Twilight-A lot of people are reading it…should I ? (and more importantly, should I let my teens?)

 

Part 1-Should I read "Twilight"?

The "Twilight" books (a four-part series by Stephenie Meyer ) and movies are a national phenomenon about which believers should probably have an opinion. To have any sort of reasonable conversation (and I hope it will be a conversation pastordrew@oasisoftruth.org) we need to get a few things in place. First, I have read all four books and watched the first movie. [I have read reviews of books before and thought, "I don't think that guy really read the book."]Second, if you are considering reading the books, I will be very vague and avoid plot spoilers. Third, I will consider the series from a Christian/moral perspective, a Christian/philosophical perspective, and a literary perspective. Ready...?

Christian/Moral Perspective: I waded into these books with a lot of preconceived notions about which I will attempt to be very frank. One such notion was that these books would be full of objectionable elements. I was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case [Disclaimer #1: I read quite a bit of secular fiction. My "objectionable-content-o-meter" is bound to be different from yours since that is a very subjective matter, but I thought the objectionable elements were slight]. That is not to say there is nothing objectionable, but objectionable elements were not prevalent. Typical "vampire" literature tends toward excessive violence and sexuality. These books did not. [Disclaimer #2: These books are very sensual. I do not mean "sexual." These two terms unfortunately often get used interchangeably because people are embarrassed to say "sexual" and sensual isn't as uncomfortable. The books are very sensual in that Meyer goes into great detail about how this smells, how that looks, and the way this feels. This does play a big role in whether you should let your kids read the books...we will delve into that in Part 2.]   

Though these books did not by any means have a God-ward focus, they were by no means anti-God as much modern literature is. In fact, several of the characters have extended conversations about the results of their actions on their eternal destiny. Once again, there is zero "gospel presentation," but there is quite a bit of talk about the results of one's actions and their effect on eternity. Perhaps my favorite moral part of the series is the recurring theme of the effect of one's actions on those around him. Our lives are so interconnected with others that we cannot operate in a vacuum. Meyer does a wonderful job of hammering this theme home without its being overbearing. Overall, these books are pretty "clean" in the language, violence, and sexuality departments.

Christian/Philosophical Perspective: This section has less to do with the Twilight series and more to do with your entertainment choices in general. I am a firm believer in engaging my culture and attempting to understand the unbelieving world around me so as to be able to minister more effectively. I understand that some believers are vehemently opposed to this perspective, and that is fine. I take my focus from 1 Corinthians 5:9-11. Paul tells the Corinthians that they shouldn't associate with immoral people who claim to be believers, but that if they attempt to avoid all immoral people, they would have to "go out of the world." He says this as though that would be undesirable/inappropriate. I do not believe that Christians are called to a monastic lifestyle. Jesus moved freely through His culture (often being called a drunk glutton-modern translation=party animal-by the religious elite) because that was where the people who needed His love and help were. In my opinion, if we disengage from our culture, we lose the opportunity to meet people where they are and point them to Jesus.

So, my philosophy is that we should read current literature, we should watch current movies, we should listen to modern music, we should know what's going on in the news, we should know who is in the World Series, etc. Thus, as Twilight is a huge part of our current culture, I have found it to be a good thing that I know a little about it. My knowledge has already led to several good conversations with acquaintances and with co-workers. The obvious caveat is that we should not permeate ourselves with the muck of the world. Holy Spirit-filled discernment is a must, but as I did not, as a general rule, find Twilight to be super objectionable, I have found the series to be a valuable cultural resource.

Literary Perspective: From a literary perspective I found these books to be very interesting and well done. To say that all four books are "page-turners" would be an understatement. There is a reason that they are best sellers. Meyer is just a good author. In my opinion these books have a bit of a "modern Jane Austen with a paranormal twist" feel to them. In the same way that Jane Austen paints vivid portraits of her characters, Meyer gives her creations such depth and color that you feel like you know them. Furthermore, just as people can end up saying things like, "I have read Pride & Prejudice two hundred times. I get lost in the language-words like thither, mischance, felicity... I'm always in agony over whether Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy are really going to get together"[1] you will want to discuss these books as you read them.

To those of you literary snobs whose hackles are up at the mere thought that I would sully Austen's name by linking it with Meyer's, I have two things to say. First, please don't fall into the trap of thinking that just because something was written two hundred years ago it is inherently better than anything written today. Second, I never said that Twilight is as good, or historically important, or as enduring as Jane Austen's various fine works. I merely said there are some similarities.

Overall, from a literary perspective I think the books are well-written, have good character depth, show realistic understanding of people and relationships, draw various plotlines together nicely at the conclusion, and are enjoyable reads.

Conclusion of Part 1: As I just read what I had written in Part 1 I realized that it was a more glowing review than I thought I would give, but to be honest I came away from the books with pretty positive feelings, so that's probably fair. There is certainly a "however" lurking, and we will cover that tomorrow. Though I enjoyed the books, I do have some definite concerns-especially about kids/teens reading them. If you don't check out Part 2 tomorrow, you will definitely have an incomplete understanding of my take on Twilight. (How's that for a teaser...?)

