Why Repress Discussion of Mormon Content in Twilight? Mrs. Meyer’s Feminist Story Message

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.
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:

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.

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!

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…

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.

Get it? The Mormon content has just oozed out of ‘Mormon Molly’ Meyer — she couldn’t prevent it or shape it any more, say, than a volcano chooses the direction of its irrepressible lava flow. This fits with the pervasive media meme that Mrs. Meyer isn’t that bright, that she isn’t capable of conscious artistry consequent to inspiration. Hence one writer’s conviction that in my Touchstone article the assertion that Meyer is writing critiques of Mormonism as well as a work suffused with LDS content is “giving Meyer too much credit.”

But this is Sarah Palin Syndrome, i.e., misogyny that is okay because it is media approved and confirmed in each news cycle. The allegorical and anagogical content of the Twilight books, not to mention the history of every written work being some combination of both inspiration and artistry, makes the “it comes from a dream” argument just that much sophistry. As I argue in Spotlight, there are three LDS aspects to Mrs. Meyer’s story — Meyer as Mormon Artist, Apologist, and Apostate — and probably the least important and interesting one of these three is the superficial doctrinal links that bleed into every part the story.

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.

In the Twilight novels, this is most evident in Eclipse, as I discuss at length in Spotlight. Not only do we get the Emma Hale story retold as nightmare via Rosalie’s origin story in Rochester, but we have a serious rival to Edward Cullen, Mormon vampire, in Lamanite Jacob Black. Bella, of course, has to decide for Edward for the Human heart-Divine mind allegory to work in Breaking Dawn, but in Eclipse, Bella sees the underside of life with the vampires and how inhuman they are.

What is curious in all the articles on Mormon content in Twilight is their turning a blind eye to a problematic part of assuming the novels are vehicles for Mormon doctrine, consciously or unconsciously delivered. The principal characters standing in for the Latter-day Saints are vampires, whose ‘vegetarianism’ makes them different from nomadic and Volturi vamps, yes, but they are still, as Edward rightly insists, very dangerous anthropivores. They may be honorable, even sacrificial, in many ways, but they’re also near pathological liars and indifferent to other vampires killing and eating human beings.

That’s not the picture of LDS life and relation with Gentiles I think a Mormon with a missionary’s heart is sharing with the world.

Looking at the sequence of composition in Mrs. Meyer’s oeuvre, too, there is a trend and growing emphasis on the dehumanizing aspect of living in a group that is separated from a larger community, a body of believers that doesn’t respect individuality.  Mrs. Meyer is arguing with increasing urgency about the difficulties and dangers, especially for women, that are inevitable inside a cult.

The sequence of composition we know about the books is first Twilight, then Forever Dawn, the original Breaking Dawn. Dawn was outlined as two books to satisfy the Little, Brown three book contract. They refused the Renesmee and Showdown with the Volturi books, however, and insisted on two more Forks High School adventures, which brought on New Moon and Eclipse. She wrote The Host before or while she revised Forever Dawn into Breaking Dawn. Last, we have The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner, a novella about a newborn vampire.

Anti-Cult Dramas: The Host and Bree Tanner

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.

In The Host, the narrator is a Soul, an outer-space alien whose fellow creatures have invaded and taken over planet earth. They’re called ‘Souls’ because they live as the animating intelligence on the human “host” bodies they are inserted into. Usually the person inside that body disappears or surrenders to the parasitic Soul so the Soul has full control of the body; the Souls took over the planet by quietly and quickly inserting themselves into oblivious human hosts. Once inserted, each Soul used the still active memories of the previous occupant to find and subdue everyone that person knew.

Nota bene: the Souls are all non-violent, kind, loving ‘people.’ Once the violent, selfish humans have been displaced, war, disease, poverty, hunger, and all human problems end in short order.

The Soul in Meyer’s story is named the Wanderer. She is inserted into a hold-out human’s body in the hope that she would be able to track down this host’s hold-out community of unsubmissive humans. But there’s a problem. The human person, the real soul of this host, Melanie Stryder, refuses to disappear or co-operate. Without giving away too much of the story if you haven’t read it, Wanderer winds up being transformed by the memories, love, and desires of Melanie and living in a cave-dwelling secret society of surviving humans sans alien Souls. Most of the book takes place in this group’s caves.

