In the third installment, “Eclipse,” Bella (Kristen Stewart) can’t decide between suitors Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner). The fact that the former is a vampire and the latter a werewolf just further complicates her romantic involvement with both. Her Dad, Charlie, the local police chief, is torn between his professional duty of solving the mysterious murders and disappearances in the area, and his smothering care for his teenage daughter, who only came to live with him after she was already in high school. Bella is also torn between her childhood devotion to her sweet, oblivious Mom who lives in Florida, and her taciturn, skeptical Dad, who prefers the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.
That deeply-wooded backdrop is a perfect setting for the Cullens, the resident vampire family, who try to balance their physical need for fresh blood with their social need to have some place they belong; some community where they are accepted, even if considered a bit weird. Edward Cullen can pass as a high school student even though he’s actually more than a hundred years old, because vampires don’t age. He’s fallen in love with Bella, and his romantic passion runs deep for her, but his gentlemanly manners from an earlier era will not allow him to deflower her until she marries him. She, being a modern young woman, doesn’t understand why they can’t physically express their love for each other. But she also finds she has feelings for Jacob. His loyalty is torn between her and his Native American tribe, some of whom are also his “wolf pack,” whose primitive feral protective instincts have been enlivened precisely because of the threat of the presence of the vampires. So it’s a very shaky alliance when they need to join forces to protect against the destroying army of “newborns,” or new vampires sloppily initiated and completely untrained, who are swift and merciless and subject to the enslavement of their own blood lust. They, in turn, are led by a vengeful renegade vampire but pursued by the elite ruling council, who would prefer the vampire population to remain undetected, and to move about freely without arousing the fear of the populace.
Edward loves Bella enough to discourage her from becoming “one of them,” because he wouldn’t want to deprive her of her humanity, or even, as he puts it, her soul. She finally convinces him that her wanting to be like him is different from her wanting to be with him. Jacob is grievously wounded in the pitched battle, but also in the battle to win Bella’s affection.
Stephanie Meyer’s very creative series of novels seizes two very old horror legends — vampires and werewolves — and recasts them into a fantasy romance that has our thirsty youth culture bitten with infectious anticipation and smitten with romantic longing. It’s a very interesting cultural phenomenon. If you ever want to find out what the ubiquitous t-shirts “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” are all about, you may have to go see for yourself. But it’s not your father’s Bela Lugosi.
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church in Greenville, Texas.