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Walsh: Twilight books beget sour grapes

Published August 24, 2008 1:13 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Chris Sarandon's bloodsucker next door was the first vampire I loved.

My fascination for the hypnotic undead flowed chronologically to Jason Patric in "The Lost Boys," then David Boreanaz in "Angel" and finally Stephenie Meyer's Edward - vampires with unbeating hearts of gold.

I've devoured the Twilight series, staying up to read until my eyes are bleary and bloodshot, eating leftovers, bypassing Olympic television just to find out what happens to Edward and Bella. It's fluff, juvenile fiction I can finish in a day or two. And the story has captured my imagination.

So, I don't really understand the backlash against Meyer's fourth book.

Disdain seems to come from two fronts - feminists and Mormons. Intellectuals and self-righteous morality police alike pan the series.

Professional critics are outraged by almost everything in the books - (spoiler alert) from Bella's single-minded devotion to a half-vampire baby that is turning her insides to mush to BYU-educated Meyer's incredibly tame depictions of pre-marital petting and post-marital sex.

"These are horrid books," writes blogger Jezebel. "The 'romantic' lead has always been obsessive and creepy and stalkerish, and the girl is a co-dependent, borderline personality disordered nightmare. I can't understand how these got so popular."

I didn't realize our standards for pulp had risen so high.

By these feminists' rules, we should throw out everything from the over-the-top-sexist The Taming of the Shrew - which received standing ovations at the Utah Shakespearean Festival - to "The X-Files," where Scully had an alien baby.

The outrage from members of Meyer's LDS faith is equally perplexing. The Arizona mother of three has been criticized for writing too explicitly about sex, about drinking blood, about monstrous immortal creatures.

"At the very best, the good that can come of the Twilight series is the idea that people actually CAN wait until marriage to be sexually intimate," writes Camille Turpin for Standard of Liberty, a conservative LDS blog. "At the worst, it can introduce to girls of every age unhealthy ideas about sex and marriage."

And one anonymous poster on a Salt Lake Tribune blog adds: "Why hasn't Stephenie Meyer been excommunicated yet? Oh, her vampires keep their shirts on . . . I get it . . . no I don't."

Excommunication? Really?

All this brother's keeper moralizing sounds like the outcry a few months ago about Mormon actor Kirby Heyborne's appearance in a Budweiser commercial.

Orson Scott Card, another Mormon author, has written a jacket note for Meyer. He has been criticized for "graphic violence" in Ender's Game. And he took on the holier-than-thous judging Heyborne in a Deseret News column in June.

"We are in a golden age of righteousness," Card writes. "Mormon writers will now refuse to depict or mention any act of violence or other sin of any kind. We will show only good people doing good, in a world of perfect goodness, where nothing thwarts or distracts people in their pursuit of righteousness." On the flip side, Meyer is criticized by those who read the stories as Mormon morality tales.

"I think she is blatantly shoving her Mormon faith down the throats of kids," Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, an author and former journalist, is quoted in the Seattle Post-Intelligentser.

She can't win.

For her part, Meyer is trying to rise above. "I knew it was going to be an interesting ride," she told Entertainment Weekly.

"People say, 'What's the message, what moral is there to the story?' There never is one in my books," she says. "People find them. Reader interpretation is valid. But for me, it's always just about the adventure."

On some level this strikes me as so much sour grapes. Meyer has been dubbed the American J.K. Rowling. Her vampire saga earned a $750,000 advance and a film option.

The Aug. 2 release of Breaking Dawn had as much hype as the latest Harry Potter tome - with midnight sales and vampire proms. More than 1 million copies were sold the first day.

At least readers recognize Breaking Dawn is simply entertaining fiction. It's time for everybody else to lighten up.

walsh@sltrib.com