In the run-up to the June release of Eclipse, the movie, a reporter from Entertainment Weekly sat down with the actor and actress who play Edward and Bella to ask a few questions. These celebrity interviews aren’t spontaneous affairs with gotcha questions meant to take the celebrities off-guard, but staged exchanges to communicate studio talking points. I was surprised, then, on reading the second question because it was pretty meaty:
EW: Some people read Breaking Dawn as very pro-life and Mormon because Bella decides to have her baby even though it’s endangering her life. Did any of that bother you when you read the book?
STEWART: No, because it made sense. Not wanting to give up the baby is about her holding onto that last thing that she would have to give up if she was not human anymore. Right after she and Edward sleep with each other for the first time, she says, “Oh, f***, I might want to be human for a little bit longer.” The baby is just an even more intense version of that.
PATTINSON: I think people make up all these Mormon references just so they can publish Twilight articles in respectable publications like the New York Times. Even Stephenie [Meyer, author of the Twilight novels] said it doesn’t mean any of that. It is based on a dream.
After some notable screw-ups, both Ms. Stewart and Mr. Pattinson are clearly reading from Twilight franchise talking point scripts. I find their answers to the Mormon question interesting, then, for at least three reasons:
(1) It suggests that the franchise — Mrs. Meyer or the book-film marketing mavens or both — want the Mormon discussion squashed;
(2) It turns out to have had just the opposite effect. Mr. Pattinson’s comments inspired a small avalanche of articles about the LDS content of the books; and
(3) None of these articles mentioned more than the echoes of Mormon doctrine in Mrs. Meyer’s stories, which, frankly, is the least interesting aspect of Mormon elements in Twilight.
Let’s look at these three points one at a time to arrive at a more meaningful, perhaps embarrassing reason Mrs. Meyer may want the discussion repressed.
Putting the Lid on Discussion of Twilight’s Mormon Meaning
Any publicity is good publicity, right? The Christian Controversy about magic in Harry Potter, for example, what academics are now calling “The Potter Panic, 2000-2005,” was a god-send for keeping the Hogwarts Saga in popular media and the public mind — and, knowing the Passion narrative of Deathly Hallows’ ending as she did, I hope Ms. Rowling assuaged her frustration with Christian critics by laughing all the way to the bank.
Mrs. Meyer, as we have discussed here more than once, seems committed to discouraging discussion of the meaning to her stories. I think her reason for this is a combination of modesty, prudence, and a little fear. As she said in her interview with Amazon.com for The Host, “the heart of it all” is that “[I'm] writing to entertain myself.” In the introduction to Bree Tanner she tells us that “it was easy” to slide into the minds and voices of Bree, Freddy, and Diego and it is this kind of character, the ones that “take on strong lives of their own,” whose stories she finishes.
As I wrote here in June, it may be this very personal quality of her writing that makes discussion of its meaning uncomfortable for her because it means exposure of her subconscious and conscious thinking that she’d just as soon not discuss outside of her story-projection and transparencies. Remember this from TwilightMoms.com:
TM: Stephenie, if you could hold a live Q&A session with any of your favorite authors, who would it be?? What are your burning questions?
Steph: I’d love to talk to J.K. Rowling about secrecy and crazy antagonistic fans and her writing process and what her everyday life is like. I’d love to listen to Orson Scott Card talk about anything, but I wouldn’t be able to formulate questions, as I have learned from experience. I’d like to ask Jane Austen how much of herself is in her stories.
Mrs. Meyer is a thoughtful woman capable of interpreting her own work and seeing “how much of herself is in her stories.” And the not-very-hard-to-see critiques of her faith in these stories and the community in which she lives may be something she is serious about not wanting to discuss with anyone but a fellow female romance writer who is long dead (and unlikely, being dead, to talk publicly about it).
Hence, potentially, Mrs. Meyer’s eagerness to repress discussion of Mormon content in her work. There is meaning in her stories that would not reflect well on her within the LDS community. This needs a lot of expansion, I know, so we’ll be coming back to this.
Why, though, would the book and film franchise back her up on this sufficiently to make it a Stewart-Pattinson talking point?
If the push to repress is coming from Mrs. Meyer (or her husband and family), the franchise is motivated to do this to keep the goose laying the golden eggs happy. If it’s not coming from her, the film folk have their own concerns, most notably, protecting those golden eggs from sudden depreciation and their own standing in the Hollywood creative community. Association in the media and public mind between their cash-cow film franchise and Salt Lake City Mormonism is the last thing they want. As I joke even with Mormon friends, most Americans know next to nothing about the Latter-day Saints — and wish they knew less. I’m afraid the only thing everyone in the film community thinks of when they hear the word ‘Mormon’ is “Proposition 8,” and, given the political leanings of that tribe, this isn’t a positive association.
