What will it be like for a marriage to continue past death into the eternities? What does it mean to have a perfected body, or to love an eternal being? Stephenie Meyer has an answer. Breaking Dawn, the last novel in her Twilight series, presents a sustained and vividly imagined view of one of the core elements of Mormon personal salvation.
[This post is going to discuss all the details of Breaking Dawn, including how it ends, so please stop reading now if you don’t want to know.]
The first three novels in the Twilight series were skillfully written romances set in a world of vampires and werewolves, but Breaking Dawn, rather than merely tying up the series’ story arc, gives us Bella: Her Origin and Destiny. A conventional romance would see Bella’s marriage to Edward (or, more crassly, her conjugal union with him) as the culmination of the story, but Breaking Dawn does not share the teleology of bridal magazines. Marriage is not the culmination, but the beginning (and Meyer spends barely 100 pages getting us to that point, leaving over 600 for the rest of the novel). If Meyer had wanted to write a tear-jerker, Bella would find fulfillment in sacrificing her life for her child—but for Meyer, maternal self-sacrifice is also only prologue. I had thought that the Twilight series was driven by the tension between Bella’s self-destructive wish for vampirehood and the impossibility of its fulfillment—but the story Meyer wants to tell at the close of the series is about wishes fulfilled, not self-denial or personal destruction.
Bella, as it turns out, has always been meant to become a magnificent being with a glorious, powerful, unaging body in which no blood flows. Her real destiny is to put aside the physical clumsiness and limitations that have previously defined her and to become endowed with talents and abilities beyond her imagination, and to be a partner equal in every respect to Edward. Bella’s marriage and her relationship to their child, and her extended ties to everyone she loves, are not limited by mortality. If the first three novels in the series are very human stories involving love and indecision, frustration and self-denial, Breaking Dawn tries to imagine a life that is no longer mortal.
Breaking Dawn, I gather, has come in for some criticism. Although the author lowers the curtains discretely over the scenes of Bella and Edward’s intimate relations, she makes no attempt to hide what they’re doing, or that they rather enjoy it. It is, after all, what married people do. (Go ask your mother; she’ll explain.) Whenever my fifth grader gets around to sneaking Breaking Dawn out of the bookshelf, I won’t stop him. Although Breaking Dawn is fantasy, the depiction of pregnancy as a perilous internal assault by a life-sucking parasite, which might upset some people, is all too accurate outside of those times and places with access to modern medicine.
It is true that Bella’s transformation removes much of the tension in the story, which might leave some fans disgruntled if they were expecting a thriller. Even the final conflict with the Volturi ends bloodlessly—but the point, I think, is precisely not that a new clan should claw its way to the top, as the irredentist Romanian vampires are hoping, but rather that greed and fear are powerless against ties of love and affection. In Mormon thought, we make much of pre-mortal and post-Millennial wars between Christ and Satan and their followers, but there is never any sense that victory is in doubt or that the threat of violence is even at all serious. Meyer takes the same cue for the final conflict in Breaking Dawn, which is, to resurrect another Mormon trope, a battle of testimony.
One might object that vampires, murderous, ruthless, blood-crazed monsters, could never represent perfect immortal beings, or that it would be beyond tasteless to make the attempt. But why not? After all, in the words of someone who was not Mormon, but is frequently quoted as if he were, “[T]he dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare” (PDF link). The difference between the two is, in the Twilight series, largely a matter of proper diet.
It should be clear in any case that Breaking Dawn is a profoundly Mormon book by a proudly Mormon author, and a good reason to put behind us the anguished hand-wringing about the state of Mormon letters and instead start circling all the major deals in Publishers Weekly.