A friend’s teenage daughter started gushing about a book series she is reading. As a lit major and writer my interest is always piqued when I see a teenager talk about literature with a glazed look of love in their eyes. So, on her recommendation I bought Twilight and devoured it (ha, joke for those who have read it) in a couple of hours. Stephenie Meyer is no Austen, Steinbeck or Hemingway, nor will Twilight ever be a classic…but it was a page turner of a yarn with characters… that may be stereotypical…but you instantly care about their fate. In lit circles we often debate genre vs literary fiction, and in the Twilight series, Stephenie Meyer has “out genred” even JK Rowling. I have dubbed these types of books… pop rocks … remember the candy you put in your mouth… starts out sweet, then explodes in your mouth and leaves an odd slightly disturbing tingle before it disappears completely…yet you still want more?
So, I got “pop rocked” on the first book, then went out and got the other three… and read them in about 2 days … of course doing “laundry” while racing over the words. Everywhere I went (book in hand) I was stopped by women of all ages excited to share with me their own love of the books, relating the characters to their lives in personal ways.
All right, so now to what my blog is really about.
I am not a Mormon/LDS. I am not an expert on it either. I have studied it in comparative religion, and have friends that are…so I know enough to recognize it’s doctrine. To me, the Twilight series seems an apologetic treatise on Mormonism. Am I the only one out here that thinks this way? Stephenie Meyer, author of the series is a Mormon. In fact, an “elite” Mormon having attended BYU and all that entails. So I found it fascinating that she wrote about teenage angst and love among vampires and werewolves. When I tried to flush out why that puzzled me, I started checking out some web research and blogs about it. What I found were rabid Mormon fans that have approved the book for reading in their stake book clubs. The books were “clean” even though erotic, and I was disturbed by some of it’s messages but couldn’t put my finger on any specific thing…other than the regular vampire violence. So I was shocked when my search dug up remarks on LDS websites touting Twilight as seminal Mormon reading…why?
Light started to dawn when I was conversing about the series with a friend who is a pastor and teaches high school English. He asked me what I thought of the Mormon message of the book. My mind tried to recall the themes from my three day word trance…. and there it was, the answer to my question. The books are a romanticized indoctrination into LDS theology, made palatable by the classic themes of courtly love and the noble savage. Make no mistake, the contriversal doctrines of the Mormon church are there. Here are just a few in my opinion…I could probably fill up a good size term paper drawing all the comparisons.
*Warning – Plot Spoilers Below*
1) Mormons believe in deification – you can become a god or goddess through their various rituals and practices. Certainly that is what Meyer’s vampires portray. The gods of the world. They all have super powers, are all powerful both physically and through their immeasurable wealth, supermodel beauty… intelligence…and in the case of Edward’s coven (or stake)… they have risen above their baser natures and don’t even have to really be vampires…at least not the evil Dracula types. Bella, the protagonist, seeks to become a goddess herself…which can only happen if she becomes a vampire (Mormon). But she doesn’t just want any old vampire to change her into one. She sees it as a way to become one with Edward…so she only wants him to do so. Edward, a good old traditional vampire, will only make her one if she agrees to marry him. So her only way to immortality is through marriage. Of course she has a child in book 4, despite all odds… because only in having children does one truly become immortal….and it is a Mormon book after all.
2) The Vampires are living their afterlife. The Cullens, however, have evolved to a higher plane of existence compared to the other vampires. Bella even wonders in book 2 or 3 if Edward can move to an even higher existence if he were to actually die, because of his goodness (the dead, deader…). Meyer contrasts the enlightened Cullens to the “meat-eaters”… those vampires that still feed on humans and can’t control their baser instincts and blood lust. The “vegetarian” Cullen’s exist on a higher plain…perhaps another level of afterlife bliss…due in part to their dietary restricted lifestyle that allows them to co-exist with humans, thus putting them on a higher plain. This denial of nature allows them to follow the higher ideal of intellectual pursuits (medicine, science, music, art) and perfect them. They are civilized. Also, they are humanitarians. Instead of simply luxuriating in their spoils like the Volterra who live the ennui and courtly execess ala Medici’s or Louis XIV, the Cullens are still doing saintly things and continue learning/evolving (even if it means repeating High School or Harvard ten times). This doctrine is called “eternal progression” in the LDS, where it is a core belief for even a god or goddess to learn (progress) for eternity. And this progression doesn’t end unless you are chopped up and burnt (at least if you are a vampire).
