Near the end of March Stephenie graced the lexicon with her presence. She joined a philosophical discussion led by our own Tennyo and responded to many of the questions posed by Tennyo and the other lexicon members taking part in the discussion. The following is a transcript of the most informative of her posts.
NOTE: Stephenie was in no way giving out information about future books or anything they might contain. She admitted that she was playing Devil’s Advocate by joining in this conversation and nothing contained in this transcript is meant as a spoiler. And don’t spend too much time dissecting it for information. Stephenie is smarter than that.
Tennyo’s post that began the conversation on the thread Twilight Universe General Philosophical Musings in the Quench Your Thirst forum:
*ahem*, Anyway, today I was thinking about chaos theory, which is basically that everything in the world affects everything else, e.g. a butterfly flaps it’s wings in India, it then snows in Alaska.
Taking this to mind (or even without it), you can see that killing one person (no matter who; mother, serial killer, whatever) changes the entire world. Kill a random teen; they could be the next Ghandi, kill a random woman; her great grand-child might find the cure for cancer, kill a random guy; he might be the only person who keeps another from suicide.
So here we have the Cullens. Excluding Carlilse, each of them has killed a number of people in their time, no matter how hard they tried. Jasper and Edward have killed into the hundreds, or more, each. And it doesn’t seem to bother them as much as it should-to me, at least. In fact, they seem more bothered by the fact that they’re doomed to a life as vampires than the fact that so many lives were lost because of them.
What bothers me the most is that all the Cullens (again, excluding Carlisle) have had "slip-ups" a few times at least. And how are they treated? "We’re very dissapointed in you, now we have to move to a new town and you should try harder next time." I’m sure the loved ones of the person "slipped-up"-on wouldn’t be to happy with their beloved’s murderers living the sweet life with money and great digs while their child/spouse/parent/friend rotted away in the ground.
I don’t know, it just seems more proper to me that The Cullens wander the earth in torn rags or something. It’s like they don’t
even care. Any thoughts?
Stephenie’s posts from March 28 and 29 on the Twilight Universe General Philisophical Musings thread in the Quench Your Thirst forum:
This is a really interesting thread that I should probably stay out of (but I can’t resist discussions on relative morality—fascinating stuff). I’ve had enough experience on the Lexicon message boards to know that just because the creator of the Twilight universe says something doesn’t mean people will believe it, even if it’s something so easy as an absolute “yes” or “no” answer that will be proven in the next installment (yes, people can argue with anything). This subject is much more subjective and open to interpretation, so I know my input will not “answer” the discussion. Most likely, it will cause more dissention. (People are going to pick apart every line I write for inconsistencies, which of course will exist, because I am not infallible. Sigh.)
Something to remember: I have no experience with the Buffy world or other popular vampire series (tv or book). I don’t know the philosophies and stories that some of you do, and I can’t comment on any comparisons. However, it does seem to me that a few of you are taking assumptions from preconceived vampire notions and applying them inaccurately to Twilight vampires. I’ll try to set those straight in particular.
Three notes I’m adding after completing this novella of a response:
A) This is a REALLY long exploration of the thoughts this thread has brought up for me. But after twelve pages of comments, did you expect short? Read at the peril of your eyesight.
B) I didn’t actually read every post in this thread. Once it got so Buffy-centric that I didn’t understand what was going on, I started skipping. So if there is a really key element I’ve missed, that’s why.
C) If you’re as interested in the implications of relative morality as I am, you should try the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card, particularly book two, Speaker for the Dead.
Okay, now to plunge into the muddy waters!
1) The Cullens do not look down on humans. Other Twilight vampires see humans as beef or poultry, it’s true. And it’s a hard viewpoint to resist—after all, vampires are physically and mentally superior to the nth degree. Their life spans measure in centuries and millenniums. Human lives are so short—sort of like fruit flies that only live a day in comparison. Humans die so easily, too, in their sleep, from tripping, from a tiny heart glitch, from a virus, from getting bumped a little too hard by a car. It’s sort of hard for an average vampire to take them seriously. They’re going to die soon anyway, right? (I know it might be difficult to step away from a human perspective and see it through their eyes. The question is, is it really wrong for them to see the world that way? Vampires are at the very pinnacle of the food chain. Should they feel bad about that? Or are they simply following the dictates of nature?)