I suspect, given that Mrs. Meyer has pulled down the “I’m a Mormon” paragraphs on her web site, that this is a mutually agreeable meme for her and the money-holders in the Twilight franchise. Both author and publishers-film-makers have substantial reasons for wanting to discourage a Mormon or even a religious association with the Forks Saga.
Whatever their intention, however, Mr. Pattinson’s remarks to Entertainment Weekly inspired quite a few stories on just this subject.
Recent Articles on Religion and Twilight
My favorites, with a hat-tip to Perelandra, Arabella, and James for sending me these urls:
- Twilight: The ‘Eclipse of God’ National Catholic Reporter, Jamie L Manson, July 01, 2010: Catholic, positive.
Manson argues the “Eliade thesis” that I introduced in 2002 from an aside in The Sacred and the Profane to explain the popularity of the Potter novels:
In many ways, Edward fits the archetype of the Christ far better than that of the vampire. Edward comes from a family of more enlightened vampires that sublimate their desire for human blood by settling for
animal blood. Rather than life-sucking, Edward’s love for Bella is chaste, constant and immortal. With his superhuman ability to know when Bella is in danger, Edward always arrives just in time to use his
superhuman powers to protect her. Fearing that his innate thirst might lead him to hurt Bella, Edward at one point even sacrifices his desire for her to ensure her safety.
Mircea Eliade, one of the most influential scholars of the relationship between the sacred and the profane, wrote that popular art forms such as film and literature served a critical religious purpose in secular culture. In a world where human spiritual sensibilities are under-stimulated, people will reach out to drama and entertainment to satisfy their intrinsic spiritual yearnings.
Manson believes that Twilight’s success, then, is “a sign of a new generation’s intense hunger for something both beyond the secular and beyond the institutional.”
On the surface, “The Twilight Saga” seems little more than another tale of adolescent love and angst. But the fact that this romance involves a human girl and an immortal vampire escalates the story to a
metaphysical level. The films are based on a series of novels by Stephanie Meyer, a devout Mormon. Meyer’s faith is interlaced through the story, making for themes that even a pope might approve.
- Twilight Breakdown: ‘Girl Porn’ and the Books of Mormon LifeSiteNews.com, Kathleen Gilbert, July 16, 2010: Catholic, an echo of the Potter Panic
As you’d expect from the web site of the Star Chamber Catholics in Ontario that gave us ‘Pope Condemns Harry Potter,” Ms. Gilbert’s piece is a response to and rebuke of the position advanced in the National Catholic Register’s Manson article. “Themes even a pope might approve”? Hardly. These themes are all LDS heretical nonsense and kiddie porn!
- Mormon influence, imagery run deep through ‘Twilight,’ Religious News Service (multiple outlets, to include newspapers, Huffington Post, etc.), Angela Aleiss, 24 June 2010: academic, doctrinal.
This article, written by an adjunct professor of “film and religion” at UCLA, was a direct response to Mr. Pattinson’s comments in Entertainment Weekly, and, if the intent of his remarks was to smother the Mormon-Twilight association, Ms. Aleiss’ notes did just the opposite:
Ever since Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” began haunting the imagination in 1897, popular culture has identified Christian symbols—crucifixes, holy water, Communion wafers—as weapons to ward off a blood-thirsty vampire. The “Twilight” novels and film franchise have religious associations, too—but most of them come from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). As the film’s “Twi-hard” fans get ready for the third “Twilight” installment, “Eclipse,” to open in theaters on June 30, few are likely to recognize the religious references in the film based on the novels by Stephenie Meyer, herself a Mormon.
“I think people make up all these Mormon references just so they can publish `Twilight’ articles in respectable publications like The New York Times,” actor Robert Pattinson (Edward, the film’s central vampire character), told Entertainment Weekly. “Even Stephenie said it doesn’t mean any of that.”
It’s possible that Meyer never set out to weave Mormon imagery into the `Twilight’ background. Yet intentional or otherwise, it’s hard to ignore:
She proceeds to list eight similarities between Twilight and LDS beliefs, which similarities readers of this weBlog, my Touchstone article ‘Mormon Vampires in the Garden of Eden,’ or Spotlight: An Up Close Look at the Artistry and Meaning of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga are already familiar with: Word of wisdom observation, Celestial marriage, Lamanite parallels, etc.
I wrote to Ms. Aleiss to ask her if she would like a copy of Spotlight because it covers in depth the subjects she mentioned in her article as well as more challenging LDS links. She didn’t need a copy, she wrote back, because she already had one. “Thanks for your emaill (sic). Yes, I am familiar with your book and took a look at it several months ago. Very interesting.”
