Twilight and “The Great Mormon Novel”

Hawkgrrrl Asides, books, catholicism, christianity, church, cinema, Culture, curiosity, diversity, dutcher, excommunication, faith, fear, LDS, media manipulation, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, movies, sexuality, thought 49 Comments

Many consider The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene to be the quintessential Great Catholic Novel:  a book written about faith and doubt with great courage.  So far, no one has written what one would call “The Great Mormon Novel.”

What are the hallmarks of a great novel?

  • Plot.  There must be conflict.  There has to be a climax and a denouement.
  • Character development.  Characters have to be full human beings, warts and all, with flaws and redeeming qualities.  Protagonists must change over the course of the novel.
  • Themes.  A great novel will speak to the range of human experience through themes that transcend time and culture.
  • Courage.  An author of a great novel has to be willing to speak unsavory truths, to look into the abyss, and to expose vulnerabilities (both his/her own and those of his/her subject).
  • Novelty.  “There’s nothing new under the sun” as it says in Ecclesiastes, but a great novel has to feel fresh anyway.  It has to say something better than those who have said it before.

What prevents a novel from being great (aside from just bad writing)?

  • Censorship.  The opposite of courage (in writing) is censorship, whether it is self-censorship or by others.  Having one eye on public relations creates a casualty of courage.  Without courage, topics like sexuality, violence, and even the topic of censorship itself can be omitted or glossed over.  This can result in a work that is toothless, gutless and crotchless.
  • Superficiality.  Creating inauthentic or two-dimensional characters, or focusing solely on the characters or themes with weak plot development can result in a work that lacks depth.  Creating depth requires having depth; in some ways, Mormons spend our lives trying to avoid depth.  We know there is a “dark side” to humanity, and we stay as far away from it as we can.  Writers have to write about what they know, and if you don’t know the depths of your soul, it’s hard to write about that convincingly.

The “great Mormon novel” has the added difficulty of subject matter.  If you are writing a Mormon novel (in the sense that Graham Greene wrote Catholic novels or Chaim Potok wrote Jewish novels), your novel will have Mormon themes.  If your novel is to have depth, it must cover the range of human experience, both the good and the bad.  And in so doing, there will likely be elements that are both loyal and disloyal to the church.  Those elements of disloyalty (even characters with internal conflict) can cause self-censorship as well as censorship (discouragement) by the group.

So, let’s talk about Twilight.  Twilight is an enormously popular book with a specific target audience.  It is a huge success by most measures.  I don’t think anyone would credibly argue it has a permanent place in the canon of literature, so it is not really up for consideration as “The Great Mormon Novel.”  But how Mormon is it?  This is a question being debated here.  A few opposing viewpoints that were shared (you can read the comments in their entirety in the link):

Andrew Oh-Willeke said:  “One way to read the story allegorically is that the Cullen’s (the good vampire family, if you weren’t paying attention) are the Mormons. They, given the free will to choose between right and wrong in this world have chosen virtue and abstinance despite temptation, in their diet, and in how they choose to love. . . There are also strong associations in the books between vampires and angels, mirroring the importance of angels in LDS scripture. The vampires are described as seraphic, and glimmer in the sun. They aren’t necessarily angels themselves, but are close to angels.  [I]t is a story full of LDS dog whistles.”

Mormon Soprano retorts:  “I submit to you that Meyer’s books are the antithesis of Mormon doctrine, and should be disturbing to any faithful active member. . . Just reading these books causes erotic thoughts and feelings because of what the characters are doing to and with each other. . .  Stephanie Meyer’s books are such a big hit with “the world” because they are titilating. . . The tragedy to me is that Meyer is continually referred to as “Mormon” and “LDS”, and her books have been given a free pass to sell at Deseret Book and Segull Book stores.  Please wake up out of your vampire trances my Twilight friends! There is nothing “lovely or praiseworthy or of good report” to be found in these books or movie. Faithful latter-day Saints need to send a message that lowered standards are never acceptable. My advice is to Stop buying these books, send a letter of complaint to LDS booksellers, and refuse to spend your money in support of this new movie!

