Twilight, Tolkien, and the Problem of Immortality: On (The Contemporary Answer To) Fairy Stories

Cassie Schifman

As I grapple with this week’s rich walk around fantasy with Anna Vaninskaya, I’d like take a break with my favorite national pastime: Vampire Baseball.

When Stephenie Meyer’s first Twilight Saga entry made it to the big screen in Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight (2008), it dutifully included a rendition of the vampiric Cullen family’s supernaturally enhanced baseball game. The film sequence – affectionately nicknamed Vampire Baseball by fans – diverges slightly but significantly from its novel counterpart, depicting the game with a certain conscious absurdity that never devolves into self-parody. Everything from the soundtrack’s bombastic guitar riffs to the rapid, disorienting cuts offer a high-octane viewing experience unmistakably out of step with this strange permutation of what Immortal Teenage Heartthrob Edward Cullen drolly identifies as “the American pastime.” Indeed, something more complicated lurks beneath the surface of Hardwicke’s ballgame. Unlike earlier scenes that allow the Cullens to credibly perform normalcy and mortality in front of protagonist Bella Swan, the Vampire Baseball sequence highlights the conspicuous traits which remind her that her newfound friends are neither normal nor mortal at all.

In his 1947 essay “On Fairy Stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien identifies an essential ambiguity in fantasy’s treatment of immortality – the impossible characteristic which makes both Tolkien’s elves and Hardwicke’s adapted vampire ballplayers extraordinary. He notes the genre’s thirst to appease “the oldest and deepest desire, the Great Escape: the Escape from Death.” However, he simultaneously praises texts which can recognize and engage with “the burden of that kind of immortality, or rather endless serial living.” Meyer’s vampire romance may seem like an unlikely candidate for such thematic intricacy, but Twilight (2008) has ensured that the franchise’s fandom remains preoccupied with Vampire Baseball’s treatment of the pleasures and pitfalls of immortality. The novel’s campy scene of joyful play appears less lighthearted when filtered through Hardwicke’s gloomy blue color-grade and sporadically maudlin tone. As recent renewed interest in the series has spawned the so-called “Twilight Renaissance” on social media, it is this vision of complicated, melancholy merriment that persists.

That Twilight found this new resonance in pandemic-era online spaces at all seems suggestive given our sensitivity to fantasy’s investment in the sort of ambivalence and unlikely nostalgia that Tolkien associates with his “Great Escape.” Indeed, the word “nostalgia” shows up in almost every account of Twilight’s resurgence. VICE contributor Koh Ewe surmises that “pandemic nostalgia” was responsible for the active creation of new fandom content from creators in lockdown. A co-admin for the popular Twilight Renaissance Twitter account (@twilightreborn) echoes this sentiment in an interview with Paper Magazine, suggesting that Twilightgives us a sense of comfort and nostalgia.” Both articles largely attribute this renewed fascination to Twilight’s status as a bygone cultural phenomenon bolstered by a smattering of new content and visibility for the series, but I am struck by the fact that pandemic-era fans flocked to a franchise which interrogates immortality. Vampirism may offer Twilight’s characters relief from concerns over their own survival, but there is something uncomfortably familiar about the extraordinary lengths the Cullens go to on their makeshift baseball diamond to approximate a lost normality they will never quite be able to reach.

In the wake of unprecedented social disruption and widespread disease, Twilight’s reinvigorated fans found something meaningful about the Cullens’ particular brand of melancholy immortality. Consider a video initially posted on November 2, 2020 by Twitter user Richelle Chen (@yard_sard) which features Chen and several of her friends re-enacting Twilight (2008)’s Vampire Baseball sequence beat for beat. Instead of a forest outside Forks, Washington, this game takes place in someone’s cramped apartment, shot on an iPhone camera and using brooms and miniature pumpkins in place of bats and balls. Chen published the video alongside a clip of the original scene from Hardwicke’s film, a gesture which presents Chen’s video as an impressive exercise in both replication and adaptation. This framing offers a direct visual equation between Chen’s isolated friends and the immortal Cullens, and with this visual equivalency comes an emotional one that is unsettlingly apt.

Vampire Baseball’s camp makes it the perfect basis for irreverent re-enactment, but its sense of melancholy and nostalgic longing for mundane human experiences renders the comparison to the pandemic survivor oddly poignant. Chen’s clip formally mirrors Hardwicke’s iconic cinematography, trading one form of environmental ambivalence for another as claustrophobic enclosure replaces eerily unpopulated expanse. Perhaps more importantly, as we watch Chen and her friends revel in the joy of their makeshift game, our eyes are drawn to the random participant who wears a face mask alongside more appropriately appareled players. This costuming choice functions similarly to the Cullens’ dissonant, cobbled-together uniforms in Hardwicke’s film, gesturing at the insufficiency of both parties’ attempts to cosplay normalcy under extraordinary circumstances. Chen and her friends inhabit the Cullens’ personas in a moment of incredible physical and emotional vitality. Unfortunately, they share in the vampires’ isolation too.

In the penultimate section of “On Fairy Stories,” Tolkien suggests that his chosen genre is in part a fantasy of “Recovery,” invoking a particular reference to the “return and renewal of health” in these texts as a means of allowing readers to “regain…a clear view” of the world untainted by “triteness” and tragedy. Maybe this thirst for Recovery is at the heart of a nostalgic reading of Twilight, offering a means of seeing past its “familiarity” as a cultural joke with fading relevance and reimagining it as a space for meaning, wonder, and joy. Maybe it serves largely to point us towards Tolkien’s related functionalities of “Escape and Consolation” instead, with Meyer’s vampires offering both an escapist fantasy of freedom from disease and a consoling fantasy of joy amid social isolation.

If nothing else, I see this cultural reconsideration of Twilight’s ambivalent conception of immortality as a continued argument for fantasy’s utility, using new media forms to reflect the same restorative, escapist qualities Tolkien noted more than seven decades prior. Inspired by a sense of familiarity and self-recognition, Chen and the many pandemic-era Twilight devotees she represents look to Vampire Baseball for the same reason that Tolkien looks to fairy gardens and Norse mythology. Memes, masks, and miniature pumpkins included, this peculiar pandemic pastime is a “prophylactic against loss.”

Works Cited

@yard_sard. “We recreated the vampire baseball scene in twilight.” Twitter, 2 November 2020, 4:48 p.m.

Ewe, Koh. “Wait, ‘Twilight’ is Cool Now?.” VICE, 30 September 2021,

Gillespie, Katherine. “Welcome to the ‘Twilight’ Renaissance.Paper Magazine, 19 August, 2021

Hardwicke, Catherine, director. Twilight. Summit Entertainment, 2008.

Meyer, Stephenie. Twilight. Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

Tolkien, J. R. R. “On Fairy Stories.” 1947.

Cassie Schifman is a graduating senior at Brandeis University studying English with a particular interest in contemporary media and adaptation. She is terrible at baseball, vampiric or otherwise. 


Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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