Twilight: Critique of Review in The Catholic Post

This article appeared in the September 14th edition of The Catholic Post – the newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria.  I know and respect Nancy, but I disagree with her conclusion here.  I think she is trying to point out problems without being hysterical.  I sympathize with her predicament.  However, I think the potential damage is grave enough to get upset about:

You are what you eat (and read)

The following guest commentary was written by Nancy Piccione, a member of St. Mary’s Parish in Metamora. An avid reader, she has a B.A. in English literature and an M.S. in journalism. She is married to Joseph Piccione and they have three children — none of whom, she reports, are teenagers. Yet.

When Claire, the French 15-year-old visiting our family this summer, pointed out “Twilight” on a Barnes & Noble visit, and said she had enjoyed it, I had proof the Stephenie Meyer novels really are an international phenomenon.

The “Twilight Saga,” for those without teenage girls in your immediate orbit, is a popular four-novel series about the love story of Edward Cullen, an impossibly handsome and virtuous (I think the author would like us to believe Edward is virtuous, but I disagree entirely) vampire, and Bella Swan, a kind of “everygirl.”

“Breaking Dawn,” the final in the series, and others are on the New York Times Bestseller list; a movie is slated for November release.

I found they are all quick, enjoyable, reads. They are mostly free of explicit sex and violence (the fourth crosses some lines), but there’s lots of heavy breathing (where the heavy breathing stops and explicit sex begins… well, I guess this is a matter of interpretation – but to be generous and allow Nancy’s interpretation, I still think “mostly free” of explicit sex isn’t good enough and “lots” of heavy breathing is pretty downright problematic) and implied violence. “Breaking Dawn” is the best of the bunch, with a more mature sensibility, and even a pro-life theme of sorts, with Bella and another vampire trying to protect her unborn child (To call it a pro-life theme “of sorts” is a good way of putting it.  It’s a real stretch.  Bella admits that the only reason she is keeping this baby is because the child is Edward’s.  Children and maternity in general she has no attraction to.  I think Bella exercises her “right to choose”, and in this case chooses life – but I could easily see her choose the opposite in another circumstance if it suited her. This also doesn’t take into account the whole wife swop scenario with Jacob.).

Still, I have a lot of reservations (good), quite apart from the supernatural element that I know may give many pause. Let me just pick one: the way to practice self-control is not to put your beloved in mortal danger so you can “get stronger,” as Edward does so he can resist Bella. It might work for vampires, but it doesn’t work for humans. Some like to call the alternative “avoiding the near occasion of sin,” and it’s time-tested. (I would just take this a little farther and say that it applies to our daughters, too.  Why give them a book which is going to test THEIR self-control?  As Nancy says, this doesn’t work for humans.)

But that’s really not the point. Young women reading these books aren’t looking for role models or boyfriend tips, though I think some are. It’s all just escapism and fantasy and fun, right?

Yes and no. I’m not trying to spoil anyone’s fun, but . . .

An analogy might help. One of my other summer reads was “In Defense of Food,” Michael Pollan’s critique of the modern food culture. He recommends, “Eat food. Not too much. Plants, mostly.”

My new discovery (turns out I’m hopelessly behind) is that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the new “trans fat.” In the same way we’ve all become aware of and avoid trans fat, HFCS is being understood now as bad for our bodies. In our family, we’ve been really shocked to see where it shows up. Rice Krispies? They’re not even sweet!

But while we’re gradually trying to make healthier choices at the grocery store, I don’t feel condemned by Pollan. We’re just doing the best we can, and glad someone is making us aware.

So what’s that to do with the “Twilight Saga”? If the novels were a food, HFCS would be the first ingredient, and trans fat the second. (I will say poison is the first ingredient. Doesn’t go down very well with the morning coffee.)  I haven’t sent them to the lab to be analyzed — that’s just my quick English major opinion.

So is reading “Twilight” going to kill you? Probably not (“probably” isn’t good enough when you are talking about a matter of life and death); just as eating the occasional super-processed fast food meal won’t kill you. But you aren’t going to be very healthy if that’s all you eat.

And your mind and soul won’t be well-nourished or healthy if books like this are all you read. (But why?  Let’s draw this out.  Or more importantly, why not apply the words of St. Paul: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8)  Especially if you read them without considering carefully what you want to take away, and what you want to leave behind. Or, a friend points out when we talk about a less-than-perfect book or movie, “Don’t forget to spit out the bones.” (Easier said than done.  You cannot always leave things behind.  The imagination is a very powerful tool.  The demons know that, too.  Once the bones are swallowed, spitting them out becomes impossible – and they can rip apart your insides pretty badly).

And just like some food substances can alter your body so it becomes difficult to metabolize real food well, some novels might leave you not as able to appreciate good literature, and, more importantly, the real world. (They may even cause you to sin.  And so the question is – why bother with them at all?)

