An Old Moon
Stoker’s Monster is Modernity’s Horror
DISCLAIMER: This review is not an endorsement to see or to forbid to see this movie. Furthermore, it is not an edict against reading the books. In fact, GrittedGrace encourages the reading of good literature. However, The Twilight Series is not good literature (closer to dime store novels). The movie reflects this banality. That being said, we believe in entering the Great Discussion in philosophy and worldview through the Great Books. Though this book is not a part of that canon, one may not be able to plumb the depths of those books without starting with the lessor works in our modern culture. The purpose of this review is the practice of discernment.
New things seldom are. They are simply repackaged old things. Such is the case with modern vampires who instead of menacing Draculian glares, exude an “impossible beauty” once reserved for a princess. Told in literature for more than a century and on film for decades, the truth about monsters is passé. Besides, they wanted to come out of the dark shadows. And a post-Christian world welcomes them. Only we insist that they glam it up! We like our monsters sparkly. “His skin is ‘like marble’—very pale, ice cold, and sparkles in the sunlight.”
But all that shimmers is not gold and all who are abstinent are not pure.
If teenage angst were like shooting stars in the night sky…I could really use a wish right now. And in one fell swoop the rush of pubescent girls (and boys) toward the effeminate blood sucking Edward would cease to be. But teenage angst isn’t something that lights up the night sky. On the contrary, it is dark and foreboding when, as it often is, attached to monsters. Yet many Christians argue for, if not the sanctity, the tolerance of all things Twilight. Should they? That depends on whether metaphor matters.
Symbols are important—or at least they should be—to the Christian worldview. Why? In examining the character and nature of God we come across an arcs axiom. That is, God chose to use types and symbols in communicating with His creation. Meaning is attached to people, places, and things so that spotless lambs represent sinless innocence, purple garments denote royalty, soil is the heart of man, and wine is blood. Wicked things are symbolized too, as Doug Wilson explains on his blog (dougwils.com):
…the dragon is the archetypical emblem of sly, crafty, rebellion — and this goes back to the Garden. Satan is that ancient dragon. If we read our Bibles rightly, we will pay attention to the symbols….But in this world, the one we live in, dragons still mean what they mean. That meaning was assigned to us. Shifting the meaning of everything around in this metamorphing way seems to me to be not so much a testimony to our literary prowess as to the continued craftiness of the serpent.
So should we, as Christians, understand symbolism? The disciples were chastised for having little faith because they couldn’t discern that the Lord wasn’t hungry when He talked about bread (KJV Matt.16:8 ). So yes, we are called to see the allegories and to discern good and evil, even in the abstract.
We understand this on some level because God made it so. Orcs and ring-wraiths bad; Ents and elves good. Even if our conscious is in rebellion and we pronounce vampires virtuous, our primal instincts at the core of our psyche, or id, will say otherwise. And therein is the horror: God will not be mocked even when we call evil good or soft S&M wholesome for Christian young ladies (Bella wants Edward to make love to her even though he could lose control and kill her in the process).
The Grammar of Monsters
According to E. Michael Jones, former professor of Notre Dame, monsters are created because of unconfessed guilt. They arise from unresolved psyches that are searching for repentance, but can’t find it. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the first literary horror of its kind, was born of this guilt. Her fictitious novel was “a protest against theories of sexual revolution by someone who had suffered badly because of them,” states Jones in his book Monsters from the Id. “Sexual liberation is so frightening, I cannot talk about it, those like Mary Shelley seem to tell us…the monster speaks the unspeakable for them.”
Shelley’s mother was the famous English feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft, who having lived through the French Revolution, embraced its ideology of throwing off political and religious authority. No price was too exacting to reach the humanistic utopia of unfettered desire. Wollstonecraft wrote an apology for the revolution in response to Edmund Burke’s Reflection on the Revolution in France in which Burke warned of violent outcomes. Madame Roland, a leader and supporter of the revolution, validated Burke’s prophecy in her memoirs, “women were brutally violated before being torn to pieces by those tigers; intestines cut out and worn as turbans; bleeding human flesh devoured.” Wollstonecraft was eyewitness to many such atrocities. (Jones 14)
Even as they bore the destruction of the revolution in both their public and private lives, true believers marched on. Their cause was greater than the cost of blood running in the streets. As Maximilien Robespierre argued, “terror is nothing else than swift, severe, indomitable justice; it flows, then, from virtue.”(McLetchie)
Wollstonecraft was victimized by her own philosophy with a bastard child and abandonment. She attempted suicide twice before meeting up with radical philosopher William Godwin, who was also disappointed in the revolution. It was into this disillusionment that the mother of Frankenstein was born.
