For more on Stephenie Meyer and her work, visit Reading Until Dawn.
The Time Magazine profile of Stephenie Meyer attempts to explain her work — the three Twilight books and an upcoming novel called The Host — by exploring Meyer’s Mormonism, claiming, in fact that although “the characters in Meyer’s books aren’t Mormons, but her beliefs are key to understanding her singular talent.”
It makes for a fascinating, almost convincing piece of analysis. The problem is that it tends to boil Mormonism down to a set of filters, the thou-shalt-nots, that narrow what can happen in her work.
For example in reference to Meyer’s vampire books, Lev Grossman writes:
What makes Meyer’s books so distinctive is that they’re about the erotics of abstinence. Their tension comes from prolonged, superhuman acts of self-restraint. There’s a scene midway through Twilight in which, for the first time, Edward leans in close and sniffs the aroma of Bella’s exposed neck. “Just because I’m resisting the wine doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the bouquet,” he says. “You have a very floral smell, like lavender … or freesia.” He barely touches her, but there’s more sex in that one paragraph than in all the snogging in Harry Potter.
And then in reference to her next novel, The Host:
It’s set in the near future on an Earth that has been conquered by parasitic aliens who take over the bodies of humans, annihilating their hosts’ personalities. One human host resists; she lives on as a voice in the head she shares with the alien. When host and parasite (who goes by Wanda) meet up with the host’s old lover–now a resistance fighter in hiding–the alien falls for him too and joins the humans. It’s a love triangle with two sides, a mÃ©nage Ã deux. Like Twilight, The Host is a kinky setup–two girls in one body!–played absolutely clean.
There is also, of course, the obligatory list of stuff that Meyer doesn’t do, like drink alcohol and watch rated-R movies. And then the even more obligatory admission that she drinks caffeine. [Hint to mainstream media reporters — the whole drinking Diet Coke thing is not as transgressive in Mormon culture as you think (or have been led to believe)].
This is all well and good and really to be expected. And the article has forced me to admit (and, mind you, I haven’t taken quite the dim view of Meyer’s work that some other Mormons have* — with the caveat that I’m neither female, nor young, and I’ve only read Twilight) that what Meyer has done is something that I have long thought would be a rewarding strand of Mormon literature, that is, to explore how abstinence leads to a heavily charged play of small gestures among Mormon teenagers and young adults. Of course, I never had vampires in mind. More Jane Austen plots alloyed with the intensity of Henry James (sort of The Golden Bowl at a stake dance).
However, I still think that something is missing. Both in the Twilight novels and in the Time article. One clue leaps out right away. Although I’m not fully convinced (because neither Bella nor Edward convince me as the best agents with which to explore agency, each buffeted and swayed by forces; the choice almost always obvious), I have to give Meyer credit for attributing:
Edward’s choice–and the willingness to choose a different way in general–is a major theme in Meyer’s books. “I really think that’s the underlying metaphor of my vampires,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re stuck in life or what you think you have to do; you can always choose something else. There’s always a different path.”
Grossman gives a passing nod to the idea. The terse — “True. But that does not exhaust the meaning of the Twilight books.” And then gets on to the whole erotics idea. Which has merit, as I mention. In fact, it’s something that should be explored more fully in Mormon literature (Eric Samuelsen has done so in some of his plays, I believe) — all the dating rituals and the dancing and the eating (and then there is the oddness of NCMO and so on). Yes, not so much different from youth across the world and in all ages. It all comes down to who likes whom and who does what with whom. But there are particular patterns and forms and gestures and small dramas that could be worth capturing. And okay the erotics of abstinence and guilt and rejection and conquest and love and loss.
Still. I wonder if there’s something to this agency thing. I find it difficult to apply it to Twilight for the reasons I’ve already stated. Bella doesn’t so much choose as have choices denied her. But I think that Mormon literature, even popular literature, even young adult literature, could do with some more thorough treatments of agency (and of other doctrines that make us unique). I don’t see the mainstream media (and others) changing their definition of us by mainly what we don’t do rather than what we believe.
I do see the possibility of stronger transmission of these ideas to our people through the use of culture.
Also see: My 2005 interview with Stephenie Meyer.
Note: I originally spelled Meyer’s first name wrong. Sorry, Stephenie. It’s fixed now.
* See: Squeaky Clean by Anneka Majors (AMV); Twilight: Discuss by Angela Hallstrom (Blog Segullah); The Twilight Series for Dummies (Normal Mormon Husbands); Jana Riess’s review of Twilight (The Review Revolution)
83 thoughts on “Stephenie Meyer’s Mormonism and the “erotics of abstinence””
That’s often a kind of Mormon view as well. (grin) Depending upon how you view “denied.”
I only made it halfway through the first volume. A bit too much of the classic Harlequin structure for my tastes. But my wife absolutely loves the book as do many of my friends (both male and female)
I didn’t really see much Mormon structure to it beyond what you pointed out. i.e. the typical sex isn’t part of the book. In a sense it is the anti-Anne Rice kind of vampire.
So it’s an interesting post.
The issue of agency and choice for Bella becomes much more dominant in later books in the series (though the choices she wants to make are still in tension with the circumstances she’s in and the desires of the other characters).
You hit the nail on the head when you said, “…to explore how abstinence leads to a heavily charged play of small gestures among Mormon teenagers and young adults.” Each of us who grew up LDS and followed “For the Strength of Youth” can identify with Edward’s restrained desire.
And thank you for the hilarious link to “The Twilight Series for Dummies” at Normal Mormon Husbands. I couldn’t stop laughing. Definitely worth a read.
I really enjoyed the first book. The second and third? Not so much, because by then I’d read comments by others who pulled the books to pieces.
Sometimes, too much deep criticism leads readers to look for things they wouldn’t have noticed, or would have glossed over, thus diminishing the pleasure of a well-told story.
I’ll probably get shouted at for being naive, but that’s okay 🙂
Clark, exactly. It’s clean teen Harlequin.