If you don’t want to know how The Host ends or what it means before you’ve read it, stop reading here and scroll down five paragraphs.

As you might guess from the initials and syllable count, Melanie Stryder is Stephenie Meyer in mirror reflection. The Souls are Latter-day Saints and their perfect civilization consequent to vanquishing humanity the much-anticipated Mormon Zion, the paradise that is gentile-free. The conflict between Melanie and Wanderer is the one experienced in every Mormon woman between her LDS identity with community, call it her “conscience,” and her repressed individual desires, needs, and abilities.

The world of The Host is an inversion of America as it is today, in which the Latter-day Saints live on islands in an alien-occupied, hostile world. In Wanderer’s utopia (dystopia?), the Soul/Saints are in charge and the gentiles are on the run. In a fascinating twist, though, Wanderer-controlled-Melanie winds up in a gentile/human community living in a cave, in which cavern cult she is treated as a pariah and prisoner for having imprisoned Melanie, her repressed human host. Wanderer eventually frees Melanie in an act of loving self-sacrifice (what else?).

The Mormon Soul yields to the human woman displaced and suppressed by the inhuman righteousness of a Conscience that is a parasite. The story ends with the hope that Souls and the few human beings left can learn to live in peace with one another — meaning Soul-Mormons learn to respect for human-gentiles as more than body-hosts for Mormon-Souls to take over.

In brief, lest this already too long post become a Host exposition, Mrs. Meyer was inspired to write The Host on a plane trip to Salt Lake City, the capitol of Mormonism and in a state she has sworn she “would never live” I presume because of its remarkable LDS orthodoxy. It is the story of Melanie Stryder/Stephenie Meyer, a Mormon woman’s life as a prisoner to the Soul of her community and how she escapes from her narrow identity as a possessed person to be a human woman again.

The Twilight Saga can be read as an apotheosis drama (which it is) and, on a more mundane plain, the wish-fulfillment fantasy of a woman who wants more than anything else to open her mind to her husband and savior. The Host, too, is a profound allegory — whenever you’re in a story cave, think Plato, right? — but it also, alas, is another impossible wish-fulfillment fantasy. Here Mrs. Meyer is writing the story of her escape from Zion to regain her life as a woman, a life in which she can express her gifts and talents without restriction or repression.

Second Life of Bree Tanner is more of the same, only the transparency is more dramatic. Bree and Diego learn on their own (in escaping from another cave into the light!) that the cult they are living in is a community based on lies and violence. Tragically, Bree trusts Diego, who rather than escape from the basement nightmare existence of newborn vampires, has to check in with the cult’s leader to share his enlightenment. Diego, of course, is destroyed by the cult leader, who uses Bree’s love for Diego to manipulate her to do what he wants, ultimately to her destruction.

Again, there are edifying, universally applicable elements of allegory in this novella, with the basement as “the World,” Freaky Freddy as the light shining in the darkness (Christ is everywhere as sanctuary and escape, the story says, for those who can see and follow Him), and the cult’s violence and lies as story stand-ins for the life without Love and Light.

But the cult allegory all but overwhelms this universal tale. Written as it is by a Mormon woman whose husband has a Spanish side-kick nickname (Pancho :: Cisco Kid as Diego :: Riley), it is not hard to see that, as with Bella, Leah, and Melanie/Wanda, Mrs. Meyer has once again written herself into the story as Bree.

Only this story has a very unhappy ending. Mrs. Meyer writes in the introduction to Bree that “the closer I got to the inevitable end, the more I wished I’d concluded Eclipse just slightly differently.” Bree/Stephenie gets her moment with Edward, but, in this non-wish-fulfillment drama that may be closer to painful reality, Bree’s love results in her being sacrificed by the Mormon vampires to the demands of their larger community, the Volturi. The woman is ripped to pieces and destroyed. Bree dies wishing that she had found the strength to have followed Christ/Freddy and given up on Pancho/Diego rather than hoped for the help or mercy of Prophet/Edward.