The Cullens struggle to reject that viewpoint. They work (and it is work) to hold on to their human perception of the world. Are they arrogant about it? Some of them, at times. As it has been argued already, maybe you would start to feel a bit superior, too, if you were smarter and faster and stronger than everyone around you (let alone intimately aware of all their petty thoughts). Most humans I know who are great athletes or geniuses have a strong streak of arrogance in their personality (men in particular—sorry, boys, but it’s true). It seems hard to avoid.
But Edward isn’t arrogant all the time. When something takes him by surprise, like the silence of Bella’s mind and her unpredictable behavior, he is quite humbled by that, and embarrassed for his unfounded arrogance and wrong assumptions. Edward spends plenty of time wallowing in insecurity. It’s just that Bella doesn’t see that side of him (even when it’s in evidence, she misreads it—because she can’t imagine Edward having any reason to feel insecure) so, neither do we. (It’s important to always remember that we are only seeing what Bella sees. We know nothing about what Edward or the others are thinking unless they speak it aloud. Just because they haven’t said it to Bella, doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about it.)
Back to the Cullens. They try very hard to not lose their sensitivity to the value of human life. Carlisle is the best at it. Perhaps surprisingly, Rosalie is next best.
Why do they try? The answer is different for all of them. Carlisle has faith. He thinks he can keep his soul if he lives the best he can. Esme has love. Her heart is so open, that she loves humans easily. Alice is a fatalist. She knows her own future, and she follows it. Carlisle is Edward’s hero, and Edward wants to be like him. Also, Edward is a family man at heart, and he knows that vampires who drink human blood do not have families as a general rule. Emmett’s reason is similar to Edward, though he takes nothing as seriously, and Rosalie is the one he worships. (Rosalie and Jasper have their reasons as well. You don’t know them yet.)
2) So why does Carlisle create other vampires? Faith is a part of it—if he didn’t believe that a “good” vampire life could result in salvation, he would not have done it. But the biggest part of it is pure loneliness. Both people and vampires can go mad in utter isolation. It just takes longer for vampires. Changing Edward worked out really well for Carlisle, which led to him changing Esme. That worked out even better. Which influenced his decision to change Rosalie.
But that didn’t work out so well. And Carlisle would never have changed another human again if Rosalie hadn’t begged him for Emmett. Carlisle is not as torn as Edward over the idea of Bella as a vampire because of the faith he has. However, he has never changed anyone whose human life was not absolutely over. That is a very sad thing for him. But he knows enough about true love to have faith that things will work out well for Bella. After the events in New Moon, even Edward can’t doubt that her life is better with him than without him.
Is there some inconsistency here? Of course. It’s called human nature. The Cullens have clung to theirs so closely that they are victims of its caprice. Humans waffle. We change our minds. Things look different to us depending on our mental state. We do things contrary to our belief system in a moment of weakness. We’re human. So, in a very real way, are the Cullens.
3) Weakness! Let’s talk about drinking blood!
A lot of you are vegetarians. I applaud your compassion and dedication. Vegetarianism is a very popular thing right now, because we live in a society with a conscience, and we live in a society of plenty. You don’t generally have the first without the last. Were there vegetarians 200 years ago? Maybe a few. 300 years ago? 500? The further you go back, the more likely it is that the answer is “no.” Why? Because throughout the majority of history, people ate to survive. Except for the kings and lords, perhaps, people did not eat for pleasure. Death by starvation was a common thing (it still is, sadly, in some parts of the world). Starving people, people whose children are starving, don’t have the ability to be ethical about what they eat. They eat whatever they can.
If you were imprisoned and all you were offered to eat was meat, would you starve? You might say yes right now. Because you’re not starving. I’d like to hope that I could starve before I turned cannibal or something, but I can’t say that for sure. Historically, it seems people are not usually that strong. I’ve never been that hungry myself, so I can’t be certain.
