We have received a number of inquiries about The Twilight Saga — a series of novels by Stephenie Meyer.
The Times of London writes, “Stephenie Meyer, a teetotal Mormon mother of three, has sold seven million novels about high school vampires and knocked Harry Potter off the No1 bestseller spot in the US.”
The vampires that sank their fangs into Harry Potter were born in the low desert of Arizona. They arrived in a dream, were immediately translated to paper, spread through the adolescent population like a virus and transmogrified into a publishing phenomenon.
Last year, when the third book in Meyer’s series was published just two and a half weeks after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hit bookshops, it went straight to No1 in American charts; a high school displacing Hogwarts to depose the final installment of the Potter saga. “The next J.K. Rowling?” asked Time magazine recently, before appearing to answer its own question by including Meyer in its list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
On the face of it, the formula for Meyer’s fantasy series sounds unlikely. These are vampire novels with little blood shed and a strong moral message, written by a woman with a robust Mormon faith who does not like horror books (she hasn’t even read Dracula) and has never seen an R-rated film on principle.
The books are essentially high-school romances with a twist. The protagonist is an ordinary pupil called Bella, who falls for Edward, the best-looking guy in the class. The twist is that he happens to be a vampire and, while he is very taken with her, too, he has to watch out that he doesn’t get carried away and have her for lunch. How their relationship develops in these awkward circumstances and how the heroine deals with other less scrupulous blood-guzzlers, is the basis of the books. There is dark stuff lurking off stage but it is not explicitly presented to the reader.
Meyer, 34, had no plans to become a writer. She studied English at Brigham Young University, a college run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah, but her only professional work before she started a family was as a receptionist in a property company. Then one night in June 2003 she had a dream.
In her dream Edward and Bella were standing in a meadow having a conversation. “I already knew he was a vampire and he was sparkly and beautiful and she was just kind of ordinary and in awe of this creature. He was explaining how hard it was not to kill her and she was amazed that he wanted to be around her even if it was risking her life.” When Meyer woke up she wondered: “Where would it go next? Would he kill her or would they work it out? I just thought about it until I had to make breakfast.”
Later that day she wrote down the dream and kept writing.
Twilight was published in 2005 and two sequels followed at yearly intervals. The phenomenal success came largely from teenagers spreading the news on social networking sites. Then adults – especially mothers wanting to find out what their kids were up to – began to buy as well.
There is no pre-marital sex in Meyer’s books but sex – or the lack of it – is much of what they are about. The pages swim with teenage hormones. Edward’s battle to restrain himself from sinking his canines into Bella’s neck is an obvious metaphor for the importance of sexual abstinence.
That is hardly surprising perhaps from a Mormon who attended a college where pre-marital sex is a violation of the college honour code.
Meyer, who does not drink alcohol or caffeine because her church teaches that such drugs can interfere with her ability to express free will, writes books that convey a message about the importance of making careful choices in life. As well as the lack of pre-marital sex, drugs and underage drinking also do not feature.
She says that some people are surprised that a Mormon is writing vampire novels, but they generally haven’t read her. “When you think about vampire novels, there is a lot of gruesomeness, a lot of sexuality, a lot of darkness, blood obsession. When you read my books it is completely different. Really, the whole vampirism thing is a metaphor for feeling trapped in a certain role. I never got into any trouble from the Latter Day Saints people. My strongest fan base is probably in Utah.” How Meyer came to write about vampires, however, is a mystery to her, given that she was very far from steeped in the vampire tradition. She is too “chicken” to read horror and doesn’t watch R-rated films because “there are things that you don’t need to have in your head. There are R-rated movies that I would like to go and see – I heard The 40-Year-Old Virgin was hysterical. But when you have an unbroken streak, you don’t want to mess that up.”
The film of Twilight, the first book in her vampire series, will star Robert Pattinson, who was Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Kristen Stewart, whose films include Panic Room and Into the Wild. It will not be a gore-fest. “I put in a clause in the contract that the movie had to be PG-13 so I could go see it,” says Meyer.
There will probably be more films, and possibly more vampire novels, although the fourth book will be the last written from the perspective of Bella. Meyer’s adult sci-fi novel, Host, is published this month.– Source: Damian Whitworth, Harry who? Meet the new J.K. Rowling, The Times, May 13, 2008
The Erotics of Abstinence
The characters in Meyer’s books aren’t Mormons, but her beliefs are key to understanding her singular talent. The heroine of Twilight is a girl named Bella who moves from Phoenix to a small town in Washington State (a part of the country Meyer had never visited when she wrote Twilight). Bella feels like an outsider at her new high school, but she is immediately drawn to a strange, otherworldly, ridiculously good-looking group of siblings called the Cullens, particularly to 17-year-old Edward.
The Cullens are actually a local coven of vampires. Edward has been 17 since 1918. He is superstrong and superfast, he can hear people’s thoughts, and he does not breathe or sleep or age. His skin is cold, and when exposed to the sun, he doesn’t burn–he glitters. Edward and the Cullens aren’t ordinary vampires: they have renounced human blood on moral grounds, feeding instead on wild animals, which they hunt by night. He and Bella are instantly, overwhelmingly attracted to each other, but he is also wildly hungry for her blood.
Resisting that temptation is a constant struggle. Edward’s choice–and the willingness to choose a different way in general–is a major theme in Meyer’s books. “I really think that’s the underlying metaphor of my vampires,” she says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re stuck in life or what you think you have to do; you can always choose something else. There’s always a different path.”
True. But that does not exhaust the meaning of the Twilight books. Certainly some of their appeal lies in their fine moral hygiene: they’re an alternative to the hookup scene, Gossip Girls for good girls. There’s no drinking or smoking in Twilight, and Bella and Edward do little more than kiss. “I get some pressure to put a big sex scene in,” Meyer says. “But you can go anywhere for graphic sex. It’s harder to find a romance where they dwell on the hand-holding. I was a late bloomer. When I was 16, holding hands was just–wow.”
But it is the rare vampire novel that isn’t about sex on some level, and the Twilight books are no exception. What makes Meyer’s books so distinctive is that they’re about the erotics of abstinence. Their tension comes from prolonged, superhuman acts of self-restraint. There’s a scene midway through Twilight in which, for the first time, Edward leans in close and sniffs the aroma of Bella’s exposed neck. “Just because I’m resisting the wine doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the bouquet,” he says. “You have a very floral smell, like lavender … or freesia.” He barely touches her, but there’s more sex in that one paragraph than in all the snogging in Harry Potter.
It’s never quite clear whether Edward wants to sleep with Bella or rip her throat out or both, but he wants something, and he wants it bad, and you feel it all the more because he never gets it. That’s the power of the Twilight books: they’re squeaky, geeky clean on the surface, but right below it, they are absolutely, deliciously filthy.
– Source: Lev Grossman, Stephenie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling? TIME, April 24, 2008
Next page: The Twilight Saga — Research Resources