These comments go to the heart of the difficulty for Mormon authors.  A Mormon’s work will be dissected for Mormon content and either praised or villified on that basis.  While Andrew’s argument states that the books are a Mormon allegory, Mormon Soprano finds the message in conflict with Mormon teachings.  So, what’s the answer?

Can LDS authors write books that contradict Mormon teachings?  Every Mormon author has to grapple with that question, and it is at heart a question of censorship, either by the group or by the author him/herself.  Authors who fear reprisal for their words, even their fictional words, will never write “The Great Mormon Novel.”

Comments

comments

Comments 49

  1. You know this same question is starting to creep up around so called Mormon film. The exact criteria for what makes a film a Mormon film is up for grabs at this point, with more Mormon filmmakers doing a broader range of work.

    As for twilight maybe a new way of talking about Mormon creative products needs to be developed, this is, its Mormon for the sake of marketing to the Mormon audience. It’s marketing that has been at the heart of Mormon film and Mormon literature.

    The thing about the great Mormon novel is that Mormon cultural practice is so caught up in its own dualistic kitsch that its hard to imagine being able to break away from it and still be able to be considered Mormon. The OP falls into dualism a few times for example:

    ” If your novel is to have depth, it must cover the range of human experience, both the good and the bad. And in so doing, there will likely be elements that are both loyal and disloyal to the church. Those elements of disloyalty (even characters with internal conflict) can cause self-censorship as well as censorship (discouragement) by the group.”

    But the truth is not going to be this simple a novel (or film) that has any spiritual or emotional truth is going to describe a world that is not dualistic, that does not reduce the issue to one of loyalty or disloyalty, coherence or contradiction in terms of doctrine. Being freed from this dualism is essential to be able to start to tell Mormon stories in a truthful manner.

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    Annon. – “Being freed from this dualism is essential to be able to start to tell Mormon stories in a truthful manner.” That’s an excellent point, and I think it’s the right thinking to get over self-censorship.

    However, critical response to Mormon literature (from other Mormons, whether lay members or leadership) is still likely to fall into the trap of this dualism. Overcoming group censorship is tricky because you can get past it personally, but if there are consequences from the group (e.g. church intervention or even just discouragement from fellow congregants), it has an influence on the art itself.

    Graham Greene’s road was rocky for this reason. Perhaps only a “lapsed Catholic” can write the great Catholic novel. Yet, as a Mormon, I don’t care (so far) for the literature of “lapsed Mormons.”

  3. “However, critical response to Mormon literature (from other Mormons, whether lay members or leadership) is still likely to fall into the trap of this dualism. Overcoming group censorship is tricky because you can get past it personally, but if there are consequences from the group (e.g. church intervention or even just discouragement from fellow congregants), it has an influence on the art itself.”

    You are quite right, no doubt the official voice of the Church is really only concerned with that dualism, and many Mormons will have a similar emphasis. But one of the things that any person who creates something has to do is complete it. Not completing it in terms of the physical production, but completing it in terms of being a voice in the public sphere creating a discourse about how to read and understand the work. This is true for writer, for filmmakers, visual artists, etc. If the author is not out there creating a discourse around the work then the type of reception you describe will overwhelm the work, and the negative voices will in essence complete the work for the author. So I agree with you, but I’m not sure I understand your perspective. Are you saying that writers need to work within the dualistic critical response that you describe in order to be successful?

    The “lapsed Mormon” narratives or exit narratives that I have read have not been very satisfying because the one’s I’ve been exposed to all utilize the same dichotomy that you describe only the protagonist is on the other side of it. I’ve seen a number of non-fictional accounts of exit narratives published in Dialogue and they seem to form a specific genre, that of the unsuccessful Mormon intellectual, which builds upon the already common anti-intellectualism within the Church. But were you thinking about fiction or mom-fiction when you mentioned “lapsed Mormons?”

  4. The question “How ‘Mormon’ is Twilight?” is independent of whether or not it is a “great novel,” let alone “the great Mormon novel.” The first question is interesting and blog-worthy, the second two questions are not. Folks, Twilight ain’t literature.

    But what is The Great Mormon Novel?

    The Work and The Glory series greatly fails your Courage, Censorship, and Superficiality test.