William, good point about agency. That’s one of those areas that I think has the potential to be more successfully explored in fiction than in non-fiction.
First off I haven’t read the books by Stephanie Meyer and secondly I’m a visual artists so I can’t offer an intelligent opinion on where these books fit in the world of literature or the art of writing. I read the above reviews and blogs. I have a sixteen year old grandson so I know most of the young women in my ward. I can safely say that if Edward the vampire came to this Ward and tried to dominate these young ladies he would find himself kicked in the behind and thrown out in to the sunlight by the previously mentioned young women.
Now having qualified myself as a nobody, I will say that I was pleased to see the review in Time of Stephanie Meyer’s work and that one is being made into a movie. Also I like that she is considered, by the writer, as a replacement for J.K.Rowling I read this A Motley Vision all the time and have read the discussions on how does an LDS author move into the mainstream book market. Humorist, Robert Farrell Smith use to be the manager of the Deseret Book Store here in New Mexico. I asked him what he was doing next after “Baptists at Our Barbeque” became a movie. His reply was that he wanted to write an original script that could reach a more mainstream audience. I recall that he didn’t want to limit his audience. This is just a long way of asking, does the apparent success of Meyer and her vampires open the door and encourage publishers to look into what might be considered a untapped resource, namely LDS writers?
I wrote my capstone paper for my bachelor’s degree on the place of agency in LDS literature. (My thesis was that the LDS fiction canon was subconsciously organized around how people used their agency. I read that now and wonder how on earth I got away with a claim like that. I can’t even remember what sources I found to support me.) My professor and most of my classmates weren’t LDS, so my paper spent a lot of time explaining our theology and not so much on the actual literature–for which the prof. gave me an A-. Anyway, I remember feeling that the idea of agency was “under-discussed” when it came to LDS lit. So I second William’s idea that agency could use some more thorough treatments. I don’t know if the Twilight books really encourage their readers to think more deeply about agency. It seems, if anything, they encourage the reader to escapism–which we all need every once in a while!
That’s a great question, Larry. I think that with the success of Orson Scott Card and a whole host of other writers, being a Mormon is not that much of a liability in the world of genre fiction, especially speculative fiction and young adult fiction.
Stephenie’s series is a hit for all the reasons mentioned in the Time article. I’m sure that any Mormon who was able to produce novels that have the right ingredients to break it big in a particular genre would have little problem being published. Screenplays might be different, though — it’s very difficult to get a movie made.
The more difficult question is whether a Mormon literary writer that was solidly active and believing could break it into the national scene. Chris Bigelow wasn’t able to (or I should say, hasn’t yet been able to). I believe that there are other manuscripts out there that have also fallen on deaf ears among national agents and editors.
Fascinating, Laura. Any chance I could get a look at your paper? I also wrote a rather audacious paper on LDS literature for a college course where I was the only Mormon. I should look for that.
My question is could an LDS writer write a book about an LDS person that would appeal to a wider audience? Perhaps such a book already exists of which I am unaware? No, Jay’s Journal doesn’t count.
Anne, the problem with Twilight is that it’s not a well-told story. I didn’t have to look for problems with it; they were abundantly obvious.
BTW, I’ve started a discussion (inspired by an earlier AMV post) on the new Mormon sexuality blog here: Unrealistic Expectations?
William–I’ll e-mail you. What was your paper about?
It’s about Eugene England’s four periods of Mormon literary history. I’ll probably be posting it sometime in the next few weeks.
Of course such a book could be written. I suggested as much a couple years ago when I looked at Fiddler-envy. As I said there, write a good book, go ahead and include Mormon elements, but try to address universal themes. Books like that have as good a shot as anything else.
It will be interesting to see the reaction to the upcoming Twilight film. If it stays true to the book, there may be some elements that could potentially disturb Mormon movie-goers (the general sensuality and scenes with Bella and Edward in bed together). Sometimes it’s easier to consume certain things in print than it is to see them portrayed on screen.
“¦to explore how abstinence leads to a heavily charged play of small gestures among Mormon teenagers and young adults.
See, this is my point exactly. Being unabashedly one of those who take a rather dim view of Meyer’s work, take this for what it’s worth, but my main problem with her marketing herself as a Mormon artist is that she totally misrepresents the LDS doctrine.
Do people in the church live in the weirdly erotic NICMO world that is reflected in Meyer’s novels? Yes. Many of them? Probably. Is it an actually Mormon worldview? If we mean “doctrinally sanctioned,” then I’d say no. She perpetuates this squeaky clean smut, Time picks up on it, and the layman’s perspective of LDS culture is that we’re a bunch of thinly restrained Freudian sacks of hormones who live lives of technical chastity. But the entire point of the New Testament is missed! We’re taught to eschew adultery and “anything like unto it.” We’re supposed to avoid “looking upon a woman to lust after her.” We’re to focus on the positive, constructive things we can do while we’re unmarried instead of living in the fantasy world that pop culture encourages in us.
I still maintain that the eroticism of Meyer’s books hamper young readers’ ability to actually live the law of chastity as the prophets intended it to be taught. And I’m saddened that the national media has picked up on this.
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While I find this topic/discussion very interesting, I am compelled to post my opinion. I have read all of Meyer’s books and am actually a big fan. I am LDS and did not know Meyer was until after I had finished the first book. I am married with children attending BYU-I. I wrote that so you would know where I am coming from. I think it is horribly interesting the way everyone picks apart her books and tries to find an underlying meaning. As a convert to the church, I found the same kind of persecution when taking the discussions regarding the BOM by my protestant friends and old pastor. I have always taken Meyer’s books for face value, as a really good and clean book. It’s nice to read a love story where there isn’t sexual gratification on every page. Her books are like any other book, you either like it or you don’t.. what’s the big deal?
I agree with chrystina- sometimes these kinds of analyses go much deeper than necessary. Though I’m sure that Stephenie Meyer’s beliefs influenced her decision to keep the books clean, I doubt that she purposely infused her books with Mormon teachings. I appreciate her writing a clean book ( which is becoming ever more rare in today’s novel, even for young adults) and I think that is all she set out to do.
