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Twilight: The Texts and the Fandom, Discussion Questions for Week 8 – Twilight and Religion

October 19, 2010

1.       Do you think Meyer “intended” to put religious tenets into her saga? Does it matter whether she intended to or not? Why, as critical readers, is it important to recognize the religious underpinnings of the saga?

2.       A crucial Mormon belief is that humans can become divine. How is this echoed in Twilight? How does Meyer alter the concept of “vampire” and “werewolf” to make them more like angels than monsters? How might we read Edward and Carlisle as “gods”?

3.       A unique Mormon teaching is that marriages are “sealed” for eternity and will continue in the “celestial kingdom” (the Mormon concept of heaven).What in the saga reflects the Mormon belief in marriage being sacred and forever?

4.        How might “imprinting” be read as reflecting Mormonism? What do you make of the fact that vampires fall in love while the wolves imprint?

5.       Mormon’s value the notion of overcoming “natural man” ( i.e. to rise above base and carnal human desires in order to struggle for holiness). Who in the saga overcomes this “natural man” state? Who fails to?

6.       LDS doctrine believes in the concept of eternal families and that reproduction can occur even in the afterlife. How might we read the Cullens as reflecting an eternal Mormon family? Why might this idea of eternal family be particularly appealing to modern readers and/or to a character such as Bella? How does the Volturi’s “family” differ? Who do you think the Volturi are meant to represent?

7.       Religious scholar John Granger notes Mormons “believe that when a non-Mormon is baptized into the Church, the convert’s Gentile blood is cleansed from their body and they are given a new internal makeup” (159). Smith and Brigham Young both spoke of this as purging of blood, explaining that conversion cleansed Gentile blood from the system and replaced it with Mormon blood. Are there echoes of this belief in the saga? In what ways might vampires be read AS Mormons?

8.       While a woman can only be sealed to one man, men can be sealed to more than one woman. While men hold the priesthood from age 12, women never can. How do we see some of these differences of power reflected in the saga? Might we might read Bella’s lack of power in relation to women’s lack of power in the Mormon church as well as their limited choices if they wish to remain in good standing in the church?

9.       Is Bella a “better” Eve? How about the Mormon’s concept of a “fortunate fall” (or the notion that the fall was necessary to allow humans the opportunity to gain eternal life)?

10.   Mormonism is a religion that values wealth and the Mormon Church has huge financial power. Believers are expected to “tithe” at least 10 percent of their earnings to the church. How can we see echoes of the championing of wealth in the saga? How might Stephenie Meyer’s tithing practices help further the religion and its beliefs?

11.   Belief.net covers some contemporary Mormon beliefs, summarizing them as follows:

“Abortion is wrong. Homosexuality is wrong, and homosexual rights vehemently opposed. The divine role of woman is mother and wife, helper to the husband. Men are regarded as the head of the family, provider, leader, and teacher. Marriage is regarded as eternal, but divorce is permitted if necessary.”

How does the saga accord with these contemporary Mormon beliefs?

12.   Mormonism has come under a lot of fire for its history with racism. The Book of Mormon indicates that those with dark skin are cursed. The way for these “cursed” people to become “white and delightsome” is to accept the Mormon faith. More recently, men of color were barred from holding the priesthood until 1978. What echoes do we see of this legacy of racism in the saga? Do you feel Meyer subverts this legacy?

13.   Mormons have suffered a great deal of persecution. They were violently driven from east to west, murdered, tarred and feathered, and more generally ostracized via claims Mormonism is a cult rather than a religion. How might we read the saga as reflecting some of these themes?

14.   Mormonism does not condone sex before marriage, masturbation, oral sex, the watching of R-rated movies, or the drinking of caffeine or alcohol. How do these beliefs make their way into the saga and why might such a “chaste” story be so appealing at this particular cultural moment? How might we read the saga as reflecting some of these themes?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2010 2:52 am

    I will make a general comment about her religion from my POV as usual.