English poet Percy Shelley enthusiastically embraced the sexual decadence of the French Revolution and admired the writings of Godwin. His first wife killed herself after he abandoned her to live with Mary Godwin. Shelley abused his wives, desiring that they sleep with his male and female friends. It was this empty and painful lifestyle that led Mary to question the choices of the so called Enlightenment. She couldn’t get free from her conscience, which demanded that the monster turn on the master and exact a price. “Literary catharsis seemed the only way” to purge her soul.
The Logic of Horror
From the grammar we advance to the logic stage in which the horror progresses. Bram Stoker’s Dracula would be the shift from the monster created in the lab to Darwin’s breakthrough in biology in which the key player would not be electricity but blood. The dream of a utopia, now coupled with a pure race, would need a monster. “Dracula, the poisoner of blood, [would] become the ultimate terror.” (Jones 119)
In Dracula, bitten by three female vampires, Jonathon desperately needs to suppress the truth. “The secret is here, and I do not want to know it,” he confides to his fiancé. “Are you willing to share my ignorance?” (Stoker 117) Jones explains Stoker’s revelation, “we have here an example of the ambivalence at the heart of horror, an ambivalence based on the guilty conscience that fuels the imagination that creates monsters…reaching back in the end to one unspeakable secret.” What was the horror that, like Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker could not face? What was it in his own id that wouldn’t release him from his conscience? A syphilitic mind—defiled blood.
Stoker wasn’t the first person to connect syphilis to vampires. Both had been around for some time prior to this period, but it was Darwin’s theories that exalted the blood to such a degree that a mythical monster begged to be begotten. But in dealing with blood, the monster had do address the theological because it was God after all that inextricably linked blood and life. (KJV Lev. 17:11). “Both Christ and Dracula deal with blood and eternal life. Vampirism is…the antithesis of Christianity. Whereas Christ shed his blood so that his followers could have eternal life; Dracula shed his followers’ blood so that he could have eternal life.” (Jones 124)
Perhaps the French Revolution, making man a mere machine, with its Marquis de Sade unleashing a world of sexual debauchery, perpetuated the Pox. And Darwin’s theory making man mere biology, created the likes of Nietzsche (God is dead) and Hitler (I am god) both suffering from syphilis. (An interesting note that Jones brings out in his Monsters is that Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus was the inspiration, according to Mary Shelley for her Frankenstein. While Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton was the father of Eugenics and himself a syphilitic).
In the throes of syphilitic genius, Stoker not only wrote Dracula, but The Lair of the White Worm, which was also filled with allegory to the disease that raged for almost 450 years. In Pox, Genius Madness and the Mysteries of Syphilis, Deborah Hayden makes the case that Columbus, Beethoven, Schubert, Mary Todd, Van Gogh, Nietzsche, Wilde and Hitler, all suffered the disease. Hayden makes the point that many who died through history hid the disease or went undiagnosed because, “syphilis was known as the Great Imitator for its facility in mimicking many other conditions.” (Hayden XVII) Similarly those that die of AIDS, are usually suffering from a multitude of other diseases.
The logic of horror is simply this, God is not mocked. Those who love darkness will drink what Carl Jung called “the poison of the darkness.” The horror genre reminds us that we are all guilty under the law and that an exacting price will be paid. The monsters we create are warning us of the hell to come if we are not soon arrested by grace.
Thanks to penicillin and birth control, moderns no longer have the dreaded pox hanging over their head, nor the threat of unwanted children. The 60’s sexual revolution and feminism have shown us the way to sex without responsibility, in which females and children are ultimate victims just as it was with the Pox. Our monsters are still portrayed in literature and film. Abortion guilt gave us the monster Alien in the 70’s.
