Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Human Love and Sexuality in Stephenie Meyer's "The Host"

My regular readers will certainly not be surprised that the theme that most interested me in Stephenie Meyer's novel "The Host" was its treatment of human love.

The story begins when the alien life form "Wanderer" is placed into the body of human female Melanie Stryder. Melanie continues to maintain her human awareness while Wanderer controls the body (and narrates the tale). Wanderer can feel the physical attraction that Melanie's body maintains for Jared, Mel's partner. At the same time, another human male, Ian, falls in love with Wanderer, the alien being inside Melanie's body.

When I gave a presentation at the Mormon Women's Forum's Counterpoint Conference in 2006, I discussed my feelings about the bonding that takes place between couples who are sealed in the Temple. I opined that a sealing ordinance is merely a spiritual symbol of a phenomenon that takes place when two souls develop bonds that are so strong that they cannot be broken even after death. I was reminded of this when I read Meyer's description of the bonds which still existed between humans even after their bodies had been taken over by the alien intelligences. For example, read this passage, where one of the aliens explains why she chose to remain with the husband of her host, Kathy, even after Kathy's sentience had been replaced:

"And Curt...You chose to stay with your host's spouse? After it was over?"

This question was more pointed, and Kathy grasped that at once. She shifted in her seat, pulling her legs up and folding them under her. She gazed thoughtfully at a spot just over my head as she answered.

"Yes, I chose Curt -- and he chose me. At first, of course, it was random chance, an assignment. We bonded, naturally, from spending so much time together, sharing the danger of our mission...We lived every day with the knowledge that we could meet a final end at any moment. There was constant excitement and frequent fear. All very good reasons why Curt and I might have formed an attachment and decided to stay together when secrecy was no longer necessary. And I could like to you, assuage your fears, by telling you that these were the reasons. But..."

She shook her head and then seemed to settle deeper into her chair, her eyes boring into me.

"In so many millennia, the humans never did figure love out. How much is physical, how much in the mind? How much accident and how much fate? Why did perfect matches crumble and impossible couples thrive? I don't know the answers any better than they did. Love is simply where it is. My host loved Curt's host, and that love did not die when the ownership of the minds changed."

I was quite taken with Stephenie Meyer's description of Wanderer's similar attraction to Jared. As in the above example, there were several facets to this attraction. The first was simply the physical attraction which the body continued to manifest -- a purely corporeal response of Melanie's body to Jared's physical presence. Then there were emotional responses that the alien Wanderer began to feel. The following excerpt is a conversation Wanderer has with Melanie's consciousness in her head, after seeing Jared for the first time after the possession.
She [Melanie] hesitated for a long moment, and then the rest of the words came out in a rush. I thought it was all me -- the way we feel about him. I thought I was . . . in control of that.

The thoughts behind her words were clearer than the words themselves.

You thought you were able to bring me here because you wanted it so much. That you were controlling me instead of the other way around. I tried not to be annoyed. You thought you were manipulating me.

Yes. The chagrin in her tone was not because I was upset, but because she did not like being wrong. But...

I waited.

It came in a rush once more. You're in love with him, too, separately from me. It feels different from the way I feel. Other. I didn't see that until he was there with us, until you saw him for the first time. How did that happen? How does a three-inch-long worm fall in love with a human being?


Sorry. I guess you sort of have . . . limbs.

Not really. They're more like antennae. And I'm quite a bit longer than three inches when they're extended.

My point is, he's not your species.

My body is human,
I told her. While I'm attached to it, I'm human, too. And the way you see Jared in your memories . . . Well, it's all your fault.

She considered that for a moment. She didn't like it much.

So if you had gone to Tucson and gotten a new body, you wouldn't love him anymore now?

I really, really hope that's true.

