All of that is simply meant to explain that I'm a huge dork and while I'm still not a Twilight fan (oops, spoiler alert for that eventual review!), I had a very geeky sort of fun going through this.
I'm going to first give my critique of the book and then, thanks to Jettboy's comment on my previous post, I'll include some of the online critiques of Granger's writing and my responses to those critiques.
Spotlight is divided into two halves: Part One is titled Taking Bella Seriously: Reading Twilight as Literature and Part Two is Twilight as an LDS Midsummer Night's Dream: Reading as Dream Interpretation. The first half uses a Jungian psychological theory to break down the text, focusing on why it appeals to so many readers, while the second half looks at the Mormon imagery in the text and how Meyer's religion may have influenced her.
Granger's chosen method of literary criticism is iconological criticism - I can't provide a link to further explanation of the subject because Granger seems to have coined that particular phrase. He links it back to Northrop Frye, but so far I haven't been able to find any non-Granger works that link the two. This is a habit of Granger's, apparently, because in order to delve into the fourth level of iconological criticism, the anagogical level that I said in my last post totally lost me originally, involves understanding literary alchemy. I eventually had to go to Facebook to ask my fellow lit major friends (some of whom have gone on to get their Masters in the subject) if they had ever heard of literary alchemy as an established theory. Again, Googling the term and related ones only brought me back to other pieces of Granger's work; he doesn't explain where this theory is grounded in Spotlight - he simply says he's discussed this more at length in his Harry Potter books. Eventually our collective research led us to the Wikipedia article on alchemy which explained the Jung connection. Granger simply asks us to "[p]retend as if you accept [literary alchemy] as gospel truth that English Literature from beginning to Twilight is frontloaded with alchemical devices and images" (113). Man, I wish I'd been able to get away with telling my college professors (or my speech judges!) that my model was correct and they just needed to go with it!
So while a lot of Granger's analysis seems to have merit on the surface, we are forced to simply accept his words as truth (unless we want to hunt down the original texts he cites - however I have a huge stack of non-academic books I want to read, so I'm going to take the easy way out and pass on that one).
As I said in the Spotlight event recap, iconological criticism has four levels: surface, moral, allegorical and anagogical. The first two levels are pretty self-explanatory: on the surface we have a love story with some action thrown in at the end of each book and the moral (from Granger's perspective) is the great post-modern moral of rejecting the dominant cultural narratives and embrace those who are discriminated against. We root for the underdog, in this case the misunderstood Cullens who just want to live in peace, against the Powers That Be, the Volturi and other human-eating vampires.
The next two levels, allegorical and anagogical, require a little more legwork. The primary allegory is the entire saga re-casting the story of the Garden of Eden. Edward represents God and Bella the human who wants to know him. There are additional allegories, such as the Cullen family as a positive allegory for Mormons, a zombie allegory in New Moon, and all of the vampires that appear at the end of Breaking Dawn are supposed to be allegories for religious and other groups that are seen as sympathetic towards Mormons (except for the Amazon feminists...even Granger acknowledges there's a gap there. I'll have more on that and other gaps later), but primarily we're looking at a Medieval-style morality play about the Fall of Man (and thus it's fitting that we use iconological criticism, which has its roots in how stories were interpreted in Medieval times. At least according to Granger). Why are these allegories so important? Because "the reason we and millions of other readers around the world respond to these stories is that their allegorical and anagogical meanings are about the central drama and relationship of human existence - our life with God - told in compelling, engaging fashion" (76).
And here's where I need to pause and give my first critique of Granger. I know he's a religious man and part of his interest in literary criticism is about representations of faith in texts, but I find it to be quite presumptuous that he believes all Twihards are searching for an engaging story about God. If that were true, the only Twilight-haters would be die hard atheists. Granger makes several similar comments throughout the book that clearly imply his own biases, which puts me off a lot. I find reading about religion fascinating, but that doesn't make me a believer of any particular one I'm reading about.
Okay, now that that first bit is out of the way, we can try to tackle this anagogical layer.