So what does this have to do with anything? First of all, on the subject of the Cullens killing animals to survive—none of them were raised in a time when the vegetarian mindset was prevalent—most of them had never heard the word while they were human. They don’t think of animals that way. They don’t kill them cruelly. They prevent suffering wherever they can.
More to the point, drinking human blood. From what I’ve read here, and discussions I’ve had since becoming a vampire writer, I’ve made a few assumptions (that could be wrong). It seems that, in other vampire worlds, drinking blood is more pleasure than compulsion for vampires. They can “drink from” a person in a leisurely manner, leaving that person alive, and perhaps returning for more later. It seems like the lust for blood is very equivalent to the lust for sexual satisfaction. Thus, something that can be controlled by a responsible person fairly easily under most circumstances. A pleasure impulse rather than a need impulse. Almost like choosing between which delicious entrée you’re going to have for dinner. Yes, you’re hungry, but not hungry enough to settle for plain spaghetti noodles when there’s that fabulous linguini…You’d rather not eat at all if the first is the only option.
In the Twilight world, this is not the case. Thirsty vampires are in acute physical pain. It is comparable to the feel of a third degree burn inside your throat. It can make a vampire literally crazy for relief—beyond thought. If your hand was on fire and there was a bucket of ice water beside you, would you resist that relief? Of course not. You would have no reason to. Back to the average vampire’s viewpoint, neither does a vampire have a reason to resist. There is a fire, he or she quenches it. Problem, solution. It is not about pleasure as much as relief of pain for the thirsty vampire. There is pleasure in the act, but it does not influence the motivation before the act as much as the pain does.
The well-fed vampire has more decision making ability left to him or her. (Except in the rare case when a human’s blood is so potent to a particular vampire that it sets his or her throat on fire like they haven’t drunk in months. There is more pleasure in the act in this situation, too, just as there is more pain in the motivation.)
Blood drinking is an imperative. Even for a vampire who keeps his or her system full of animal blood, the lack of human blood is constant pain. I think the only human state that is even close to comparable is anorexia. Anorexia is too hard on a human body—in the end, if not given up, it kills a human. Vampires can’t be killed by starvation, so they manage. But it’s harder than you’re giving them credit for. My philosophy is this: I can’t judge vampires, because I’ve never done anything as physically difficult—nothing even close!—as giving up human blood is to them.
Sure, we could sit around and trash talk the vegetarian vampires who make mistakes. But were doing it on a full stomach, so to speak. We’d all stick our hands in the ice water if we were burning (keep this metaphor in mind).
4) Which leads us to the concept of atonement. Question: what things can truly be made up for? If you steal a candy bar, that’s easy. You can give it back or pay for it. If you repeat a malicious rumor, that’s harder. You can retract all you want, but there is damage done to someone’s reputation that can’t fully be made right. If you run a stop sign and kill a pedestrian, is there ANYTHING about the situation that can be made right? Maybe, if that person was the breadwinner, and you had the means, you could stop your action from causing physical want to hurt the family further. But besides that? You can’t give the person back to their family. You can’t take away their grief with your own. There is a hole you’ve created that cannot be filled, no matter what you do. To a good person, that knowledge will cause a great deal of pain and remorse. Does this pain help the victim’s family? I doubt that the family will ever feel any pain is equal to the situation. Of course it will probably hurt them if the killer feels nothing at all, but either way, remorse it outside of the situation. It doesn’t affect the hole at all.
Do the Cullens feel bad when, let’s say Emmett, accidentally kills that person who sets a fire in his throat, the “singers” in his past (“singers” is a relative term by the way. They range from mildly more appealing to five alarm fires)? Of course they do. They mourn what they’ve done. They recommit to their cause. They do better in the future. The family of the victim never sees them or knows of their involvement. If the Cullens wallow (and they have), does that make one thing better or worse for the mourners? Answer: it has no effect on their pain either way.