I personally love the Twilight series, and I’m psyched to read my free ebook( books on board is giving
away the Breaking Dawn ebook for free ) Thanks for your opinions on this topic!
The BYU Anthropology faculty has been batting around the idea of studying LDS courtship/dating behavior for several years. I’m not sure that it will ever happen (no money or grad students), but there are plenty of LDS anthropologists (myself included) that think the sometimes ritualistic interactions between single LDS men and women are unique and worth further study. I do wonder, however, if literature is the best medium to explore these issues.
That’s a silly thing to wonder about? Who cares what’s best? We take many avenues to truth. That’s like trying to choose between science and religion.
The reason I love these books is that they are safer for me than other books I’ve read. I gotten a few books and I couldn’t even finish them because they are so not appropiate. The books are masterpieces(though I can’t stand New Moon because it doesn’t have a lot of Edward.)
The agency is all over the place, she has agency between human and vampire, Edward and Jacob, chastisement and adultury. So I completely argree with the decisions in her life compared to mine( and I can’t even date yet.)
(Walking in late, again…)
The main problem I have with Twilight (which I finished reading early this morning) is that so many people have received it so uncritically.
The writing, IMO, is less than top-rate: too fluffy, too verbose, too adverb-laden, too cliched in places (though some of it is quite fresh). At times I felt like Meyer just used Word’s thesaurus function to find a word (usually an adverb) she hadn’t used in the manuscript and then, because it sounded cool, she slipped it in. Many times, she should have used a more common word or, better yet, used the delete key. In short, I think it could have used another revision or two. And though Meyer tries to excuse this when she admits (as quoted in the Time article), “I don’t think I’m a writer; I think I’m a storyteller. The words aren’t always perfect”, her stance seems like more of a cop-out for less than refined writing than an argument for good storytelling. Why should the claim, “I’m just telling a story,” allow for poor writing, especially when that story is told in writing? In my mind, poor writing detracts from the goodness of a story (and yet, good writing can’t make up for anything lacking in a story…but that’s beside my point).
In addition, as has been briefly explored here, the romance in the book (which at one or two points made me nauseous) poses a dangerous question: How close can I get to sexual gratification without having sex? The subtlety of the book’s kinkiness, which Grossman claims is “played absolutely clean,” makes it, to some degree, a work of soft core porn. And I don’t know how that can be more appropriate for our youth/young adults/adults to be digesting than books that we consider overtly inappropriate. Just because there’s no drinking, smoking, drugs, or profanity involved doesn’t make it absolutely G-rated, as so many assert.
And one more thing: though Meyer seems to give agency its due, the book seems more focused on how fate or destiny determines our decisions than on how our decisions determine our destiny. It seems to me that when Bella or Edward say they’ve made a decision, they’ve simply given in to the hand fate’s dealt them (Edward actually says that once, if memory serves). And Bella just repeatedly submits to what’s going on around her. She doesn’t try to control what she can about her life (i.e. her decisions, her emotions): she just gives in, especially to Edward, someone whose eternity was determined for him when Carlisle made him a vampire.
But that’s just my two cents. And just because I looked at it through critical eyes doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the read. Aside from its obvious flaws, I think its a decent piece of fiction, though Meyer hasn’t enchanted me with her vampiric charm and injected me with her venom, making me an eternal fan.
Tyler– Love your last sentence! What wit! I finished the fourth book (which is quite different from the others)a little while ago and came to many of the same conclusions you did. The thing I have liked best about the books, though, is the fact that SO many people have read them. It’s been great to talk about books with people who normally only relate to me on a superficial level. It’s especially fun to hear what LDS women think of them. That’s a hornet’s nest for sure!
Hornets nest indeed, although the hornets might exercise a little more mercy. 🙂
My wife finished Twilight just hours before I did (we were both reading books borrowed from different family members) and then jumped right into New Moon. From page one of book one, she said I needed to catch up to her so she could have someone to talk to about it, although when I mentioned to her the different roles I bring to my reading (escapist, Mormon, literary critic) and what different things I was finding, specifically how I was enjoying the story despite its flaws, she basically told me that I just needed to give in to Meyer’s charm and bask in the story’s beauty like Bella does in Edward’s bejeweled flesh.
Even though she was skeptical at first that she’d like them, she’s been bitten and I fear that I may find myself on the couch sometime soon because I won’t just accept the series at face value. Nonetheless, it has given us something more to talk about than just our three little girls and has also provided us an in with the sister-in-law who thinks of herself as something of an outsider to my wife’s family’s in-group (though when the conversations between her and my wife begin, I may just have to sit back and bite my tongue to avoid spilling any innocent blood–or not!).
Since you’ve read all the books, in your opinion, does Meyer’s writing mature any in her progress as a storyteller?
Unless you’re talking about LDS criticism, with which I will completely agree (I’ve seen precious little of that) then you’re just not looking in the right places. 😉 There’s a Dear Author thread that devolved into a discussion as to whether she writes on whimsy, as some deeply betrayed fans have accused. My argument is that she lucked in and no one was willing to kill the cash cow by actually editing anything.
I was talking mostly LDS criticism, both formal and casual: so many people that I’ve talked to (mostly women, of course) just rave and rave about the books. While I thought Twilight was decent, I really had a hard time with the looseness of her prose, which is why I lean toward your argument that she molded herself a pecuniary cow and no one dared play Moses.
Thanks for that link. I’ll check it out.
The LDS feminist blogs are, IMO, overall horrified by the sexual subtext, not to mention the heroine, who is a weak girl and in no way someone I would point my daughter to and say, “Be like this.”
But, again, you are right when you say that very little criticism of the writing has been done in these venues.
BTW, I don’t know one LDS woman in real life who has raved and raved about it. At best, they just roll their eyes and sit down with their daughters for The Talk: Extended, Revised, Defined, and Fairly Graphic version.
Wow! Kansas City must be a very different place!
