A DIFFERENT SET OF RULES
by Mahonri Stewart
Mormon literature and culture
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.
Ran into this book in the New! section of my local library a couple weeks ago and decided to bring it home for a looksee. It’s part of ABDO Publishing’s “” series which include books on how to write about everyone from Stephen King to Paul McCartney to Sylvia Plath to George Lucas to C.S. Lewis to Toni Morrison to Quentin Tarantino to Virginia Woolf to Andy Warhol to Georgia O’Keeffe—it’s an eclectic group of subjects, to be sure. Continue reading “A high-school English teacher reviews How to Analyze the Works of Stephenie Meyer“
It is sometimes hard to get a sense of how much is going on in Mormon literary studies. The problem is that there is a lot going on that isn’t happening in Utah or among those associated with the Association for Mormon Letters. I’m not suggesting that the AML and what is happening in Utah isn’t valuable, just that some subjects attract others.
Continue reading “A 2011 Mormon Literary Studies Bibliography”
Saturday began the ALA’s annual Banned Books Week, its effort to call attention to censorship and attempts to censor books in the United States. The good news is that the number of challenges (attempts, usually unsuccessful, to restrict or make a book unavailable at an institution–library, school, etc.) has hit its lowest level in 20 years. But last year an LDS author’s work made the top 10 most challenged books for the second year in a row.
Earlier this month Time magazine used the popularity of Harry Potter to look at fan fiction. I was a little surprised to find that not only is the fan fiction universe much larger than I supposed (fanfiction.net alone has more than half a million Harry Potter works and more than 2 million total), but that two LDS authors are in the forefront of some controversy surrounding the genre.
This past week’s Publishers Weekly has an article about the national market “debut” of LDS YA novelist Ally Condie, whose sixth novel, Matched, was released by Dutton on November 30th. Released is an understatement.
My local library system just happens to have acquired Twilight and Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians, and the Pursuit of Immortality (Amazon). Based on the table of contents, it would appear the all the Mormonism-related content is found in Marc E. Shaw’s contribution “For the Strength of Bella? Meyer, Vampires and Mormonsim” (pages 227-236). Here is my brief report on that chapter (please note that I haven’t read any of the other chapters and that I’m well aware that these pop culture meets philosophy anthologies are quite popular and are intended for a specific audience to serve a specific purpose [and, of course, to profit from and fan the flames of fandom]):
Establishing of credentials (Shaw went to BYU too!). For the Strength of the Youth pamphlet reference. Eternal marriage. Meyer “plays Heavenly Mother to her fictional daughter, Bella”. Agency. Nod at Augustine. Edward-as-savior. Edward “means what he says” ~~ binds himself to Bella with his words. Utterance — words mean action. Nod at Austin. Sealing/union of body and spirit. Plato and love. Way liberal — LDS still man and woman, BUT! :: Meyer’s The Host. Somehow leads to a Big Love reference. Erotics of abstinence. Chastity. Deseret Book controversy ~~ sexy too sexy; shelves to special order. “Vampire family values!” Feminist film theory and the gaze :: Bella returns the gaze (Edward)! Is Twilight Mormon? All the before shows that “nice Mormon girls” can write about “sexy vampires.”
Well, I’m convinced.
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”
News from the Reading Until Dawn front:
A couple of weeks ago, I read a paper at the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association (RMMLA) Convention at Snowbird, Utah (a rundown of my experience at the AML session will come in a later post that I’ve got halfway worked up; yes, I’ve been lazy—so sue me) and over the weekend I did some revising to incorporate some of the feedback I received and posted it on Reading Until Dawn. “Toward a Mormon Gothic: Stephenie Meyer’s Vampires and a Theology of the Uncanny” takes its place in the blossoming field of Twilight studies beside RUD’s inaugural essay, Theric Jepson’s “Saturday’s Werewolf: Vestiges of the Premortal Romance in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Novels.” Link over and have a read. That’s what all the cool kids are doing (or so they tell me).
While you’re there, you might also notice that I’ve made some subtle changes to the site design (I’ve tweaked the header) and that I’ve updated the articles. The inconsistent layout was bugging me, so I took down the HTMLs until I can get them to look how I want them to look, reworked my document template slightly, and incorporated the new MLA citation standards into the notes. Hopefully this gives the collection a more consistent and professional feel.
Also: though I’ve published “Toward a Mormon Gothic” on RUD, I’m still open to feedback. So if, while you’re reading, you notice a typo or some such faux pas or notice that I’ve missed something you deem vitally important to the conversation, either email me or comment here. That or work up your own essay and submit it for publication. I promise I won’t complain.