The Doctrine that Makes Stephenie Meyer’s Lycanthropes Golden Investigators
By Eric W Jepson
Editors note: This is an abridgment of the full article, to be published in the forthcoming issue of Sunstone Magazine.
Werewolves really latch on to the whole eternal marriage thing. Have you noticed that? I don’t know if there was a substantial werewolf population where you served your mission, but on mine they would hem at how we, like others, believe in a Supreme Being, and haw at the Joseph Smith story, but once we got into sealing and the eternal bonds of matrimony and families-can-be-together-forever, they really perked up. Ask anyone who’s ever taught a werewolf. They’ll tell you.
Or better yet, ask Stephenie Meyer. She’s the expert on these things. Part of what makes her monsters so interesting is where they diverge from the monstrous norm. Most pre-Twilight vampires don’t sparkle, and most pre-Twilight werewolves don’t believe in eternal marriage. But Meyer’s do.
For all the online chatter about Stephenie Meyer and her Scary Mormon Agenda, most alarmed bloggers have overlooked how her monsters—werewolves in particular—fall into a classic Mormon literary pattern[1. No, not the creepy-stalker-boy-who-follows-you-around-but-won’t-sleep-with-you pattern. Although it does offer that too. But those are vampires. They never get past the first discussion.]: the Premortal Romance.
The Premortal Romance we tend to remember best in 2009 is the Douglas Stewart / Lex de Azevedo cheesefest, Saturday’s Warrior, but the tradition goes back much further than that.
Nephi Anderson started things off in 1898 with Added Upon, a book that at one time (at least in Nephi, Utah[2. My father’s hometown. Lots of strange things happened there in the Fifties and Sixties, from what I hear.]) was given to every young woman to read. Added Upon was Anderson’s first book and by far his most popular—too bad, because it certainly isn’t his best—because it appeals to something deeply Mormon in us. It begins in the premortal realm and follows a boy and a girl from there, through mortality, to paradise, through the Millennium, and finally to exaltation.
Out for a premortal walk one day, Honan sees Delsa’s “sweet face” and is drawn to her immediately. When she sees him, a “pleased smile overspread[s] her face” and she explains that she had been making a “dream picture” of her ideal face when he arrived and that now her “dream face seem[s] to blend with [his].” Drawn together, they converse[… and] both faces [shine] with a soft, beautiful light. The joy within […] too deep for words. […] Instinctively, they [cling] to each other.”[3. If you didn’t receive Added Upon as a gift from your ward upon turning twelve, you can read it for free online at Project Gutenberg (gutenberg.org). The site also offers Anderson’s masterpiece, Dorian.]
The story of Honan and Delsa (Rupert and Signe upon coming to Earth) thus becomes the prototypical Premortal Romance. They come to Earth, and when they meet, bond immediately. When Rupert first hears Signe’s voice, he is “spellbound” and she, noticing him, looks upon him “steadily.” One things leads to another and pretty soon they’re in heaven again, together forever.
It’s this mode of romantic relationship, popular in Mormon literature since Anderson came up with it, that Stephenie Meyer’s werewolves experience.
The most significant distinguishing trait of a Meyer werewolf is “imprinting,” the sudden and permanent formation of a mate relationship. Jacob, the novels’ preeminent werewolf, describes imprinting as an experience akin to gravity: “When you see her,” he says, “suddenly it’s not the earth holding you here anymore. She does. And nothing matters more than her.”[4. Stephenie Meyer, Eclipse (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2007) 176.] Even Meyer’s human heroine, Bella, can recognize that an imprinted werewolf couple is “utterly right together, two puzzle pieces, shaped for each other exactly.” Through imprinting, Twilight’s werewolves find their “soul mates.”[5. Eclipse 123.] One party is bound to the other becoming the other’s “perfect match. Like he was designed for her alone.”[6. Eclipse 176.]
The werewolves of the Twilight books never know when (or if) they will imprint on someone. Once they become a werewolf during adolescence, they may imprint at any time, and when they do, any prior relationship becomes unsustainable because an imprinted werewolf can never turn away from his or her imprintee. Sudden recognition that then lasts eternally? The Premortal Romance.