    The less said about Orson Scott Card the better.

    Really, two works vie for this honor: The Giant Joshua by Maureen Whipple and The Backslider by Levi Peterson. As “great” as The Giant Joshua is — Eugene England calls it “the Greatest, but not the Great Mormon Novel” — it lacks The Backslider’s literary merit and depth.

    The Backslider is Mormonism’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It somehow reveals the beauty and tragedy or Mormonism at the same time. (Oh, and it reveals the comedy of Mormonism too… The Backslider is hilarious!)

  5. I will echo the nominations for Saints as the Great Mormon Novel. It is still his best work and (IMHO) the best historical novel about the Church’s early days. Matt (#6), I would suggest you actually read it before dismissing it. ..bruce..

  6. Before anyone jumps to naming a “Great Mormon Novel,” it might be nice to have a bunch of candidates to choose from — perhaps a “canon” of works that might be considered great.

    I looked at this a couple of years ago on A Motley Vision in the post The Canon of Mormon Literature.

    Personally, I favor the Backslider as probably the best so far. But I don’t think it is quite the “Great Mormon Novel.” I don’t think we have one yet.

    And, personally, I have a desire for some sort of reconciliation — a book that will satisfy the more conservative scholars as well as those willing to accept the radical in literature. I don’t know if that is possible, but I would like it nonetheless.

  7. Annon – “Are you saying that writers need to work within the dualistic critical response that you describe in order to be successful?” Not necessarily, but I believe that this is an obstacle thus far. It’s nearly impossible for a Mormon to dismiss alienating all other Mormons in writing a novel that that a substantial number of members might find objectionable. Part of being a Mormon is loyalty to Mormonism. You can’t disappear into the mahogany like Catholics can.

    “The “lapsed Mormon” narratives or exit narratives that I have read have not been very satisfying because the one’s I’ve been exposed to all utilize the same dichotomy that you describe only the protagonist is on the other side of it.” Totally agree. There are also works by non-Mormons that are mostly conspiracy theory/wacked out religion beach books vs. actual literature, so there’s probably a genre restriction also.

    I think we’re still waiting, but I’m willing to give Backslider and Saints a read. Twilight can probably wait, though. I’ve still got a stack of Kate Atkinsons to get through first.

  8. Mormon Soprano highlights why it is so difficult for a writer to create something that is both thoroughly Mormon and a great piece of literature. Great literature necessarily deals with difficult, complicated themes and subject matter that many Mormons find objectionable. Mormons tend to take an unnuanced approach to media, which prevents them from appreciating the difference between a literary masterpiece that deals with mature themes from a Playboy. As Mormon Soprano implies, eroticism is bad per se.

    In my opinion, Levi Peterson’s The Backslider is a masterpiece. It’s Mormon to the core, but how many Mormons have actually read it? How many Mormons would be willing to read it? How many would recognize its literary merit? Very few. Too much sex and swearing. The themes are too complex. The novel is written in vibrant shades of gray–not the black and white that most of us are comfortable with. You won’t see The Backslider on the shelves of Deseret Book any time soon.

    Works like The Backslider don’t have a hope of penetrating mainstream Mormon society, but cannot be fully appreciated without an intimate knowledge of Mormon culture. Their audience ends up being a small group of Sunstone Mormons and the like.

    (As for Twilight, I do have to agree to some extent with Mormon Soprano–it is popular, at least among Mormons, because it is titillating. But because the characters are mostly chaste, it passes Mormon readers’ personal media standards.)

  9. Er, the second to last sentence in the first paragraph of my last comment should read: “Mormons tend to take an unnuanced approach to media, which prevents them from appreciating the difference between a literary masterpiece that deals with mature themes and a Playboy.”

  10. ” It’s nearly impossible for a Mormon to dismiss alienating all other Mormons in writing a novel that that a substantial number of members might find objectionable. Part of being a Mormon is loyalty to Mormonism. ”

    I admit that I am uncomfortable with the idea of loyalty to the institution as a significant factor in the creation of a novel or film etc. There are a number of reasons for this. Not the least of which is that the great Mormon novel need not take any such thematic position to the Church. There would merely need to be some diegetic elements that point (to one degree or another) to Mormon theology, community, identity, or religious life. Anyway, I guess the way I process what you are saying is to ask: will the Mormon community be able to recognize the great Mormon novel as such when it is written? And to what extent does this recognition matter? One of the things that seems pretty clear is that historically the Mormon community has no significant interest in, or concern for the craft or artistic merit of the cultural products it consumes.

