Finally: some Evangelical criticism of “Twilight”

I’m surprised how little Evangelical commentary I’ve run across about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels, much less the surprisingly successful “Twilight” movie release last fall. As I wrote all the way back in November 2007,

Boy, if the evangelicals hated Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling, what will they do when they face the popularity of vampire love stories written by a Mormon for teens and tweens?

Yet — unlike the various Harry Potter denoncements and book burnings over the past several years — I’ve seen almost no press coverage or other indiciation of Evangelical fervor regarding Meyer’s work. In fact, most of the Twilight criticism I’ve run across to date has been on LDS blogs.

Well, thanks to Google News, I’ve found my first Evangelical posting on the subject. I’m sure there have been others; I just haven’t gone looking for them. What’s curious is why this is showing up on Google News right now, since it appears to have been written back in November, shortly after the release of the movie “Twilight”, and why Google News considers the website “Prophezine: Your Source for Bible Prophecy and World Events” to be a news source. But all that said, here are a few key passages:

The series commonly referred to as Twilight is about an out of place sophomore teenage girl named Bella who moves to a new town and falls in love with a handsome 108 year old, but frozen at 17, “vampire” named Edward at her school (108? with a 16yr old? would make him a pervert and pedophile but should biblical (or old-fashioned) morality get in the way of “true” love?)  The story is about their intoxicating infatuation for each other and the consequences of a lustful vampire/mortal romance.

Edward and his “coven” of vampire family are vowed “good” and “vegetarian” vampires as they only feed on animal blood rather than human blood.  Yet, Edward wants to eat Bella every time the sexual tension gets too high.  He avoids having sex with her, not on any moral grounds, but out of fear lest he eat her and cause her to become the “un-dead” like him.  But she loves him regardless and is willing to step into his “eternity” no matter the cost!

Sounds a trite story, but the shocker is that many Christians are attracted to this spiritually dysfunctional romance and worse, are attempting to give Christian applications to its demonic premise suggesting this be acceptable “Christian” discussion. Some Christian reviewers on Christian Internet sites are using the story, to initiate Bible “studies” and discussion on so-called “Christian” principles to be drawn from it. A new “Christianized” twist on demonic deception is invading Christian values!

Here would be a good place to examine exactly what a “vampire” is and ask, can Christians honestly consider it OK for teens (indeed anyone?) to crave a relationship with one? For centuries, vampires have been part of folklore and mythology, understood to be ugly, dark creatures of morbid horror, close to the dead, sometimes known as the undead for they claim eternal life and subsist by feeding on human blood, roam in darkness, avoid the light, and are enemies of the human race.

This repulsive concept was changed with the popularization of Bram Stoker’s famous 1897 novel about a fictionalized vampire Count Dracula, who was presented as an aristocrat Transylvanian nobleman.  He was imbued with supernatural powers, superhuman capabilities and a lustful passion for beautiful ladies whose blood he became addicted to. His blood sucking was two-fold – to maintain his (eternal) “life force” and eventually befall his victim with the curse of vampirism and ultimate death. No matter how resplendent the “vampire” is portrayed in mythology and fiction, in Scripture blood drinking and creatures of darkness are judged as despicable by God. Also, Scripture explains fallen spirits (“angels”) as those who deliberately chose to follow their leader Satan (Isaiah. 14) and deny their Creator God. For this choice, they are damned with eternal separation from God and an eternity in the Lake of Fire. (Rev 15.)

I would argue simply that vampires aren’t real, but I realize that the author (Caryl Matriscian) is making a point based on her own worldview. That said, there’s an unspoken subtext in this article that has interesting implications for LDS fiction. That subtext seems to be that all fiction must, implicitly or explicity, play out within the context of Evangelical Christian theology and must serve that theology.

There is often a similar issue in fiction by LDS authors: must what we write always be consistent with LDS doctrine and history, portray the Church and LDS doctrine in a positive light, and serve to lead people to Christ? This issue has been kicked around for decades; while I was an undergrad at BYU, Eugene England gave the classic talk, “Great books or true religion?“, touching on some of those same issues. The best LDS authors tend to set it aside or deal with it in unexpected ways (cf. Orson Scott Card in Ender’s Game, which indicates that one of Ender’s parents is LDS but suggests that the LDS Church, like many others, has largely been suppressed/disbanded and does not apply LDS doctrine or theology to any of the story’s events).  See also this discussion over at The Red Brick Store, which suggests using Chaim Potok’s novels about Jewish life (The Chosen, My Name is Asher Lev) as a model for Mormon literature.

