Sunday, August 09, 2009

Why "Twilight" is Poor Mormon Analogy

There has been some speculation recently, particularly among non-Mormons, of the Mormonism that can be found in the "Twilight" vampire series. The recent conjectures of John Mark Reynolds and a writer at the blog Forks High School Professor adds to the discussion. At best these comparisons of the series and Mormonism are problematic. Like the original Battlestar Galactica series, the background is far too often treated like the actual story. Understanding the relationship between story and theology cannot be done without vigorous oversimplifications and outright unwarranted conclusions. To put it another way; to see the Mormon analogies in the books ends up distorting both.

Probably the most troubling idea that these analysis make is that Stephanie Meyer has consciously preached Mormonism in the series. This has been a subject of criticism toward Orson Scott Card as well, although he states openly that it isn't preaching more than using his culture. There is no reason why either of them should apologize for doing this, because all authors write what they know. Even if S. Meyer did use Mormonism, I don't think she has demonstrated enough sophistication in her writings to make any lasting impressions. The books are mostly romances with vampires made for young adults. Arguments with any real merit made against the books can be related to any number of literature from the same traditions. The fact that another writer can issue a lawsuit for what has been described as "Mormon" elements should make critics reconsider their conclusions. Mormonism is either more universal or the books are less Mormon than has been supposed.

Even if there is Mormonism in the "Twilight" series, it is so hidden that there isn't much of a practical value. Like the "Harry Potter" criticism, what is said reveals more about the critics than the author or writings. Calling out the evils of witchcraft in its pages (much like the Mormon labels) end up sounding like unreasonable conspiracy theories put out as facts. No one is going to actually become sorcerers or even learn about real magic from the books. Similarly, the idea that readers will become a member of or really learn about Mormonism by reading "Twilight" is highly unlikely. Context of fantasy has supplanted any viable discussion of real beliefs outside of speculative literary interpretation. The average reader could care less without pre-conceived notions of what they want to find. That goes for Mormon and non-Mormon readers involved with subjecting the series to religious examination. Again, the worthwhile criticisms have been what can be used in examining any literary production.

An analogy can be so hidden or convoluted that it becomes very hard for casual readers, in isolation from other sources, to get anything out of them. The highly praised "Lord of the Rings" and "Narnia" series are examples of this that the "Twilight" series shares with them. It is hard for casual readers to understand how wizards, goblins, faeries, soldiers, and talking animals have anything to do with the theology of Anglicanism or Catholicism, much less vampires for Mormons without troubling biases. Books and papers might explicate the themes, but the original writer might as well have written straight forward papers to get the points across. Doubly so for audiences that are no longer steeped in the cultures that define the analogies meant by the authors.

A real Christian or Mormon literature wouldn't need images and characters to hide behind for mass consumption. The last real Christian stories for the masses since Shakespeare might have been the "Left Behind" series by Tim LaHaye that didn't use mere analogies for the stories. Milton, Dante, Shakespeare, and even the writer of Beowulf were not playing Johnathan Swift like games in their literary achievements. The exception might be "Pilgrim's Progress" by Bunyan, but that is borderline. At any rate, they had specific theological and moral messages and images not stunted behind hidden stories and characters. Heaven, Hell, Satan, Creation, Angels, Devils, and much more were not disguised as something else that had to be guessed at in papers and explications. Even the nearly allegorical Beowulf didn't need much work determining what the Grendel and mother Monsters or the Dragon stood for in relation to the hero.

Playing the analogy game with the "Twilight" series doesn't work very well. There are too many assumptions that have to be made about Mormonism, Stephanie Meyer, and the purpose of the books. Sources that are obscure to every day Mormons often have to be trotted out to make a case that is speculative at best. What is brought into the discussion by the critics is at least as important as what the series brings up. In the end the proof is manufactured because the reality cannot be proven without a direct quote from the author accepting or denying the connections. It can be fun, but unprofitable. In the end, the books have to speak for themselves and the readers decide.


John said...

Where does anyone criticize Mrs. Meyer for using her Mormonism in the books? There certainly isn't any criticism in the Forks High School Professor' article to which you linked. Beware the polemical LDS reflex paranoia, JettBoy.

And be careful of your analogies, The proper analogy with Ms. Rowling's Harry Potter series and criticism of it is that exploring Mrs. Meyer's Mormonism and its influence on her writing is no more problematic than exploring the Christian content and symbolism of Ms. Rowling's Hogwarts Adventures. This has been done in Travis Prinzi's 'Harry Potter and Imagination,' Prof. James Thomas' 'Re-Potting Harry Potter,' and my 'How Harry Cast his Spell.' LDS poet and critic Michael Collings has done the same thing for the LDS content of the works of Orson Scott Card in his 'Image of God.' Suggesting that looking at Mrs. Meyer's Mormon beliefs to understand her work is in parallel with Harry Hating driven by occult issues is nonsensical by your own request that we look at the books as her faith shapes them not as vehicles for her faith.

Again, Mrs. Meyer's LDS faith and the issues confronting Mormons in America play a large part in shaping the story and characters of the Twilight Saga. If you're uncomfortable with gentiles exploring those issues, then you'd best do it yourself.

Making unfair and risible accusations while whining that people are attacking Mormonism -- when they're doing the heavy lifting of literary criticism -- does you and your faith no credit.

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Th. said...


To John: Mormons are playing the criticism game as well. Here's mine.

Jettboy---good to see you back at AMV. Please come back often. We need your viewpoint, imho.

While I agree that Twilight is not meant to be a proselytory vehicle, I will disagree that there are so few deliberately religious stories out there. Within your average Deseret Book you can find dozens. Outside, you can find Anne Rice's new Life of Christ novels and The Shack which is selling out of control. And that's just the surface. There are endless numbers of these stories and more coming out all the time. Proselytory, nonmetaphorical fiction is produced in large quantities. You just have to look.

Jettboy said...

A quote from "A Motley Vision" ( partly sums up what I tried to say about Twilight:

"I’ve seen the same differences of viewpoint among critics discussing Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight series. Many Mormon commentators have suggested that the books aren’t particularly Mormon (suggesting that these books are considered Mormon simply because they are so popular among some Mormon readers), but some outsiders (often those who don’t like Meyers’ books) claim that the works are very Mormon, and a few even go so far as to suggest that the books are an attempt to convert readers to Mormonism. (I know this view seems silly, but this view is out there.)

Again we have an outsider view of what makes up the Mormon themes in a work that is different from what Mormons would count (or at least a conventional Mormon view of Mormon themes).

Perhaps we can chalk this all up to outsiders’ misconceptions. But at least it points out a weakness with defining Mormon art as art with Mormon themes: its often difficult to say what a Mormon theme is, and not everyone agrees about what is a Mormon theme."

Just because you can find Mormon themes in a work doesn't mean its Mormon. Likewise, just because a Mormon wrote it doesn't mean it contains Mormon themes. Most importantly of all, ". . . some outsiders (often those who don’t like Meyers’ books) claim that the works are very Mormon." It is to this fact that my post was aimed.

paul swenson said...


Your credibility as a critic would be enhanced by assuring your readers you are aware of the correct identity of Twilight's author. Her name is not Meyers.

Jettboy said...

Corrected in the text.