Some time ago, I started following John Granger‘s Twilight studies blog, “Forks High School Professor” as a corollary to my own academic interest in Meyer’s books. Granger made a name for himself as Dean of Harry Potter Studies when he took J.K. Rowling’s books as subjects worthy of academic study. And now he’s trying his hand at Twilight, an effort I heartily applaud as I think of my own haphazard attempts to do the same thing.
And yet, sometimes he just rubs my believing-Mormon-skin the wrong way with his cursory engagement with Mormonism, something that’s simply secondary to and arising from his academic interest in literature, faith, and culture. Since he’s a newcomer to the still-blossoming field of Mormon studies* and an outsider to the LDS faith, I can’t fault him for this engagement and for getting some things wrong every now and then. Heck, cultural Mormons are a peculiar lot with an equally peculiar history. Putting things together about the religion can be difficult even for those with a lifetime commitment to it.
But as I was catching up on some FHS Professor posts I’ve fallen behind on, I felt compelled to chime in this morning and to set the record straight, as it were (though I’m sure my straight is still fairly skewed), by referring the good doctor to Reading Until Dawn. Of course, this has something to do with the need for self-promotion. But, it also has something to do with my faith in the strength of Mormon literary scholarship, especially, in this case, Eric’s “Saturday’s Werewolf” (a revised version of which, by the way, will be published in a forthcoming issue of Sunstone [get your teaser here] along with a revised version of “Toward a Mormon Gothic“).
The setup: In his November 18 post in response to Stephenie Meyer’s answer to a fan’s question about the source for her imprinting werewolves (“Stephenie Meyer New Moon Q&A: Imprinting“), Granger suggests two sources beyond the one Meyer gives for this peculiar, primal relationship between imprinter and imprintee (read the post for her answer): (1) the institution of polygamy’s overabundance of man/child relationships and (2) the notion of premortal coupling. He ties Meyer to the first by suggesting that Twilight is a response to John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, a book published, as Granger is quick to point out, “the month Mrs. Meyer had her [series-inspiring] dream and [… that] is filled to the brim with nightmare stories about polygamist crimes against young women as well as the nightmare of the Mountain Meadows massacre.” He continues—and this is what provoked my response: “Twilight is, I suggest, on several levels a Mormon woman’s response to Krakauer’s attack on her faith.”
Here’s what I said:
How so? Unless you’re privy to more information about Meyer than I am (i.e., that she’s read or is even aware of Krakauer’s narrative, something, in my mind, she’d have to do/be aware of in order to so specifically respond), this seems like something of a jump to me, like you’ve already formed an opinion on the issue and are stretching to find evidence (however thin) to support that opinion. Sure, Meyer is aware of Mormonism’s polygamist past and I’m sure she’s struggled with it in one way or another, though I don’t know how that struggle has influenced her personal understanding of the faith or, more apropos to this post, her work as a novelist.
But Eric Jepson (in the essay Sharon mentions in comment one) makes what to me is a more compelling connection between Meyer, Mormon doctrine, and Mormon (literary) history: imprinting as a manifestation of the premortal romance. This narrative trope is based in the LDS doctrine that we existed as spirits in the presence of God prior to mortal birth, an official teaching that gave rise to the folk doctrine of premortal coupling (i.e., that male and female spirits promised to find one another on Earth and to marry for eternity), which is conveyed in a sampling of non-official LDS narrative art. Jepson takes up two of these–Nephi Anderson’s 1898 novel Added Upon and Douglas Stewart’s 1973 musical Saturday’s Warrior (the latter is still a popular cultural reference in Mormon circles)–though I’m aware of at least two more: Susa Young Gate’s 1909 novel John Stevens’ Courtship (which was serialized before Anderson’s Added Upon was published; which may have been a source for his own, more expansive treatment of the premortal romance; and which was a response to the LDS Church’s  manifesto putting an official end to polygamy) and Carol Lynn Pearson’s 1977 musical My Turn on Earth[, though this one is more simply about keeping premortal promises in general than it is about realizing a premortal romance].
This folk doctrine (which has been shot down by LDS Church leaders, most notably, as Jepson points out, by Spencer W. Kimball) seems a far more likely source for Meyer’s notion of imprinting than Krakauer’s discussion of Fundamentalist Mormon polygamy. (And though they share common roots, Fundamentalist Mormon does not equal Latter-day Saint.)
I’m likely to come back to this idea of Twilight Studies meets Mormon Studies in the not-too-distant future with a post on my RMMLA experience (it’s been on the backburner for over a month) and a post in response to one of Granger’s recent interviews (on the backburner for a couple of months). But I felt this interaction was worth copying here, if only to show more of how non-Mormon critics are engaging the Mormonism of Twilight; to suggest, perhaps, ways Mormon scholars can (fruitfully?) respond by referring to our own literary and cultural history; and to solicit your feedback on any/all of the above.
*I place him in this position (something he may not do himself) because he takes up issues of Mormonism as they relate to Twilight.