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.
That passage you quote at the end (the one that makes you gag) –
it’s totally Mormon. Compare
“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”
“He had on a loose robe of most exquisite awhiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare.
See – totally Mormon.
Ivan, LOL! If only she had used the word “exquisite” I would have gotten the reference earlier.
I fully agree with your Susanna Clarke recommendation Geoff.
I thought that maybe all she had in her was that one novel. In fact, I was counting on it because otherwise, she’d be the type of writer of which one is incredibly jealous. But no, I was incredibly irritated to discover that her semi-recent collection of short stories (set in the same world of England and fairie) is fantastic.
Regarding Twilight, Time magazine beat both of us to punch. See my AMV post on the erotics of abstinence.
William, interesting article by you and by Time. I had not seen either or them when I read the book last week for the first time. But I did know Stephanie Meyers was LDS because of some of the attention she got about her book.
I think you make an excellent point about how Mormons love to touch each other all over the place all the time except in the places you shouldn’t touch. There’s more sexual energy in your average single’s ward (we share our building with a single’s ward) than in a strip club. “Twilight” reminded me of that.
Are Mormons the only ones that value abstinance? Is there a particular approach to abstinance this book has that is different from non-Mormons? To paraphrase, I wonder if we have considered how NON-uniquely Mormon a novel “Twilight” is.
I have heard better arguments of how “Mormon” the book “Twilight” is from those who are critical of Mormonism; although not without the usual serious distortions. By the way, I do find Mormonism in “Twilight,” but my judgement of what makes a story Mormon are different than what is discussed here.
Jettboy, I’m welcome to your input on this — I’m just sharing some thoughts I had as I read the book. If you have different thoughts, that’s cool. Let’s hear them.
What’s most amazing is that despite how terribly these novels are written they are best sellers. It speaks volumes about our low standards for education.
Or simply that being able to touch something in people is more important that how well written it is. (I agree with the writing BTW – I gave up halfway through the first book.)
Intersting commentary. I think sometimes the ‘hidden meanings’are a little overthought though – perhaps reaching a little too far. : )
I have been Mormon for many years and at first was wary of the book when my daughter bought it. I ‘m not a fan of vampires or ‘romance’ novels. I told her to read it if she must and then get it out of the house… lol. My daughter and I read to each other all 4 books. Clearly there are some principles and doctrine of our Church woven into the story – interestingly enough using the evil of vampires to represent the dark evil nature of man and demontrating that we can overcome with our ‘Father’s’ help, the ‘natural’ man. It demonstrates the power of making good choices and ‘overcoming’ the dark side of our natures. Very interesting. I was drawn especially to the loyalty, tenderness, respect and sensitivity in their relationship that was depicted between a man and woman that should be was of course a main feature of the book – and I believe is what intrigues many of the youth. We have a sore lack of this in our world today. Not too surpirising when I read that girls want their ‘boyfriends’ to read the series.
I thought her writing style and imagery were amazing.
I have read a fallen-away Mormon’s LDS angle on the series, and while it is filled with profanity it does give a good breakdown of the LDS themes in the book that can easily be rendered from the series. Again, there is a disclaimer at the top of the website that warns of its profanities and is not meant for the faithful Mormon follower, but if you are not put off by such things it provides amusing and enlightening info. It is also very scathing about the author’s poor writing.