In regards to the appropriate mourning time for a guilty party: Let’s say you’re a sixteen year old human. What’s your earliest clear memory? Personally, I have two flashes from when I was two. A couple from three. One I’m sure I was five in… Not even twenty four hour’s worth of memories from anything before I was ten, probably. So my measure of time at sixteen would really be about six years of time experience. When I say, “forever” or “for the rest of my life,” my only basis for time comprehension is actually just six years. I can imagine multiples of that time, but the actuality of twenty years together or fifty years together is beyond me. Right now at thirty-something, I’d guess I have almost twenty years of time comprehension. Still, not so much. Vampires have perfect recall and centuries of time comprehension. Your “for the rest of my life” is their six years or twenty years of sorrow. You really can’t wallow forever. The sky is still blue. Flowers are still pretty. Music still makes your fingers tap. You can hold onto a measure of regret for forever, but grief ebbs.
Back to the fire. If you knew that by putting out the fire on your hand you would be killing someone else, would you really be able to think clearly enough while burning to stop yourself? Could you burn for a stranger? Maybe. We all want to believe that we’d be able to be that strong. But it’s hard to know what we would be capable of if our hand actually was in flames.
5) Materialism and atoning. Wrong assumption: The Cullens are materialistic. Correct statement: The Cullens understand human nature well and act to protect their family to the best of their ability.
Here’s a little bit of human nature (this is very general, of course): If someone is strange to us and they are poor, they are crazy; we eye them suspiciously. In earlier times, we burned them as witches. If someone is strange to us and they are wealthy, they are eccentric. We allow them to do as they will without negative judgment because they must be superior to us in someway if they have been so successful. Kings and dukes and lords got away with thousands of things that would have meant execution for a peasant. Celebrities today are not prosecuted for offenses with an equal punishment as an average person. Like it or not, this is the reality of how humans in general judge others by their success.
The Cullens know how this works. They know that they can exist much more invisibly by being wealthy than they could if they tried to live on the same economic level as the humans around them. They’ve tested the theory.
Do they enjoy aspects of materialism? Some of them. They really do like speed (but keep in mind that an inexpensive bullet bike can outrace any sports car). Alice has a love affair with fashion, but that’s a direct result of her having no human experience to relate to. Esme much prefers a broken down death trap to a brand new mansion—she likes to improve things. Carlisle likes to have access to expensive medical technologies for obvious reasons.
Do they wrap themselves in luxuries and feel nothing for the murders in their pasts? Of course not. Since when do riches equal an absence of remorse? However, that’s beside the point. They live wealthy because it protects them.
6) Why aren’t the Cullens out playing Batman to redeem themselves from their sins?
Is that their job? If you run a stoplight and kill someone, aside from feeling bad as a natural result and doing what you can for his or her family, is it then your job to walk the streets at night saving others? Does that make any difference to your victim? What is the responsibility of the wrongdoer? If you commit a lesser sin (like mean gossip from before), do you have to make that up by telling positive stories about people until the fault is redeemed? Do this nice stories make any difference to the person you slandered?
It’s an interesting idea, but the rules are pretty subjective. How long do you have to work off your debt? Who decides that? Who is collecting on that debt? How can any human situation be measured against a different human situation since we are all infinitely individualized?
I don’t want to get into my own belief system too much, but I think how we each view redemption really affects the answers to all these questions of atonement, and is central to the conversation (a conversation which is, at heart, quite religious in nature). So I will just say that, personally, I don’t believe that I can atone for my wrong doings by myself. I believe that without a savior to atone for me, I could not be redeemed from my sins. So I suppose that this view point effects very much how I consider the idea of going out and racking up good deeds to offset the bad. It doesn’t work that way in my head. For me, the process is more like this: remorse, as much recompense to the sufferer in my misdeed as is possible, a sincere commitment to not behave that way in the future, and the rest is up to God’s mercy and forgiveness. I certainly didn’t think of that in regards to the idea of the Cullens playing superheroes. But this mindset is the reason why the Cullens donning capes never occurred to me. Because in my head, that kind of thing doesn’t earn your redemption.