Since then males continue to suffer a degradation of the role of masculinity in creating a healthy society and are relegated to the likes of Peter Griffin when refusing to toe the metro sexual line. This male suppression brings us full circle back to Transylvania. Jones points out in Monsters that “the trajectory of sex disconnected from procreation,” and the demise of syphilis makes the “predominate significance of vampirism homosexual.” This transition can be seen in Anne Rice’s homosexual melodrama Interview with a Vampire.
Rice tells us, “This movie is not just about vampires. It’s really about us.” (Jones 162) The enlightened contraceptive culture sees homosexuals as more “free” sexually than the rest of us monogamous types. Rice’s character Armand rescues Louis from the “terrible dawn,” only to reassure him that as monsters, “the first lesson is that we must be powerful, beautiful, and without regret.” This IS really about us. The “terrible dawn” is repentance that we must avoid. But parasitic lust wants no part of turning back. The hunger must be quenched. The desire satisfied. Which like its symbolic figure, the vampire, is never sated until death (KJV James 1:15).
While Rice’s vampires are beautiful, Stephanie Meyer’s are “impossibly beautiful,” which brings us back to the original argument. That is, should Christians partake in the latest round of monsters from the id?
The lead character, Bella, believes she was born to be a vampire. She literally begs to be bitten. Finally, she is injected with vampire venom to save her life. Bella is now one of the damned. However, she manages to escape the natural instinct of vampires. She gains only benefits without the curse (disease) or bloodthirst – only a supreme will to enjoy the forbidden fruit of Edward (as depicted by the apple on the original cover of Twilight.) Is this the allure of Twilight? Sin without consequences? (Read: Rob Bell and Universalism).
Again, the main consideration from a Christian worldview point would be to consider the history of monsters and the symbolism attached. What is our modern horror that we can’t speak, but project onto the screen? The sin that we refuse to repent of but must find catharsis in creating monsters?
Why can’t Bella be satisfied with the effeminate Edward who is so sparkly? Can’t he save her alone? Why does she long for the masculinity of Jacob? Must Bella drink blood, which the symbolism of abomination is clear, in order to bring forth the fruit of her sin because she has struck a deal with the devil? (Read: Faust and Dorian Grey).
Secondly, the basic outline of horror is justice and retribution. As Doug Wilson points out, “law and justice from top to bottom”…a “foretaste of hell.” Consider then that traditional values are infused into the storyline to assuage the guilt, to hold back the retribution even for a moment. Salvation through works without repentance or regret because the end justifies the means.
Like Shelley and Stoker, we still can’t talk about it directly, so we find a way to approximate ourselves to what Wilson calls the “exquisite thrill experienced by sinners about ten second before it’s too late…It is a literary way to play a little Russian roulette.” (dougwils.com)
Religion is inferred in Twilight, as Carlisle Cullen, the patriarch of the vampire family and the son of a minister, preaches a “vegetarian” approach to vampirism. He is good in works and only bites to save lives – supposedly while condemning them to damnation unless they can be good too. Stephanie Meyer is Mormon, a religion in which family values reigns supreme and works are emphasized even to the point of baptizing the dead. Does Twilight reflect this worldview?
Christian families may want to consider the implications of the Twilight Series in influencing their children. Open discussion on the history of monsters and the role they play in our lives in describing our sin would be a difficult but worthwhile topic.
Barbara A. Castle
Jones, E. Michael. Monsters from the Id. Spence Publishing, 2002.
“Cullen, Edward.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 22 July
2004. Web. 10 Aug. 2004
Twilight. Dir. Catherine Hardwicke. Perf. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Peter Facinelli.
Summit Entertainment, 2008.
Maximilien Robespierre, Master of the Terror. Ed. Scott McLetchie. Outstanding Paper for the
1983-84 Academic Year. Loyola University, History Department
Stoker, Bram and Brooke Allen. Dracula. Spark Education Publishing, 2004. Google books.
Hayden, Deborah. Pox, Genius, Madness and Mysteries of Syphilis. Basic Books, 2003.
Rice, Ann. Interview with a Vampire. Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.