Guest Post: High School Forever (Harry/Bella)

From a friend in Wichita, Joshua Sturgill, of Eighth Day Books:

“she was just 17, and you know what I mean.” -Lennon/McCartney

Well, John, I went to see Twilight:Eclipse yestereve.  Not bad as far as movies go.  Best of the Twilight movies so far.

But as I left the theatre, I noticed a lot of middle-aged women attending the movie along with their teenage daughters – both wearing “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” T-shirts and dark, gothic makeup. 

There is some great stuff in the Twilight books – a lot of faithfulness and commitment and life lessons.  But the obvious difference between these movies and the Harry Potter series is that in Twilight, the goal of the protagonist is to have eternal life in this world, which is exactly the opposite of Rowling’s story.  In Rowling, wanting eternal life in this world is only and exclusively the desire of the bad guys.

So I see all these mother/daughter couples in the theatre, and I wonder who will tell these girls, “honey, life is difficult and there are no short-cuts to happiness.  But there is real joy and it comes in part through growing up to maturity.”

Not for Bella, though.

Bella Swan is everything she is going to be at age 17.  She (thinks she) has no need to grow into anything more.  In fact, in Meyer’s world, there is no benefit to any of Bella’s suffering.  Bella’s trials add nothing to her character, they teach her nothing worth knowing.  They’re just stupid parent/teacher/vampire/warewolf blunders keeping her from what she wants.  Getting older is the only real evil for Bella Swan.

Harry Benefits from his suffering.  He learns and grows.  His difficulties are necessary to make him the kind of man who can, by the end of the series, give up his life so that others can live.

Bella Swan eventually “uses her powers for good” – but good for her is the maintaining of her ideals.  Harry walks into Voldemort’s camp not knowing what may happen next, weak and helpless but full of humility.  Bella, on the other hand, has become just like the Volturi – she has protected her clan by making them as strong (and as strong in the same way) as her enemy.



  1. Joshua, thanks for your insightful comments. I’ve still not read the Twilight books, nor do I have a desire to do so. I haven’t watched the movies either. My oldest daughter, age 31, has even less desire to read the books. I keep feeling pulled into it, but then something comes along that strengthens my resolve to go with my first impression of Twilight as something I wouldn’t enjoy, no matter whether it has value or not.

    But my 28 year old daughter has read the books and she and her husband go to the movies. Not for the romance, but for the vampires. They’ve gone to all the vampire movies out there and find it interesting and like the action scenes. The are artists and enjoy seeing the costumes, make-up, etc.

    Just the other night the three of us talked about the books and the movies. My oldest daughter works with teens and speaks in high schools around the state; the reaction she has had from teachers is that they worry that young girls, without much dating experience or maturity, romanticize Bella in a way that is not healthy and no one is telling them that real life and real relationships aren’t like that. After hearing the story-line for the series, that was my reaction.

    I’ve said all along that if my daughters were younger and reading the books and going to the movies, then I’d be right there with them. I doubt I’d be wearing a Team anyone shirt and wearing goth make-up however.

    I hadn’t even thought about the differences between Harry and Bella, probably because of my non-reading of Twilight. I think it’ll be interesting to add that to the discussion with my Twilight reading daughter to see what she thinks. I value her opinion, as she was my first Harry Potter discussion partner when I bought the first book in 1999 and knew no one else who had read them. She just about had me persuaded to at least read the first Twilight book, but once again, I’m not sure I really want to spend the time on it.

    There are so many books (and movies) out there that I really want to read (and see) that it’s hard for me to get excited about reading something I don’t think I’ll like. She did say that was her attitude when she started to read the first book, so maybe.


