Ever since it came out, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series has inspired a lot of love and a lot of hate. There's plenty of discussion out there about it.
In terms of love, Twilight speaks to a lot of women lacking in confidence who are yearning for a special, old-fashioned romance all their own. I adored the series when I was in middle school, which is when I was both struggling and yearning the most. (Yay middle school!) It was a beautiful escape for me that included one of my favorite tropes: sharing a bed nonsexually. Even today, I have a lot of appreciation for the clear voice with which the story is written. It also, as many YA writers will tell you, did a lot for the world of teen literature, just as Harry Potter did for children's literature.
In terms of hate, Twilight does have a lot of problematic content. For example, Bella and Edward's relationship sets off a lot of red flags for domestic abuse. (It surprised me when I learned about that--abuse is a topic of interest that I've definitely educated myself about, and yet I missed it here!) I've also seen a lot of girls, including one of my closest friends in middle school, become so enthralled by the story that they subsume their whole identity to it. As much as I love fangirling, it's important to remain true to yourself. Don't try to become Bella, please! Then there's been a lot of that hate that often occurs around things beloved by teen girls, because we as a society devalue anything associated with femininity, especially teen femininity. Just to be clear, that is not a valid reason to hate Twilight.
In all this discussion, one topic that I haven't seen examined is the deeper meaning of Twilight. A lot of people see it as a shallow paranormal romance with basic entertainment value. (As Stephen King once said, Twilight is all about how important it is to get a boyfriend.) However, when taken in the context of Mormon theology, there's a lot more to be discovered here. Stephenie Meyer and I both are LDS (which is the actual official term for Mormons), and for me, reading this series felt like a delightful treasure hunt full of references that I was uniquely situated to understand. So in this post, I'd like to talk about how the Twilight series connects to LDS theology so that you can understand them too.
The basic plot of the Twilight series is that ordinary human Bella moves to a new town and meets Edward, a strange, beautiful, and idealized young man who turns out to be a good vampire from the early 1900s. They fall in love despite being all star-crossed, and there are evil human-killing vampires who hate them, and there are werewolves who hate vampires too, and the entire time all Bella wants is to be turned into a vampire herself so she can be with Edward forever. Eventually, this does happen, and they create a space for their little family in the vampire world by proving to the other big bad vampires that everything's good.
To understand the deeper meaning of the story, you need to know that being a vampire here connects to the LDS vision of life after death.
In Mormon belief, everyone will be sorted into three heavenly kingdoms at the Judgment Day. (A few rare individuals will go to our version of hell, the Outer Darkness, but that's mostly just for Satan and his demons.) Each kingdom is a good place to be, as you will there have eternal life in a perfected body that can accomplish incredible things. The ultimate goal, however, is to reach exaltation in the highest kingdom, the Celestial Kingdom, where the best people, in the presence of God and Jesus Christ, will continue learning and growing on a perfected Earth as they progress towards godhood themselves. Families will also live together forever there. While you can reach the Celestial Kingdom without being eternally married yourself, in order to reach godhood, you must have a bonded partner.
In Twilight, vampires basically represent people who have passed through the Judgment. All these vampires have perfected bodies with magical gifts, and they will all live forever. (I'm not sure that "sparkly" is exactly what a perfected body is meant to be, but, you know.) As Bella says after she becomes a vampire herself, it's as though she was always meant to be in her vampire body.
Good vampires like Edward, who don't drink human blood and who live together in families with their ideal romantic partners, represent those people who make it to the Celestial Kingdom. The quest for godhood is reflected in Bella's desire to become a vampire and be with Edward forever and in Edward being forever changed by his love for Bella. They can each only become the vampire they were meant to be through the other's influence.
The vampire blood lust is a metaphor for the intense struggle we all go through on Earth in resisting temptation so we can become our ideal celestial selves. The bad vampires throughout the series represent those who have given into sin. However, as exemplified in Edward, who had a rebellious period, people can repent and come back from their sin. A core conflict throughout the series is the bad vampires constantly trying to hurt the Cullens, and as you might guess, family is one of the most precious creations in LDS theology that the devil seeks to destroy.
Though this is the core of the story's meaning, there are many other connections to LDS theology. There's Edward's "old-fashioned" insistence upon getting married before he and Bella have sex and before he changes Bella into a vampire. There's also Bella's insistence on going through with her pregnancy because she values her unborn child's life so much. These reflect the Mormon belief in the sacredness of life, sex, and creation.
Another point of note is the magical powers that vampires possess. While these represent in part the perfection of self that is reached after the Judgment, since they only exist in their full form in vampires, they also represent important spiritual gifts that we can have even as imperfect human beings. (Just as Bella already had part of her gift before she became a vampire and figured out what it really was.) Many of these gifts are basic and core skills: faith, loyalty, intelligence. However, some of them are a lot more on the supernatural side: prophecy, discernment, healing. All of these gifts do exist, I can testify, and people do have them.
Now, what do the werewolves have to do with anything? Well, they're a variant on the vampires. Werewolves are also perfected celestial beings, but they represent more directly the Twelve Tribes of Israel. LDS theology states that the Twelve Tribes, having been scattered across the Earth, must come together to accept their true birthright of leading the Church before the Judgment can occur. The werewolves' connection to this can be clearly seen through the names of their grandparents. Jacob is a direct descendant of Ephraim, which is the birthright tribe of Israel, and through that, he is the birthright of leader of the pack. However, he didn't want this birthright, so he left it to Sam, a descendant of Levi, which is another important tribe that watches over much of the priesthood. (The priesthood authority is held by men in the LDS Church, which is probably why most of the werewolves are male.) In the end, the werewolves and vampires can only come together to protect their families and reach their full eternal potential once Jacob accepts his birthright.
So why the love triangle? (Besides DRAMA.) Mormons believe that Gentiles can be "adopted" into the Tribes of Israel and that is how we gain eternal glory. The reason I think Bella had to choose Edward over Jacob was that vampires represent adopted celestial beings while werewolves represent natural descendants of the Tribes. Bella couldn't become a werewolf because she didn't have the heritage, so in order to reach her celestial ideal, she had to go the vampire route.
Finally, where's Jesus Christ in all of this? As best as I can tell, Carlisle represents Christ. He's an ancient, immortal, perfect being, once friends with the worst of the vampires before they fell too far, who created his vampire family by saving those who were so broken they were destined to die. He made them perfect immortals like himself and acted as the head of their celestial family, accepting Edward back even after his rebellion into evilness. Without Carlisle, the good vampirism wouldn't be possible. Throughout the series, he acts as a figure of care, guidance, and protection to everyone around him, though he refuses to tolerate threats to his family. He also chooses to be a doctor because he is more gifted at saving people than any human could be. (You might note that Christ is sometimes called "the Physician.") Carlisle has even become immune to the temptation of blood. It's really a pity the series didn't focus more on him, but it is Bella's story.
So the next time someone tells you that Twilight is totally shallow, you can use these points to show them how rich it is in meaning through LDS theology. There are still other issues with the series that are valid. Stephenie Meyer's unconscious biases and her focus on the escapist romance caused the books to be flawed in important ways. But in the end, Twilight is not just about the importance of having a boyfriend.
Sorry, Stephen King.
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