    I think her religion plays a lot of the fact that the Cullens are a divine family: they are loyal to each other even when they don’t like each other, they are loved and they really can’t be apart also on the fact that they are free of economical worries and their ability to raise over their natural instincts and not feed on human blood.

    But then Edward got Bella to drink coke when she was about to enter in shock. They do lie, they cheat on the market, they cover evidence and accept friends that do feed on human blood. No one on the series has multiple wives not even the bad guys and you know she herself doesn’t believe on polygamy given that she is not sharing Pancho with any sister-wife. No to mention that Edward, Jacob, Carlisle and Alice both wanted an abortion and was Bella the one that resisted it and asked the help of Rosalie and Esme, so having the heroes being pro-abortion was something not mormonic of any of them. The way the Quillete guys treated homosexuality is very light hearted. Quil didn’t tried to pick a fight with Jacob when he was making fun of her make up and how guys will notice him, Leah was grossed out by the dream of kissing Bella not because of the kiss but because she doesn’t like her and so on.

    I think there her religion transpired on it, but also some things that she might personally find not specially sinful and maybe not so bad on the long run. After all Edward was killiing rapists and serial killers.

    (I feel the need to explain that the original commandment was thou shall not murder meaning that you shouldn’t kill an innocent person, but as anyone that has read the bibles transgressions and other sins were punished by death also killing during war is not a sin for much of the christian communities, so even if Edward consider it a sin he was probably being self loathing or Carlisle most had been raised as very strict on his religion) much its just transpired on it. The same way other authors do. So I think if anything she might be more moderated about her Mormonism.

    Also even though she married young she was not a child bride. She mentioned that the imprinting thing occurred her to her from observing ducks and how they acted to the first being they watched after getting out of their eggs. But she also cites Dragonriders of Pern as one of the books that influenced her and in those books imprinting is a huge plot point so I think she also got something out of them for the concept. Its been theorized that she is doing out of the idea of sacred marriage of the souls, but I think that if that was the case she would have had Bella and Edward imprint or consider it superior while in the books Edward himself says that imprinting is “almost” as strong as his feelings for her so I doubt she will give the leads the second best way to find love on her universe.

    I really think once Reneesme is old enough to get her own book and we got also Leah’s, we probably have a longer and bigger explanation of what she wants to do with imprinting.

  2. de Pizan permalink
    October 20, 2010 6:36 pm

    #7 on your list is not a current Mormon belief, and hasn’t been taught since Brigham Young’s era. And on #14, although there was a letter from the First Presidency a few decades ago to all local leaders prohibiting oral sex in or out of marriage, it was immediately rescinded before it was really ever made public or official.

  3. October 24, 2010 1:19 pm

    First, I wish to respond to Ana’s post re: the drinking of cokes by Mormons. Neither Coke or chocolate are forbidden by LDS, although they both contain caffeine. Also, abortion is allowed under special circumstances, but only those circumstances considered extreme, such as rape, severe defects of the fetus, incest, and the life of the mother is at risk.

    Mormons (and I use that term much as everyone else does, as it is now considered a colloquialism) use the King James version of the Bible, but most consider The Book of Mormon as far superior and if ever in conflict, the latter book takes precedence. The verse in the BOM that is similar to the “do not murder” command in the Christian Bible, reads…”Thou shalt not kill or do anything like unto it.” With that knowledge, I’m perplexed as to how lightly Meyer treats Edward’s brief run of killing people for food. Ana, I agree, as there must be something to Edward’s self-loathing and that he returned to Carlisle asking for forgiveness; Edward did refer to himself as the Prodigal Son. Therefore, Edward’s state of contrition and subsequent forgiveness by the head of the coven must have removed the stain of murder from Edward’s hands.

    Homosexuality is a sin to Mormon. That is why there are none represented in the Twilight Saga. However, as the werewolves are the only creatures who imprint on their future mates, to me, this is a slur to the brown skinned native people. Remember that only animals imprint. Humans have a choice. This is simply another instance of likening the Quileute nature to animals.