Tyler–I don’t know that I would say her writing progresses, per se. In the first book there’s a lot of adrenaline. Like you noticed, the first book has no depth to its prose but it does keep you turning pages. I often compare it to watching a movie, except instead of images flashing before my eyes it’s loosely associated words. The second book and especially the third book lose the adrenaline and seem to muddle along. They are predictable (even more so than the first) and rely more and more on titillating the reader through Bella’s ever-revving sex drive.
The fourth book, so many readers were dismayed to find, is quite a departure from the others. Meyer decides to take some narrative risks by changing point of view and bucking a few vampire conventions. I don’t want to spoil anything for you (ha!) but Bella ends up getting pregnant and giving birth to a halfbreed baby and the whole book builds up to a final battle between the moral Cullen vampires and the immoral (human eating)Volturis but (deus ex machina!) Bella discovers an amazing vampire ability that saves the day without any bloodshed or tossed body parts. The prose doesn’t get any better–Meyer doesn’t even attempt to find synonyms for “cold” and “beautiful”–but she does take some risks which my literary brain appreciates. See why it’s hard to pinpoint progress?
All that said, the ability to tap into our collective cultural psyche and sell that many books has got to be a talent of some sort.
MoJo–I have several LDS friends who rave and rave about the books (although not so much the fourth one). One of them is even involved in the fan clubs for it. Another couple friends made t-shirts (Team Edward vs. Team Jacob). My friends and I are mostly in our twenties and none of us have teenagers or girls even remotely old enough to read the books. Not a single one of them can decide if they’ll be okay with their daughters reading it later. I have yet to discuss the books with any actual teenager (the closest I’ve gotten is one newlywed friend who is twenty). I do wonder, though, what teenagers make of all the almost-sex.
Everything’s up to date.
My wife said the same thing, and I agree. The looseness made it very quick reading and, after a while, I stopped taking note of her excessive adverb use and just laid back for the ride.
My wife mentioned yesterday a few times that book two was driving her crazy for that very reason: it was going so slow. (And yet, she still finished it in a day; she must not have had much to do at work and read most of the day there.) I’ve yet to decide if I’m going to continue with the series. I started another book soon after I finished Twilight and I’m thinking that after I finish it, if I’m not bogged down in school reading and if I have any desire whatsoever to start New Moon, I’ll read them.
All the hype, especially the diversity of reactions I’ve seen taking place, make me all the more interested in finding out for myself why so many love the books so much. I had the same interest after all the Golden Compass hoopla, but have yet to read Pullman’s trilogy (although I’m sure I will sometime in the near future). And what you’ve said about Meyer’s books, Laura, makes me want to finish off what I started.
Thanks for your quick review.
I hope you don’t mind a shameless bit of self-promotion, Wm…:)
I just posted a critical review of Twilight on my blog that was largely spurred on by the question of agency brought up in this discussion thread. It only touches on the issue, but what more can you do in a review?
Not at all. It’s a good post.
I think the Mormon themes that show up in the book are interesting to see in something that’s become so popular. You have the theme of overcoming our base nature. And drinking human blood is supposed to be a nature of vampires that cannot be overcome, yet, Edward and his family do. This is a major part of our theology that you can overcome the “natural man”. Being in love forever throughout eternity is definitely part of our Mormon culture and then you get the pure enjoyment of romance without sex mucking it up. Anticipation and just enjoying how someone makes your body feel is I think described well in these books. I Like the example of control and respect in regards to loving someone that is explored here.
my comments got seperated, very weird.
Overall, I like the Twilight series. I’m not looking for the next great literary novel when I’m reading what is basically a romance. I’m looking for characters I can relate to and reactions that feel real so that I can enjoy the story. I feel Stephanie does this well. I like that this is something I don’t have to worry about my 15 year old reading. And I like her descriptions of desire and the responsibility to that attraction that she describes in Bella and Edwards relationship.
I have to say I read all four books. I loved them all. My mom doesn’t understand how I can like something that is supposedly evil but there is nothing evil in these books. In my ward almost everybody aged 15 to about 40 has read and enjoyed twilight seris.
I loved the movie, im buying the book today, but i have too say i loved because being a 4 year LDS member i find so hard to see thing that are correct but still interesting to watch.
I think Edward restraining himself is like the common struggle every young men fights on daily basis.
And i do believe that im becoming some sort of vampire, because on the way to exaltation Ive become different, reserved and im only my full self in around my brothers and sisters…
And no need to say that is all for the eternal life.
Interesting points I hadn’t heard made before. If you stop by again, you should add to them.
I did not even know that the author was a Mormon until after I had read the whole series and seen the movie. I just read for enjoyment and thought that teens needed more “clean” books like these. I am a librarian, by the way. Teens and adults both devour her books.
Who cares what religion the author is? If you’re reading a book and you like it, then why can’t you leave it at that? If you want to spend your time analysing and criticising a book to pieces, and how that relates to a certain religion, then i think you’re wasting your time reading it- for it’s purposes of enjoyment. If a book gives you enjoyment, then you don’t need to fish for excuses not to like it, or to say “ah yes, that’s a mormon principle, or that doesn’t sound very mormon” etc. etc.
I think it’s a good book, the story-line is well thought, perhaps the language may not be the best, but who cares what “secret or hidden meanings” are behind the book, if you like it- you do. If you don’t- you don’t. If someone wants to know if they’re going to like a book or not- then they can read it for themselves- analysing or not.
People read things for different reasons. If you enjoyed it, great! I did, too.
Some people enjoy disassembling a work to see what makes it tick (much like taking a mechanism apart to see how it works). It’s entirely fair for you to say that you don’t like doing that, but please allow for the idea that other people might like to.
Attempting to understand why I like something other people don’t, or dislike something millions do, is the humanities equivalent of a Grand Unified Theory. It’s an intellectual itch I can’t help scratching (and rather enjoy doing so).
Lurking in there is also the (vain) hope that I could use that information to create and market art that (in keeping with my own philosophical goals) would entertain the maximum number of people and thus earn myself a comfortable living.