  11. “One of the things that seems pretty clear is that historically the Mormon community has no significant interest in, or concern for the craft or artistic merit of the cultural products it consumes.” Ouch. Yet, probably true. It’s probably true of just about any large group of people, though. And to revisit the Graham Greene example, there were Catholics who felt he was out of line. Approval ratings took a while to climb up.

  12. HG, you do a good job of pointing out the problem in my last statement. A more nuanced way of dealing with the Mormon reception of the arts would be to ask to what extent do we see a variety of artistic communities within the larger Mormon community. Are there mormon fine art groups, avant-guard groups, literary groups? Do we see various distinctions within the larger pop culture oriented group? To what extent is there a canon of work that members of all the sub groups acknowledge as having artistic merit above and beyond entertainment value? I think there are a variety of groups within the larger Mormon community but they appear to have almost no impact. Their aesthetic values and interests don’t appear to be of much interest for other groups within the Mormon community.

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    Annon. – Your point is valid about the lack of variety in Mormon artistic fields. But another perspective I think is equally valid is whether Mormonism conflicts with art. After all, art requires looking into the abyss, speaking with courage, embracing that which does not ennoble to an extent. I think there are two questions:
    1 – Does art trump religion for the artist? If religion trumps art, it’s probably irreconcilable with creating great art on some level because you always have an eye on the party line or what the religion’s aims are (e.g. to convert or present the religion in an ultimately favorable light). And since both religion and art are somewhat “spiritual” endeavors, perhaps an artist’s individual voice is inevitably pitted against the religion’s voice if the theme is the religion.
    2 – Does art lead to abandonment of Mormon principles specifically (along the lines of filmmaker Richard Dutcher)? IOW, does art lead to religious doubt and apostasy? Even with painting (which would seem pretty innocuous comparatively), it’s necessary to learn how to paint anatomy, yet BYU prohibits nude models in art classes. Does painting nude models inevitably degenerate into a Caligula-style orgy? Or is it more that BYU fears perception problems caused by the use of nude models? Or that there will be backlash and/or loss of faith among members as a result of this practice?

  14. bfwebster (#7), while I have not read Saints, I have read Card and am familiar with his style. While Saints may be a fine book, I would consider a “great novel,” let alone “the great Mormon novel” to be more akin to the literary merit of a Roth, McCarthy, Rushdie, Kundera, etc. than a popular or genre writer like a Ludlum, Crichton, King, Dan Brown, etc. I’d put Card more in the latter category.

    Hawkgrrrl (#17), good questions. Sunstone put together a great panel a few years back featuring film director Neil LaBute, writer Brian Evanson, and film director/actor Richard Dutcher that asked these very questions. Both LaBute and Evanson had left the church, in part due to these very questions. I’m paraphrasing, but Evanson said quite boldly that he ultimately decided that he could not be both a Mormon and an Artist, that he gave up the church for his Art. Both predicted that Dutcher would soon have to make that same decision. In hindsight, it appears their prediction was prophetic.

    Back to The Backslider… In many ways it is a perfect litmus test for Mormons. It has certainly offended and alienated many LDS readers, including many members of the author’s own family. Many dismiss it as profane and profoundly Anti-Mormon. Others are almost evangelical about its Mormonness, and describe their feelings about the book in terms of a religious experience. Very polarizing, like so much great art.

  15. I don’t think the great Mormon novel has been written and I have some doubt as to whether it can be written in the foreseeable future. I cringed through some parts of “The Backslider” but by the end I found that it held a lot of profound insight into Mormonism. However, I’m not sure that insight would be appreciated by a larger outside audience. I see that as the true mark of a “great” novel: the ability to explore a unique community in a way that reveals that community to insiders but also connects it to broader society and universal truths.

