About a decade ago I read an essay on the modern artist Wayne Thiebaud which talked about the communal aspects of his work. The essay attributed these aspects of his work to the communal aspects of his youth, from his birth in a Mesa, Arizona LDS community. Of course there are many communal aspects to Mormon culture, and at least some of those are unique to Mormonism. But as I’ve thought and read about Mormon art, I’ve increasingly realized how at odds this view of Thiebaud is with views from within the Church about Mormon art, where Thiebaud’s work is not considered Mormon.
The difference I see comes down to a disagreement about themes in art.
Continue reading “What are the themes of Mormonism?”
I’ve been thinking a lot about sex lately. (So have Tyler and Theric!) Mostly it’s because my sister recently sent me her copy of the new Mormon sex book, by Laura M. Brotherson, and I’m surprised by what it reveals about Mormon culture.
And They Were Not Ashamed is the “new’ Mormon sex book because it was published more recently than the one that was floating around when I got married. The one people were giving out as wedding gifts when my DH and I celebrated our nuptials was by Stephen E. Lamb and Douglas E. Brinely. (Tangential question: Why do strangers give newlyweds books about sex? Really, why? Are you so afraid my parents never brought it up that you feel compelled to help out? I just don’t get that.) We received not one but two copies of the hard, silver-jacketed tome with the open-yet-frozen-in-their-separation lilies and I read it–out of curiosity and because all my unmarried friends wanted to know what was in it. Although it was full of useful information, I was disappointed to find that it was pretty much the opposite of its subject matter: cold, clinical, boring. This was how people who believe sex is a gift from God talk about it? Continue reading “How to Talk About “Secks” (and other thoughts regarding Mormon prudery)”
I don’t want to take anything away from National Poetry Month with another Twilight bender, but Theric’s worked so hard on his essay, “Saturday’s Werewolf: Vestiges of the Premortal Romance in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Novels,” that I thought I should jump in and give him his dues. Here’s the abstract:
“Saturday’s Werewolf explores Twilight in terms of the supernatural literature of the Latter-day Saints, specifically as the series links to the premortal romance narrative mode, as exemplified in Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon (1898) and Douglas Stewart’s popular musical Saturday’s Warrior (1989).”
It’s an entertaining and insightful read that I’ve just posted at Reading Until Dawn (both PDF and HTML versions available there). Come take a look after you finish commenting on Laura’s Harvest post.
And don’t be scared: RUD’s lone (were)wolf doesn’t bite. But it just might inspire you to submit.
Wm writes: Every year since 2000, Andrew Hall has put together a Year in Review for all of the major genres of Mormon letters. It is an amazingly detailed work that is both fun to read and important both as a bibliography and as a gauge of the state of Mormon literature. AMV is pleased to bring you Andrew’s Year in Review for 2008, beginning with a look at Mormon authors being published in the national market.
Andrew Hall’s Mormon Literature Year in Review — Part 1a: National market books
The publishing story of 2008 was a Mormon author, Stephenie Meyer. Meyer was one of three Mormon authors who reached the top of the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestseller list, the first Mormon authors to reach that position since 1995. In fact, there were more Mormon-authored novels on the best seller lists in 2008 than ever before. None of these best sellers contained openly Mormon characters or concepts, however. Vampires, romance, heart-warming tales of Christmas, and speculative fiction was what brought the Mormon authors to the top.
The world in 2008 was Stephenie Meyer’s. She is the biggest publishing phenomenon since J. K. Rowling. Little, Brown released her adult science fiction novel The Host in May, and it went to the top of the Times’ Hardcover list. By the end of the year it was still at #5 on that list. August saw the release of the fourth and final volume of her Twilight series, Breaking Dawn. The series has dominated the Times’ Children’s Series list for the last two years (the Times created the Children’s bestseller list in 2000 to clear all of the Harry Potter books off of the main hardcover and paperback lists, and the Children’s Series list in 2004 to consolidate each series into a single entry). At the end of the year the USA Today list, which is a single list for all fiction, hardcover and paperback, had the four Twilight books occupying 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th places, with The Host down at 22nd. Without a doubt Meyer was the best selling fiction author of 2008. Bookscan estimates her total at almost 15 million units sold in 2008. Also, the movie version of the first volume in the Twilight series was released in the fall, and was a box office success. Continue reading “Andrew’s Mormon Literature Year in Review: National Market 2008, Part Ia”
Some exciting things have been happening with Reading Until Dawn over the past week (at least I think they’re exciting) as I’ve made some changes and tried to get this bird off the ground.
First off, Reading Until Dawn has evolved forms, from “journal” to open-ended “anthology.” Though this is basically just a semantic switch, it means at least two things: a) there will be no issues–although as volume warrants (yes, that’s optimism you smell), the essays may be split into volumes–and thus b) no hard deadlines. Instead, because we’re not dealing with a publisher and don’t have costs to keep down, submissions will be read, accepted, and published on an ongoing basis. For me, that’s part of the excitement of publishing something like this online: not only can it be more dynamic and open-ended than print publishing, but it has the potential (potentially) to reach a larger, more diverse audience.
Due to the foibles of human nature, however, this lack of deadlines may present certain difficulties, as in a decreased number of submissions. Hence the following–a soft deadline and an incentive: Continue reading “Reading Until Dawn Update”
I don’t necessarily look to Caitlin Flanagan to explain, well, much of anything*. But I do think her recent The Atlantic article about the Twilight series is worth mentioning for the simple reason that she notes that reviewers of the books always mention Stephenie Meyer’s Mormon-ness but never quite know what to do with that fact.** And because I think she possibly gets at the appeal for some (especially teenage) Mormon female readers.