Conclusion: Why the Push to Repress the Mormon Discussion

The franchise move to smother media speculation about Mormonism has largely done its work, if only because of American misconceptions about Mormons and especially Mormon women. No one in the main stream media is talking about Mrs. Meyer’s feminism (which I’m betting is all right with her). The many LDS-Twilight articles we read in the paper and online all are written from the perspective that Latter-day Saints, especially the women, are one-dimensional ditto-heads that are brain-washed by the First Presidency to do whatever they want. This reflects a rather profound ignorance of Mormon reality. LDS women as a rule are neither stupid or push-overs.

Mrs. Meyer’s work, qua Mormon, inevitably reflects her faith which is an all-consuming thing. There is no reason to believe, though, that her work is either missionary in intent or, more important, lacking in conscious and unconscious criticism of the community in which she lives. Her last three stories have been about three women divided within themselves between their longing for life in Zion, the perfect community, and their lives as women of individual understanding, talents and desires that their community restricts or destroys. I think it may be best to think of her as the Mormon Kate Chopin.

That these three stories have become darker, the restrictions more dramatic, and the endings more problematic, I think points to a reason she may not want to discuss what her stories mean, a reason unsuspected by the reporters who ‘get’ only the surface LDS elements in Twilight. Because that discussion would eventually and inevitably mean the revelation that, like many believers, male and female, in demanding faiths, Mrs. Meyer is tremendously conflicted about her life as a faithful Mormon woman.

What strikes me as bizarre here is the continuing parallel with Ms. Rowling’s life as a writer. Her biggest critics were Christians — and it turns out her books were stuffed with Christian themes, symbolism, and meaning. Mrs. Meyer’s critics are literary know-betters and, as often, feminists  — and it looks like Twilight and The Host are largely works about a woman’s struggle for identity and personal integrity in a patriarchal community. The feminist Meyer bashers like the Christian Harry Haters have missed the boat on a writer doing some very heavy lifting for their cause via story.

As always, I covet your comments and correction.


  1. Oddly enough the first comment I made after I saw Eclipse was “I forgot how “Mormon” that book was”.

    Bring a Mormon myself, I can see some Mormon influence in the Twilight Saga. I don’t see much in terms of doctrine, more in terms of turn of phrase. One that comes to mind is the “And the Lion fell in love with the Lamb” line from the Twilight. The idea of the Lion laying down with the Lamb is definitely biblical, but it is also prominent in a hymn found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint (LDS) hymnbook. Since Mrs. Meyer has said she wrote the books originally for herself I can see how some “Mormon” turns of phrase sneaked in.

    I can agree that the discussion of a Mormon/LDS influence on the books should not be shut down or stopped, but I can understand Mrs. Meyer desire to shy away for it. Though may writers do plan deeper meanings or themes for their work, based on Mrs. Meyer’s statements I do not believe she did. I think she simply wrote a story. I think, like many other pieces of art and more specifically literature, it is up to the reader to find his or hers theme or meaning.

  2. I think she simply wrote a story. I think, like many other pieces of art and more specifically literature, it is up to the reader to find his or hers theme or meaning.

    The relativist interpretation of literature demeans author and reader. It reduces the artistic work to inspiration, which is understood as random psychological discharges. It diminishes the reader’s experience in a book, poem, or play to his or her projected interpretations or individual experiences.

    Forgive me, but relativism is a mistaken approach to understanding literature, one contrary to human experience and tradition, and I think it is very unfortunate that it is so prevalent in our historical period. Please read the introduction to my book, Spotlight (you can read it here), or this post on the traditional understanding of how texts work, why we understand or know them in four different ways, to get past the relativist sophistry of “the text means whatever the reader thinks it means.”

    Mrs. Meyer is a writer that works from inspiration, certainly, which no doubt reflects her psychological state. She is also a very capable artist whose choice of symbols, themes, and metaphors following her inspiration is rather involved. (Again, see Spotlight, if you doubt this!) To dismiss her work as a happy accident, as if great story telling “just happens,” is not only naive, but a remarkable denial of her work’s value and of her readers’ intelligence.

