With Halloween nearly upon us, it is time to consider the novel “Twilight” by LDS author Stephanie Meyer. I know, I know, “Twilight” has been around for several years and it and its sequels have been read by legions of faint-hearted, vampire-loving romantics. So, what can I possibly have to add on this subject?
Well, I wonder if we have considered how uniquely Mormon a novel “Twilight” is.
Now, many people who have read the book are saying to themselves right now, “wait a second, there’s not much religion and certainly not Joseph Smith in that book,” and they are right. But let me explain.
As you may know by now, “Twilight” is the story of a teenager, Bella Swan, who moves to a new town and falls in love with a “vegetarian” vampire who drinks the blood of mountain lions and other prey rather than human beings. This vampire, Edward Cullen, is irresistibly attracted to Bella and she of course falls in love with his “the marble contours of his chest,” model-like looks and his other mysterious attractions.
But Edward faces a major conundrum: Bella has a special scent that causes him to want to devour her at the same time that he comes to love her. It takes effort of supreme self-control for him to even be around her without sucking her dry of blood. Meanwhile, Bella has to also overcome her irresistible desires to touch the vampire, stroke his hair, face, etc.
The result is page after page of pent-up frustration, a cornucopia of unrealized desires kept under smoldering control. Bella and Edward go to a secluded, romantic meadow and he has to keep from sucking her blood while she has to help him keep under control while keeping herself under control. Later that night, he sneaks into her bedroom, and much unspent desire gets bottled up. And so on.
In explaining how he deals with being a vampire in a human world, and why he has chosen to be a “vegetarian” who doesn’t drink human blood, Edward says, “just because we’ve been…dealt a certain hand…it doesn’t mean that we can’t choose to rise above—to conquer the boundaries of a destiny that none of us wanted.” Asked how he can control himself, he says several times, “mind over matter.”
Bella and Edward’s whole situation should remind Mormon readers of the sexual frustration of dating while trying to maintain enough purity to qualify for a temple recommend. They touch each other, but never anyplace that a modest bathing suit would cover (I can hear my bishop’s voice now). And in fact, they discuss sexuality (as well as blood-sucking) but in the end remain sexually virginal until marriage.
In this day and age, there are very few cultures that truly emphasize the age-old virtue of chastity until marriage. Happily, our Mormon culture is one of them. It has got to be strange for the millions of Meyer’s readers that her characters aren’t hopping into bed left and right. But she makes up for it with paragraph after paragraph of titillating hints and passion without limits – that are to come after Edward and Bella can finally consummate their union.
Would that more writers made a choice to present characters actually practicing self-control and holding it up as a virtue. What a wonderful world it could be.
It is worth pointing out that there are not very many obvious religious messages in “Twilight.” There is a quotation from the Bible at the beginning (which means nothing – Hemingway quoted the Bible in his novels), but the characters do not pray, go to church or really talk about religion very much at all.
Now that I have praised Ms. Meyer, I cannot end this discussion without pointing out that “Twilight” is really an incredibly silly novel, a dime-store passion-play along the lines of “Romancing the Stone.” Consider this:
“His white shirt was sleeveless, and he wore it unbuttoned, so that the smooth white skin of his throat flowed uninterrupted over the marble contours of his chest, his perfect musculature no longer merely hinted at behind concealing clothes. He was too perfect, I realized with a piercing stab of despair. There was no way this godlike creature could be meant for me.”
I mean, gag me with a spoon! The writer does a very good job of creating a new world, a world where vampires could possibly exist and be amongst us. In that sense, it is easy to understand her popularity with millions of readers searching for the next Harry Potter. But can I make a suggestion: if you want a dime-store romance novel (that will remind you of the sexual frustration leading up to a temple wedding), read “Twilight.” If you want a really, really good fantasy/magic novel dealing with the occult and unseen worlds, read “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.” You will not be disappointed with the latter choice. Now that is a good book for Halloween.