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5 Comments

  1. “So is reading ‘Twilight’ going to kill you? Probably not (‘probably’ isn’t good enough when you are talking about a matter of life and death)” If you think reading Twilight has the potential to literally kill, you are INSANE.

    “You cannot always leave things behind.” False. Perhaps you personally cannot, but more analytically-minded people are certainly capable of consuming content objectively. Objective observation is the foundation of modern society. You’ll probably retort that modern society is the work of Satan. If so, why bother replying, which would require the use of a sinfully created machine? Just destroy all modern artifacts in your possession right now. Save yourself!

    “I will say poison is the first ingredient. Doesn’t go down very well with the morning coffee.” Small amounts of poison might go down well with “the morning coffee,” considering the fact that small amounts of poison taken regularly builds immunity, which could one day save your life.

    “The imagination is a very powerful tool.” For some, it is. For others, it is not. Honestly, I think we can both agree that Twilight is not high quality literature. Of course, what is of high quality is ultimately subjective, but the general consensus amongst the educated community is that Jane Eyre is a masterpiece while Twilight is massmarketed fluff. I think that most teenage girls reading the Twilight series will in fact “read them without considering carefully what (they) want to take away,” but while you consider that problematic, I see it as the exact opposite.

    The legions of teenage girls swooning of Edward are not interested in a complex, thoughtful dissection of the literary themes and devices in Twilight. They just want to read about a hot guy who is the perfect lover in their minds. It’s shallow entertainment, as far as most people are concerned. In that respect, I believe you are overthinking Twilight. Isn’t it possible that the average Twilight fan will not read in what you have?

  2. ah, well, fabulous reveiw, in the face of optimism to show us some real, honost maturity, eh? (referring to:“I will say poison is the first ingredient. Doesn’t go down very well with the morning coffee.”)

    anyway, moving unto a completly mature and realistic review.
    I will say aloud that i am a Catholic, and i have read the books with a critical mind. to be honost, i the first reason i read the books were because i wanted to know what all the fuss about this ‘twilight’ is. so, i picked up the first at the library and sat down. after i read the first out of complete curiousity, i read the other three- because i enjoyed them. they arent the best books in the world, but i was interested as to see how the plot ended. and really, it was a good read.

    this is where all the problems come in.

    i saw the controversy that was attracted to the series- my religion teacher at SMU started getting emails saying that if he didnt tell us not to read the books, he was a bad Christian. i heard stories of people burning books (this, was unacceptable and totally barbaric in my opinion; defenatly crossing the line.), and hey, even my mother was skeptical. but in my mind, all this seemed like a replay of a couple other certain series; Harry Potter and The Golden Compass. ring a bell, anyone?

    to be honest, i can see where some troubles began; i mean, i girl who trades mortality to be with her vampire love? that had to be hard for some to swallow. but, i dont think this should be a problem. this is why:
    if you are reading this book, and are so completely shaken in your faith by a book, you have bigger problems to face. i get that some may not be as strong in their belifs as others, so if you think you cant read it without being ‘changed’, dont read it. this last part folks, is called user discretion. when you go to a movie, and you see something you dont like, or you are at work and someone says something you dont agree in, you tune it out- all part of being an adult.
    for all the parents out there, if you dont want you daughter to read the books, tell her so. explain why, and perhaps she’ll agree. then again, if you are so worried that reading a book listed under Fiction Fantasy is going to rock her faith world and corrupt her belif in God or her morals; maybe it’s time you helped her create a stronger internal compass than you had in the past.

    this is being overthought, and i think the parents and teachers of today can be sure than a Fantasy Fiction novel- by the name Harry Potter, the Golden Compass, Twilight, or any other book-will not send the teen girl population to hell. please try to give them more credit than that.

  3. I think that both views could work for different people depending on where they are spiritually and how they process things.

    I think Mrs. Piccione wrote an excellent review – for those already strong in their beliefs and not easily swayed. The writing isn’t great and neither is the storyline amazing but it is enjoyable to read on occasion as long as the reader recognizes the “poison” and as Astral Symphony pointed out, the intake of very small amounts of poison like (vaccination) leads to immunization.

    But I also see the value your additional points – if something is dangerous, why bother in the first place?

  4. Hi Emma.
    Sorry you found the review immature.
    I was trying to be a little lighthearted with it rather than condemnatory.
    I’ll just say that books don’t necessarily cause us to jettison our beliefs overnight – but they can have an eroding effect. Certain things can out and out lead to skepticism.
    It is a risk I don’t think is worth it when there are much better, more edifying things out there. I don’t think it is a matter of not giving girls credit… quite the opposite, in fact. I hold young ladies in such high esteem that I think they are worth more than this stuff.
    What did you like about the books?

  5. twilight forever!!!! people should be able to read and beleive in whatever they damn well please…no christian will ever change my mind on that, sorry some people need to escape their crappy lives and reading twilight takes you to another world…and thats my beleif listen to it or not but dont try and change my mind


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