Sunday, November 22, 2009

What is Wrong with This Picture ...

... when the teenager stays at home re-arranging his room and doing his music practice while his parents go out to see the new teenage sparklie vampire love storie movie. The movie was washed down with a bag of mixed lollies and some tall glasses of Westgarth's finest sangria. As Chaucer says, "This ys absolutelie the beste teenage sparklie vampyre love storye ich haue evir reade" and the same goes for the movies, too. I've now read the last two books and seen the first two movies, and so while I can't quite remember what happens in Volume 3, I think I have a reasonable grasp of the entire sorry trajectory.

I say "sorry", because although in the first movie I was completely entranced by the brooding mystery of Edward, this movie reminded me that I don't really like vampires very much, despite what Chaucer describes as the "fayre skyn and fashion-sprede slow-mocioun hotenesse of the Cu Chulainn clan, the which have all eaten long ago of the magical Irisshe Salmon of Really Good Hair (oon byte of this magical salmon and ye shal have good hair for evir)."

There's been an awful lot written and said about Stephanie Meyer being a Mormon, and the programmatic chastity of the Twilight sage: no sex — or becoming a vampire — until you are married. Again, I'll quote Maister Chaucer (who's proving himself a most adept textual and cultural critic), when he remarks, "Ther is considerablie moore sexual tensioun than in Piers Plowman."  This is undeniably true. But there's something disturbing, and I would have thought rather un-Mormony about the idea that you might well have a soul; but that you would willingly destroy it for love. I can see romance fiction not being bothered with the idea of a soul, but once you invoke that metaphysic, don't you have to do something with it? Not easy, of course: and even Philip Pullman, for all his brilliance, couldn't quite bring it all off. If Meyer — and the films — get away with invoking the idea of a soul as a plot device, but countenancing perpetual everlasting romantic love and sexual desire and a prodigious child as sufficient compensation for its loss, it's not in any easy agreement with any model of Christianity I'm familiar with.

So the easy dismissive reading of Meyer — that she is somehow cynically exploiting teenage desires to push a Mormon model of sexual restraint— seems to me rather a thin one. Or perhaps it's true that for this religion, morality is more important than spirituality.

5 comments:

Bavardess said...

I'm afraid I never managed get more than halfway through the first book, but you make an interesting point about the apparent trade-off of immortal soul for romantic love. The NZ writer Elizabeth Knox explored this theme with great sensitivity in her novel Daylight. It's worth a read if you like the Twilight series (though Knox's book is aimed at an adult readership).

Pavlov's Cat said...

This point is where a lot of my students used to come to grief when trying to understand Wuthering Heights.

If it makes sense that one would trade one's soul for power, as per Faust and Voldemort, then I guess it's a small step to doing it for love. Maybe the disturbingness comes from the idea that this is a good thing and we are barracking for it. (As so not per Faust and Voldemort.)

In the course of reviewing and thesis-marking over the years I've read a lot of genre fiction involving undead creatures, and again, where the plot always falls down is in the logic of undeadness: in working out its body/soul relationship, in the nature of its subjectivity, in figuring out its time-lines, and in managing the logic of its replications and contagions. But I can tell you from sickening personal observation that Mormons aren't very logical, about the soul or anything else.

LanglandinSydney said...

Did Chaucer really say that about my poem? That guy ... always coming up behind me, taking my ideas, dolling them up in lame stanzas or couplets, adding a bit of explicit sex. He obviously hasn't read my account of the Tree of Charity very carefully. It's way hot.

Emily said...

I have to confess that I've only read the first novel, but I found it quite un-Mormon in a lot of ways. Certainly, Bella does not read as a stereotypical LDS teenager. I also don't think this relationship seems any more abusive or creepy than a lot of what is out there in YA fiction.

The most coherent account of the books that I've heard so far came from one of my committee members, who suggested that what Meyer is tapping into is the same thing that Jane Austen understood: the lack of consummation is exactly the point. P&P is structurally over when Darcy says, "Dearest, loveliest Elizabeth," not when they marry. We can fantasize endlessly about the consummation when it is unexpressed. Meyer has recognized that preteen or teenage girls (and maybe a few of us who are older) want to be able to emote, possibly more than to have sex, in some cases. ("Oh, my boyfriend is so wonderful, and he's so dangerous, and wow, he could hurt me, but he won't, but he could, but he won't, but he could...it's all so DRAMATIC!")

Take it or leave it, it's an interesting way of crediting Meyer's work with some kind of structural drive.

Emily said...

I also don't think this relationship seems any more abusive or creepy than a lot of what is out there in YA fiction.

Which is, I admit, a slightly creepy thought.