3) It is all about the family… the family unit is the humanizing factor that sets them apart from the other vamps and even humans. The mortals in the story appreciate their humanitarian efforts (Dr. Cullen) and see them living a wholesome family life (hiking and camping together)…but they still find them odd and different from everyone else…even a little scary. Edward is not the only thing Bella is drawn too, but also his family life…so different from her own broken one. Family is so important to Dr. Cullen and wife Esme, that they create it in their own way. Because dead vampires can’t procreate (or so they thought in book 1-3), they make children by biting other humans… of course only the ones that would die anyways. This “sealing ceremony”… actually is portrayed by the vampires injecting the venom that turns humans to the other side…then they sear or seal the venom into the victims body, essentially making them immortal. In LDS, the sealing ceremony of marriage also includes future children they have, making them an eternal family. Amazing how the theme of children…having them, the inability to have them (Rosalie), the fact that Bella still is one in many ways…plays in this book. When you get the book 4 you find out the most bitter vampire battle is over vampires so desperately wanting children, that they bite young ones to keep them in that perpetual state.
4) Book 4 starts with a Celestial marriage. In a LDS sacred marriage ceremony, a man and a woman make covenants to God and to each other and are sealed as husband and wife for time and all eternity. When Bella marries Edward their vows last Bella’s human lifetime and in her afterlife shortly to come. Which is why it was so important to Edward that Bella marry him as a human. Although the true sealing doesn’t happen until Bella is bitten. In LDS doctrine, the sealing power in the ceremony is what maintains the union after the resurrection from the dead. Unions not sealed will not survive into the afterlife. Interestingly, a man can be sealed to more than one women…technically, only if she dies (polygamy wiggle room), but a woman can only be sealed to one man in mortal life…even if her husband dies. But in the afterlife, all rules are off…women can seal to more men. Good thing Eddie and Bella have a love to last an eternity.
5) Bella is sacrificed and resurrected. Of course Bella has been so prepared by Edward’s family, and her heart is so pure, she doesn’t even have the normal human devouring adjustment period. The death and resurrection scene is intense in book four, made palatable and acceptable to the outsiders (werewolves and family) by the sacrifice she is making to birth a miracle child, Reneseme. A child created by a union between mortal Bella (Mary) and a Edward (God). Mormons don’t believe in the virgin birth, and they believe that God physically impregnated Mary.The blue collar Mormon will tell you this isn’t true, but if you dig deeper into their actual teachings you will find this doctrine. The physical part of God joining with the physical part of Mary… Reneseme in the book becomes the saviour to a tormented Jacob and embittered Rosalie, and is expected to shake up the entire world she is brought into. Being both goddess and woman…. (Feminine mystique work here).
6) Bella is a frustrating character. She is instantly in love with this hundred year old vampire who watches over her (literally when she is sleeping, she calls him her angel). Edward introduces her to a new world of sophistication and eroticism, protects her, is omnipresent and literally in book 2 sucks out her soul. In a nice twist, Bella becomes his saviour…but hey that’s a whole other blog. It is this instant comfort and acceptance of his beliefs, and the fact he is an old, kinda creepy man wrapped up in a hot sexy bod…that makes an interesting statement of what some LDS girls might be looking for…or at least being told to look for. She is willing to give up everything, even her humanity to be with him. Interesting how Meyer works it all out in book 4, so she doesn’t have to…takes some quick footwork though. And when she crosses over into immortality, her superpower is a mental shield, that protects all her loved ones from the mental trickery played by other immortals. Oh, and no one can read her mind. Supermom, hyper-vigilant to the evils of the world.
