Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Reading the Mormon Gothic" in Dialogue

I've got a review essay of the Twilight Saga in the latest edition of Dialogue. It's called "Reading the Mormon Gothic" and is my jumping off point for this conference paper. Here's an excerpt to whet your appetite enough (maybe) to purchase a copy of this issue or to subscribe to the journal:

Mormons and vampires—a strange combination, indeed. Stephenie Meyer first brought them together in her mock-epic series of Twilight novels, a contemporary literary phenomenon that sprang, true to the classic gothic impulse, from the author’s vividly persistent dream. The series tracks Isabella (“Bella”) Swan and her “vegetarian” vampire beau, Edward Cullen, as they first meet in Forks, Washington, fall into forbidden love, and, after conquering a series of increasingly threatening obstacles, live happily ever after as immortal husband and wife.

Although there is little in the story that openly speaks to Latter-day Saint theology, its cultural reception, most notably among active Latter-day Saints (particularly LDS youth), and Meyer’s self-avowed Mormonism virtually beg readers to view it as an article of the faith. For some enthusiastic readers, this response entails adoring Meyer’s commitment to her characters’ chastity, her apparent affirmation of choice and moral agency, and her infusion of light into the darkly erotic mythology of vampires.

However, for some orthodox Mormons, the uncanniness of Meyer’s world simply misses the mark of LDS theology. In an assembly of letters written to the editor of Meridian Magazine in response to the magazine’s positive treatment of the Twilight Saga, several readers wonder how we Mormons, “the children of . . . Light,” can justifiably indulge ourselves by reading literary works situated in supernatural realms of darkness and touching the inherent sensuality of human experience. How have we, “the very Elect” of God, one asks, “been hood winked [sic] and dazzled by the Adversary” into thinking that Twilight and its sequels are “harmless” entertainment? For despite Twilight’s squeaky clean fa├žade, the story seethes with an “erotics of abstinence," a muted sexual interplay that arises as Bella’s hormones and Edward’s bloodlust repeatedly interact and their bodies ache to possess one another, often actively to the point of arousal, though never beyond sexual climax until after their marriage in Breaking Dawn.

And the really exciting thing about this issue? Three AMVers are represented: Eric Jepson and Shawn Bailey also have short stories here. I think it's the beginning of a Mormon letters coup...