Saturday, May 02, 2009

A Mormon Author's Perspective of the Twilight Series Getting Removed from Deseret Book

Originally posted HERE

I couldn't resist. Here's an interesting article about how the Twilight books were taken off the shelves of the Deseret Bookstores because of customer complaints.

Since I'm an active LDS (i.e. Mormon) author, I thought I'd give my two cents about the whole issue. First off, I have shopped at Deseret Book (a large chain of bookstores, which are affiliated with the LDS church. They also publish some books.) and I will tell you that in general the prices are pretty high and the selection is limited to Mormon-oriented or appropriate books, pictures, etc. Since it’s a Christian bookstore, they offer books about Jesus Christ, uplifting stories and paintings, some crafts, church movies, scriptures, family and parenting materials, missionary stuff, and a small selection of fiction (mostly fantasy/sci-fi) for children and young adults, which happens to consist mainly of books from their imprint (Shadow Mountain) and other LDS authors (Stephenie Meyer, Orson Scott Card, etc.).

They serve a niche market, and their customers expect certain things from them... namely, spiritually driven material or at least suitable material for families (G or PG rated). Unfortunately, Twilight apparently doesn't fit the bill. They're still selling Twilight by special order, so they're not turning their backs completely. This is not censorship. It's business. When enough CUSTOMERS complain, businesses listen. Obviously, enough mothers complained.

Now I will say that I have read the Twilight books, and I did enjoy many parts of them. I don’t want you to think that I’m knocking the author, since I do respect Stephenie Meyer (she went to the same college as me, belongs to the same church as me, is close to my age, and even lives a few miles from me). For adults, I think the Twilight series is fine, but some material might not be too great for children. Objectionable material for Mormons (which is probably not the same for other churches) include the following:
1. Bella is a poor role model because she's shallow, self-absorbed (in most respects), is absolutely infatuated (she falls in “love” with Edward without first becoming friends or even getting to know him, but she sure notices his perfect body over and over and over and over and... you get the point. This infatuation negatively affects her life as she avoids her other friends, doesn’t want to continue with her schooling, and yearns to become a vampire and give up her life/family and possibly become a murderer to maintain her obsession for Edward), has a bad attitude toward marriage, and begs several times in book 3 for premarital sex (repeatedly says "please!" when she’s begging for it).
2. On many occasions, Edward sneaks into Bella’s bedroom (sometimes without her even knowing it) and stares at her while she sleeps. What Mormon parent would approve of a boy sneaking into their daughter’s bedroom at night to watch them sleep?
3. Dating just one person exclusively and going on non-group dates while in high school is frowned upon in the LDS church. So also is a boy and a girl being alone in a bedroom. Make-out sessions, which Bella and Edward do (or at least attempt to do) in her bedroom and other places, are also inappropriate in the LDS church. Edward is infatuated with kissing her neck. Not too many active LDS moms would like that for their teenage daughter.
4. The couple sex scenes in book 4 were not too graphic, but they are probably not the best reading material for 13-year olds, since the writing can elicit inappropriate thoughts as the main characters skinny dip and as Edward shreds Bella’s lingerie from her naked and bruised body.
5. Gruesome birth scene (ribs snapping, blood, screaming, tearing of flesh, etc.)
6. Minor swearing by the main characters. This is a bigger issue for Mormons than for most people.
7. Creepy that a 100+ year old man is obsessed with a teenager girl.
8. Drinking blood, killing, minor violence (I actually would have liked to see more... ha ha... but that's just me. A final battle would have been nice.).
9. Sexual tension between teenagers (see #1-4 above).

Though most people don't bat an eye about the above list, many active Mormons do. Twilight in itself isn't R-rated material. In fact, it's probably more PG than PG-13, and that's why Deseret Book IS STILL SELLING IT... but in a limited way. They have the right to choose which books go onto their shelves and which don't, especially since they have a niche audience and only room for a handful of fantasy books. Since the most offensive material shows up in book 4 (i.e. sex scenes between “teenagers,” albeit married ones, and a gruesome birth), that might be a reason they've finally chosen to take the books off the shelves. Honestly, it probably happened because of some outspoken mothers, but it was enough to tip the camel.

My personal opinion of the Twilight books is that they're suitable for adults and older teens. Actually, I'm not sure if I would like my teens (when I get teens) reading the fourth book, but I tend to be ultra-conservative when it comes to sexual material. I like to keep my kids away from material that may trigger feelings and desires that are contrary to the church's teachings (i.e. Bella doesn’t see anything wrong with pre-marital sex). There are so many triggers for immoral behavior and addictions to porn in this world, so why add fuel to the fire?

As for the stories themselves, I thought the first three books were only slightly above average (Sorry! I’m a guy and can only handle reading about another guy’s muscles and perfect features for so long before wanting to throw up.). Each book was better than the previous one. Bella’s immaturity, self-absorption, and infatuation got on my nerves at times, especially when Edward dumps her in book two and she becomes so overwhelmed with emotion that she faints onto the cold forest floor and remains in a dazed and catatonic stupor all night long while search parties are looking for her (reality check, please!). Jacob’s rude personality transformation from book one to book two and so on was so grating, I found myself longing to get back into Bella’s point of view, especially in book 4. Jacob really became a jerk, but he started out so nice. The bad guys, on the other hand, were all very well done. I’d say the parts with the bad guys (which were few and far between) were the main reason I kept reading.

Similar to a piano, Stephenie Meyer has mastered several important keys like characterization, introducing unique ideas that appeal to teenage girls, and creating interesting bad guys, but she needs to learn to play some of the other keys like ending a book with a stronger climax, building more suspense, bringing in the bad guys more often (more than just at the very end of each book), and using less cliched and predictable story elements. There was so much characterization/drama that the story itself almost felt like an afterthought at times. Again, Stephenie got better at this as the books progressed.

Overall, I would have liked more action and less talk about Edward's chiseled body (thankfully, the fourth book toned down the Edward-infatuation a lot). Breaking Dawn actually kept my interest more than the others, but the ending could have been more exciting with a little fighting. It was still satisfactory, but I wanted to see some blood after all the build-up. It was almost anti-climactic. She could have kept the same ending... after a little bit of fighting.

Don’t get me wrong. The books did have some good points to them, and I can see why so many people like them. They had some great bad guys and romantic tension. They also brought some unique aspects to the old and tired vampire/werewolf cliche. I did find them very predictable though. Also, the endings fell flat. Too much time was spent on the romance, and not enough on the story. I’m not sad that I read them, but romance/vampires just isn’t my favorite genre. Actually, these were the first “romance” books I’ve ever read, so perhaps romance novels all suffer from these same things. I wouldn’t know.

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