Granger never provides a cut-and-dried definition of what he means here. He says "the anagogical or sublime meaning of a text is that layer of artistry, almost always beneath our conscious experience on first and even after multiple readings, that corresponds with, stimulates, and fosters our spiritual orientation and transformation" (10). If we understand the surface level of a story as information or data, the anagogical layer is spiritual knowledge or wisdom (17). He also compares it to finally getting a proof in geometry, but since I don't think I ever did a proof correctly, that comparison is lost on me, too (100). Dictionary.Com tells me it means of or pertaining to anagoge, which is "a spiritual interpretation or application of words, as of Scriptures." And this is where he begins to pull in the literary alchemy, using ancient ideas of alchemy to break down a story into three stages: a black period of dissolution or darkness, a white period of purification, and finally the red period of "spiritual accomplishment or perfection" (115). In Harry Potter, the last three books are respectively the black, white and red periods of Harry's story. For Twilight, the black period begins with New Moon (which coincidentally stars Jacob Black), then Eclipse and Breaking Dawn are the white and red stages. Granger acknowledges that, at least while writing New Moon, Meyer probably didn't recognize she was writing an alchemical story, but she has said she based New Moon on Romeo and Juliet and Breaking Dawn was based on both A Midsummer Night's Dream and Merchant of Venice, "all Shakespeare alchemical dramas" and thus by the time she was starting Breaking Dawn surely she had to recognize what she was doing (120).
There's more alchemy stuff, but I need to stop right here for another critique. Granger claims the alchemical drama is a staple of English literature - and I'm not really going to argue with him there. However in his talk last week Granger mentioned that he was sure Meyer was aware of all of this alchemy stuff because she studied English at Brigham Young University. I'm not going to say Eastern Michigan University is as illustrious a school as BYU, but I can tell you right now that studying "English" is not necessarily comparable to studying "English literature." In comparisons with Harry Potter, JK Rowling has said in interviews that she studied alchemy to figure out how she wanted her magic to work (though nowhere that I've seen did she say she studied alchemical literary theory - it's a bit of a jump in my mind to go from "what did alchemists try to do" to "how can alchemy work as a metaphor for a story's structure"), plus her stories actually qualify as being English literature since she's British and all. So if alchemy is a great English literary tradition it probably rubbed off on her in some respect, research or no. Stephenie Meyer, however, could easily have gone through an American degree program in English without spending much time at all on great works of English literature (I certainly structured my degree that way!). So without more evidence, I'm calling shenanigans on any of this alchemy stuff actually being intentional on any level. That includes the black/white/red covers - Meyer apparently was unprecedentedly involved in designing the cover of Twilight, but didn't have as much influence on later ones (as per her New Moon FAQ) - which is when she would have figured out this alchemy stuff according to Granger. Most likely the covers are all black/white/red because the first one was and, as I learned on Saturday, in a series art directors like to go for some sense of visual continuity. Striking still lifes in a limited color palette would seem to do the trick if you ask me.
With the main part of his literary criticism out of the way, I have only one more note on the subject, which comes from the lists of 10 included at the end of the book (shamelessly riffing on the top ten lists at the end of the "Dummies" books). In the list of "Ten Things the Critics Got Wrong About Twilight," Granger includes:
Reading Mrs. Meyer's books as transparencies not of historical or supernatural referents but of sociological or economic meaning (via Marxist, feminist, and deconstructive exegesis) is to skip over why the books appeal to readers. Worse, it explains why they are popular because of readers' politically incorrect or immature understanding, even their sexist, racist and class driven beliefs. This neglects Eliade's thesis in favor of a bizarre, alternate understanding of why people read, say, that the herd reads in order to confirm their moral, political, and social misconceptions. Is that why you read? Me neither (242).
First of all, I found the continual use of "Mrs." and "Mr." throughout the book rather annoying - I get annoyed reading the New York Times, too - but that's just me. What really kind of irked me here is his dig at other types of literary criticism. While Granger is correct that those types of criticism aren't intended to delve into why a book is necessarily popular, I take exception to "Is that why you read? Me neither." Why isn't the point of these other criticisms - but how we engage with a text is. And quite frankly, Twilight does pander to some awful sexist stereotypes - there's no escaping that (more spoilers for my review!) I don't think the books are popular because of those tropes, but I find it extremely disconcerting that so many people can overlook them.