But let’s get back to the article, which then paints a, well, interesting portrait of Stephenie Meyer:

A housewife named Stephenie Meyer “received” the story of Twilight in a dream on June 2, 2003.  The vision she had of a vampire and mortal as lovers compelled her to start writing the story immediately.  She says she couldn’t resist the drive to write down her dream (a similar scenario to J.K Rowlings, author of Harry Potter).  Meyer gives a summary of that first dream: “I woke up (on that June 2nd) from a very vivid dream. In my dream, two people were having an intense conversation in a meadow in the woods. One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately.”  Within three months, she had the entire novel written.  Within six-months, it had been dreamed, written, and readied for publishing.

She admits she had little to no prior writing experience with only a B.A. degree in English and had to learn from the Internet how to submit a book proposal.  She tried a few times and “miraculously” got published with a $750 thousand dollar publishing contract! Miraculous happenings have been known to come from powers of darkness, and in this case, no matter how it’s sliced, the God of the Bible would not use vampires, sexual tension, lust, boyfriend worship, and teenage romance to spread His Gospel of eternal life and salvation through Yeshua.

Meyer, a Mormon mother of three, states that some of her inspiration in writing her vampire saga came from a band of musicians called Marjorie Fair.  “For New Moon, they were absolutely essential. They can put you into a suicidal state faster than anything I know . . . Their songs really made it beautiful for me.” Also an inspiration for one of her characters was a band called My Chemical Romance.  She states, “It’s someone . . . who just wants to go out and blow things up.” See mind blowing information about the music industry and a shocking spirituality many are involved in.

Scaringly, Meyer’s fictional character Edward took on the “terrifying” form of “real” spirit when it leapt from the pages of her saga and communicated with her in a dream. She says she had an additional dream after Twilight was finished when her vampire character Edward came to visit and speak to her. The Edward who visited her in the night told her she’d got it all wrong because he DID drink human blood, and could not “live” on ONLY animal blood as she wrote in the story.  She said, “We had this conversation and he was terrifying.”

Conversation with spirits (saying they need human blood to suck!) and frightening dream visitations by spirits are part of occult communication. Meyer’s spiritual experiences could well be influenced by her Mormon faith which allows for communication with the so-called “the dead”; indeed “the dead” of former generations are baptized into Mormonism in Mormon Temple ritual. Mormon founder Joseph Smith was “visited” by a communicating “angel” called Moroni, whose statue stands atop all Mormon Temples. This fallen angel of Mormonism gave Smith messages on which he formed his Mormon doctrine about prior civilizations, none of which have been discovered despite endless archeological digs to substantiate Mormons claims. Others Mormon teachings conflict with biblical Christianity such as Mormonism’s claim that Jesus (Yeshua) of the Bible is the half-brother of Satan.  Mormons additionally believe numerous teachings about the spirits that oppose Bible truths and could help embellish Meyer’s Twilight series.

In 2007, Stephenie Meyer wrote portions of a work titled, “Prom Nights from Hell,” which is about supernatural events surrounding evil prom nights. On May 6, 2008, she released her adult novel, The Host, which is about “invading alien souls” that take over a person and get them to do what they want. This behavior is called demonic possession, a state Jesus came to set captives free from.  Meyer’s so-called fiction “crosses over” to severe occult philosophy.

What’s interesting about this article is that it really does illustrate the principle that our foundational premises profoundly shape our worldview. Almost none of the LDS commentary, positive or negative, that I’ve seen on the Twilight books or movie has raised concerns about the occult, Satan, or vampires, and I have seen no suggestions that Meyer might have been inspired by, helped by, and directed by evil spirits in writing these books. For that matter, I haven’t seen any LDS commentators suggest that Meyer was inspired by the Holy Ghost, either. Instead, we treat her as an author who came up with the concept for a book, spent the time to actually write it out, and managed to break through the various barriers to publishing to achieve success. We see her Mormonism as informing some of the symbolism and themes in the novels themselves but not as having anything to do with how she wrote the novels and got them published.

Anyway, it is worth reading Matriscian’s entire article just to pull out all of the spoken and unspoken premises that shape her portrayal and criticisms of Meyer’s work.

Plus, it’s entertaining. 🙂  ..bruce..

4 thoughts on “Finally: some Evangelical criticism of “Twilight”

  1. Wow. I’ve kind of been wondering myself about where other Christian-minded people stand on Twilight. Thanks for pointing this out.

    I think your discussion of the Mormonness of Meyer’s world and the things you touch on regarding how LDS authors might/should approach their writing are always relevant, even though it seems like the discussions on the issue never really move anywhere, iterating and reiterating the same basic points. I’ve started to wish that, instead of focusing so much energy on adapting other literary/cultural models to our discussions of Mormon literature/culture that someone would frame an authentic Mormon theory (whatever that might entail–it’s still a bit fuzzy in my mind); that instead of focusing so much on the quest for Mormon Shakespeares and Miltons that we could find authentic Mormon artists as role models.

    But I digress.