Just reading the surface is boring. If that were all reading offered, I’m not sure I would do it.
I agree with MoJo, Eugene, and Th. And, like you Eugene, I have an intellectual itch that I can’t help scratching by deconstructing texts, as both a critic and a writer–that is, to see what content lurks beneath the surface and to see how the form works to some rhetorical or creative end (so I can, possibly, imitate that in my own writing).
As for your comment, tle, that “If a book gives you enjoyment, then you don’t need to fish for excuses not to like it”–that’s not how I see the act of literary criticism. Rather, I see it, in one sense, as a way to garner appreciation for the complexities of the text at hand. At least that’s one reason I’ve become interested in Twilight specifically–because I did enjoy the book, though it’s not without its flaws, and thought it was possible to move the conversation on the books beyond love for Edward and Bella.
If that surface enjoyment was all reading offered, as Th. observes, I’m not sure I would do it either.
Here’s a thought that came up while chatting with some girlsfriends the other night: Isn’t ironic that Edward and Bella sleep together every night yet never “sleep together” (until they’re married)? If I didn’t know better I’d think Meyer was messing with us and our euphemisms 🙂
I think Meyer’s treatment of the physical side of a relationship is a cop out. Edward and Bella can’t get too hot and heavy because Edward might end up killing her. It’s a convenient way for her to get out of addressing the complex inevitable decisions that would come up between two young people in love. It works within the story but I don’t think it’s relevant to young people who have to make choices about how far to take a relationship without the rules of a fantasy world. Like many answers that come out of the Mormon church, Meyer’s answer to sex between Bella and Edward if very black and white, it’s out of the question. The story is compelling and clean but it doesn’t take into account the gray areas of physical intimacy that young people in the real world face. Unless young people take the advice of church leaders as seriously the risk of death (and maybe Mormon youth do), then this book isn’t sending a message about abstinance that they can relate to.
Hannah, this message/subtext isn’t unique to Mormonism; in fact, it’s rife in genre fiction/romance, where female sex/female enjoyment of sex==death, even if only figurative.
In genre historical romance, one recurring theme is the promiscuous male who is tamed by the virginal heroine.
In contemporary romance, it’s the promiscuous male who is tamed by the (possibly, though not always virginal) heroine who has never A) enjoyed sex or B) had an orgasm until the male comes along and both fulfills her sexual needs and is tamed by her.
Note: There is no sex==death for the male. Only the female.
Quite frequently in genre romance, the woman who is either promiscuous and/or enjoys sex is cast as the villain. Sex==Evil.
It’s not new and, again, not peculiar to Mormonism. It is, in fact, a holdover from Stoker himself, who, while sharply condemning Victorian mores of the time also (unwittingly, I think [okay, hope]) reinforced the notion that female enjoyment of sex==death.
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.
This comment refers back to William’s original post.
I don’t know if the mainstream media will be capable of understanding the importance of agency to Mormons. After all, belonging to s strict religious sect (with a prophet at its head), it’s plain the them that choosing for ourselves isn’t important. Being told what to do, then being blindly obedient is. Nothing could be further from Mormonism’s root realities, but I don’t expect people outside the Church to get that.
That said, the issue of agency is a key point of the paper about Twilight that I’m reading at Sunstone in a couple weeks. Meyer hits this issue pretty hard, but in a strange way–at least for the group of characters I’m looking at. Her dealings with agency deserve closer examination.
Is it just me or am I more sheltered than most? I was appalled to think Stephanie Meyers is LDS after reading Twilight. I have only read the 1st book and do not plan to read the others. I can’t justify reading them if I wouldn’t want my (future) teenage daughters or YW to read them. I am 30 yrs old and teach YW. We don’t watch TV and generally don’t watch movies above PG (The last PG-13 I saw was Harry Potter ~2 years ago). I’ve heard the sex and violence in the Twilight books get worse. For being a peculiar people, Twilight doesn’t seem very peculiar from pop culture (Okay, so the kids aren’t drinking when they go to the beach… and Bella and Edward walk the line.) I spent 7 years in the AF and did my share of designated driving. I know what “the world” is like, but I want my home (and mind) to be a sanctuary from that. I’m looking for things that are “virtuous, lovely, and of good report” and Twilight doesn’t fit those things for me. My husband said I’m over analyzing, but isn’t “light and truth” what we want for our youth (and ourselves)?
I loved the books as I was reading them, but after I was finished a waved a dread hit me. After finishing all of them in just a short period I realized there was a heavy christian undertone to all of the books.
Bella does not curse, have sex before marriage or get an abortion. For that matter the only thing Bella does at all in the whole series is love Edward and have her life threatened.
Then I read the back flap and saw that the author was a Mormon.
I hate it when people make their beliefs a subliminal message throughout their books…it is just wrong.
I love it.
But I totally agree with you. I know that I, as a Mormon novelist, generally strive to only include subliminal messages for those agendas I personally disapprove of. Ethically, it’s the least I can do.
Hm. I just forget the subliminal part. Who wants to go to all that trouble, right? In-your-face agenda evangelization is the way to go.
[Rhetorical question impulsively spouted in disbelief]
How can a writer–any writer– *not* infuse her/his beliefs into every word s/he writes?
As a father of four including twin daughters in the target age for the book, I want to THANK YOU, Mrs. Meyers! I am appalled at the criticisms lodged by ignorant, negative critics. First, apparently some of the critics neglected to consider the genre, YA! Give her a break! Her target audience is NOT college professors, but young girls! Second, it’s a fantasy with great, Mormon values…chill out!