  2. Elizabeth says

    Well, Joshua,
    I’d probably be more worried about Bella’s being frozen at 17 if she was more like the average 17-year-old; but Bella is a seasoned caretaker, far more capable of paying the bills, buying the groceries, cooking, and cleaning than a number of adults I know. She is also an excellent student, with mature and sophisticated reading habits and a rigorous work ethic in regard to her studies (I’d trade her any day for some of the 28-year-olds in my classes). No wonder she finds the boys her own chronological age to be so disappointing and uninteresting. Part of her connection with Edward is that they are both “old souls” in young bodies.
    Though all Bella’s decisions are certainly not selfless nor perfect, she is ultimately prepared to sacrifice herself for her child and for the truth, not a choice endorsed by most of the role models young women see these days. Bella isn’t Harry, of course, though all the comparison does get a bit wearing, like comparing chocolate mousse to a great steak. Both are wonderful, but they aren’t interchangeable. Then again, Bellla also isn’t some shallow, party-obsessed celebrity who is addicted to her own forms of immortality through plastic surgery and eating disorders. Perhaps that is why so many young women like Bella. They are not drawn so much to the extraordinary elements of her life, as to the ordinary ones, the ones that remind them that they, too, may have the ability to be extraordinary.

  3. “But the obvious difference between these movies and the Harry Potter series is that in Twilight, the goal of the protagonist is to have eternal life in this world, which is exactly the opposite of Rowling’s story. In Rowling, wanting eternal life in this world is only and exclusively the desire of the bad guys.”

    I loved this quote. This is exactly why I don’t like the Twilight series. Bravo! To flee from our mortality and to try to gain physical immortality in the flesh in this fallen world is folly. Meyer’s message regarding this is the opposite of what C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and J. K. Rowling have taught us. For me personally, the Twilight vs. Harry Potter debate operates on many levels, one of the deepest being that of Secular Materialism (the fleshy immortality of Voldemort and the Twilight vampires) and the Christian view of Immortality (which we will find in the novels of Lewis, Tolkien, and Rowling). Great post!

  4. I don’t think Stephanie Meyer is trying to lift up the immortal life as the ideal. I think she is trying to talk about the power love has that makes us do crazy things. It makes us do things like die for the child inside us so that they might have life. I think that Bella isn’t rushing towards worldly immortality to live forever, but to be with the family she loves (and yes, that centers around Edward). In the series Bella doesn’t think that choosing now to be a vampire is going to damn her soul. Personally there is NO WAY I would choose immortality or an extended life on earth over heaven sooner rather than later. Life on earth is hard and I am glad that I don’t have to live more than one lifetime on it. But Meyer hasn’t answered the question over wether there is more for her vampires, but I suspect she envisions that there is. I get the sense that in her world the “good” vampires live just a longer life on earth and then there is more for them. So really they are just extending the pain in my mind that comes with our earthly time.

    I don’t get why people want to make comparisons between the two series to try and make their favorite look better. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and agree that there are some great themes and messages in them. But I am not going to lift every book I read after this series to it to try and discuss why the book or series falls short. It only feeds the ridiculous sense of rivalry some people have about the two. Why can’t we just let people enjoy a book series without the sense of people looking down their noses at them or telling them what they should be liking.

  5. Why can’t we be honest with ourselves about what’s good and what’s bad in the books we read? We want to learn from them, don’t we? Isn’t that the point of these discussions? Books are no more perfect than the people who who write them or the people who read them. We can compare themes and content, but I’m sure we all understand that the value of either series is a matter of opinion.

    I love both Harry Potter and Twilight, and I think there is a lot we can learn from both. That said, I do think Harry is a more admirable character than Bella. I agree with what Joshua said about good for Bella being the “maintaining of her ideals.” Her only concern is for her family, new and old.
    A worthy cause, certainly. Even better that she is willing to die for them. But let’s face it, how many mothers would not be willing to give their lives for their own children? Many people would die for their own friends and family.

    Jesus died for us while we were all His enemies. That’s one of the most powerful truths of the gospel. Harry does almost the same thing. He is called upon to save not only his friends, although he cared about them the most, but the whole world from Voldemort’s control, including his enemies. And not only that, but when it came down to the final battle, he wanted to extend salvation even to Voldemort himself. He wanted him to feel remorse which was the only way he could have been saved. And even when he refused, Harry still did not cast the killing curse. He only tried to disarm him. It was Voldemort’s own killing curse which destroyed him.

