Book Review: The Twilight Gospel by Dave Roberts

Title: The Twilight Gospel: The Spiritual Roots of the Stephenie Meyer Vampire Saga
Author: Dave Roberts
Publisher: Monarch Books

There’s no question that Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga has taken teen-girl-world by storm.

The tale of Bella and her vampire beau Edward has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. The first two movies made a ridiculous amount of money at the box office, even more in DVD sales, and the next several are already in various stages of production.

But, what is it teaching us? What ideas and values are being promoted—and should they be embraced or rejected?

That’s the question Dave Roberts asks in The Twilight Gospel, an examination of the spiritual and sociological worldview of Meyer’s bestselling series.

An Even-Handed Critique

It’s a bit odd to review a piece of literary criticism, particularly based on a series of books I’ve not read (as a 30-something man who doesn’t really like a lot of fiction, they don’t hold much appeal). With critical review, there’s a great temptation to take the most scandalous bits out of context and present that as the sum total of a book.

Having said that, I believe Roberts takes a very even-handed approach to the subject matter. He doesn’t focus on the negative aspects of the book solely; instead he notes the admirable traits of characters alongside the less virtuous qualities, even as he compares them to the Christian worldview.

A couple of his critiques are particularly worth mentioning: The first related to the book’s view of materialism. Generally speaking, Bella and the Cullen family are initially depicted as being not overly concerned with consumerism. As the series progresses, however, it becomes extremely materialistic, spending an inordinate amount of time on the details of material possessions.

“The problem is not fashion, hairstyles, the admiration of certain types of physical beauty… the problem arises when one’s sense of worth and well-being is closely attuned to one’s ability to possess the things that will signify that you are someone who ‘belongs’ and hence worthy of admiration. The [series] offers no consistent critique of this mindset at all. Instead, it celebrates it,” says Roberts. (p. 71)

Likewise, many have lauded the series because the main characters remain chaste until marriage; however, Roberts reveals this to be a purely pragmatic decision. “Bella makes it clear…that she cannot see any reason to wait. She remains a virgin on a technicality related to the superpowers possessed by Edward. . . . The reader is offered no reason to stay chaste, within the logic of the story,” he writes. (pp. 98-99)

A Sloppy Caricature

Although his engagement with the subject matter of the Twilight Saga is strong, I found myself struggling a bit when the author expressed the Christian perspective. Some of this comes down to preference. “I wouldn’t have said it that way;” that sort of thing. And generally speaking, he does an admirable job. But I think he does a disservice to himself when he tries to tackle the subject of free will and predestination.

Roberts describes the confusing relationship between the two found in the Twilight Saga. Characters are presented as frequently commenting that there’s always a choice, always a different path, yet “many of the characters speak of fate, destiny and the irresistible will of an unseen rule.” (p. 145) This leads him into a brief discussion of the two dominant views of human will and its relation to God’s sovereignty found within Christianity.

Unfortunately, Roberts presents one as (at best) a caricature, a base determinism where humans are little more than automatons in the plans of God. The other, however, is depicted as a profound partnership with God in all of His plans.

To be fair, Roberts correctly says that a couple of paragraphs are not sufficient to adequately address this issue. Still, I wonder if his handling of the subject couldn’t have been stronger and presented with less of an obvious bias.

The  Power of a Story

So here’s the big question: Why does all this matter? Why do we need to care about the values and ideas that are presented in a work of fiction?

It’s because fiction is powerful. Stories are a powerful means of communicating complicated ideas and changing people and their understanding of how the world works.

How many times have you heard someone say something like, “Don’t take it too seriously, it’s just fiction.” But for the Christian in particular, this is not an option. We are commanded to exercise discernment (cf. Hebrews 5:14, Proverbs 3:21). To ask questions of the worldview presented in anything we read shows wisdom and can, by God’s grace, keep us from being caught up in irreverent, silly myths, foolish debates and deceptive ideas that would take our eyes off of Christ.

The Twilight Gospel shows that Dave Roberts takes this command seriously and it serves as a commendation for the rest of us to do the same.

If you or your children have read Twilight, read The Twilight Gospel and consider using it as a launching point for discussion. Roberts’ commendations and critiques will challenge you to not see this series—or any book for that matter—as “just a book,” but to see the power of a story.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher and LitFuse Publicity Group. See more reviews in this blog tour at Litfuse’s tour page.

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