7. The book takes place in utopia for vampires… Washington State Olympic Peninsula, where it hardly ever is sunny. They can come out and live amongst the folks…interestingly right next to the Hyper aware and wise Native American tribe. The book of mormon follows Christ’s ministry to Native Americans, and the city of zion was said by Joseph Smith to be near their land. Although hard for me to believe Forks as a Utopian city… works in context.
8. Okay, last one for now… The idea of imprinting is creepy. The fact that a werewolves can imprint…or basically mark a mate who is an infant or toddler is weird. There are two characters in Meyer’s books who do so, one is Jacob…who upon seeing the infant Reneseme knows that she will be his future mate. He explains to Bella in book 3 I think, that it is not creepy. This older male will simply be a beloved uncle for awhile, then as she grows into an adolescent a friend whose shoulder to cry on, and then only when she is old enough a wife and lover. How the pack, or family will look out for her and protect her until it is time for her to be taken by the werewolf to mate. How they will even accept their mortal enemies the vampires, because of the power of imprinting. This is eventually accepted by Bella, because omniscient Edward can read Jacob’s thoughts and vouches for his purity of motive and heart.
Hmmm…. a lot to chew on. Anyone else read the books and see the parallels? Maybe you have some I left out. I would love to hear any comments….
Okay, so why do this? In interviews Stephenie Meyer has dismissed and hedged around her religious implications, calling it a story. I will grant Meyers that LDS is the context and POV she is operating within. CS Lewis was a Christian when he wrote Narnia, how much of the inferences we take from it were intended and how many are there simply because he was existing in the framework of Christianity…. authors write what they know. Albeit, Twilight came to Meyer’s in a dream, much like her religious idol Joseph Smith who saw Moroni (who strangely might have looked like Edward in sunlight). My “why” hypothesis is two fold:
1) It is my experience that the everyday Mormon does not know most of these “controversial doctrines”. I think they are purposely withheld from them until they work their way up and can be trusted. I think most cults operate in this manner. It is not until you reach the upper echelon that the true doctrine of their belief system is revealed. So, this is certainly a great plowing technique. Tilling the soil in the hearts of these young LDS women, preparing them for the ideals they will face…. Twilight, although not well written, is a provocative story and a great read…. I can see how easy it would be to start adjusting my expectations and beliefs in order to find a “higher love” like Edward and Bella.
2) It sows the seed in a generation of possible recruits. If the young hearts of girls go pitter-patter for the ideals espoused in the Twilight series… hey, when they are approached with a religion that makes it possible… it’s an easier pill to swallow. Books are powerful – they form and shape ideas of what and who we want in this world. (My husband, is a lot like Mr. Darcy…coincidence? Probably not.) Also, it introduces readers to the sanitized world of LDS. Hey, who doesn’t know that the author is Mormon…and she wrote a cool book like that… how bad can Mormonism be.
As a Christian, I have always found the lines of wizards, witches, vampires in literature interesting. Christians readily accept CS Lewis and Tolkien versions of them as acceptable…but have heart attacks over Hogwarts. I will NOT let my children read Harry Potter UNTIL they realize the biblical truth that witchcraft is Satanic…all witchcraft, even “good” witches. I will not let my daughter read Twilight, UNTIL she can realize how unhealthy Edward and Bella’s relationship is -that Meyers true message is cloaked in unrequited love and supernatural (not God’s) protection. However, I (unlike Bella) can’t shield them from all the evils and influences of the world. Instead, I can help them find the lines of truth before God. In Romans the Apostle Paul said, you have to find that line in your heart, and be accountable to God for the decision you make…however, open your eyes, and know what the message truly is.