Since, as Latter-day Saints, we believe that the human soul consists of both a spirit and a body, I am not sure what fascinates me so much about the notion of a purely spiritual connection, divorced from physical ties. We've all heard about or experienced physical attraction which lacks the spiritual/emotional component, but there isn't much discussion about a love which lacks the physical element. This is the relationship which Wanderer begins to develop with Ian. Although her body's physical responses are still linked to Jared, her emotions are engaged by Ian.
I realized, when he smiled then, that I wanted him to like me. The rest -- the hand on my face, the fingers on my arm -- I still wasn't sure at all about those. But I wanted him to like me, and to think kind thoughts about me. Which is why it was hard to tell him the truth.

"You don't really feel that way about me, you know," I whispered. "It's this body . . . She's pretty, isn't she?"

He nodded. "She is. Melanie is a very pretty girl. Even beautiful." His hand moved to touch my bad cheek, to stroke the rough, scarring skin with gentle fingers. "In spite of what I've done to her face...But, pretty as she is, she's a stranger to me. She's not the one I care about."

That made me feel better. Which was even more confusing.

"Ian, you don't . . . Nobody here separates us the way they should. Not you, not Jamie, not Jeb." The truth came out in a rush, more heated than I'd meant it to be. "You couldn't care about me. If you could hold me in your hand, me, you would be disgusted. You would throw me to the ground and grind me under your foot."

His pale forehead creased as his black brows pulled together. "I . . . not if I knew it was you."

I laughed without humor. "How would you know? You couldn't tell us apart."

His mouth turned down.

"It's just the body," I repeated.

"That's not true at all," he disagreed. "It's not the face, but the expressions on it. It's not the voice, but what you say. It's not how you look in that body, but the things you do with it. You are beautiful."

He moved forward as he spoke, kneeling beside the bed where I lay and taking my hand again in both of his.

"I've never known anyone like you."

I sighed. "Ian, what if I'd come here in Magnolia's body?"

He grimaced and then laughed. "Okay. That's a good question. I don't know."

"Or Wes's?"

"But you're female -- you yourself are."

"And I always request whatever a planet's equivalent is. It seems more . . . right. But I could be put into a man and I would function just fine."

"But you're not in a man's body."

"See? That's my point. Body and soul. Two different things, in my case."

"I wouldn't want it without you."

"You wouldn't want me without it."

Tell me, readers, do you long to have someone love you like that? Where it wouldn't matter to them if you were a 3-inch long alien? Does it interest you to dissect the different bonds which attract us as humans? Is it important for you to know if your partner loves you spiritually as well as physically? Do you think you would love your partner as well if they were in a different body?

You'll have to read this book to take a look at some the other themes that Meyer covers. Another motif in The Host is conflict and pacifism. I may explore that one later, too, if I get around to it.


Bored in Vernal said...

Oh, I forgot to say, Stephenie Meyer's tale ends happily ever after, a triumph of love over all else--but she is wrong. In real life, a human could never love a three-inch-long worm.

Anonymous said...

I love my husband spiritually, emotionally, and physically. I do feel loved like this. Love isn't necessarily always roses and gooey goodness and I feel that you probably know that being married for as long as you have. Truly loving someone comes from all of these aspects. If something happened to my hubby, disability or he was permanently maimed, etc...of course I would still love him. So how do you love your DH? Do you wish for more passion from him or life in general? I just find your view very interesting.

Anonymous said...

I also, am loved like this. I have always been more attracted to a mans spirit rather than body, with the love you pocess for eachother spiritually first, the physical attraction soon follows. My husband and I knew eachother for 2 weeks before we moved in together and got engaged and were married within the first 5 Months later. Thirteen years later, neither of us has ever looked back, there was no doubt in my mind before we got married and to this day there remains none. It is because of our spiritual connection, him being half of mine and me his that have gotten us through any and everything that has come our way. Don't get me wrong, the physical aspect is fantastic as well, but it is the love for the inner self to begin with that bonds us to eachother. I would love him no matter who/what he was for the person he is, not the person he looks like.