A high-school English teacher reviews
How to Analyze the Works of Stephenie Meyer

8.16.12 | | 6 comments

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Ran into this book in the New! section of my local library a couple weeks ago and decided to bring it home for a looksee. It’s part of ABDO Publishing’s “Essential Critiques” series which include books on how to write about everyone from Stephen King to Paul McCartney to Sylvia Plath to George Lucas to C.S. Lewis to Toni Morrison to Quentin Tarantino to Virginia Woolf to Andy Warhol to Georgia O’Keeffe—it’s an eclectic group of subjects, to be sure.

Author Marcela Kostihova is an associate professor at Hamline (you don’t suppose she knows Angela?) where she is primarily a bardologist. She does, however, teach a course on Stephenie Meyer in modern American culture.

The book has ten chapters. The first is an introduction to criticism, the second a brief bio of Meyer. The remaining chapters alternate between a plot summary of one of the four primary Twilight novels and application of critical theory to that novel. Twilight gets structuralism, New Moon psychoanalytic criticism, Eclipse queer theory, and Breaking Dawn gender criticism.

As a high-school teacher, I would be delighted to receive any of Kostihova’s sample essays (the bulk of the analysis chapters, after a brief introduction to the technique) from a student.* I thought the analysis of Eclipse‘ a bit weak, but the other three  would have left me weeping with joy. They are topnotch examples of the sort of analysis kids should leave high school able to execute.

In short, the book is a terrific and simple introduction to four critical theories through popular literature. If I had several books from this series, I would be able to introduce more than four theories. I could assign different books to different kids, then have them present their volume’s theories to the class. In short, I can see many ways to use these books in a classroom.  But don’t think they’ll do the work on their own. That chapter one was a pretty anemic introduction to critical theory. Just add teacher, I suppose. Then you really have something.

* * * * *

Taking off my high-school specs for a moment and looking at the book through my MoLitCrit goggles, as an intro to Meyerian studies, the book is still mostly a success. The sample essays are good because they engage with the novels as legitimate pieces of literature. They aren’t dismissive; they are serious and smart. And this is good.

But now let’s look back at the biographical chapter two.

The Mormon thing is hit pretty hard in the bio, to the point where the lack of a Mormon-theory chapter feels like an unfired first-act gun. And what do you think of this sentence?

[Following her marriage,] Stephenie relinquished her public duties—except her ongoing service to her church—to be a homemaker.

I find this sentence astonishingly awful. What, Mormon moms can’t vote? Raising kids is antithetical to public duty? I’m perplexed by the sentiment. My wife, when I read it to her, was as offended as I’ve ever seen her.

The rest of Kostihova’s attempts to engage Meyer’s Mormonism mostly consist of dropping the M-word word a few times. She needs to mention it but has nothing to say so she just keeps mentioning it. Kind of . . . lacking, as biography.

The happy news is that though the biography tries and fails to show much respect for its subject, that lousiness is not predictive of how the novels will be treated.

I wish Kostihova knew a bit more about Mormons. I think she would dig out some insights from Meyer’s works with the critical application of Mormon ideas. But I respect that she recognized she doesn’t know the subject and thus just left it alone in her literary analysis.

If Meyer studies actually catch on though, Mormon literary theory will need to broaden its reach.

All the same. Speaking as a high-school teacher, I liked this book. Well done, Professor Kostihova.

6 comments: “A high-school English teacher reviews
How to Analyze the Works of Stephenie Meyer

  1. Scott Hales

    One of my more traumatic professional conference experiences happened when I presented a paper on Twilight to a room of folks who (I felt) seemed to think my being a Mormon disqualified me from having anything of value to say about Twilight and Mormonism. Plus I think they took offense when I told them that I didn’t think the sparkly white vampire thing was coded evidence of Mormon racism.

  2. FoxyJ

    I think that introducing high school students to literary criticism through something accessible is brilliant. I wish more high school English classes would do this.

    The question is, how much does the fact that Meyer is a Mormon matter? Is it essential to a reading of her work? Does it matter in the same way that Austen is female or that Faulkner was from the South? Or is it not important?

  3. Moriah Jovan

    how much does the fact that Meyer is a Mormon matter?

    I think it matters a lot because it informs this idea of a “chaste” courtship, which is a heavily beat drum in the church, particularly to young women, where much other YA lit coming out right now is not chaste.

    That said, I just saw a couple of comments on a romance blog wherein the commenters were bitter that it was Mormon propaganda. So, there is that.

  4. Th.

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    What Mormon isn’t a propagandist according to such people?

    I actually don’t think it’s necessary to give Twilight a Mormon reading. The only reason I brought it up was because the bio of Meyer that preceded any analysis of her work was so fascinated with her Mormonism that it felt like a missed opportunity. Coitus interruptus, if you will. But not on this blog.

  5. Stephen R. Marsh

    “Hamline” — all I knew about them was their ADR program. Once had an invitation to interview for a job there, but I was glad I did not follow-up when Bobby went back. The person hired must have been terribly uncomfortable when she returned, albeit Bobby is a wonderful person.

    Interesting how blind the author was to her anti-Mormon prejudice.

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