As an LDS author, I've been very intrigued by the rise of national, although LDS, authors such as Stephenie Meyer and Shannon Hale. At the literacy fireside last night, my fellow authors and I answered a question that dealt with our take on the Meyer books. I find it very interesting that the books came up -- no other book series was specifically questioned. Why is that? Because they were written by a Mormon. That's what puts them on the radar.
Stephenie Meyer has done something phenomenal. She went out there, got her agent, got her publisher, is selling books like crazy, and is being talked about left and right. From a business standpoint, she has done everything right. There are few people in this country who don't know who she is. She also just happens to be a graduate of BYU.
When you look at her books and compare them to the national standard, they are very clean. The things being published for our consumption today run the gammut from slightly questionable to downright raunchy to outright erotica. Meyer's books would land on the innocent side of the equation.
When you look at her books from an LDS perspective, they are steamy. We would never allow our daughters to snuggle up in bed with their boyfriends. We certainly would never allow them to cavort with werewolves.
There are, however, a few points I would like to make.
The first is that while Meyer is Mormon, she didn't write these books specifically for the Mormon audience. She targeted the national market. She gave the national market something relatively clean to read. In addition, she's not writing about Mormon characters. A Mormon character will, of course, have stricter values. A non-Mormon character might not have been taught the same values. Perhaps they've been taught to wait until they're in love, rather than waiting until they're married. We can't judge a non-Mormon character by the same yardstick we would a Mormon character, any more than we would expect a non-Catholic to behave like a Catholic or a non-Protestant to behave like a Protestant.
Secondly, this is a fantasy. Be honest, now -- how many of us have daughters who are dating vampires? We can't say, "Well, my daughter would never be allowed to act like Bella," because no one can. Her situation is entirely made up and I find it a little bit funny that people keep saying, "If my daughter ..." Believe me, if my daughter was dating a vampire, a lot of things would be different. But this is fiction of the most imaginative kind. Trust me -- it's all pretend. You'll never have to face this in your own life.
Now, we do know that Mormons are reading these books like crazy. I'm going to give you my absolute honest opinion here -- and you all know that I don't prevaricate. Are these books too steamy?
I actually found Bella's advances toward Edward to be a little immature and embarrasing. He tells her no over and over again, and when she keeps pushing the issue, it becomes almost annoying. I didn't find those scenes to be particularly "steamy," I found them to be pushy.
Would I want my eleven-year-old daughter reading them? No. While they've been labeled as young adult, I would say these are books for an adult population. Just because the main character is a teen does not mean that the book is good for all teens. Take, for example, "To Kill a Mockingbird." The main character is a six-year-old girl, and yet I would never have a six-year-old read it. The age of the character does not always equate the age of the reader.
I've heard many parents say, and I completely agree, that the Meyer books present the perfect discussion platform for parents and their teen readers. You can talk to your daughters about why Bella's behavior is not appropriate and the consequences of her actions. You can discuss with them why they should be careful to avoid too much physical contact. Point of fact -- there are a great many bad young adult books out there, books that encourage mast*rbation, or*l s*x, abortion, and on and on. Our teenagers are picking up these books in their school libraries. They are reading them on their own time, and we don't know what is being introduced to their brains. We need open platforms to discuss what they are reading so we can help them make wise decisions.
This may sound like I'm 100% advocating these books for everyone. This brings me to the next point of discussion.
Every person has their own setpoint when it comes to reading. There are certain things that will offend me and won't offend you, and vice versa. I have seen LDS bloggers recommend books that I've picked up only to be shocked. You need to decide for yourself whether these books are appropriate for you. Again, I submit that they are cleaner than most everything else you'll find on the national market. I also remind you that they aren't written about LDS characters, and that has to be taken into consideration whenever you're reading a book by an LDS author.
I do know whereof I speak. In my first novel, my main character fathers a child out of wedlock. He was not LDS at the time and he was acting according to his teaching, which was that he should wait until he fell in love before he became intimate, and he did. Because of the limited light he had been given, he believed that he had behaved in a moral fashion. When he did join the church later in the book and came to understand the gravity of his sin, he went through a full repentance process and was baptized and then endowed. You cannot hold a person accountable for committing a sin they don't know they are committing.
I'd like to move this discussion on to "Austenland," by Shannon Hale. This book had a few steamy moments in it as well. For me, they were a little steamier even than the Meyer books. However, many of the same principles apply -- it was written for the national market, and Hale gave the national market something cleaner than it's used to seeing. The characters were not LDS and were not raised with LDS standards, and so we can't expect them to behave in an LDS fashion.
Many have argued that these authors have betrayed their beliefs by writing these books. I'd like to ask, how can we judge what these authors believe? We know that they are LDS, and so we know what the tenants of their religion are. But how can we say that they aren't living up to their beliefs when we can't ascertain their own unique way of looking at their religion? Each of us has our own special way of relating to God and of looking at the gospel. I can't say whether or not you're living up to your beliefs any more than you can say I'm not living up to mine. I can't judge your relationship with God and I wouldn't care to. I'm certainly not going to try to determine whether or not these ladies are still "good enough" to be Mormons. That's completely wrong and it's not my job. I would sure hate for someone to follow me around for the day and then proclaim my level of spirituality based on how I spread my peanut butter when they can't see what's going on inside me. That's invasive, insensitive, and holier-than-thou.
Another question to be posed. Let's say you've decided you'd like to go on a mission to the jungles of Africa. Can you do an effective job from your living room, or would it be best for you to go out into the jungles and find the people you're trying to reach? I'd like to plant the thought that perhaps Hale and Myers, by writing for the national market, are doing some missionary work in that market to introduce people to cleaner fiction. They couldn't do that sitting on their couches -- they had to go out there and find the people who needed reaching. That meant making a foray into the national market, playing with the big boys and showing them a whole new game.
If these books had been written by any other author, we'd be judging them based on the books themselves. If someone named, say, Jenny Smith, had written Twilight, Jenny Smith from Oshkosh who was perhaps Episcopalian or Baptist, we wouldn't even be sitting here having this discussion. But because Meyer is Mormon, suddenly she's under all this scrutiny. People are questioning her morals. They're wondering if she's a good Mormon or a bad Mormon. They're saying that she's trying to teach our youth questionable behavior. Isn't it just possible that she wanted to tell a story? Isn't it possible that all this hoo-hah has been created by us rather than by her?
**I'd like to draw your attention to the comment trail for this post. There are some great comments being made.**