Twilight and the CleanFlicks Aesthetic

NOTE: This is a paper I presented at a conference to a largely non-Mormon audience a few years ago (April 2010 to be precise). Since the final Twilight movie hit theaters this morning at midnight, I thought it might be worthwhile to dust off this paper and present it for your review. Overall, I like the basic idea of the paper, although I think certain ideas and distinctions need to be further developed and drawn.

Vampire stories, argues William Patrick Day, are supposed to “viscerally [excite] us with primal, forbidden, terrifying images and scenes of flesh and blood, fangs and stakes, violence and death” (5). Yet, if this is true, why is Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga so devoid of such “terrifying images and scenes”? Already, much has been written about the “erotics of abstinence” in the Twilight novels, or their lack of explicit sex–premarital or otherwise (Grossman). Less has been said, however, about how these vampire stories flout the conventions of the vampire genre by avoiding bloody, violent spectacles.

Indeed, one of the earliest reviews of Twilight–a brief write-up in Publishers Weekly–points out that the “novel’s only weakness” is a “rushed denouement” that mostly “takes place offstage” (207). In the climactic scene, Bella is in danger. James, a bad vampire who has become fixated on her blood, lures her to a dance studio where he plans to slake his thirst. The suspense builds as James, true to his nemesis role, monologues about his skills as a tracker, his desire for Bella’s blood, and his disdain for the Cullens, Bella’s good, “vegetarian” vampire friends. Using his super vampire strength, James throws Bella against a wall of mirrors, breaks her legs, and cuts a gash along her forehead. The situation looks bad for Bella:

His eyes, merely intent before, now burned with an uncontrollable need. The blood–spreading crimson across my white shirt, pooling rapidly on the floor–was driving him mad with thirst. (450)

James strikes at her, bites her on the hand, and Bella–our first-person narrator–passes out.

And that’s all we get.

Continue reading “Twilight and the CleanFlicks Aesthetic”

A nod to Mormon history in Ally Condie’s Reached

I can’t tell you what it is because that would be a huge spoiler. But there’s a major one (and it’s one Condie writes about in the acknowledgements).

I still need to fully process the Matched trilogy (of which Reached is the final book). I’m fascinated by the fact, though, that although you could read it and love it without any knowledge of Mormonism at all, it contains within it major resonances with Mormon history, landscape, doctrine and practice.

Discuss Avek, Who Is Distributed by Steven Peck

AMV hosts a discussion of Steven Peck’s 22nd century Mormon story Avek, Who Is Distributed as part of the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contest.

Wm says: I’m pleased to host a discussion of the penultimate story in the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest. Here’s a guest post from the contest organizers to help us kick things off:

You may have heard of the “Four Centuries of Mormon Stories” contest before, or even smelled its aroma rising out of Minnesota, the Middle East, or Pleasant Grove. If you haven’t, the conceit is simple: we’re featuring very short stories about Mormons in the 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd centuries, then holding a vote for the best of our twelve finalists and giving $400 to the winner. We’re also holding a blog tour of discussions, bring the people to the stories and the stories to the people. Or something like that.

Seriously: if you haven’t read these stories, take half an hour to catch up. Or at least take three minutes to read Steven Peck’s “Avek, Who Is Distributed” and discuss it today and one of the world’s oldest Mormon arts & culture blogs.

Some questions:

  1. What are your initial reactions to the story?
  2. How much would you pay for a StraythoughtAssist device?
  3. What role might all the Mormon Literature ever written have played in Avek’s intense desire to join the Mormon panth
  4. If you could have lunch with Avek, what questions would you ask him? And what drink would you order?

Review: Luisa Perkins’ _Dispirited_ is a Supernatural Delight

Zarahemla Books hits the sweet spot again with its latest book offering, Luisa Perkins’ Dispirited. The supernatural thriller/YA dark fantasy is a worthy addition to Zarahemla’s quality library of Mormon literature, and continues to showcase the diversity Zarahemla displays on its shelf. Zarahemla is as much of a home for genre fiction, as it is high brow literary novels, as it is for personal essays, as it is for short stories, as it is now for Mormon drama (full disclosure: Zarahemla Books will be publishing a book of two of my plays in the next few weeks, as well as an anthology of Mormon Drama which I helped pull together later this Summer… but I was a big fan of ZB’s approach long before those projects). Dispirited continues Zarahemla’s big tent tradition with its blend of dark, magical realism and young adult sensibility (with a dash of the bizarre just to throw you off kilter).

Dispirited jumps right into the conflict in its first chapter when a young boy named Blake is grieving for his dead mother and so stumbles upon the ability to separate his spirit from his body (astral projection). Thus he travels to the astral plane in search for his mother. However, Blake is in for a rude awakening (or unawakening) when he tries to get back into his body, as he discovers that it has been possessed by a powerful evil spirit who has no intention of giving the poor child his body back. In the next chapter we are introduced to Cathy, years after the inciting incident. Cathy is the step sister of “Blake,” and becomes our main protagonist. The real Blake, now an exiled spirit out of his body, enlists Cathy in the battle over the possession and right to his body.  And then we’re off to the races, plot wise.