All of that is just the summary of the first half of the book. This is thick, academic-style stuff. Now for the religious half:
The second half has three major chapters, examining the series as the work of a Mormon artist, a Mormon apologist, and a Mormon apostate - or how her faith influenced the novels, what parts stand out as wish fulfillment style arguments against criticisms of her faith, and then where she actively criticizes her faith. This is where people tend to get up in arms about Granger's work.
From what I can tell, Granger did indeed do a great amount of research - there's an extensive bibliography at the end of the book. Some of what he read was written by Mormons, and some wasn't. What was written by Mormons he says had a pasteurized quality, following the principle of "progressive truth" where Mormon missionaries are to speak about the "more conventional elements of the faith" before more difficult tenets (155). This means that in a lot of online critiques, Granger is accused of harboring anti-Mormon sentiments because he is citing the works of non-Mormons (who may or may not have held an anti-Mormon grudge - I haven't done further research into these authors and while Granger certainly didn't sound anti-Mormon in his talk that doesn't mean his analysis is perfect or free from anti-Mormon bias given his research sources).
It is also in this section that some of those "gaps" I mentioned earlier come into more prominence. For example, the three Cullen couples are supposed to represent the Holy Trinity, or the mind, the body and the spirit in a slightly more secular sense. But then there's Edward who is God and/or Jesus (God when Bella is seeking religion, but Jesus in the sense that she can only seek salvation (being a vampire) through him). Of course, God and Jesus are usually part of the trinity, and Granger acknowledges this...but doesn't really resolve it. There's a similar gap when we come to Bella's transformation into a vampire and Renesmee's presence. Renesmee is the child of a god and a human and "saviour" who has "brought peace between the Quileutes and Cullens and revealed the Volturi for the evil they are" - yet it is Bella who has undergone a baptism by blood and a three day resurrection process and actively saves lives in that final confrontation (145). So who the hell is the Messianic figure - Edward, Bella or Renesmee? There's never a resolution.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post (it seems so long ago!), Jettboy linked me to criticism of Granger's work written by an actual Mormon. So far I haven't been able to find any criticism of Spotlight itself; Jettboy's link critiques one of Granger's blog posts, and another post critiques an article Granger published in the November/December 2009 edition of Touchstone, a Christian journal. So some of the specifics of both of those blog posts become a little outdated when it comes to reading the full book (for example: Tyler Chadwick in the first article wishes that Granger had read Saturday's Werewolf, which is in fact cited at length in Spotlight)
The biggest problem these self-identified Mormon's seem to have with Granger's work is it comes across as anti-Mormon to them. I have a whole bunch of notes where I try to rebut their criticisms in order to "prove" Granger isn't anti-Mormon, but about halfway through I realized that I am totally the wrong person to be making that argument - just like I as a white woman don't get to correct a black person about issues of racism and I don't appreciate men telling me something isn't actually sexist, as a non-Mormon myself I can't really say what is actually anti-Mormon. So there's little I can engage with on that level - except to say that I think calling Granger an anti-Mormon is needlessly combative, just like calling someone a racist or a sexist doesn't solve those arguments, either - it's much more productive to call out the specific offensive action or word.
However, some of what they call out as anti-Mormon I had problems with as well, though for a different reason. Granger has clearly done some extensive research into Mormon history - even if some of that history was written by people with less-than-positive views of the religion. However, some of these ideas (the Mountain Meadows Massacre inspiring a dream about a meadow, Mormonism actually having roots back in 17th century England where Carlisle just happens to live before becoming a vampire) are so esoteric that I question whether someone would know them without doing extensive research. Especially if these ideas are considered anti-Mormon by the faithful, would Stephenie Meyer, a devout Mormon but by no means a fanatic or a scholar, really have come across them? Would they have stuck with her enough to form such important parts of her story? That's where my skepticism really comes in.
So what's my final verdict on Spotlight? It definitely raises some interesting questions, and provides some objective history of the writing process of the books (for example, Meyer says that the inspiration for her vampires comes more from Marvel superheroes than from vampire mythology. In some ways that makes them much more palatable to me!). If you're a geek like I am an enjoy applying scholarly thinking to popular works, you'll definitely get some enjoyment out of this - provided you can look past the fact that you've probably never before heard of any of the tools Granger uses. I'm still not a Twilight fan, but I'm definitely thinking about the books in a new light now.
The next post in this series will finally address my review of Twilight!
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