 


[1] This quote from Meg Ryan's character Kathleen Kelly in You've Got Mail

 

Twilight-A lot of people are reading it…should I ? (and more importantly, should I let my teens?)

Part 2 Should I let my teens read Twilight?

We will start the second part of this discussion with the presupposition that there are certain things that I can/should read that my children shouldn't. Some people disagree and say, "If my kids can't read it, I probably shouldn't either." I disagree, respectfully.  So, with that premise firmly in place it is the duty of the believing adult to consider whether he should allow his children to read this series.

Before we go any further I want to introduce you to an issue concerning teen girls that you may not have heard of or considered before. I think the easiest/most apt description is "emotional pornography." Before you roll your eyes and skip this part, just give me a minute. I think every true believer agrees that pornography is a big problem with our teen guys. It is harmful on several levels. Let's just list four: 1. Lustful thoughts are sinful. 2. Looking at pictures and videos can become addictive and distract a guy from his responsibilities.3. The "photoshopped," surgically enhanced females create unrealistic expectations that will render "real" girls unsatisfying. 4. Based on the "ideal" set forward by pornographic images, regular girls feel pressure to be something that they cannot realistically be.

All four of these issues are well-chronicled, and I agree with them whole-heartedly. The issue that I take is that we warn our guys about these and monitor their behavior in an attempt to protect them from these pitfalls. Meanwhile, our girls are being bombarded by all the same issues through romance novels and chick flicks. Disagree? Consider. Chick flicks to a certain degree, but romance novels especially, often portray the male lead as handsome, rich, sensitive but strong, understanding, intelligent, athletic, protective, and completely devoted to and adoring of the female lead.  [You may think that I am unqualified to say these things, but *gulp* I read all of the Sweet Valley Twins and Sweet Valley High books as a kid. I've also read a significant number of Gilbert Morris, Lori Wick, Linda Chaikin books. Cut me some slack: I am a voracious reader, and before I could drive myself to the library I had to read whatever my mom and sisters had lying around.] My point is that all four issues for boys with pornography are also problems for girls with "emotional porn." Let's look at the issues again and their corollary for girls. 1. Lustful thoughts are sinful. Girls certainly sinfully fantasize about characters from books/movies.  2. Looking at pictures and videos can become addictive and distract a guy from his responsibilities. How many girls are "bookworms" and lose sight of what they should be doing because they are so wrapped up in a book? 3. The photoshopped, surgically enhanced, females create unrealistic expectations that will render "real" girls unsatisfying. What guy can be as wonderful and charming as a figment of someone's imagination that lives only on paper? 4. Based on the "ideal" set forward by pornographic images, regular girls feel pressure to be something that they cannot realistically be. There is only one Matthew McConaughey, and you're not him. However, even he isn't as witty and charming as his movie roles make him out to be. None of us can be "that guy."

My point is that while guys are constantly warned about the dangers of pornography, girls are practically encouraged to participate in emotional porn. "Reading is a good thing, right? And it's just a romance novel." In reality, we unwittingly start our girls down this path at an extremely young age. Every little girl loves to play princess (I have a 4-year-old, I know). All the Disney princesses meet their prince and live happily ever after. Think about the princes, does any of them have a gut and a receding hairline? Is any of them ever stressed and tired after a long day of work? We let our girls dream about and expect things that are completely unrealistic to their detriment. A woman should try to look nice for her husband, but she is not going to look like an edited photo from a magazine. A man should be kind, caring, and a good provider, but he cannot be the guy from a book.

Now, after that extremely long side rant, we come back to Twilight. Another one of my preconceived notions about the series was that it would be extremely "emotionally pornographic." I would say that the jury is still out on that one in my mind. After all the words I just used to describe and decry emotional porn, I have to admit that it is much harder to pin down than visual pornography. The issue is that a certain amount of romance, winsomeness, and charm in a story is natural and appropriate (as opposed to a certain amount of nudity). The issue, as always, is for parents to know and understand their children. Let me say that again-you have to know your children. Though this may sound like a copout, I believe that the decision to let your teen read this series should depend on your teen. If your child is fairly mature and deals well with the difference between reality and fiction, she is stable emotionally, and she isn't given to flights of fancy, she should be fine reading these books. The issue, though, to be very frank, is that most teen girls (especially younger teens) aren't super emotionally stable (I know I am stereotyping, and I know that's not fair, but I am trying to speak to a wide audience--as usual there are exceptions). These books do have enough of an emotional element to them that they could be very unsettling. My personal opinion is that I would be very cautious about letting a younger teen read them just yet. Let her demonstrate to you some maturity and sophistication in emotional matters before you turn her loose on this series.

Just as pornography is typically more of an issue for boys but can also plague girls in some cases, "emotional pornography" is not limited in its scope to girls. While the primary danger of emotional unsettlement by the Twilight series is to girls, don't overlook the effect that this series (and other entertainment with these elements) could have on your boys. Once again, you have to know your children.

 

Conclusion: I really enjoyed the Twilight series, and I think it can be beneficial for believers to read, but I do think that serious caution should be showed in allowing your kids to read the series. There are several emotionally intense issues with which your child may or may not be prepared to cope. The onus is on the parent to know your kids and make a wise choice based on their maturity levels. 


 

 

 

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