Mrs. Meyer’s books have given me an excellent basis to discuss appropriate relationships with my daughters! The critics must be totally blind if they perceive Edward as abusive or a stalker or sex crazed/hormone loaded, as he is the perfect example of a chivalrous young man who desperately seeks to discover the means to respect and honor the woman he loves! (Apparently, they’ve forgotten what it is like to be young and in love!) I would love for my daughters to find a man with such integrity! I am amazed that Mrs. Meyer’s portrayal of chivalry and appropriate courtship morals incites anger in some ultra-critical, intimacy-inhibited neo-conservatives, as her characters exhibit traditional courtship values, not destructive lust. Our world is complicated because of the humanistic, liberalism of the courtship process in the secular environment. These books provide an excellent opportunity to counter the horrible role models that our children are exposed to on a constant basis in the media! Young men are characterized as narcissistic, sex-crazed animals and too many girls have totally lost their self-respect. (No matter how hard we try, the secular world WILL influence our children. The key is to teach them to counter it’s effects with solid faith.)
Mrs. Meyer’s writings are a God-send for fathers that value honor, love their daughters, and respect women. She provides a sounding board for us to discuss dating and appropriate relationship development with our daughters! Too many shows, movies, and books promote evil, destructive behaviors. Her books are realistic in that young couples CAN develop healthy and appropriate courting relationships and remain chaste and pure before marriage! When I was a teenager, that was the norm. Sadly, it is no longer true as that vast majority of 17-year old girls have given up God’s greatest gift and will be eternally sad they did so! (My 17-year old boy is having a terrible time finding girls that are NOT sexually active at 17!) In a way, the vampire bit is a blessing because it provides a “visual” barrier for Edward to physically respect Bella, which used to be provided by a man’s honor! (Forty years ago, it would NOT have been necessary!) I dream of a day where males once again respect women and become men of honor. I pray that these books encourage girls to have the self-respect to say, “NO” and regain their honor! Mrs. Meyers has given us the basis for that day! As a father, I want to thank Mrs. Meyers for her strength and devotion to God’s moral values!
God Bless You!
Interesting. So do you think that portrayal of celibacy for its own sake, and reliance on something other than a physical barrier would have been LESS honorable?
Would I let my tween daughter read these? Sure. And then I’d sit her down and talk to her about how a physically abusive relationship starts out (I’ve volunteered in battered women’s shelters, so it’s not like I haven’t seen this firsthand). Then we’ll talk about Dominant/submissive sexual relationships. Then we’ll talk about subjugating one’s will/personality to that of another.
When we’re done with that, we’ll talk about story construction, characterization, and proofreading.
And then we’ll talk about why these books are like crack cocaine for the mind.
Not that I have anything against crack cocaine for the mind…
That reminds me…Tyler, I owe you an essay or 6, don’t I?
Although I’m basically with Rick in philosophy, I’m not sure the books back him up. For instance:
Doesn’t the book actually show Bella saying PLEASE! and leaving it to Edward to say no? Granted, I’m not an expert, but I’m not 100% convinced of his reading. Do you have any specific examples?
Um, yes you do, MoJo. And I’ve been waiting by my inbox. How’s that coming, BTW?
I have to say that I’m not 100% convinced of Rick’s argument either, though as the father of three little girls (dreading the teenage years) I agree with his intention. Despite the series’ supposedly squeaky clean surface, the books (and, by extension, the movie) promote (however unconsciously) some gender stereotypes and some pretty creepy and unhealthy behavior that I don’t want my daughters buying into and imitating.
This video, mixed by Jonathan McIntosh, shows how generally creepy Edward’s behavior is by splicing Edward with Buffy (the Vampire Slayer, you know, in case you were wondering). I’m sure many of you AMVers have seen this, but if you haven’t, check it out. I think you’ll get a good kick out of it.
Of the relationship between Bella and Edward, as portrayed in the Hollywood rendition (and I think we can fairly read this in terms of the books, too), McIntosh has this to say (from this post on “Women in Media and News”):
So in short, Bella + Edward = unhealthy relationship. But Buffy + Edward = a good vampire butt-kicking.
Read McCintosh’s whole post if you get the chance. He has a lot of interesting things to say about Twilight and his remixed narrative, especially when read in light of this discussion thread and Meyer’s Mormonism in general (though I don’t believe he says anything about Meyer and Mormons specifically).
Er, um. *ahem* Well, I… Um. Yeah. Hmm.
That well, huh? 😉
These posts were almost as titillating as Meyer’s books 🙂
Saying that Mormons will now be actively recruited to be the next Staphanie Meyers uber-writer-deluxe, is kindof like the scene in the movie Waterboy when another football team gets the ballboy to become a reciever. The reason Stapanie Meyers suceeded is because she was an ulta-bestselling author waiting to happen. She and we just did not know it at the time. But more than talent is at work here. She seems to have some sort of supernatural ability or attachment to the “other world” that is even more profound than her considerable writing skill. As much as the number of her books sold the level fanaticism that some of her fans have for is very curious indeed. Maybe she has more faith than the rest of us, and doesn’t even know it? Ofcourse, maybe her going to Church, being a Sunday school teacher, attending the Temple regularly in Mesa Arizona, not having sex before marraige, and making the sacrifice to be a stay at home mommy, not to mention being a full tithe payer granted her the ability to get her wishes granted. It certainly has not seemed to hurt. Any wich way the windows of heaven have opened up and fallen upon her in a very spectacular way. That we can all agree upon. Maybe she should use her own life story when she gives her next sunday school class.
I would be taking notes, wouldn’t you?
So by your definition, would you say that people who don’t manage to achieve financial independence via implementation of their dreams have in fact, NOT done the following:
and, in fact, are being punished for not having done so? What makes her more worthy than the rest of us? How do you know she does these things?
And how do you know for a fact that she does, actually, do all these things, and do you mean to say she does them flawlessly at all times?
This scenario is like some arbitrary and macabre quid pro quo with God.
And although I don’t know her personally, I’m second-degree with enough frequency to be pretty certain she would be very uncomfortable with your assertions.
Having just finished the first three of S. Meyer’s books (and looking forward to buying the fourth) I am curious whether anyone else here has reflected on her description of high school life vs the Cullen family life as an attempt to come to grips with a Mormon identity in a non-Mormon world. The harsh choice between that “regular” life in The World and the Cullen’s life, so beautiful, so restrained, so different and misunderstood, seems to me to reflect a choice that young Mormon Women may face. Unconsciously or not, it seems to me S. Meyer presents the image of a tortured girl who grapples with choosing a Mormon life, leaving all that is appealing and distasteful about “mainstream America” behind forever. Not sure what the werewolves represent…
Wow. Kyram. That’s one of the most interesting theories I’ve heard proposed in some time. Compelling.