I found the initial premise fascinating, partly because I felt it was plausible. I have known people (including a personal friend of mine, as well as a Wiccan who I baptized on my mission) who had claimed to have accomplished this feat of “astral planing,” where they could separate themselves from their bodies, travel in a different plane of existence, and then return to their body (although my friend from my mission claimed that she had difficulty getting back into her body, so she never attempted the experience again). As a believer in this kind of supernatural possibility, having had a few difficult to explain supernatural scenarios in my own life, Perkins had me at the get go with this initial conflict. The central premise seemed real and organic, especially from a Mormon worldview. Sometimes magical realism, from the perspective of a Mormon, simply becomes realism. Continue reading “Review: Luisa Perkins’ _Dispirited_ is a Supernatural Delight”

Whitney Speculative Finalists 2011

This is the fourth and last segment of my Whitney finalist reviews, following earlier installments on general fiction, general youth fiction, and speculative youth fiction. I would have liked to do the other categories as well, but these are the genres that lie closest to my heart — and as many as I could get to by the voting deadline, which is this coming Monday.

All the regular warning: Story spoilers. My own opinions. Thanks to publishers of No Angel and A Night of Blacker Darkness for making electronic copies available. Please chime in with your opinions.

A final comment: Opinions about specific finalists and categories notwithstanding, I think the Whitney Awards fill an invaluable role within the community of Mormon letters, and very much appreciate the work that goes into them, including those who administer the awards and particularly the committees of judges. Thanks to all of you for your hard work.

Continue reading “Whitney Speculative Finalists 2011”

Whitney Youth Speculative Fiction Finalists 2011

And here’s segment three of my Whitney finalist reviews, following earlier installments on general fiction and general youth fiction. There are some story spoilers. It’s all my own opinions. None of these publisher made electronic copies available, which was a bit of a pain, but we prevailed! And again, please chime in with your opinions, whether they agree with mine or not.

Continue reading “Whitney Youth Speculative Fiction Finalists 2011”

_Rings of the Tree: A Multimedia Play_ Premieres in February

Rings of the Tree Still Photo #1Zion Theater Company and Imminent Catharsis Media are presenting national award winning playwright Mahonri Stewart’s play Rings of the Tree on Friday, Feb. 3 and Saturday, February 4 at the Off Broadway Theater in Salt Lake City; as well as Thursday, February 9, Friday the 10th, and Monday the 13th, at the Grove Theater in Pleasant Grove. Continue reading “_Rings of the Tree: A Multimedia Play_ Premieres in February”

Correlation, Top Tens and Ally Condie’s Matched

Warning: this is less a review than a piece of literary criticism. There be small spoilers ahead.

It is probably not surprising that so many of the nationally-published, succesful YA novels by Mormon authors are about agency — Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Dan Wells’ I Am Not A Serial Killler, James Dashner’s The Maze Runner. Not only is it a key component of Mormon theology, but it’s also really what YA is all about. One comes of age when one can learn to (or be freed to or free oneself to) make choices (and accept the consequences). But as intensely as the three titles I mention deal with agency, none of them are about it thematically as much as Ally Condie’s Matched. From the title, which refers to the fact that reproductive unions in Condie’s dystopia are arranged/assigned, and the front cover (which features a young woman in a bubble); to the back cover, which includes blurbs with words like free will, choice, rebellion and controlled; to, well, all all those pages in between this is a book about agency.

Condie intensifies the issue of agency by doing what all dystopias do: create a claustrophic, circumscribed, controlled society. A key component to that is the restriction of approved materials for consumption by the populace — or in other words: correlation. I use that term, of course, in the LDS sense to mean a system of education via approved materials that are consistent across the organziation (or in this case — the Society).

Continue reading “Correlation, Top Tens and Ally Condie’s Matched”

Where Twilight Studies Meets Mormon Studies: Setting the Record Straight

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. Continue reading “Where Twilight Studies Meets Mormon Studies: Setting the Record Straight”

Ric Estrada: Grounded in reality

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I love the form; I’ve always have a, always had a love/hate relationship with comics: I love the form, but some of the content are not to my liking.

Yeah, I’ve read you’re not a big superhero fan.

No, I’m not. I’ve done a lot of superheroes, but basically I’d rather have more uh, less fantastic stories.

I read — I read also that you, um, prefer war stories over other types because of the Cuban Revolution? Would you agree with that?

Well, not really, what I said is I prefer war stories because having been raised in the 1930s in Cuba and having seen a lot of fighting, a lot of terrorism around me. The first memory of my life was my house being surrounded by a mob —

Oh dear.

— and shot to pieces by a mob.

Mmhmm.

When I think of war stories, of the children, I think of the grownups going through all that horror and it is very real to me; and superheroes flying in the air are not very real to me, frankly.

I can understand that.

Yes. So, you know, and, uh, also, during my teens, that was the time of World War Two, and the movies and the newsreels and the air just sizzled with the idea of winning the war against the Nazis.

Mmhmm.

And so so that’s very much in my consciousness. And the two kinds of stories that I like are either war stories where you see an ordinary person become a hero —

Mmhmm.

— or stories of uh human relations.

Continue reading “Ric Estrada: Grounded in reality”