Very interesting, indeed. Moving right along…
- Twilight Weaves Mormon Ideas into Supernatural Love Saga, USA Today, Cathy Lynn Grossman, 7 July 2010: Survey of articles on LDS content in Twilight.
If Team Twilight blanched at the Aleiss post appearing in The Huffington Post, the news aggregation website of the political left, they probably wept at the article that appeared in USA Today, America’s newspaper, the first week in July. There they read:
With the latest Twilight movie packing theaters, a raft of experts are busy spotting religious threads in the girl-vampire-werewolf love triangle tales. While groups root for Team Edward or Team Jacob, rivals for Bella’s love, experts are saying the spiritual winner is Team Mormon.
If that weren’t bad enough, Ms. Grossman then gives the wow LDS-Twilight highlights from articles in The Mormon Times, on BeliefNet, and, worse, on a USC Media weBlog with still another survey of the many articles making the Mormon Vampire association.
There’s more, of course. This one, ‘Twilight Stars: What Mormon context?,’ from iVillage is cute and this article from God Spam, ‘Edward Cullen: Vampire or Perfect Mormon Boy,’ has some very funny pictures that make the Forks-is-SLC-North point in a smash-face kind of way.
It seems only Psychology Today was not interested in making that connection for their readers, post Pattinson denials. Go figure. As we’ll see, they should be the ones most interested in the Meyer-Mormon material.
What We Didn’t See in Any of These Articles
The funny thing is that, even in the articles that set out to directly rebuke Edward-the-actor’s assertion that there is no Mormon content in Twilight (and anyone who thinks so is making it up to fill newspaper column space), Mr. Pattinson’s main point is the one that prevails. His argument, you’ll recall, is that there is no LDS meaning to Twilight because (a) “Stephenie said it doesn’t mean any of that” and (b) “[the story] is based on a dream.” Both points are in reference to Mrs. Meyer’s assertion that she didn’t consciously insert Mormon doctrine in the text; its origin in subconscious dream material absolves her of intentional proselytizing through story.
The assertion that “Stephenie said it didn’t mean any of that” is problematic, if not just flat wrong. In Meridian Magazine, ‘The Place Where Latter-day Saints Gather,’ Ms. Meyer said “her [Mormon] faith informs her work and [she] hopes that the message comes through. She was looking to put a lot more light than darkness in the books.”
What she has denied is explicit religious meaning in her books (see her conversation with RTE Entertainment), but only in the sense of not having written a proselytizing tract with Mormons or other believers in the narrative line:
“I really don’t write about religion and my characters aren’t specifically religious in any way. I suppose it does influence me because I think about things like, ‘What comes next? Why am I here? What am I doing here? What is the purpose?’ And my characters think about those things. I think it’s important in a book that is about immortality to think about these things.” Here shape-changer laden vampire story isn’t horror or romance; “It’s all just the story about people being human.”
The queer thing here is that, though Pattinson is wrong on this point and, consequently, on his larger point about Mormon content, the media chorus who correct him do not disagree with his “Stephenie said so” statement or his “dream origin” point. They agree that the Mormon content is subconscious, therefore unintentional, and, though undeniable and ubiquitous in the Twilight saga, there’s no reason to dump the books on this count. Mrs. Meyer isn’t smuggling the Salt Lake City Gospel as a novelist-cum-evangelist, so who cares?
Jana Riess’ patronizing note on BeliefNet to an actor just speaking his studio written lines is typical on this point:
OK, Robert Pattinson, here’s a reality check: Yes, the Twilight books were conceived in a dream that Stephenie Meyer had about a vampire named Edward (that’s you!) and an ordinary girl talking in a meadow. But so much else about the series is decidedly Mormon that to claim that people “make up” Mormon references is just silly. What’s buried deep inside any good novelist is going to “out” whether the writer intends it to or not. That has clearly happened here.
The more interesting parts of the Forks Saga’s Mormon content is in her apologetic work through story, e.g., for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the inspiration of the Meadow dream, for the South American genetics dead-end that seems to make the Book of Mormon a fiction and Prophet Smith a fraud, and for old men marrying child brides. More challenging but perhaps most important than those hidden arguments are her critiques of Mormon community and history, specifically, its cultish aspects and the inevitably schizophrenic qualities of life as a Latter-day Saint in America.
The last three books Mrs. Meyer has written, then, are Eclipse, The Host, and Bree Tanner. I’ve already touched on the step-away-from-Edward qualities of Eclipse and the plea from Rosalie Hale not to choose the life of a vampire at the cost of her humanity, and, more specifically, of her life as a woman. Leah’s extinction as a woman because of the demands of her heritage and community mirror Rosalie’s message to Bella. In The Host and Bree Tanner, this don’t-sacrifice-your-life-as-a-woman all but explodes into an anti-cult message that is hard not to read almost as a cry of anguish or for help.