, the name she prefers, comes from the Italian word for "beautiful." The Swan, of course, has multiple possible symbolic meanings--it is a symbol of innocence and purity, but also of self-sacrifice. And of course, there is the old story of the swansong, the piercingly beautiful song sung by the swan only when it is about to die.

Which brings us to the book's climax. The dance studio where Bella waits for the hunter, both because of the way dance studios look and specifically the way this one is described, has the possible appearance of a coffin or a tomb. Long, enclosed, with mirrors on all sides (resembling the smooth stone walls of a tomb or the smooth sides of a coffin), windowless. She has given herself up to the grave; but at the last minute, and without her doing (and, in fact, despite her best efforts), she is found and rescued. The heroine descends willingly to her doom, and is rescued, basically, by grace. This has every appearance of classical Christian symbolism.

Of course, it could be that I'm reading stuff into it that's not there. It's interesting to think about, at least. I'll have to see if the next two books uphold my theories.


Darth Nemoyer said...

Oh wow. If I were familiar with that C.S. Lewis book, I would also be feeling much of that should have been extremely obvious. Actually, I do feel that; dang you again (though thanks all the same for another excellent post. There is no way you could be wrong about the cover being copied off C.S. Lewis, seeing as it has little other possible relation to the story. I'll stick a few other thoughts here even though they aren't quite up to par with you symbolic analysis.

-- I think there are definitely themes throughout the book of original sin.

-- To do something more with the apple on the cover: The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is usually referenced as being an apple, and I think that theme too can be found throughout the book, though I would apply it most of all to Edward. Bella sees Edward and finds what she sees pleasing to the eye. She finds out that the Cullens are vampires (and possibly have no souls), but she still wishes to partake of that. I do find it ironic though that what she wants is to be bitten rather than to take a bite.

-- I won't even start on all possible symbolism of blood, heart, heartbeats, etc. But they're there.

-- I love how Meyer has very clear cut ideological battles between good and evil and comparable opposites but at the same time keeps both good and bad in every character. Even the worst (Laurent, James, Victoria) have some not entirely selfish drives and motives and do a few good things.

-- Angels. Bella continually compares the Cullens to angels. Could this make the rest of vampire-kind fallen angels?

-- “Bella”; ah, there is so much I could read into this name. You remarked on Italian, but I like Latin better and will give you that run-through. “Bella” is a form of the Latin noun for war, battle, combat, fight, military force, arms, etc. “Bella” is the imperative of “to struggle, fight, wage; take part in war/games”. And finally, as you said, “Bella” is an adjective meaning pretty, charming, pleasant, agreeable, polite, excellent. I think it is much more likely that her nickname is a reference to the former, though. Throughout all the books she is center and object of as well as sometimes participant all sorts of rather large-scale struggles and wars.

-- Jacob should be something, but my "looking for symbolism" side wants breakfast. I might come back and keep taking over your post later. ;-)

Thanks tons for giving my mind this free rein. :D I was simple and stupid enough to pass the book off as trite and not do my usual search for symbols. But with everything there is, I am sure you are right.


NOT Freddy Jones said...

Heh, you read way more into this book than I did. Personally I highly disliked it, but..

I recently read a book called Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel. It's a children's book, but I'd request you read it, since there are some interesting Christian themes in it, as well as really cool bats.

Anan said...

So I haven't read the book yet, but I have a velly importante question. Why can't she dance? She went to a dance studio? I'm so confused.

Darth Nemoyer said...

Maybe she took some ballet classes because she was clumsy and was trying to cure it. That would be my guess.

Sarah :D said...

Something else about her last name Swan. She feels like an ugly duckling throughout the books, and only when she marries Edward, becoming a Cullen and no longer a swan, and becomes a vampire, does she get to be a swan :P