    I wonder if Mormonism is still too insular and idiosyncratic to lend its story to revealing universal truths in the same way that, for example, Chaim Potok is able to do through Judaism (I have not read Greene). As pointed out above, artistic introspection is still viewed warily in our tradition. Although we like to position ourself as the next great world religion, isn’t it more appropriate, from a literary sense, to compare ourselves to other new religious traditions? Are there discussions about the great Adventist novel? The great Jehovah’s Witness novel? Even the Pentecostal movement would be a more appropriate benchmark for Mormonism than Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Protestant christianity.

  16. Even with painting (which would seem pretty innocuous comparatively), it’s necessary to learn how to paint anatomy, yet BYU prohibits nude models in art classes. Does painting nude models inevitably degenerate into a Caligula-style orgy? Or is it more that BYU fears perception problems caused by the use of nude models? Or that there will be backlash and/or loss of faith among members as a result of this practice?

    I think it comes down to Mormons’ inability to separate nudity from sexuality from pornography. My 2 cents, anyway.

  17. I love how “My Name is Asher Lev” explores these issues. As mentioned in the post, in order to write a novel you have to write about the good and the bad of your culture. Thus, artists who deeply comment about their culture are often critisized and ostresized by their own culture. You can really see how this would play out in “Asher Lev” which I believe reflects some of the authors feelings about becoming a writer. One problem is with identifying one novel as being “The Great Mormon Novel” is that while it could comment about Mormon culture in general, it will only offer one perspective of Mormonism. Thus many Mormons would feel that the novel doesn’t represent their perspective or their feelings about their religion. Ideally, it would be nice to have many different novels that offer different experiences and perspectives on Mormonism. However, for the reasons mentioned above, it is rare to see a novel that expores the deep questions and challenges of Mormonism.

  18. HG I was totally with you until you used the words art and Dutcher in the same sentence. Or were you trying to open the question of how Mormons distinguish between art and commerce?

    As for the main question you raise. The history of the visual arts in the west is very much a history of art in the service of religious expression. Further, the canon of early American literate is almost exclusively religious in nature. Beginning with William Bradford and moving from there.

    It’s not really until one gets into artistic modernism that religion become less of a force driving the production of significant works, and we start to see a large number of significant works that are considered offensive to both traditional aesthetic values and religious values and yet are also considered important as art. And it’s in post modernism that we see the most direct confrontation between religion and art, for example in the cases of Mapplethorpe and Serrano. In the first case conservative religious leaders chose to go after the work as obscene. In the second case the artist used a religious symbol in a provocative manner but did not get out there and tell the story of how and why he did it, so conservative Christians told that story for him in a way that was hostile to the work.

    In general though, art most certainly does not lead to religious doubt and apostasy, even in within artistic modernity. Andri Tarkovsky by far the best Soviet filmmaker of the post war era and one of the most lauded filmmakers in history was a devout Christian and was often ask speak to religious audiences. He is only one example but there are many others. The question of the relation between art and religion does not have any traction if posed too broadly, it needs to be framed very specifically. Getting back to the example of film and Dutcher, as a filmmaker myself I think the idea that the act of making films necessarily leads to an exit from the Church is pretty absurd, Dutcher used that idea as a way of creating a narrative of himself as a martyr. But there is no way in which Dutcher is an artist so he is a terrible example. When one gets past the superficial cultural concerns of a religious community then we start to see art being produced, but its the rare individual who can draw from religion to create art and come away with something that has any meaning.

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    Matt – I read a great interview with Brian E. in bookslut: http://www.bookslut.com/features/2006_11_010188.php. A relevant quote from him: “Do you feel that it’s inherent in Mormon culture to suppress or deny religious history or at least the facts that might blemish the church’s reputation in any way? I don’t know if it’s inherent, but it’s certainly been established practice for a number of years. In the 1950s, the Mormon Church had almost no publicity department; now, that’s one of the largest departments in the Church’s bureaucracy. The Mormon Church has acted more and more like a corporation as time has gone on, and has become incredibly conscious of negative publicity. I do think that too often that leads to suppression of or minimizing of facts from Mormonism’s very colorful and to my mind very interesting past. In the last few decades Mormonism has worked very hard to present itself as a Christ-centered Church that fits really snugly into Middle America. But to be able to see it that way, you have to forget a lot of Mormonism’s history.”