    LDS officially does not condone plural marriage; however, the heart and soul of Mormon belief is to the contrary. I’m sure Meyer kept mum on that doctrine which is misrepresented to the public for obvious reasons. But to “de Pizan,” there are many documents on file within the LDS regarding oral sex; see http://www.i4m.com/think/sexuality/mormon_oral_sex.htm . It is a practice that is looked upon as abhorrent by Mormons and my Mormon friend backs this info vehemently. Also, the belief is still held that when one becomes a Mormon, the Holy Spirit replaces “Gentile” blood with that of a Mormon.

    As to Mormon themes within the framework of the saga, there is much evidence to show that Meyer was highly influenced by her religion as she wrote. Vampirism is the new Mormonism. Vampires are changed into immortal creatures and blood plays an integral role in their lives. Vampires are the extension of Mormon persecution. Edward is the new “natural man,” rising above his nature and maintaining control over his life and Bella’s, as well. Edward appears to fail with Bella, but it is the “fortunate fall” of Bella that ultimately saves her, as she seeks out a higher form of existence for herself. Death transforms Bella, as it has all vampires into ageless gods whose powers are threatened only by an overwhelming number of similar gods.

    The Volturi are the problem children of the novels. They are gods, as well, but they give in to their basest nature and indulge in murder, slaughtering humans without the slightest hint of guilt. But just as Mormons are taught that Jesus and Satan are brothers, so the Volturi and the Cullens belong to the same brotherhood. Just as Satan rules over certain aspects of the world, so do the Volturi. However, despite the disparity between the two sets of families, they are all considered to be the children of God.

    Until I began reading about the Mormon religion, I had no idea that Meyer had included Mormon doctrine to the extent that she has. Now, the saga reads much like a manifesto for the LDS church.

  4. cat permalink
    September 10, 2011 5:37 pm

    – No, I don’t think she intended to do so. It is a known fact amoung writers that stuff gets put in subliminally, which is why you can tell a LOT about writers.

    – Not sure what to think.

    – There are implications here that a female should be more careful who she chooses to be her husband because of the fact that you might end up with someone with Edward and there will be no way out. There is actually a written stipulation in the bible that allows a woman to divorce her husband without sinning when they are in an abusive situation and things can’t be reconciled. I don’t know the verse hough.

    – Not sure what to think.

    – I don’t think anyone gets to the “natural man” state despite the fact that the vampires say they are better then humans because they come across as rather materialistic and vain.

    – I think this explains Meyer’s wish fulfillment a bit on this issue, but it doesn’t make the fact that she said she wanted this daughter because all she had was sons any less creepy, due to the fact it feels like she belittled her own offspring in doing so.

    – Wow. I am seeing MAJOR ties in to her religion, but I still don’t think she intended any of it.

    – It is interesting that Meyer brought up Bella’s choices in that one quote that was pointed out by someone. I didn’t feel it was good to comment there, but here is the place to do so. Bella may have a choice in the series, but they were limited because Meyer limited them, which kind of makes the point mute.

    – Abortion: Bella’s pregnauncy always seemed like the kind a doctor would abort for health reasons, or one that her body would self-abort or have born early, not at all the way that Meyer protrayed it. Homosexuality: Edward is questioned by some, due to the fact that Bella is the first girl he ever noticed to have such tendencies. Divine Role of a Mother: Why would Bella, who is supposed to love learning not go onto college? Did she really make a choice, or was the choice shoved at her by Meyer. And more of course…

    – I think the fact that the series comes across as white says enough, unless it is the Native American tribe involved.

    – I think this one is looking into things to much.

    – That’s why Meyer’s movies aren’t going to be R-rated, when it possibly should be. I don’t get why they can’t watch R-rated movies, but they can read and write adult novels. That doesn’t add up to me.

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