What is it with right-wing Christians and vampires, anyway? No, I’m not talking about the whole ban-Harry-Potter crowd; it’s the ones that like the occult that are worrying me. Everywhere you look these days there seems to be a new and unholy alliance between sexy gothic vampires and those god-fearing Main Street folks we keeping hearing so much about. Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, goes to church to protect her soul in evil times, the vampires of the HBO’s True Blood series operate in some mirror world Maybury, and, last but most certainly not least, we have the phenomenally successful Twilight saga, penned by Brigham Young University grad Stephanie Meyer.
For those of you who have somehow missed the Potter-esque towers of Twilight books in every bookstore in America and the UK, the Twlight saga has now run to four books (Breaking Dawn, released last summer, was supposed to be the last) and features a love story between a high school girl named Bella and her gorgeous vampire beau Edward. The synopsis may say ‘Buffy’ but the actually recipe is more Harelquin Romance: a heroine who doesn’t know how beautiful she really is, an inscrutable male who finds her unawareness of her beauty irresistible, an equally hunky rival who smoulders with jealousy–all mixed together in a steamy soup of overwrought teen angst.
Meyer uses the romance vehicle to take her heroine into some very un-Buffy territory. Edward insists that he and the virginal Bella only kiss until they get married, which they do immediately after she graduates from high school. It’s disturbing enough that Bella’s entire life’s ambition is to be with Edward (she disdains college, has no career ambitions and can barely be bothered to finish high school), but the real horror comes when she realises she is pregnant. Bella’s half-vampire baby is so strong that it is destroying her insides, and it will physically claw its way out of her when it reaches full term. Edward begs her to abort, but Bella is literally dying to sacrifice herself for her little hellion, and she puts measures in place to ensure that none of her loved ones can end the pregnancy and save her life.
Of course, self-sacrifice is a fixture in the sort of romance novels that Meyer draws on: the only time it is OK for romance heroines to display strength is when it helps others and hurts themselves. But Meyer goes one further by locating this maidenly masochism in precisely the place that anti-abortionists would most like to see it: the body of a pregnant teenage girl. Not only do readers get to witness Bella protect her demon seed even as it breaks her ribs and damages her organs, but they get to hear its thoughts as well. Yes, that’s right: the thing is sentient and already talking (through vampire telepathy) even though it’s still in Mommy’s womb.
It’s the anti-abortionist’s wet-dream, wrapped up in pseudo-gothic trappings: a young woman who is basically a walking womb, devoid of all desire except for the determination to protect her foetus, and a foetus that is already a fully formed person, with wills and wishes of its own. The foetus is turned into a person, while the woman is turned into a collection of baby-sustaining cells.
Just to round out the anti-choice fantasy, the baby’s birth brings all good things to Bella. In order to save her life, Edmund finally makes Bella a vampire, thus fulfilling her greatest wish. She and Edmund and the little monster retire to a perfect wee cottage owned by his hugely rich vampire family. They will never have to work, and they don’t really have to take care of the baby since it emerges half grown and ready to take care of itself. Oh, and just in case that wasn’t enough, becoming a vampire makes Bella freakishly beautiful as well. The message, hammered home with the force of a pneumatic drill, is that as long as young women never put themselves first, they’ll eventually have everything they want.
From her soulful picture on her books’ dust jackets to the indie playlists that she posts on her website, Meyer seems determined to make sure that everyone knows that BYU grads can be just as hip as the next person. Her anti-choice vampire saga is hardly the first attempt to make the religious Right seem cool, but, judging by the series’ mammoth sales figures and the upcoming movie, her attempt is going over a lot better than Christian rock ever did. I can’t help but think that a cultural mythology that brought us Buffy in the 1990s and onscreen sex between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve in the 1980s deserves better than to be turned into the latest window-dressing for right-wing propaganda. But I guess, given the fate the religious Right would choose for young pregnant women, vampire lovers who turn teenage girls undead is probably the right metaphor after all.