Why do you think the Twilight books are so popular?
They're about becoming divine. We're sort of hardwired for that story. Each book is a different step in the spiritual life. The relationship between Bella and Edward is the relationship of the human seeker with God. Bella represents the Virgin Mary, and we get this divine child, Nessie, who is just like Jesus, the god-man. So you have this spiritual allegory within the book, told within a young adult romance.
Stephanie Meyer, the author, is a Mormon. How do you think Mormonism influenced the books?
Here's the story about how Stephanie Meyer wrote the first book: she had a dream on June 2, 2003 of a vampire and his girlfriend in the meadow. She gets up, runs to her computer and begins to write -- the dream becomes Chapter 13 of the first book, where he reveals himself as this sparkly guy. Back in June 2003, when she had this dream, three books came out about an event in Mormon history known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1857. The books revealed the violence implicit in the Mormon religion at that time, and this was dominating the Mormon scene in 2003. So [Meyer] has this dream about a vampire in a mountain meadow. Every book in the series features a revelation or a confrontation in a mountain meadow. The books are her fantasy conquest of this history. The vampires are the ones who are being attacked in the mountain meadow by this horrific, invading force of bad people [the Volturi].
What do the Mormons think about this?
Go online and see what a jerk I am. Really, I don't have any dog in this fight. I'm not a Mormon, I have Mormon friends, and I think that their religion is what it is. It's none of my business. I'm not one, but I look at this Mormon writer and I have to examine her books in light of her beliefs.
What do you say to people who argue that that Twilight is poorly written?
I mean, Stephen King of all people said that she was a hack writer. And he's never sold books the way she has. This is literary nominalism, where only the surface matters: if there's no majesty in the words that the author chooses, then it can't be a good book. Well, that's crazy. What makes a book good is the effect that it has on the reader.
Tell us about your new book, Bella Swan's Bookshelf.
I'm going to be writing about the twelve books that influenced Meyer and shaped the Twilight series. A lot of them you know, because they're actually mentioned, like Romeo and Juliet--that's pretty much the whole story of New Moon. And then in Eclipse you have Wuthering Heights, and then you have Midsummer Night's Dream and Merchant of Venice in Breaking Dawn, but you also have things like the Book of Mormon for one thing, and you have Orson Scott Card, [Meyer]'s favorite author.
What's it like when you meet people and you explain what it is you do, and how interested you are in Harry Potter and in Twilight?
It's definitely weird. People find out that you talk about the meaning of kids books for a living. But these are no longer kids books. The New York Times invented a kids book list because the adult list had been taken over by Harry Potter, and it was embarrassing to them.
What other books would you recommend for a Twilight fan?
The book that you have to read if you like Twilight is The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. She's written two books so far, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. The third book will come out this August. They're about a young girl in Appalachia in the far, far future who is chosen to compete in these sadistic games. I haven't been as excited about a book series since I started reading Harry Potter.
John Granger is speaking at the New York Public Library's Mid-Manhattan branch at 455 Fifth Avenue (at 40th Street) at tonight, click here for more info.
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