Here’s the relevant excerpt:
The erotic relationship between Bella and Edward is what makes this book–and the series–so riveting to its female readers. There is no question about the exact nature of the physical act that looms over them. Either they will do it or they won’t, and afterward everything will change for Bella, although not for Edward. Nor is the act one that might result in an equal giving and receiving of pleasure. If Edward fails–even once–in his great exercise in restraint, he will do what the boys in the old pregnancy-scare books did to their girlfriends: he will ruin her. More exactly, he will destroy her, ripping her away from the world of the living and bringing her into the realm of the undead. If a novel of today were to sound these chords so explicitly but in a nonsupernatural context, it would be seen (rightly) as a book about “abstinence,” and it would be handed out with the tracts and bumper stickers at the kind of evangelical churches that advocate the practice as a reasonable solution to the age-old problem of horny young people. (Because it takes three and a half very long books before Edward and Bella get it on–during a vampiric frenzy in which she gets beaten to a pulp, and discovers her Total Woman–and because Edward has had so many decades to work on his moves, the books constitute a thousand-page treatise on the art of foreplay.) That the author is a practicing Mormon is a fact every reviewer has mentioned, although none knows what to do with it, and certainly none can relate it to the novel; even the supercreepy “compound” where the boring half of Big Love takes place doesn’t have any vampires. But the attitude toward female sexuality–and toward the role of marriage and childbearing–expressed in these novels is entirely consistent with the teachings of that church. In the course of the four books, Bella will be repeatedly tempted–to have sex outside of marriage, to have an abortion as a young married woman, to abandon the responsibilities of a good and faithful mother–and each time, she makes the “right” decision. The series does not deploy these themes didactically or even moralistically. Clearly Meyer was more concerned with questions of romance and supernatural beings than with instructing young readers how to lead their lives. What is interesting is how deeply fascinated young girls, some of them extremely bright and ambitious, are by the questions the book poses, and by the solutions their heroine chooses.
What’s interesting is that although technically Flanagan is correct about Bella making the “right” choices, there are also Mormons who are uncomfortable with some of the other choices she makes. In addition, I’m somewhat amused by all the people who have felt (or been) compelled (and that includes us here at AMV) to write about Twilight and how much our reactions betray our attitudes towards certain feminist issues as well as literary value and Mormonism.
* This is no knock on those who do. We all have varying tolerance levels for gadflies c.f. Camille Paglia, Ben Stein, Noam Chomsky, etc.
** It’ll be interesting to see if Reading Until Dawn can get us beyond some of the basic reactions that tend to come up repeatedly.
Wm says: Hey look — it’s time for another guest post from Theric. Thanks, man. I was going to subject everyone to the playlist of insufferably indie-pop songs I write most of my fiction to.
In DavidEdelstein’s NPR review of the movie inspired by that ubiquitous book by “Brigham University graduate Stephenie Meyer,” he describes the movie as, in “its undercooked way . . . enjoyable” despite its “barely functional” script. But I’m less interested in his view of the movie’s merits.
Check out this:
The best thing in the film is Kristen Stewart [who plays the
female lead], and she’s better at conveying physical longing than any
of the actors playing vampires. She alone suggests how this series was
born, in the mind of a young Mormon girl who had to sublimate like mad
with thoughts of vampires. Duncan Lance Black, the screenwriter of the
gay-rights activist Harvey Milk biopic with Sean Penn opening next
week, is also a Mormon. With characters that veer between implosive
sexual repression and explosive sexual liberation, Mormons might well
be the new Catholics!
Although on A Motley Vision we have often spoken of becoming more like Catholics in the public eye, the fact is, we would much rather be Jews than Catholics. Being Catholic has more downsides than upsides — sure, you’re the default version of Christianity that everyone recognizes, but that means that everything from Nunsense to The Exorcist is necessarily a Catholic story. Jewish stories on the other hand bring to mind Fiddler on the Roof and Asher Lev — Jewish stories told by Jews. But Catholics? It’s open season on Catholics. Continue reading “Theric guest post: “Mormons might well be the new Catholics!””
Maybe you’re sick of Twilight by now; maybe you’re not.
Or maybe you’re just indifferent.
Whatever the case, I don’t think Stephenie Meyer’s going away any time soon; and with the highly anticipated release of Summit Entertainment’s Film–coming tomorrow to a theater near you!–it’s increasingly difficult to escape the hype. Continue reading “Twilight on My Mind”
Several months ago my lovely wife Anne and I had the privilege to go to a retreat hosted twice a year by the Mormon Artists Foundation. Founded by James Christensen (rightfully famous for his art of fantasy and his fantastic art) and Doug Stewart (playwright of the groundbreaking Saturday’s Warrior), it’s always one of the chief highlights of the year for my wife and I. An uplifting experience, not because of the number of recognizable names on the roster (which was a little intimidating at first, until their relaxed manner and cheerful comradery told me that they were only human and weren’t looking down on my comparatively pitiful contribution to Mormon Arts), but because of the focus it brought to the spiritual aspect of our art, and the complicated ways our religion informs and doesn’t inform our Art. It was a true inspiration to see all of these gifted Mormons from the visual arts, literature, film, drama and music band together for a weekend of reminding each other why they’re artists and why they’re Mormons, and what a wonderfully strange and beautiful mixture that is. Continue reading “The Art of Friends, Not Rivals: Shannon Hale and Stephenie Meyer”
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.
Continue reading “Stephenie Meyer’s Mormonism and the “erotics of abstinence””