By STEVE RABEY
Religion News Service
Posted Nov 23, 2008 @ 12:05 AM
Stories about love, lust and the undead may not seem like the best vehicle for teaching teenagers about faith and morality.
But for Stephenie Meyer, who has been called “the Mormon Anne Rice,” her best-selling “Twilight” books and the film based on the books contain plenty of teachable moments.
Meyer, a wife and mother of three from Phoenix, who is a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and graduate of Brigham Young University, says she has become accustomed to people asking her, “What’s a nice Mormon girl like you doing writing about vampires?”
But as she told one Mormon-themed Web site, “Unconsciously, I put a lot of my basic beliefs into the story.”
“Twilight,” published in 2005, was the debut vampire novel in the series of books that has sold nearly 10 million copies, generating the kind of frenzy among tweens and teens that rivals Harry Potter. In a recent USA Today listing of best-selling books, the four books in the “Twilight” series were in the top six.
The film version opened in theaters nationwide Friday.
On the surface, “Twilight” is little more than the latest incarnation of vampire legends that have circulated in many cultures for centuries, and popularized in novels such as Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (1897) and Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” series (1976-2003).
Yet Meyer’s religious and moral values clearly shine through, even though Mormonism is never mentioned.
Heroine Bella Swan has the same insecurities and anxieties as any 17-year-old girl. But when she falls for Edward Cullen, a handsome fellow student who happens to be a vampire, she confronts the kinds of existential questions that religion addresses.
“The most obvious Mormon influences can be seen in the ways that Meyer has her teenage heroine stand up for marriage and, ultimately, motherhood,” says Jana Riess, author of “What Would Buffy Do: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide” and co-author of “Mormonism for Dummies.”
“But anyone who is familiar with the Book of Mormon can also discern deeper theological themes, from the Mormon reinterpretation of the Fall of humankind — which inspired the apple on the ‘Twilight’ book cover — to the theme of overcoming the natural man, which we can see when Bella wrestles with her desires and decides whether or not to become a vampire.”
The concept for the “Twilight Saga” series of books came in a vision, says Meyer, who is 34 and had never published a word before pitching her idea to an agent who got her a $750,000, three-book deal.
She doesn’t read vampire books or watch R-rated movies such as “Interview With the Vampire.”
And the sexual tension that pervades the stories is a natural byproduct of Meyer’s strict Mormon upbringing. Growing up as a good Mormon girl among other good Mormon girls and boys, she met her future husband as a child but the two did not associate outside of church activities until they began dating when she was 20. They married nine months later.
Unlike many other young adult novels, there’s no sex in “Twilight,” even though Meyer’s editor suggested otherwise. None of the characters drink alcohol or indulge in profanity, but there is plenty of heavy breathing and sexual tension.
Meyer’s treatment of sexuality is a hot topic on Mormon-themed Web sites such as normalmormons.com and motleyvision.org that make up the online “bloggernacle.”
A writer on motleyvision.org, which explores Mormon art and culture, says Meyer’s books show “how abstinence leads to a heavily charged play of small gestures among Mormon teenagers and young adults.”
And in a post on normalmormons.com (“It’s true. We’re out there.”), a relative of Meyer’s writes: “Edward and Bella could barely touch or kiss for fear that Edward might get carried away and suck her blood in a fit of passion. Very similar to that of two young BYU/high-school students who aren’t yet married and can’t touch each other for fear it will lead to sex. I’m sure it was easy for Stephenie to describe with firsthand experiences.”
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