    Would you be willing to expand this treatment of Matriscian’s article on Meyer to be included in Reading Until Dawn, an online anthology of critical essays I’m editing as a correlative to my association with A Motley Vision? We’re looking for essays that can cast the general Meyer discourse in a more critical tone. If you’re interested, the call for submissions can be found here and more information here. I’d appreciate being able to add your insightful discussion to the anthology.

    –Tyler Chadwick

  2. First, sorry I didn’t see your comment earlier; I’ve been dealing with spam hacking on some of my other blogs.

    Second, as per your comment “It seems like the discussions on the issue never really move anywhere, iterating and reiterating the same basic points”, my response is, “Yeah, pretty much.” As per my citation of Eugene England, I was hearing these discussions as an undergrad at BYU in the 1970s. Also, I’m not quite sure why we’re worried about Mormon Shakespeares and Miltons when, quite frankly, there haven’t been any American Shakespeares and Miltons or, for that matter, any additional English-language Shakespeares or Miltons. Shakespeare and Milton were rare birds. Beside, I think that Jane Austin is a much better role model for LDS authors than Shakespeare or Milton. 🙂

    Third, I’ll be happy to look at Reading Until Dawn and consider a submission. I assume you’d like more expansion on the LDS issues than the few comments I make above. ..bruce..

  3. So why do you think it is that discussions of Mormon letters are basically stuck in this redundancy? Are we perhaps not grounded enough in our cultural/literary history to build anything new? Or do we think the models we’re imitating are working (I’m pretty sure they’re slowing us down)? Or are we waiting for some GA to come out and tell us how to do it, to revamp Orson F. Whitney’s or Spencer W. Kimball’s or Boyd K. Packer’s vision(s) for Mormon arts?

    I think the present state of Internet discussion compounds this issue since so much of what is being said is said in isolation from other relevant discussions. And the AML doesn’t seem interested (at least from my perspective, which may be way off) in bringing coherence to the field of critical discussion or in expanding it beyond the Jell-o belt. The AML discussion board is essentially stagnant; and while the AML-listserv does facilitate some extended discussion, where does it go from there and to whom? Maybe I’m just too young and naive to know better; maybe the organization and the field of Mormon studies is building to some critical mass that will soon explode, taking Mormon letters forward in unprecedented ways (there are, after all, more acceptable? accredited? opportunities in academia and beyond for Mormon scholars to openly do their work). I don’t know. I’d just like to see the discussion move beyond the same old well-worn path. Maybe a Mormon Jane Austen’s the key. 😀

    I don’t know if you have the answers to these ramblings—maybe no one does—but the turn of our discussion really got me thinking.

    And do take a look at Reading Until Dawn. I’d be interested in your expansion of the issues Matriscian raises. I’ve got some contributors working on submissions as we speak and I’m in the process of getting the first essay ready to post. The more the merrier.

  4. So why do you think it is that discussions of Mormon letters are basically stuck in this redundancy?

    A few reasons, none of which are original with me:

    — There isn’t enough cultural resonance and interest in LDS life, practice, and doctrine (vs., say, Jewish life, practice, and doctrine) to generate general public interest in literature feature LDS characters. This is a problem for many other denominations as well; we don’t talk or read much about “Jehovah Witness letters” or even “Baptist letters”. Literature about Evangelical Christianity in general tends to bifurcate between Elmer Gantry and Left Behind.

    — Much like LDS films (and, for that matter, Evangelical films and books), LDS fiction tends to be written for the faithful and — as per my comment above — compelled to provide either a happy ending or a sad one based on what gospel roads the characters chose.

    — A related challenge for LDS authors is that we don’t believe in real tragedy, that is, in someone not getting what they deserve. Compared to most of traditional Christianity, we are near-Universalists; even Hitler ends up in a kingdom of glory as a servant of God, whereas traditional Christianty condemns the vast majority of humanity to an eternal hell. And, of course, we lack the existential angst and general uncertainty of atheism/agnosticism.

    — Most of us just aren’t very good writers (Sturgeon’s Law — “90% of everything is crap” — applies just as readily, and perhaps more so, to literature from LDS authors), and those who are really good writers writing really good LDS-themed fiction (Dean Hughes, Douglas Thayer, Levi Petersen, etc.) don’t get read much either by Mormons or by non-Mormons. Orson Scott Card, Anne Perry and Stephenie Meyer are the really big breakouts into the general public market; the irony is that Card is vastly the best writer of the three (IMHO) but hasn’t had nearly the breakout success of Meyer, whereas Perry is pretty much right in the middle on both counts. Frankly, given a lot of the drek on the NYTimes and other bestseller lists, Card deserves far more appearances there than he has had to date.

    In short, we keep rehashing these same issues over and over again, instead of just writing. And writing, particularly writing fiction, is hard work. I’ve published over 150 articles and four books, all non-fiction, as well as several product manuals. I have yet to finish any of my novels, and I worry that when I do, they just won’t be any good. ..bruce..

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