It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
Monarch Books (December 23, 2009)
***Special thanks to Cat Hoort, Trade Marketing Manager, of Kregel Publications for sending me a review copy.***
Dave Roberts is the author of the best-selling The Toronto Blessing and Red Moon Rising with joint sales in excess of 100,000. He is a former editor of Christianity and won awards for his work on Renewal magazine. He is a local church pastor and conference director for three major annual conferences on worship, children’s ministry, and women’s ministry.
Visit The Twilight Gospel book page on Kregal’s website to download a free discussion guide for youth leaders.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 160 pages
Publisher: Monarch Books (December 23, 2009)
AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:
In an age when the art of reading is thought to be in decline, the success of a book series with over 2,450 pages and a character count exceeding 3.5 million may be a surprise to some.
The appetite of readers old and young for romance, drama and the thrill of the long-running saga remains undimmed, however. The success of the Harry Potter series was just one indicator. The advent of the Internet has also made it possible to build strong fan cultures around niche television series such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The West Wing. At the heart of this fan culture activity is an identification with the characters in a storyline, and a desire to explore both the story and the point of view that lies behind it.
A young boy, Harry Potter, captured the imagination of many as he grew up with his audience. It seems fitting that the next mass-market mystical morality tale capturing the imaginations of children and young adults should feature a slightly awkward, self-conscious girl, teetering on the brink of womanhood.
While some may be tempted to dismiss these stories as Mills & Boon style romances for the young teen reader, at their heart they explore issues of identity, sexuality and spirituality. They reflect on material aspiration, prejudice and stereotyping, family breakdown, self-control and human dignity. They invoke the Bible and one of the characters speaks of the perspective of the Creator. They explore ancient myths and mystical practices that are entering the mainstream culture of the West.
Regardless of literary merit, the saga’s cold, hard sales facts are staggering. The series is made up of five books. Four have been published, but an unpublished fragment – Midnight Sun – tells the story found in the original Twilight series from the perspective of Edward, the main male character in the books. The fragment is over 260 pages long and further fills in both the romantic and the spiritual roots of the story.
The series, which launched in 2005, has become a publishing phenomenon. With sales in excess of 70 million by 2009 and translations into 38 languages, the Twilight Saga has emerged as a strong competitor for hearts and minds alongside the Harry Potter series and the controversial Da Vinci Code. While originally published for ‘young readers’, the saga has attracted a much wider audience, including women looking for a different take on romantic fiction.
Many will perhaps read these books and barely remember them. They will be the books of the month, literally and emotionally. But some will look upon them as a window on the world. Bella’s emotions regarding her awkwardness will ring true for them. The astonishing intensity of first sexual experiences and the tentative discovery of trust at a profound level will seep out of the pages and into the thought patterns of many readers.
Learning from stories is an ancient aspect of our culture. Two thousand years ago Jesus held large crowds spellbound as he painted rich word-pictures with his parables and proverbs. As we encounter the stories that make up the Twilight Saga we will want to be aware, as Jesus was, that some will hear the story and hardly understand it, but others will deeply internalize the things that they hear.
Think for a moment of Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son, which Edward ruefully mentions upon his return from exile. (He had sought to protect Bella from vampire attack by being away from her.) Jesus draws the crowd into the emotional drama of the story as he recounts the ungrateful demands of the errant son. The extent of his downfall is made clear when we discover that he is feeding pigs. The depth of the father’s mercy is planted as an idea in the imagination of the hearer as he or she pictures the father running to extend mercy, and to signal to the local population his protection of the son they had every reason to despise. The willingness of the father to forgive is clear, but the idea arises from the story rather than any explicit mention of the word. It is an example of skilful storytelling.
The skilful storyteller evokes emotion and encourages empathy with the characters. Many readers will feel as if they are spectators, hovering in the background of the dialogue that they read or the story they hear. They will picture the scenes as they play out on a backdrop in their imagination. This powerful connection with the emotions of a story will often connect people with a religion, a philosophy or a point of view.