    Perhaps Bella was not called upon to save her enemies. But is strikes me that she does not care too much about anyone she is not personally involved with. When they needed to bring in other vampires (human-eating vampires) in Breaking Dawn to help them against the Volturi and they let them use their cars so they could go out of state to eat people, it doesn’t seem to bother Bella at all. It makes Jacob mad, although he can’t do anything about it because he needs the other vamps to save Renesmee as well, but Bella just accepts it as a matter of course. I can understand why the Cullens will put up with anything to save their baby, but it bothers me that they don’t really care that much about the innocent human lives that are lost in achieving that end. If Bella doesn’t care about a bunch of innocent strangers, she certainly wouldn’t be willing to die for her enemies even were she called upon to do so.
    I know it’s supposed to be post-modern morality, but the one thing that really bothers me about Twilight is the idea that the only real evil is the desire for power over others. Human life seems to have no inherent value, so the choice between eating people or eating animals is just a personal lifestyle choice. The Cullens are good because they are compassionate, not because they really believe it’s wrong to kill people. It doesn’t matter too much to them how many people are killed by other vampires as long as their own family is safe. In Harry, it matters when innocent people die.

    I love the Twilight story, but my own opinion is that Harry is still better.

  6. I think the issue is two different worldviews:

    – Whether one reaches heaven only by dying, because earth is a hell in itself, or;

    – Whether one reaches heaven by creating a heaven here on earth. In other words, there are those who feel that we either create a heaven here on earth, or we don’t deserve it afterwards.

    It’s an important distinction, which is innate to various religious belief systems. Which can make it difficult to discuss. Something worth pondering, regardless, IMHO.

  7. David Nilsen says

    I considered this point myself at one time, but I’ve decided that it actually doesn’t do any harm to the message/morality of the Twilight series.

    You might have a point if Mrs. Meyer was an advocate of progressive science (a la the so-called “Trans-humanism” movement) and things like radical cosmetic surgery, and was actually using her vampires as a stand-in for the idealized human of modern (in the philosophical sense) naturalism. She is not. Her vampires are a stand-in for glorified humanity, which is something that all Christians necessarily look forward to. In fact, I have often compared the longing that one feels to become like a Cullen while reading these books to the same longing that C. S. Lewis thought was an argument for Christianity, namely, for eternal life and for a joy that this “normal” earthly life can never fulfill.

    To simply point to the fact that the “heavenly” life of being a vampire happens to take place on earth, in the here-and-now, rather than in some other spiritual realm, completely misses the artistry (to borrow a phrase!) of the books.

    I think James’ comment above is quite apt here, but would point out that even in Twilight you have to die to reach the “heaven” of being a perfect, immortal, god-like being.

  8. Ah, yes. And a very painful death at that.

  9. Arabella Figg says

    “A very painful death” that burns away human weaknesses and “imperfections” resulting in a glorified body with a new heart, new senses, new appetites, new way of understanding creation.

  10. Thanks , everyone for these great replies!

    I am a bookseller by day and a bookreader by night. Critical thought about Children’s Literature is a particular joy for me. Harry and Bella are at the top of the heap right now, not only because they are current, but because there is so much gold to mine from them.

    Remember Zanth? The Dark is Rising Sequence? The Mouse and His Child? The Phantom Tollbooth? Danny the Champion of the World? – The power of the images in these books read when I was young still affects the way I approach both temporal and Ultimate questions.

    Here’s another thought I was considering today:

    Bella, Harry, Voldemort, Toad of Toad Hall are all searching for that “power of an indestructible life” mentioned in Hebrews. All great characters, all great souls are on the same journey.

    The means of finding “indestructible life” and the use to which that new life will be put determines whether we see a character or soul as good or evil.

    Now, grown up a little, when a story exerts a particularly strong influence on my heart, I want to know why. And, I want to know how to most efficiently apply that story to my whole life – to live or re-live or really-live what I’ve just experienced vicariously.

    Harry’s means for finding indestructible life is one I’ve added to my arsenal with very little reservation.


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