Agreed. That’s a fascinating take.
Oh, and there’s a parallel between the Cullens’ immortality and the Mormon idea of eternal families! (Or maybe I’m totally off base, here . . .)
There are people (I know they exist) for whom high school was the fondest period of their lives. They actually attend high school reunions. And then there are those of us who couldn’t leave fast enough and never looked back.
From my perspective, the Cullens are trapped in the bowels of hell.
As Oz quips at the end of season three of Buffy, after battling the evil mayor (who’s turned into a giant serpent) and blowing the place to kingdom come: “We survived . . . high school.”
Love Twilight, but Harry Potter is soooooooo much better
Robert Pattinson gives this post a big fat amen.
You are related to my cildren through the Crandall line
Mojo asked, “How do I know these things?” Simple. Stephenie Meyer went to BYU. There are certain minimum qualifications for attending. She has stated in interviews that she was a good girl growing up, though somewhat sheltered by her upbringing. She doesn’t even watch R rated movies (hello). She does not smoke. She does not drink alcohol. She does not use drugs. She did not have sex before her marriage to her husband Christian Meyer. To suggest otherwise is absurd. She is a dedicated Mormon… with a clear conscious. She taught Sunday School. She is Temple worthy and always has been. These are facts that are not even in dispute. If she is Temple worthy than she obviously has and is paying her ten percent… you can’t go to the Temple otherwise. Therefore as she moves toward making a Billion dollars she will pay 100 million dollars to the Church… or she will not be allowed into the Temple. Common knowledge. She clearly has a Testimony that the Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints is true. Would you pay 100 million dollars to a Church you do not love? She loves the Church because she lives the commandments. She is happy because she lives the commandments. She makes a choice to be happy, and that is her choice and nobody can take that away from her, ever. That is why she is happy because she chooses to be happy because she chooses to live the commandments as sister Stephenie Meyers has stated in interviews. A little logic and common sense fills in the blanks. Does an Orthodox Jew eat pork? Does a Mormon like Stephenie Meyers who is Married in the Temple and went to BYU someone who hangs out at the bar every Thursday looking for a ride home? I think not. It would be silly to even consider that as a viable possibility. Surely you have eyes to see. Can you not see how her countenance is bright? That there is something about her that sparkles that is typical of Mormon women? Did you not hear about how she stayed home with her third child rather than pursue a career as a lawyer, a seemingly small but in fact a heroic decision considering her families economic circumstances at the time? Can you not see the obvious conclusion that her decisions are often unusual and go against common wisdom yet she makes these hard choices only by trusting in inspiration… the kind of inspiration only the truly righteous receive? Surely you must be able to discern that she lives the commandments like Nephi and Nephi’s wife lived the commandments… she did not and does not even go to R-rated movies. I therefore posed the question, “Is she receiving divine help…” Does this explain the supernatural-like influence that she clearly wields over her fans? I tell you, I have never seen anything like it. The internet is literally littered with videos and blogs with people who have some complaint or other about the Twilight books… and yet they then turn around and admit to having read the whole Twilight series multiple times… and will read it… AGAIN. Is this the case of the windows of Heaven being opened as the scriptures say they will be opened for those that live the commandments and have faith? I furthermore wrote that “…if she was my Sunday school teacher, I would be taking notes… who wouldn’t?” I stand by that sentence. Perhaps Mormons can do more than invent surgical equipment, the transistor, the television, make mega-millions on fiber optics, and Silicon valley land development. Maybe Mormon’s can write popular books as well. Not so good as the Jews in regards to writing, but still worthy of praise. I see no reason that God can not open the windows of Heaven for those Mormons that write books, as much as those Mormons that create diamonds by machine, or the Mormons who run the Huntsman chemical corporation and whatnot. What is more important to God, healing people of cancer and aids, or curing people of hatred and illiteracy? If God can bless a Mormon mommy because she had a dream, or give a farm boy in Palmyra New York a divine visitation of Jesus Christ, who else can God bless… If God has a mind to do so? Who can stop God’s will, when God has it is his power to do anything he wants to do that is right? And can we not read in the Book Of Mormon “… I delight in the chastity of my daughters…” ? It is not the seemingly considerable treasure on Earth that is remarkable about Stephanie Meyers, it is the treasure in Heaven that she has and is accumulating every day that is even more significant. For good and evil people receive treasure in this life, but only the good receive a good treasure in the next life, while the bad receive only a lesser treasure in the next life. And that is the only real lasting wealth… the wealth that comes from being the good Samaritan, while the bad Samaritan will not receive a reward in God’s kingdom. It is safe to say that Stephenie Meyers is a good Samaritan, regardless of her Earthly blessings in mortality. It is her rewards in Heaven in the next life that will be the size of an entire Universe and then some. Which is the same reward as someone who is homeless… but is equally as righteous and is also the good… not the bad… Samaritan. God won’t ask you on judgement day how much money you made down on planet Earth. God will however ask you and judge you on how much righteousness you did (or did not). I think sister Meyers is in for a big payday. Something tells me I’m right.
We are all closet Calvinists now.
@Anon E. Mouse
TL;DR. However, I’m perfectly willing to accept that you are in the majority in your opinion of God as the Great Vending Machine in the Sky who will dispense all the blessings you want, as long as you have exact change.
Yup. Damn shame, too.
If only I were righteous! Then I would have a bestselling book!
