A recent post on GetReligion.org about Mitt Romney and Stephenie Meyer prompted these thoughts:
The attraction of the Latter-day Saint imagination both to the Young Adult fiction genre and to speculative fiction has been a focus of the academic study of Mormon literary culture well before Twilight. For a summary of Mormon Young Adult fiction (successful both in the niche LDS market and nationally), see my blog post (http://bit.ly/seDRj). In teaching the Literature of the Latter-day Saints at Brigham Young University, I account for this affinity to adolescent literature by relating the Mormon concept of eternal progression to the bildungsroman literary tradition (the coming of age novel). Joseph Smith himself authored a spiritual autobiography that can be considered in this tradition.
A theology based on evolving into progressively higher states of being links YA fiction and science fiction (or fantasy) where such themes are common (as in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Those studying Mormon literature have long discussed the affinity between Mormonism and speculative fiction. In this regard, see Marny Parkin's impressive bibliography (http://www.mormonsf.org/) or the 1300+ entries in these two genres in the Mormon Literature & Creative Arts database (http://MormonLit.lib.byu.edu).
As for why Mormon bookseller Deseret Book has withdrawn Twilight from its shelves, there is a simple explanation. It isn't because it is not selling, but because it is selling too well, and the content is simply of too dubious a nature for many of the very conservative Mormon patrons of that retail chain. Twilight is sexually titillating, at least for LDS young women who are taught to embrace an identity of virtue and chastity, and they (along with many of their mothers) are reading these books with more relish than many other Mormons feel comfortable about. Deseret Book sells bibles and religious materials and compares to the Family Christian Stores chain. How would the mainstream conservative Christian feel about their family-friendly bookstore selling a lot of vampire fiction?
Mormons have high aspirations to various kinds of political, religious, and cultural legitimacy. Public figures like Mitt Romney or Stephenie Meyer complicate those aspirations because Mormons are excited to see one of their own do well, but the very success of highly publicized Mormons makes them question the degree to which such public figures are truly representative of their faith. This is the typical trajectory of an emerging ethnicity.
Those interested in understanding Mormonism (and I include Mormons here) need to understand it less as a set of static beliefs and more as a dynamic ethnicity that--like the American culture in which it has taken root--produces prominent individuals who prove to be simultaneously more and less representative of their host culture. Is it really Romney's or Meyer's Mormon character that accounts for any of their success or failure? Maybe. But not even the beliefs evident in his politics or her fiction find simple correlation with Mormon doctrine. Nor does Romney or Meyer receive universal or unqualified approval from Latter-day Saints, either.
The Romney phenomenon has laid bare the fact that a lot of public sentiment about Mormonism has simply been prejudice. I think it has also generated good public discussion regarding the relationship between religion and politics. Meyer's is a more complicated case, since her success says as much about her mostly non-Mormon readers as it does about this LDS writer. The more relevant question may not be regarding the Mormonism in Meyer but the vampirism in her readers--or whatever beliefs or appetites of the moment have stimulated the meteoric rise of this sort of story.
Any public representation of a group can stigmatize it, which is why the phenomenon of the religious celebrity is always problematic. Deseret Book may also reject Meyer's fiction for the same reason Mormons reject the cross. Mormons do want to be marked, to be known, but not by a sign that has so much baggage that it becomes a red herring diverting people from something essential to the faith. Vampirism certainly fits in that category. But what of the cross? Mormonism truly tries to be a restored Christianity, and so it rejects a great deal of the culture of traditional Christianity (such as the crucifix) while simultaneously making claims of an even greater presence for Christ. It repeats the Protestant impulse of the 16th century. And like Protestantism (or Catholicism before it), Mormonism finds itself having to deal with the emerging forms of culture (whether celebrities or symbols) that may or may not resonate with their core faith.
Some have said Mormonism is a wake-up call for Christianity (in either a positive or negative way). If reporters are treating centuries-old biblical beliefs in the supernatural as though they are the product of a strange new religious cult, or if the Mormon imagination positing the immanence of the divine is represented as a novelty, then the sort of attention Mormons are receiving about their "fantastical" beliefs reveals that the mainstream no longer resonates with a miraculous and present God. Of course, that was the cry of Jesus against establishment Judaism in his day. Every religious tradition is always in peril of succumbing to the "routinization of charisma" as Max Weber puts it, nowhere more evident than in popular cultural representations of religion.