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Is "Twilight" a romantic teen fantasy – or a deeply religious parable?

Look deeper at Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" teen vampire series and you'll see the underpinnings of a decidedly conservative moral universe.

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But as Susan Jeffers suggests in "The Twilight Mystique," for Mormons Adam and Eve’s fall is not a cause for woe. Rather, it begins the human story of individuals opting through conscious moral reasoning to choose good over evil. This, in turn, confers the possibility of moral and social development that offers the opportunity not only for atonement but also redemption. Eve’s decision to eat the apple and persuade Adam to do the same lies at the heart of the Mormon belief that the fall, moral agency, and afterlife provide the pathway to salvation. Bella’s choices mimic those of Eve.

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From the Mormon theological perspective, therefore, the very act of deciding to become a vampire may be interpreted less as a fall from grace than as a necessary first step in the exercise of free will that offers the potential for wisdom and the possibility of redemption. This process parallels the Christian fall, the choice to embrace the beliefs of Jesus Christ, and the prospect not only for salvation but for immortality.

For Meyer, it would seem, salvation for “vegetarian” vampires is possible. Carlisle, the spiritual father of the Cullen family who is nearly saintly in his embodiment of empathy and restraint, tells Bella that in 400 years nothing has “made me doubt whether God exists.... Not even my reflection in the mirror.” For the author, this family is the paradigmatic illustration in the "Twilight" saga of the Mormon faithful. They are outsiders whose beliefs lie beyond the pale of normative Christianity. Nevertheless, this confers upon the tribe an exalted status as they strive mightily to live exemplary lives, embracing free will, resisting temptation, and upholding righteous morals – qualities that, undoubtedly, enhance their prospects for redemption.

"Twilight" immerses the reader in the throes of adolescent desire. Beneath the surge of raging hormones and high school angst is a story that celebrates outsiders as the purveyors of a decidedly conservative moral universe where love, family, and spirituality prevail against all odds. If the literary quality of "Twilight" is grossly suspect, its religious sensibilities are not. For this reason, perhaps, it deserves a second look, even if its leaden style and prosaic plot leave us wanting.

Diana Sheets is the author of two novels: "American Suite" and "The Cusp of Dreams." Her essays on literary criticism and political commentary are archived on her website www.literarygulag.com. This essay is a distillation of a lengthier piece called "Twilight, Harry Potter, and the Youthful Reader: Morality, Gender, and $$$ in Today's Fantasy Blockbusters."

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