This post was originally shared on my old blog in August 2014.
Ever since it came out, Twilight has inspired a lot of love and a lot of hate. There’s plenty of existing discussion.
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. 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. The story has some other misogyny too, with Bella often presenting as a blank slate lacking her own interests–and with that weird pedophilic imprinting issue. Racism is also scattered throughout, mostly in terms of Native stereotypes but also against Black people. On a less valid note, there’s been plenty of that hate that occurs around most things beloved by teen girls, because we as a society devalue anything associated with femininity, especially teen femininity.
In all this discussion, one topic that I haven’t seen examined is Twilight‘s deeper meaning. 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. Stephenie Meyer is Mormon, and I grew up Mormon myself. For me, reading this series was like a treasure hunt full of references that I was uniquely situated to understand. Unfortunately, a lot of the negative aspects of the series can be connected to Mormon culture too, which is a whole other post, but here, I’d like to briefly talk about the story’s thematic interpretation through the lens of this theology.
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 “vegetarian” 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 bad vampires that everything’s fine.
First, the core conflict and the core romance of the series speak thematically to the Mormon 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 actual hell, the Outer Darkness, but that’s mostly for Satan and his demons.) Each kingdom is good, 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 will continue learning from God on a perfected Earth to eventually reach godhood themselves. This exaltation can only occur within family groups (married couples being the basic unit).
In Twilight, vampires represent humans post-Judgment. All 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.
Edward’s good vampire family specifically represents those who reach exaltation. They live in this perfected state together as a set of married couples, and they find greater meaning and purpose in that than other vampires have. Edward, of course, is initially single. However, he is forever changed by his love for Bella and thus becomes his true best self. Meanwhile, the quest for exaltation is reflected in Bella’s desire to become a vampire herself and be with Edward forever. They can each only become the perfected selves they were meant to be through the other’s influence.
In a related point of note, while the vampire’s magical powers represent the spiritual perfection that is reached after the Judgment, they also represent important spiritual gifts that people 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 traits: faith, loyalty, intelligence. However, some of them are more on the supernatural side: prophecy, discernment, healing. You can compare the powers in Edward’s family for reference.
Finally, the bad vampires represent those who have given into sin, becoming unexalted or even demonic beings. Their blood lust is a metaphor for the intense struggle we all must go through on Earth in resisting temptation so we can become our ideal celestial selves. Giving into that sin prevents exaltation. However, as exemplified in Edward, who had a “rebellious” period, people can repent and come back from their sin. Those who don’t choose that, though, may go so far as to become demonic figures who are constantly attacking the very family unit that supports exaltation.
That’s the meaning of the core conflict and romance. Second, though, are the werewolves, who represent a specific variation of exaltation. Like vampires, werewolves are perfected celestial beings, but they reflect more directly the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Mormon theology states that the Twelve Tribes, having been scattered across the Earth, must come together to accept their true birthright of leading the Church. 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 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.
The love triangle plays further into this theme. Mormons believe that Gentiles can be “adopted” into the Tribes of Israel and that is how we gain eternal glory. However, 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. The vampires are the “adopted” celestial beings, and Bella had to be adopted into the family through her romance with Edward so she could reach exaltation. That’s why Jacob couldn’t be the right choice for her.
Third, Carlisle represents Jesus Christ standing as the head of the exalted family. Mormons believe in Christ as their savior, same as the rest of Christianity, so he had to be included here too! Carlisle not only leads the vampire family, but he is the one who first created it and who now adopts people into it, saving those so broken they were destined to die. Like Jesus, he’s the most ancient of their family, once friends with the worst of the vampires before they fell too far. He is the one who accepted Edward’s “repentance” 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. (Christ is sometimes called “the Physician.”) Carlisle is even immune to temptation. It’s really a pity the series didn’t focus more on him.
As noted previously, there are other aspects to Twilight that come from Mormonism, both as a religion and a culture. For example, Edward’s old-fashioned insistence upon getting married before he and Bella have sex and Bella’s insistence on going through with her pregnancy because she values her unborn child’s life so much reflect the Mormon belief in the sacredness of life, sex, and creation. However, the points discussed above are what I see as the most notable, and they’re what give the series a deeper, more valuable meaning.
So the next time someone tells you that Twilight is totally shallow, you’ll be able to explain how rich it is in meaning through Mormon theology! In the end, it’s not just about the importance of having a boyfriend. It’s actually about humanity’s journey towards godhood, as represented through one girl’s escapist (and often problematic) supernatural romance.
Images via Amazon and puzzlefactory.pl.