Friday, December 11, 2009

Stirring up controversy: Harry vs. Bella

I can feel a backlash coming even as I write, but decided to pose this idea anyway. I know there are a lot of Twilight lovers out there, and I'd especially like to hear your opinion on this. I have only one request if you respond: please don't kill me.

Most of you know I started reading the Harry Potter books a couple of years ago and fell in love with them. Since a lot of Harry Potter lovers also seem to be Twilight fans, I decided to try those books as well and read Twilight and New Moon, but so far I'm not hooked. At first I thought it was mainly because the Twilight books are first and foremost about romance. I enjoy a good love story, but I frankly don't want descriptions of the hero's godlike perfection to be the main focus of my reading material. (Like I said, please don't kill me.)

But then I realized that something else bothers me--and this is where the main comparison between Harry Potter and Twilight comes in for me. And this isn't about something fluffy like romance. It's about the very big issues of death and immortality that are the focus of both books, but in different ways.

In the final Harry Potter book, Harry finds his parents' graves, and there's a Bible verse carved on the headstone: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." Considering the rogues that raised Harry, he hasn't exactly had a church upbringing so he doesn't recognize this as a Bible verse and is disturbed. He tells his friend Hermione that the idea sounds like something the evil Lord Voldemort's followers (aptly named Death-Eaters) would say. These bad guys are all about defeating death and achieving immortality through any means--dark magic, murder, power, whatever. But Hermione explains to Harry that the verse doesn't mean overcoming death their way, but is about living on after death.

In the Harry Potter books, it's clear that physical, earthly death is not the worst thing. And living forever on Earth is not the best thing. The best thing is love and overcoming darkness. In the very first Harry Potter book, an alchemist has developed The Sorcerer's Stone, which has allowed him to live for hundreds of years so far and will keep him alive indefinitely. But when the alchemist learns that Voldemort is trying to acquire the stone and use it himself, the alchemist destroys the object and calmly prepares for death.

There's another symbolic object in the last book--one of the Deathly Hallows, as a matter of fact--that could possibly be used to bring people back from the dead. When Harry first hears of this, he has an intense longing to find that stone, so he could bring back his parents and other loved ones he's lost. By the end of the book, Harry has the stone, but he has learned that using it this way would be a terrible mistake. Instead, Harry uses the stone in an amazing way, that affirms love and sacrifice and "living beyond death."

Which brings me to Bella and Twilight.

From the time Bella learns of the Cullens and Edward's true nature, she longs to become a vampire. She's obsessed with living forever on Earth with Edward. She comments that she's not interested in heaven if Edward's not there. I found this disturbing when I read Twilight, but I figured this was just the set-up. Eventually Bella would come to her senses. Maybe they would find a way to help Edward and the Cullens be "cured" of their vampire state and returned to normal, mortal life.

Because let's face it. Even though the Cullens have a kind of immortality, at least in my humble opinion, they're not exactly living an earthly Paradise. Though they've chosen not to kill humans, it's a constant temptation--to the point of their having to be careful not to lose control and kill their beloved Bella. Would any of us really voluntarily take on a condition that would make us struggle not to hurt or kill our loved ones at any moment?

Frankly, I don't even relish the Cullens' way of having to rip apart animals and drink their blood for nourishment. Or never being able to sleep. (Yikes, definitely not my idea of paradise!)

I admit I've stopped reading after New Moon. But from what I heard, Bella's becoming one of the undead and achieving this kind of immortality remains the goal. So maybe she gets to live with Edward forever, but at what cost?

Accepting that sort of earthly life for eternity is just not a goal that I can identify with, and hence my trouble with Twilight. I frankly don't see Harry going for anything like that either.

So now, Twilight (and Potter?) fans out there--tell me what I'm missing.

But please don't hurt me.

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