Another point: the Cullens are trying very hard not to draw attention to themselves—not because of human curiosity but because of the Volturi. They really can’t afford to be out showboating.
Does this mean they hoard their special abilities and do nothing about the people around them who might be in distress? No. Like any good people, the Cullens perform good deeds when the situation allows. They don’t seek out dramatic opportunities, like Batman. But let’s say that Alice sees a vision of a car hitting a woman walking across the street in a few seconds. She might “rudely” hustle that woman through the sidewalk like she was in a hurry. Or grab her elbow to ask her a question in the middle of the road. Little things that don’t look heroic, but have good results.
Carlisle’s choice of career is based on that “good person” mentality. He chose a career/life work solely on the basis of where he could do the most good. He did not choose to be a doctor out of a sense of making restitution.
Edward tends to see the world with more of a restitution mindset. That’s his individual viewpoint. He’s more prone to guilt, and to a darker perspective on things in general.
Another Edward point: Edward was never trying to be a superhero—some darker version of the dark knight. That was not his purpose. He was rationalizing, pure and simple. Edward was tired of being in pain, but no so far gone that he would hunt innocents. Back to the burning hand metaphor—he was determined to quench the fire, but for his conscience’s sake, he was going to be particular about which bucket of ice water he used. He was not so much of a vampire after being “raised” by Carlisle that he could be cavalier about it. But he doesn’t share Carlisle’s faith to think he’s got anything to lose in the process. Hopelessness + pain = compromise.
A note on Edward’s victims: we’re not talking about some guy who killed his wife ten years ago and has a guilty conscience. We’re talking about serial killers and serial rapists. He always hunted the hunters. As he says in the first chapter of Midnight Sun: “My victims were, in their various dark pastimes, barely more human than I was.” He didn’t look for the guilty post-act, he searched for other hunters pre-act. So he did save a lot of lives during his rebellious years.
People seem to expect that because the Cullens are good vampires, they should somehow therefore be perfect. How is that fair? By that expectation, there are no good people in the whole world. Good people are not perfect; good people are the ones who keep trying after they make mistakes.
7) Finally, Chaos Theory. While Chaos Theory is interesting to think about, it’s totally useless as a decision making tool, because there are no certainties, proofs, or knowable quantities involved. A vampire could think: “This woman might be the grandmother of the next Gandhi, so I shouldn’t choose her as my victim.” OR he could think, “This woman’s grandson will run over the next Gandhi, so I should choose her as my victim.” See what I mean? There’s nothing to base a good decision on. Sure, if I drive to the gas station today, I MIGHT set off a chain reaction that causes a famine in 100 years. But if I DON’T go to the gas station, that might be what sets off the chain reaction. Chaos Theory is not part of a practical, functioning world. The Cullens are pragmatists.
And that’s the end of my rambling thoughts. Hello? Is anyone still there? Echo?….
This will be a bit simplistic, because I’m tired.
Edward’s definition of a "soul" is something different from the intelligence that controls the body and allows one to think. He sees it more as the immortal soul that progresses after this life toward something better. He believes that vampires have made a trade on that–they’ve given up their immortal souls in exchange for a kind of immortality in this life. No death, no corruption of the body (plus the super qualities), but nothing after that semi-immortality comes to an end. Sort of a Faustian compromise: good stuff now, but losing better stuff later. Instant gratification vs. delayed gratification.
Of course, Edward didn’t choose to be a vampire, so he didn’t make this deal willingly. But he can’t go back. There is no way to regain mortality. He gets all the benefits of being a vampire; therefore he must be bound by the same compromise that the willing vampires chose.
What does he base this belief on? The fact that vampires are quite clearly monsters, and that common belief from time immemorable condemns them to damnation. It makes sense–monsters are evil by definition. Just because the Cullens don’t follow the definition, does it mean they’re not monsters anymore? They still salivate at the smell of human blood (well, it’s not precisely saliva, but you get my point). They still live only through the death of others (they’ve just gone with lesser animals).