    Steve M – “I think it comes down to Mormons’ inability to separate nudity from sexuality from pornography.” And yet, the cadavers in the Widtsoe building are nude. So, doctors + nudity = okay, but artists + nudity = Caligula style orgy? Or is it that art is denigrated for its lack of usefulness (a point supported by the seeming preference for crafts over art in the LDS church)? Or is it okay to look at dead nudes, just not live ones (implying that it’s not the nudity but its potential for action)?

    warno – “I wonder if Mormonism is still too insular and idiosyncratic to lend its story to revealing universal truths. . . Are there discussions about the great Adventist novel? The great Jehovah’s Witness novel? Even the Pentecostal movement would be a more appropriate benchmark for Mormonism than Catholicism, Judaism, Islam, Protestant christianity.” I think you are onto something here.

    Annon. – OK, you are spot on that Dutcher is not exactly an example of art. But given his own statements about his journey, it was a launch point for that question about doubt and apostasy, which I think is a valid question for Mormon artists. To your point about Dutcher’s aims, martyrdom is a time-honored aspiration of both religionists and artists alike. I think the point about religion being a foundation for art is valid for much of history, but current artistic disciplines are so far removed from that it becomes easy to forget. Art itself is so different, and as I said, in many ways it is a replacement for religion to the artist. Food for thought, though, so thanks for your insights.

  20. Hawkgrrrl: I’ve never read anything but the schlock that passes as popular mormon fiction before, so after reading your post and the comments, I picked up The Backslider (Peterson), The Giant Joshua (Whipple), Children of God (Fisher), The Evening and the Morning (Sorensen), and A Woman of Destiny, a.k.a. Saints (Card) in the library. I guess I’ve got my reading for the next couple months!

  21. Steve M – “I think it comes down to Mormons’ inability to separate nudity from sexuality from pornography.” And yet, the cadavers in the Widtsoe building are nude. So, doctors + nudity = okay, but artists + nudity = Caligula style orgy? Or is it that art is denigrated for its lack of usefulness (a point supported by the seeming preference for crafts over art in the LDS church)? Or is it okay to look at dead nudes, just not live ones (implying that it’s not the nudity but its potential for action)?

    I think Mormons are willing to recognize very, very slim exceptions when it comes to nudity. Namely, your spouse and cadavers. But not much beyond that!

    I’m not really using hyperbole, actually. When I was at the Y, I had a co-worker who was a pre-med student. He told me that a guest speaker who had worked in plastic surgery once gave a presentation in one of his classes. During the course of the presentation, he showed a few photos of female breasts (apparently he was illustrating something with regard to breast augmentation surgeries). At this point, several students got up and left the classroom. Apparently the “nudity in the name of medicine” exception is pretty narrow.

    Another example is the BYU art museum’s banning of Rodin’s The Kiss. Sure, the sculpture involves nudity and maybe even a teensy bit of eroticism, but is it obscene? Not by a long shot.

    I once perused the entire BYU art museum, and I think I saw one uncovered female nipple. It belonged to a Native American woman in a painting. BYU apparently has more lax standards when it comes to Native Americans–think of the near-naked statue between the Harold B. Lee Library and the new Joseph F. Smith Building.

    (For what it’s worth, China saw a similar phenomenon in the 1980s, when the government relaxed its controls on the art world and nude painting became popular (it just so happens that I’ve been researching Chinese obscenity law of late). Many of the early nude works did not involve Han Chinese, but rather, ethnic minorities. These groups were seen as less civilized, which apparently excused their nudity. The same thing might be going on at BYU.)

  22. Art history and humanities majors spend a lot of time looking at art at BYU, including nude art. I cannot recall a single time anyone has walked out of a lecture that included nudity in an artistic context. Sure, the professors aren’t showing photographic nudity of live models or graphic pornographic art, so some voluntary censorship is occurring. But the scandal over The Kiss at BYU is more an embarrassment for students and faculty in the humanities, imo.