I mean no disrespect by providing this website. If it proves out of line then please remove my post. Take care…
Geoff: Several points should be considered about the “Twilight” books and movies. First, it is “generational” literature; that is, it marks the fourth post-war generation as a rising generation now in high school. Historians consider this to be the most influencial generation as it will awaken the new historic period. It is also important that this book first occurred as a vast dream and the author learned to write to put down the full dream on paper. In that regard, it is purely original. I am not a Mormon but became interested in Mormons because I found it significant that the dreamer is Mormon. In terms of myth and archetype it should be noted that all vampire in the stories in the tradition are evil. These are not. Twilight vampires are good or try to be. This is a radical transformation of the genre and turns the culture in a positive direction. Indeed, in Jung’s archetypal terms the Twilight vampires are “gods” or “The Shining Ones.” It is the people (the adults)that are weak, flaky, irresponsible and poor of spirit. The human adults live as random individuals. The vampires live in families. Vampire books and movies might be considered “empty tomb” myths. That is, when Christian Europe began to lose its traditional faith symbolized by Christ rising from the tomb, they began to dream instead of “empty tombs” or evil (vampires) rising from the tombs and that is when this venue became popular and representative. This is the “shadow” of belief; a phantom of belief lost. But believe would awaken again in the new continent and Joseph Smith would help lead the way. (Likewise, the Frankenstein stories – which are Golem or homunculous archetypes – in the absence of God the seeker tries to carve a “god” or build one . . .). In that regard, this is the most auspicious vision and “dream” of a culture, particularly for the generation rising. But I appreciated your comments. In the other books (I have a 13-year-old daughter who loves them) it becomes clear that the author asks the question, how do we control our beastial nature and still seek the common life of love and perhaps the sacred life? The vampires hope to solve this most human dilemma. To them there is only one group that has come to terms with it in history, the Volturi, which are clearly old school Italian Roman Catholics.
Bernie, very interesting comments. I agree that Twilight creates a whole new genre, which explains its success. I have no doubt that Stephanie Meyer is one of the more imaginative new writers out there — when it comes to plot.
When it comes to writing style, I have been literally unable to force myself to read the rest of the Twilight series. Her writing style is so off-putting and hackneyed to me that I just haven’t been able to do it.
Bernie, I read your comments about vampires and Twilight. I teach religion and film at a university and used Twilight in my class as a representation of Mormon doctrine. Many, many Mormon themes appear in the books and film, but for now I can’t go into them all. But I will say that hardly anything that Stephenie Meyer illustrates with her vampires is radical or new. Vampires in lit and movies have been undergoing a tremendous transformation in the past thirty years (Barnabas in Dark Shadows, Louis in Interview, etc). She just uses these same characteristics to create a Mormon theme. Regarding the Volturi, I don’t read them as the Vatican and RC faith; rather, the First Preisedncy and two Counselors in the LDS Church.
We have a family rule that we, the parents, read any book that our kids want us to. On the second book, “New Moon,” I am fascinated by the mythic and archetypal elements rather than the literary skill. Bella casts off ordinary and traditional human friends and family, just as Krishna rises out of and leaves behind his old skin for a new “. . . dance of life and death”; a new “creation.” Quaternity is a common pattern in naïve literature; “Seinfeld” is a quaternity, “Fraser” is a quaternity, “The Wizard of Oz” is a pure American quaternity. The “Son” in contemporary pop quaternity is often presented as golem (“Fantastic Four”’s ‘Ben” = Son) and often features a modern day Rabbi Loeb trying to “re-animate” him (as in “Frankenstein”). Bella’s quaternity forms a new relationship/marriage with the cosmos; a new quaternity with “super naturals” in which she is the only human: Carlisle, (Father), Edward (Son), Jacob (Trickster) and Bella (Psyche). Yale’s Harold Bloom says that Joseph Smith has done much the same – initiated a new relationship with the cosmos – and has been the only American to do so successfully.
Wow, Bernie, that’s a deep comment. I wonder if Sephanie Meyer has any clue about her delving into the quaternity pattern. I think it is interesting to think of the yin and yang as completing her — she is the one human yin who can fit into the yang of the monster world. She would rather die than not fit into that world. I finished New Moon a few weeks ago, and I actually enjoyed it more than “Twilight.” Meyer’s writing improves.
About your comment regarding the generation of youth we have now. There is an absolute must read on this topic! It is called The Fourth Turning by:Straus and Howe. It changed the way I saw the world and my cildren for sure. I also found myself thinking of the generations of people in the Book of Mormon.
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Thank you all for your nice comments. Nicholeen, I did read the Strauss & Howe book and corresponded with one of the authors when it first came out. Unfortunately, the brilliant trickster part of the team, Bill Strauss, passed away. It is exactly because of the Strauss & Howe theory that I started watching how my little ones responded to the culture of their times. I see the Meyer’s series as elementary to the rising generation. I’ve also been getting a lot of mail from Orthodox Jews in Israel and other Mormons about things I wrote related to this. This article “Twilight, Mitt Romney and the Mormons” http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/presidential-campaign/104213-twilight-mitt-romney-and-the-mormons brought a lot of interest.
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