  3. I still haven’t read Twilight, but found this post very interesting, John. I see so many parallels between the reaction to Rowling and the Christian symbolism/themes in Harry Potter and Meyer and the Mormon symbolism/themes in Twilight. Even as a non-Twilight reader, I think it discredits the author to say that it was accidental that she wrote the kind of story she did.

    I do think that sometimes the beliefs of an author can creep unbidden into a story, but I don’t think that is the case with either of these authors.

    It’s not surprising that the movie folks and the actors are stating there is no connection between the Twilight saga and Mormons. Just think how the atheist story-line mostly disappeared in The Golden Compass. I chose not to read those books after I read Pullman’s own web site where he proclaimed his beliefs and his antagonistic purpose towards the church and any religion. Yet, I did finally watch the movie, and that was not evident as something of importance; the studio chose to abandon the point of Pullman’s story to keep from offending Christian viewers. People who saw the movie first might have been in for a surprise if they handed Pullman’s books to their son or daughter.

    C.S. Lewis wrote Narnia with so much Christian content, yet when the movies were made, even the scenes that were clearly full of Christian symbolism were played down in the talking points from the studio. And some important scenes were changed completely or watered down.

    If they did that with Lewis, then it should come as no surprise that the studios would downplay any connection to any religion with Harry Potter or Twilight.

    As for Pattinson’s remarks, it seems likely to me that he doesn’t really know anything about Mormon beliefs or practices and has bothered to find out for himself if there are any parallels. He’s an actor, doing what a director tells him, saying lines of a script that were written by someone other than the author who had the original idea for the story. And someone probably told Meyer that it will be more acceptable to the general public, who aren’t knowledgeable about Mormons to stick with the dream inspiration and let that be the end of it.

    It’s a shame, because I find a story more interesting when it is based on the beliefs of an author, whether I share the same beliefs or not. (I make an exception with Pullman, who was so agressive about his intent to target children at a young age and destroy their religious beliefs that I wouldn’t trust any story of his. I believe that has since been removed from his website.)

  4. Oops – editing needed: “As for Pattinson’s remarks, it seems likely to me that he doesn’t really know anything about Mormon beliefs or practices and HASN’T bothered to find out. . .”


  5. Thank you for your response, I believe I may have needed to phrase myself a bit differently. My meaning was more to say that she wrote a story with its own themes and symbols, not a Mormon story.

    I agree that a complete relativist interpretation is the incorrect path. It would be wrong to look at Harry Potter without acknowledging that it was written by someone from England and Scotland. And I agree that looking at Twilight without acknowledging that it was written by someone with a Mormon background would be incorrect.

  6. You’re very gracious and charitable, Ms. Foster, but acknowledging the background of an author doesn’t dispel the relativist interpretation. For that, you need to grasp that the author and/or the tradition in which s/he writes is the vehicle of a specific meaning that is not author reader generated but which has a definite, specific referent.

    Ms. Rowling writing in the fantasy tradition of English letters (not to mention Schoolboy fiction with heavy Gothic markers) is bound to Christian themes, symbols, and meaning, if she puts a remarkable post modern spin on each. Her meaning is not what it is because she is English; it is what is because she is telling us something very clearly about what it means to be human that is specific to her genius, not something as generic as “English.”

    Mrs. Meyer is a Mormon woman struggling for her identity against the claims of community and family. This isn’t a peculiarly Mormon theme; as I mentioned in the post, Kate Chopin wrote along the same lines in Catholic/Cajun Louisiana of the late 19th century. But the themes and meaning of their books share a referent in the human condition that is not just a product of their times or beliefs, but universal and almost absolute.

    I think you have given up on the “complete relativist interpretation” for the cultural relativist interpretation. It’s as wrong as the complete version and for the same reasons.

  7. Wow. I read your recent post on the lack of literary allusions within the new Star Trek film (as a faithful Trekkie/er myself, I wholeheartedly agree) and then, intrigued by an off-hand reference to Edward and Bella’s story, went in search of some of your Twilight-themed posts. What I found was magnificently surprising. I have read and re-read Twilight for years and connected with the deep emotion, the sacrifice, the longing, and paralleled it in a variety of ways to my own life and Christian faith. As time went on, though, I let enjoyment get diluted by all of the arguments against Twilight, both literary and spiritual, until I came to consider my Twilight books (as well as The Host) a bit of a guilty pleasure–literary “junk food” tainting my otherwise high-quality bookshelf.