Fiction, obviously, has power. But how much? Those who say that stories such as the Twilight Saga ‘make’ people undertake explorations of sexuality or the occult are overstating the case. Stories do not ‘make’ anybody do anything. They introduce the possibility and excite the imagination: that is all. By the same token, those who would say that these are merely stories and that people will not internalize the value systems they find in the saga may also be suffering from a form of cultural myopia. Some people will take up the possibilities that they find in the story and act them out in their own lives. Stories bring ideas to life.
As we journey into the Twilight lands around Seattle, where our story is set, let us bear in mind that there will be many other explorers. Some will be walking in Bella’s shoes, deeply identified with her emotional vulnerability and her questions over her own character and motivations. Others will be fascinated by the vampire mythology, with its rebellion against the moral norms of society. They will be drawn into the struggles of those vampires who are reluctant to embrace their killing machine destiny and hang on to shreds of humanity in the hope of redemption or as an antidote to guilt.
Some will simply be quietly thrilled with the erotic subtext that runs through all four books. Many are not the least bit interested in direct depictions of the sexual act but are happy to get lost in the erotic world of discovery that the young virgin and the 104-year-oldman (who doesn’t seem to have had a girlfriend since he was 18, if at all) embark upon.
Just as there is no typical Twilight reader, so there is no one message. The story has many layers, some of which we are going to explore. It weaves together ideas about material consumption, sexuality, spirituality, personal psychic power, self-image, friendship and social networks, the glamour of rebellion, folklore and even tribal conflict. No wonder it is potent stuff.
But in what sense, if any, is it true? I live my life according to a magnificent narrative handed down through the millennia by the apostles and prophets of the religion that honors God, his Son Jesus and his emissary to us today, the Holy Spirit. The Twilight Saga does not purport to be ‘truth’ but many will feel that it contains truth about their life. To determine what is true and praiseworthy, I will be examining the ideas at the heart of the Twilight Saga in the light of the ideas at the heart of the Christian faith.
Examining popular culture through the eyes of Christian thought can sometimes be a painful process, which is why many Christians choose to turn their backs on that culture. It’s painful when the foundation we stand on is fear. Fear of what that culture might do to us. Fear of those who create that culture. Fear of what stain it might leave on our hearts or our minds. But I am not writing from a place of fear. I have no desire to plant seeds of fear in the lives of anyone who reads this book.
I want to write from a place of wisdom – not my own, but rather the wisdom I find throughout the pages of the Hebrew/Christian scriptures. In critiquing other worldviews, I desire to help people understand and respond and make good choices. I don’t want to tell them what to believe about contemporary vampire culture! I do want to hold up the ideas in the Twilight Saga to scrutiny, and help the reader to ask good, penetrating questions about those ideas.
In the book of Revelation, Jesus addresses the seven churches of Asia Minor, calling them to account for their behavior. He speaks very well of two of them and affirms something positive about every one of the other five. But he also says, ‘this I have against you’. As you read on you’ll discover that I affirm some of the story threads in the Twilight Saga. You’ll also discover very searching questions. They are offered in the spirit of the approach that Jesus took with the errant churches.
You and I are not Jesus and the Twilight Saga is not a church (although the www.twilightsaga.com website does have 183,000 members at the time of writing). The Twilight Saga does not affirm mainstream orthodox Christianity in its storylines or dialogue. But it does contain elements of what is good and wholesome. For instance, in Carlisle Cullen we find a man of peace. Bella is almost painfully humble, as well as being willing to sacrifice her life for others. Charlie Swan loves his daughter. Angela Weber personifies a quiet goodness. Esme Carlisle has the instinctive protective love of a mother, but towards children who are not her own. As you wander the Twilight lands, you’ll find grace, beauty and truth in the midst of moral complexity and spiritual promiscuity.
I want to acknowledge wisdom where we find it in the story, and to respect the fine storyteller who brings us the tale. We should be willing to stand in the shoes of other readers who come to this story with different expectations, backgrounds and experiences. But as we seek to understand why the story touches them, I hope we will also be willing to question and refute, and perhaps, when necessary, say ‘this I have against you’.
But first we need to go to Transylvania.