    Still, there are countless examples of extreme reaction against nudity and immodest dress on campus. For example, students have been known to cover pictures on the covers of magazines and journals with post-its and such to prevent inadvertent temptation. I fear this is evidence of some of that superficiality that Hawkgrrrl talks about above. Or is it public service? 😉

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    Steve M. – that is a fascinating observation. I think you may be onto something about the willingness to show nudity in minorities vs. non-minorities.

    In art appreciation classes at the Y, we did look at paintings that included nudes simply because you can’t really have a passing knowledge of art without knowing some of these works by sight, and they were on the test. I do recall different reactions from professors in the English department over various reading assignments. One professor was extremely apologetic about D.H. Lawrence (and we read the tamest D.H.L. there is). There was a visiting professor teaching post-modern British literature, and those assignments included by far the raciest stuff I read at BYU. The problem is and was that anything written after a certain era is going to deal frankly with sexuality. The times, they are a-changin’.

    And if a post-it note is the only thing between you and a Caligula-style orgy, well, that’s not much self-restraint.

  24. For the record, I would consider Dutcher an artist. I believe that States of Grace was a very artistic way to highlight Christianity’s limited focus on Grace. As well as the sobering truth that many young men serve missions to serve a mission, not to serve the Lord.

  25. For the record, I consider Greg Olsen, Janice Kapp Perry, Gerald Lund, Kenneth Cope, and Liz Lemon Swindle artists, too, just not my cup of tea. However, of all the “mormon” films I’ve seen (not documentaries), the ones by Dutcher have been the most rewarding for me from an aesthetic standpoint (although Napoleon Dynamite deserves some serious). I haven’t yet seen States of Grace, but I really want to. I’ve been listening to this great podcast from the Mormon Matters archive, wherein Rosalynde Welch reviews the film with Brian Gibson and David King Landrith.

  26. I’d like to see novels that aren’t “Mormon Novels,” but “Novels with Mormons”. Nobody would ever call Philip Roth a “Jewish Writer” or his work “Jewish Novels,” but I’ve read a dozen Roth novels and the Jewish thumbprint is all over them, adding much nuance to character, setting, and morality.

    Walter Kirn’s “The Thumbsucker” fits that description. So does Brady Udall’s “The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint.”

    Both Kirn and Udall are inactive or former Mormons (I prefer “Cultural Mormons”), and neither is writing for a Mormon audience. I liked and would recommend both books.

    “Edgar Mint” reminds me a little bit of a John Irving novel, like A Prayer For Owen Meany or The World According to Garp. But even better than Edgar Mint is Udall’s short story collection, “Letting Loose the Hounds.” (Brady Udall is part of the Morris Udall and Stewart Udall clan, a grand-nephew, I think.)

    Kirn’s The Thumbsucker was adapted into a movie. The movie was okay, but it excised much of the Mormon content. Read the book instead.

  27. One more thought… former (or inactive?) Mormon Matters Blogger Jeffrey Needle should really be weighing in on this discussion. Nobody has read more Mormon Fiction than Jeff. I once asked him his favorite LDS Novel and he said “Angel on the Danube” by Alan Rex Mitchell. So I picked it up. It’s a coming-of-age/missionary story about a laid-back Californian serving a mission in Austria. It’s good. I wouldn’t put it near the category of Levi Peterson’s stuff, but it’s head-and-shoulders above most of the fiction you’ll find at Deseret Books.

  28. Matt T. – “it’s head-and-shoulders above most of the fiction you’ll find at Deseret Books.” That’s quite a high bar you’ve set there. 🙂