The very concept of a soul mate suggests that the question, “Whom shall I marry?” has but one correct response and that each person must live in fear of inflicting pain on others while seeking a fated, imprint-like experience. Spencer W. Kimball famously said (and his timing suggests he may have been responding to Saturday’s Warrior), “‘Soul mates are fiction and an illusion.”[7. “Oneness in Marriage.” Ensign, Mar. 1977.] An illusion, a mirage leading one away from self-directed, agency-based mate-seeking and into a sort of romantic roulette in hopes of accidentally finding the one-and-only soul mate.
Indeed, a one-and-only soul mate, as demonstrated by Added Upon and Saturday’s Warrior, is never a matter of agency. In neither story is even the premortal falling-in-love shown to be a matter of choosing. It’s a matter of happening. And if such soul mates do exist, then President Kimball was wrong: soul mates aren’t fiction—agency is. The soul-mate conceit—the entire premortal romance—is in conflict with core Mormon doctrine.
So when the werewolf Leah—the one Sam rejected when he imprinted on Emily–wants to have her romantic choices made for her, Jacob rightly calls her on that desire, telepathically calling it “just another way of getting your choices taken away from you.” She parries that “Sam, Jared, Paul, Quil . . . don’t seem to mind,” to which Jacob replies, “None of them have a mind of their own.”[8. Breaking Dawn 319.] Implying that, though they may be happy, it is at the cost of their personal freedom.
Jacob attempts to take control of his romantic interests when he leaves Bella to allow her to pursue another. But this use of his agency plunges Jacob into romantic agony, leading him to double back on his words to Leah and covet the agency-free imprinting process. “Seemed like maybe getting your choices taken away from you wasn’t the very worst thing in the world. Maybe feeling like this was the worst thing in the world,” he laments.[9. Breaking Dawn 332.] And when imprinting finally does happen for Jacob and the imprintee’s mother takes issue, he can only protest, “You know it’s not something I can control” and “It wasn’t my idea” and “It was involuntary!”[10. Breaking Dawn 449.] But, with his agency removed, he is finally happy. And, after all, isn’t happiness the object and design of our existence?[11. Smith, Joseph. Letter to Nancy Rigdon. 11 April 1842.]
Any attempt by the reader to resolve the apparent disconnect between agency and happiness requires a return to Meyer’s Mormon heritage and the climactic event in Mormonism’s premortal narrative. As Honan describes the conflict in Added Upon, the question was whether to “retain our agencies to choose . […] [or] Without that privilege […] cease to be intelligences, and become as inanimate things […] [saved without] choice on our part.” This, according to Mormon understanding, was the central conflict of premortal life, and Meyer’s adaptation of the premortal romance for her werewolves revives the War in Heaven here in the mortal plane, showcasing the difficulties inherent in the premortal-romance formula, providing neither a “glimpse of past glories” nor an “atmosphere of peace and assurance” nor a sense of “why they’re here / [Nor] . . . who they really are.”[12. Anderson then Stewart.]
Instead, Meyer’s werewolves are left with no comforts beyond those given them in relationships they did not choose for themselves. And Meyer doesn’t allow the question of agency to slip to the side with a manufactured premortal excuse. She has not forgotten that, in Mormon doctrine, agency “is the specific gift by which God made his children in his image and empowered them to grow to become like him through their own progression of choices.”[13. C. Terry Warner, “Agency,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism (New York: Macmillan, 1992).] The werewolves’ loss of agency in this matter suggests a stopped progression and complicates the pat conclusions presented in previous premortal romances. Speaking with Time Magazine, Meyer called “free will […] a huge gift from God.” [14. Lev Grossman. “ Stephenie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling?” Time 24 Apr. 2008.] By stripping it from her werewolves, by making their happiness dependent upon losing their freedom, she makes an artistic choice that resonates deeper with readers who understand the decidedly Mormon ethos upon which she made that choice.
Which is exactly we as Saints need to redouble our efforts to bring the gospel to these tortured souls. Just imagine the werewolves’ joy when you explain to them that they, like Rupert and Signe, like Julie and Todd, were not forced into love by the vagaries of nature, but encountered each other long ago, before the worlds were, as they sat in a heavenly counsel, surreptitiously holding hands as the creation of the world was planned.
cover image: flickr