    So thank you for what you have written about the depth of the themes in the saga. I will be buying your book Spotlight, which will hopefully arm me with much more well-rounded arguments than those previously in my quiver the next time I go to defend Twilight against a literary snob or an over-zealous Christian.

    PS- I have many Mormon friends and have made a bit of a hobby out of LDS theology, so I appreciate reading your insights from that angle as well.

  8. Elizabeth says

    Thanks, Caitlyn! I am so glad the Headmaster and I can help you to embrace your affection for Twilight! May I also, in addition to Spotlight (which is FANTASTIC) suggest C.S. Lewis’s Experiment in Criticism as a super baramoter for evaluating literary merit without the usual ivory tower snobbery! I hope you’l l check out my chapters in Twilight and History, and some our great guest posts here ,too!

  9. Don Harmmond says

    I know Aleiss. She never read your touchstone article and neither did I. She says she “took a look at it” and she did only that and closed it. That’s about as far back as her familiarity with your work goes. The LDS connections she made were her own and working closely with the LDS Church in Salt Lake City.


  10. Prof Aleiss took a look at my book, found it “very interesting” and then wrote an article repeating many of the connections I made in that book. The Touchstone cover article was the first item for a google search of ‘Twilight and Mormonism’ for close to a year after its publication.

    Either Prof Aleiss read my work and chose not to reference it in her piece or she did no research into the relevant work already done in her chosen subject area. We have her testimony that she was familiar with my work in the note I copy below.

    ———- Forwarded message ———-
    From: Angela Aleiss
    Date: Wed, Jun 30, 2010 at 1:44 PM
    Subject: Re: Twilight and Mormonism
    To: John Granger

    Thanks for your emaill. Yes, I am familiar with your book and took a look at it several months ago. Very interesting.

  11. rachel bishop says

    From what I know of her work, Aliess never read your article or heard of you. Her grad student assistant said he only responded graciously to email inquiries about her article regardless of who sent them. She probably never saw your email.

  12. Brandon Sanderson is another prominent fabulist who works ideas about the LDS into his books. He’s largely apologetic (e.g. the gods of the Cosmere are transcendent humans; the heroes of the Stormlight Archive “shine” similar to the way Twilight vampires sparkle), but there are also some subversive themes as well — the testimony of several sworn witnesses is summarily dismissed, for example. It’d be interesting to examine Stephenie Meyer’s works in the context of other popular LDS writers, like Sanderson and Orson Scott Card, etc.

  13. A feminist message in Twilight? That’s a bold claim, and I don’t see any proof for that.

    Sure, one can say that much of the criticism of Twilight is caused by misogyny – it is shameless wish-fullfilment targeted at girls and women, and men don’t tend to like that sort of thing.
    And for feminist criticism, a female author who made some mistakes is a safer and easier target than any one of the hundreds of misogynist male authors who deserve criticism much more.

    However. While one woman getting what she wants is all fine and dandy, it is not feminism. Feminism is the liberation of all women, not just a select few.

    Bella’s becoming a vampire can be read either as unhappy ending wherein she loses her humanity, or as happy ending, as her being elevated above all her fellow human girls. Many women mistake their personal comfort and wealth for feminism, but that’s not what feminism is.

    You could just as well call Harry Potter a communist fairy tale because Harry rises up from a poor working boy (weeding the Dursley garden) to a rich man who owns the means of productions (he gives the Weasley twins money to open their shop).

    Cinderella tales are fun to read, but a “look, this one poor and oppressed person managed to carve out a pretty cool life for herself thanks to lucky circumstances” story does not really promote any kind of political movement, be it communism, feminism or whatever.

    It can have a message added – Jane Austen had Mrs. Bennett mention that the reason the Bennett girls have to marry so urgently is because of misogynist laws that don’t let them inherit – but I don’t see any added feminism in Twilight, either.

    And something else.