So why does Edward bother being good? Because he doesn’t like causing suffering. Even living on the death of the very evilest of humans, eventually all the killing makes him feel purely monstrous, and he hates feeling that way. He wants to feel like himself. He wants to feel the higher human emotions (love for his family particularly) that get lost when you live for the hunt and the bloodlust.
He doesn’t think being good will earn him anything, but he still does it, because he still thinks good is better than bad, whether it gives him something in return or not. I don’t know if that’s coming out right. I’m trying to think of an analogy. Maybe…someone who paints the most beautiful pictures, putting all his effort into it, though he is surrounded by blind people. There’s no return for his work, but he thinks it’s worth doing anyway.
I think it’s almost a higher form of goodness–to do good for its own sake, expecting nothing in return.
ETA: I did mention he was stubborn, right? That comes into play here, too.
First, to the subject of trying and punishing vampires according to human laws: It’s impossible, and (I think) wrong. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be destroyed, but trying them by human laws is as wrong as trying a maneating tiger in a court setting.
Let’s go with the herd of cows analogy. Let’s say these cows are aware Farmer Bob is slaughtering cows in his slaughterhouse. What can they do? They don’t have the physical ability to track him in his world and punish him. Maybe, if they’re really lucky, they can catch him off guard without his gun or truck and trample him. But in that scenario, cows representing humanity actually makes them more powerful than is correct. It would be more like bunnies. (I actually knew a guy who kept a bunch of free-range rabbits in his backyard. "Oh, so cute!" we all thought, until we found out that he was eating them on a regular basis. *shudder* "What happened to Flopsy? Where did she go? Aaaeeeiii!!") So you’ve got a bunch of rabbits being killed whenever Farmer Bob is in the mood for rabbit stew. What can they do to bring him to justice? Answer: nada.
New analogy. Aliens invade the earth. They hover above the cities Independence-Day-style, and start beaming people up whenever they get hungry. Do we, as humans, send cops up there to serve them court summons? Heck, no. We shoot them out of the sky.
Vampires are about that alien. The fact that they were human once doesn’t change the fact that they are NOT a part of our society now. They are outside and above. Fight against them? Sure. Give them their day of defense in court? Like the tiger or the aliens, it just really doesn’t apply–in my opinion, of course.
Different topic: drinking human blood by pints. Carlisle’s a doctor. He could easily get access to donated human blood and live on that. Would it taste better, even cold, than animal blood. A hundred times better. No one has to be hurt except people in need of a transfusion. So why don’t they do it? Because it makes it harder to resist killing people. Satisfying the craving does not make them LESS likely to kill someone by accident in a fit of thirst. It makes them MORE likely to do it. Keeping that flavor off their tongue is a way to protect people.
First, Tennyo: they should be found guilty. Were possible to try them.
Back to an earlier topic: Edward does not think that he is the only soulless member of his family. He reveres Carlisle in an almost religious way, but he doesn’t think that Carlisle is going to heaven, or any of the others. Of course, this world view shifts a bit during New Moon. Before NM, he is hopeless about the afterlife. At the end NM, he is just beginning to hope.
And I disagree about Edward forcing his beliefs on Bella through inaction. I think it’s the other way, Bella forcing hers on him through demanding action.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you have a friend who believes that the greatest honor she can achieve would be to be sacrified to her god–which happens to be a llama statue spray-painted gold, and you don’t believe it is anything more than that. But she really, really wants you to cut her heart out on an altar in front of Shiny Llama. Are you forcing your beliefs on her by refusing to do it?
Unrelated question…that I don’t really want you to answer, for reasons of internet safety/privacy, all of that. But I’m curious as to the ages of the pro-"bite her now!" crowd versus the anti-"bite her now!" crowd. I’m just guessing–due to the conversations I’ve had at signings and events–that the majority of the pros are younger than the majority of the antis. Of course there will be exceptions. But it seems like the 30-something moms just seem to put more weight on all the ramifications of souls and humanity.