As I have sat here and read all the comments on the Twightlight series, I am really appalled at most of the criticism. No one has even identified that this is Stephenie’s first attempt at writing, and yes, it was a series, and yes there were mistakes made, and even some ideas that could have been expressed differently. I am a mother of young adult children, and I was raised in the LDS church, and I was pleased that my daughter liked this series. I didn’t understand all the hype and criticism till I actually read the book, but I am very impressed with not only the inclusion of agency, and the lack of “bad” language and such, but her style is impressive, even with the rawness and need for improvement. I disagree with many about the portrayal of Bella. I agreed with Edward, that Bella was just plain good. Her decisions, and choices were based on unselfish reasons. Bella reminded me of myself, when I grew up…the insecurities and feelings I felt about certain boys I went to school with. Maybe this is selfish of me, but I have found in Stephenie’s books many truths that I feel are quite profound, even if they are misunderstood by many. Her development of Bella and Edward was very good. I also liked her assessments of Carlisle, Esmee, Rosalee, Emmett, Alice, and Jasper. She was very non-judgemental, but assessed them as they were what they were, and they based their choices on who they were. Rosalee for instance was a very selfish, shallow-minded person who felt everyone should admire her simply because she was beautiful on the outside. Bella’s beauty came from with-in and Edward was astute enough to recognize that fact. Few men really notice the inner beauty before they can recognize the outer beauty, but this was the case with Edward, he saw Bella’s unselfish nature, her ability to hold no grudge and her great love for both her mother and father and acceptance of their differing personalities. She also accepted the friends at school, even though many of the girls didn’t really like Bella. Bella was totally human with all the good and bad that goes with being human. Stephenie’s insights into this impressed me. Maybe I am misunderstanding the criticisms everyone else has had, but I really found her writings impressive and well done for a first-time novelist. I am still reading “The Host”, so cannot really comment on that book yet, but for the record, I would give Stephenie and A+ for her inclusion of beliefs and abilitity to hold my attention to the point I have read each of the Twilight books around 8 times apiece, and can’t wait for her to get over being upset and finish the “Midnight Sun” version of the story. I think your a very good writer, Stephenie and storyteller!
As I’ve said, I myself am not anxious to condemn Stephenie for her style. I’m more prone to blame her editors for letting her books out so unfinished. And I think she has a lot of potential. I hope she reaches it and wish her only the best.
Whether or not Stephenie is Mormon, is kind of beside the point. Are Mormon’s not allowed to write fiction? These are fictional books, with fictional characters. She wrote the characters, as SHE liked, from her interpretation of HER OWN Moral views – being LDS influenced. The fact that a bunch of Mormons are discussing this as a whole, because she’s Mormon, is amusing to me. And it proves a point. Whether you are Mormon or not, you will have your own sense of morality, and opinions based on such. It certainly does make for good discussion.
I love those who have left opinions, and haven’t even read the books. At least read the books first.
I am on the 4th book now, and have found them very entertaining. After all, that’s what they are – fictional entertainment. I’m 47, and a Mom of one 23 year old daughter. She introduced me to the story, by taking me to see “New Moon”. The movie made me curious enough to read the books; so I could see what all the fuss was about.
Now, if I wanted to be disparaging in my thoughts, as to the morality and such of these fluffy novels… I could go on and on AND on. I mean really, you could look at Edward as a Stalking Pedifile, if you so choose. Every Parent’s worst nightmare. After all he’s over a 100 years old, and in an absolutely GORGEOUS 17 year old body (the perfect predator, as even he states). He sneaks into Bella’s room at night to watch her, for crying out loud. He may not be out to hurt Bella sexually – at first appearances, but then he doesn’t have quite enough strength to stay away from her either – does he? Maybe it was all a very cunning plan on his part. I mean after all, by time we get through the first book, Bella’s willing to give up her family and every one she knows for him, and to even die for him. He has ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD to execute the plan. And he enjoys EVERY SECOND of this slow, and completely seducing HUNT.
And Bella, is the PERFECT VICTIM of his charms. She’s a Loner, has NO self esteem, no talents, and can’t seem to walk across a street without harming herself. And on top of that, She’s MORE THAN WILLING to give up her virginity to this vampire. He’s the one that is stopping her, for now. So it seems that poor Bella, is just completely ripe for the taking.
Now, if I were looking to criticize, that would be a start.
But I choose to look at the innocent side of this story; AND as purely fictional fantasy entertainment. There’s a reason that so many have been taken by this series. It’s entirely engaging, suspenseful, romantic, adventurous and full of little twists and turns, that keep you on the edge of your seat. No one will agree entirely with everything they read. But it’s nice to be swept away into a world entirely un-REAL for a time. That’s what good entertainment does. And Stephenie certainly created that for the many fans of this series.
Look – if nothing else, these novels sure have opened the floodgates of communication on such topics with our daughters.
I say bravo Stephenie.
You have managed to write a very ENTERTAINING series, that has been made into a movie series. How many of us can claim that? AND you have given us fodder, for HOURS of fun/ thought provoking discussions with our daughters and beyond.
You are a Genius!
I think the different views of the Twilight books are very interesting, to say the least.
The books may not fit into the canon of “Great American Literature,” but even so, there is something utterly engaging about them (to me, anyway, and that might be so perhaps because I can still acutely remember being a teenager and in love) that reaches out and captivates the audience.
Has anyone noticed other themes, beside just abstinence until after marriage?
Perfected bodies after death, families forever, more than one “soul-mate,” (and consequently, more than one choice), (as mentioned in the article) agency to choose right or wrong, good and better, and many other, subtle things.
Now, I don’t know if Meyer intended these themes i her book, or if her beliefs and culture just slipped in, and just happened to fit well with her characters and ideas, but either way, it is intriguing.
Those of you who disapprove of Twilight, or perhaps have never considered it, think about this:
Meyer has written a book with some very critical Mormon doctrine set into the core of its plot, and that book has gone on to become one of the most popular books in the nation- she has in effect, become a missionary for the LDS church, though in an unconventional way, and I, believe (scoff at me if you will) that it is an extraordinary feat, knowing how rare it is for a novel encrusted with doctrinal jewels to hit mainstream media. But, that is just how I see it.
Thanks for your thoughts, Amanda. It is intriguing. Check out Reading Until Dawn if you haven’t yet.