  29. Pingback: Stephenie Meyer - What did she do for us? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

  30. Angela said: “That’s quite a high bar you’ve set there.”

    Yeah, I stub my toe on it every time I set foot in the place. 🙂

  31. I first would like to say that I liked the movie, I thought it was somehow poetic and romantic ( sorry for my english mistakes, I ‘m french) and I have not read the books yet. Except breaking dawn. I have a love/hate relationship with the book. I think we all love the love story, 2 persons who love each other so strongly, and we all love the idea of the loyal and supportive family. But I was wondering after readind the 4th book and seeing the movie if there is something else than this romantic magic. I am a convert to the church and I don’t know how I feel about these books. Some good ideas, I mean some spiritual ideas, mixed with so many things. And since what I’ve read from people who read New Moon or Eclipse, the constant lies and the fact each night Bella curls up with Edward or Jacob seems far from our standards. Also one thing I love in the gospel is that ordinary persons can do great things because they want it and they work for it. And in this book, you can have everything so easily, it is not difficult to make money, look gorgeous, have great cars…Well, all this seems so far from this humble man called Jesus. I understand that we don’t have to write books about Jesus life all the time, but at the same time, we are supposed to be His witnesses in all circumstances. Anyway, a couple months ago, I saw a Bollywood movie called Jodhaa Akbar, well I must say that there were more spirituality in this movie than in twilight : honor, sacrifice and true love growing slowly between spouses and the male character was like Captain Moroni.In Breaking dawn, we are told a lot about vzmpire prettiness and their great abilities, we love them because they are good. Someone spoke about “glamorizing the darness”, that’s exactly what I feel about the whole story. I love the love story. Who wouldn’t ? But I wish it was not such a mix of good and bad. I don’t even what the message is. You can choose ? she chose to become a vampire. Vampires represent mormons ? Well some are very bad, like James and in Midnight Sun, since what I’ve heard, Edward says that his family would give everything to become human again. So does that mean that we, Mormons would give everything to stop ebing Mormons ? Also, they are gifted, and see human beings as fragile, stupid, slow creatures. I don’t like the idea of elected people, better than others. In spite of all our weakness, the gospel is about people having the peossibility to improve their lives. It is not about half gods or goddesses on this earth. I really don’t know what to do with all these books. I was not upset by Harry Potter because the books 1) wer enot written by and lds person 2) were more spiritual than Twilight 3) spoke about more things than teen love. I don’t know what to think about all this but for sure these books are not the great mormon novel, at least, in my eyes.

  32. There are many great Catholic novels if you will ,i.e., novels written by Catholics with catholic themes or characters, I suggest you also consider Segrid Undset “Master of Hestviken” and “Kristen Lavransdatter” who was a Nobel prize winner from Sweden. Also I would suggest that a religion such as Catholicism with 2000+ years of history and influence cannot be so easily pigeon holed with Graham Greene’s “Power and the Glory”. The Catholics have many writers in their history who wrote poetry, plays, novels, etc.

    I don’t know what a great Mormon novel would be as I’m afraid any bizarre or uncreditable incidents would get the work and author condemned and excommunicated by the church. I doubt that a novel about vampires would constitute what the authorities would consider a great Mormon novel unless blood sucking is an earmark of mormons and I can’t believe that. Personnally I thinks that with only less than 200 years of our own traditions and history it might be early on for such publications to have appeared.

    But I’d be more concerned about the take on a novel by the authorities as there might be much in Mormonism’s past that we’d rather deny ever happened or keep closed and secret than have published even in a fictional novel.

  33. I don’t know what a great Mormon novel would be as I’m afraid any bizarre or uncreditable incidents would get the work and author condemned and excommunicated by the church.

    You obviously haven’t read some of the Mormon novels I’ve read. *shudders*

  34. If stalking, abuse and pedophilia are Mormon ideals, Meyer hits the bullseye. Otherwise, the only “Mormon” dogma is the idea that people can choose to be something other than what they were born to be. The Cullens’ lifestyle may be seen by some as admirable, but even they turn out to be hypocrites in Breaking Dawn, oblivious to the humans who are slaughtered by their back-up posse vampires in order to save Bella and Edward’s baby. Don’t even compare the Cullens’ abstaining from human blood to the Word of Wisdom; logically there’s no parallel. Humans aren’t slaughtered when a guy lights a cigarette or opens a beer.

    Even the “soul mate” stuff doesn’t pass for anything but Gospel According To Saturday’s Warrior.

    Add to this the shallow characterizations, sloppy research, purple prose and Mary Sue protagonist and you have Epic Fail. Bella and Edward’s relationship is obsessive and sick, not healthy, not egalitarian, and not a relationship anyone should aspire to.

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