    While Rowling in Harry Potter acknowledges societal misogyny (we do not see any married women who have a career, for example) misogyny is never stated to be a law of nature.

    And then we have Meyer. I don’t know why she decided to invent flimsy excuses as to why female vampires and female werewolves are infertile, while the males of both “species” are fertile, and it may well be that she did not much think about it and was subconsciously influenced by the fact that women all too often are forced by a misogynist society to decide between career and children while men get to have both, but it does come across as her WANTING it to be that way, as her intending to make life miserable for her female characters by weaving misogyny into the very fabric of her universe, a misogyny only Bella is spared from by getting to have a baby and being vampirized.

    And while I am sure the idea of a boy who does not pester them for sex appeals to many teenage girls, the problem here is that Edward, despite being all nice and chaste, shows all the red flags of a boy who, in real life, would totally pester his girlfriend for sex. Starting with climbing into her bedroom window to watch her sleep, without invitation. Excuses are found for this behaviour in Twilight, but in real life, the best thing a man who climbs into a girl’s bedroom window can be is a burglar, it only goes downhill from there.

    But if you read the feminist criticism of Twilight, you know all that.

    So I admit to being puzzled at the claim of there being a feminist message in Twilight. “Look, this girl is happy”, is not a feminist message.

    I will grant you that many would-be feminists (and probably quite a few Twilight haters, I wouldn’t be surprised) claim that there is something feminist about books where the heroine escapes patriarchal oppression by being different from other women, but … well, they’re just wrong.

  14. I have been enjoying your recent comments on HogwartsProfessor post but confess that this one left me scratching my head. I re-read the 2010 post and was left wondering if you had read beyond the title.

    You repeat cliched feminist criticism of Meyer’s Twilight books without mentioning once the substance of the post’s discussion of Meyer’s last three books and the cry to be heard in them from a woman trapped in a patriarchal religious cult. I suggested that she may very well be the LDS equivalent of Kate Chopin for a reason.

    If you are short on time and cannot read a long and involved argument based on a close reading of one of America’s most popular writers, that’s okay. Pretending you have read and understood it and then arguing without any reference to it while repeating hackneyed criticism of Twilight’s supposed misogyny with no reference to its LDS layers of meaning, that’s very disappointing.

    Here are the last three paragraphs of the post. All I ask is that (1) you read them and my request for comment and then (2) explain how your reply has anything to do with what I argued in this post.

    I confess to having forgotten about this post except for the academic who shamelessly plagiarized my work and presented it on a major online news site as her own. Now I have had to re-visit to ask an obviously serious reader if she has read it before critiquing a knee-jerk understanding of the post’s title.

    Thank you again for your thoughtful notes on posts at the site and thanks in advance for reading the following paragraphs and revisiting your reflex attack on misogyny everywhere.


    Mrs. Meyer’s work, qua Mormon, inevitably reflects her faith which is an all-consuming thing. There is no reason to believe, though, that her work is either missionary in intent or, more important, lacking in conscious and unconscious criticism of the community in which she lives. Her last three stories have been about three women divided within themselves between their longing for life in Zion, the perfect community, and their lives as women of individual understanding, talents and desires that their community restricts or destroys. I think it may be best to think of her as the Mormon Kate Chopin.

    That these three stories have become darker, the restrictions more dramatic, and the endings more problematic, I think points to a reason she may not want to discuss what her stories mean, a reason unsuspected by the reporters who ‘get’ only the surface LDS elements in Twilight. Because that discussion would eventually and inevitably mean the revelation that, like many believers, male and female, in demanding faiths, Mrs. Meyer is tremendously conflicted about her life as a faithful Mormon woman.

    What strikes me as bizarre here is the continuing parallel with Ms. Rowling’s life as a writer. Her biggest critics were Christians — and it turns out her books were stuffed with Christian themes, symbolism, and meaning. Mrs. Meyer’s critics are literary know-betters and, as often, feminists  — and it looks like Twilight and The Host are largely works about a woman’s struggle for identity and personal integrity in a patriarchal community. The feminist Meyer bashers like the Christian Harry Haters have missed the boat on a writer doing some very heavy lifting for their cause via story.

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