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Association for Mormon Letters


Association for Mormon Letters

Provo, Utah

2004 by the Association for Mormon Letters. After publication herein, all rights revert to the authors. The Association
for Mormon Letters assumes no responsibility for contributors statements of fact or opinion.
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Presidential Address
Our Mormon Renaissance
Gideon O. Burton

Emma Lou Thayne

Michael Minch


Marilyn Brown


Lavina Fielding Anderson


Murder Most Mormon: Swelling the National Trend (Part II)

Conspiring to Commit
Paul M. Edwards, read by Tom Kimball


Keynote Address
The Place of Knowing

Friday Sessions

The Tragedy of Brigham City: How a Film about Morality Becomes Immoral

The Novelization of Brigham City: An Odyssey

Pious Poisonings and Saintly Slayings:

Creating a Mormon Murder Mystery Genre

God and Man in The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint

Bradley D. Woodworth


Mary L. Bingham Lee


Nichole Sutherland


Brady Udall, the Smart-Ass Deacon

Egypt and Israel versus Germany and Jews:

Comparing Margaret Blair Youngs House without Walls to the Bible


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Stone Tables: Believable Characters in Orson Scott Cards Historical Fiction

Holly King


Casey Vanderhoef


Daniel Muhlestein


Marilyn Arnold


Travis Manning


Kimberley Heuston


Out of the Mouth of Babes:

An Analysis of Orson Scott Cards Use of Dialogue in Enders Game

Subversion and Containment in Xenocide

Keynote Address

Saturday Sessions

Art and Soul: Lessons from Willa Cather

for Mormon Writers, Critics, and Audiences

I Write Personal Essays to Save My Soul:

The Sermonic Roots of Eugene Englands Literary Voice

Bridging the Divide:

Writing about the Spirit for the National Young Adult Market

Real Life, Who Needs It?:

Real World Influences on the Writing of Young Adult Fiction
Randall Wright 101
Defiling the Hands with a Holy Book:
Future of Book of Mormon Scholarship
Mark Thomas 109
Cities of Refuge
Harlow S. Clark 115
Gathering in Nauvoo: Remembrances of the Lofgren Family
Elizabeth Mangum 123
Sister Bean and Satans Power: A Look at Contemporary LDS Legends
Ronda Walker 129
Mormon Women Writers and the Healing Power of Truth
Kelly A. Thompson 135



Wallace Stegners Gathering of Zion: Creating a Usable Mormon Past

Jennifer Minster Asay 141
Telling the Truth: Teaching Creative Writing to LDS Students
Jack Harrell 145
The Cultural Shaping of American LDS Women
Jacqueline Thursby 151
Questing I, Altogether Other, or Both?
Three Poems and a Prose Bit on Nature
Patricia Gunter Karamesines 167
My Big Fat Greek Wedding as a Model for LDS Filmmakers
Eric Samuelsen 173
Dangerous Questions Affecting Closer Interests:
Subversion and Containment in The Senator from Utah
Kylie Turley 179
A Mind-Body-Spirit Assault: The True Antagonist in The Giant Joshua
Michelle Ernst 187
Holiness Emerging from My Mouth
Jacqueline Osherow 191
Writing Religion from a Christian Perspective
David McGlynn 193
The Power of Parables
Sarah Read 197
The Threat of Mormon Cinema
Gideon O. Burton 199

NOTE: Unless otherwise identified, all of the papers in this compilation were delivered at the Association for Mormon Letters
Annual Meeting, Passing the Portals: Mormon Literature for the Twenty-first Century, 2122 February 2003, at Utah Valley
State College, chaired by Cherry Silver and Jen Wahlquist, sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters; the Center for
the Study of Ethics, UVSC; and the Department of English, UVSC. Also presented but not submitted for publication were
The Mormon Literature Database by Gideon Burton, Connie Lamb, Robert Means, and Larry Draper; and A Spycho-Social
Evaluation of Edgar Mint by Charles J. Woodworth.

Presidential Address

Our Mormon Renaissance

Gideon O. Burton

enaissance. The very word conjures notions of

possibility. It means revival, rebirth, and by
this term we celebrate the best of human creativity,
the realization of our greatest potential in art and
literature. Leonardo da Vinci, Shakespeare, Galileo,
Cellini, Montaigne, Raphael, Gutenberg, Giotto,
Petrarch, Castiglione, Cervantes, Copernicus,
Michelangelo, Miltonin the bright shadow of
these leading lights, is it presumptuous to name a
Mormon Renaissance? Is it an embarrassing understatement, an oxymoron? Of course it is! You cant
compare My Turn on Earth to King Lear, or Arnold
Friberg to Leonardo da Vinci, or an Enrichment
meeting refrigerator magnet to Ghibertis baptistry
doors in Florence. Thats just not fair. The European Renaissance looms so large, its accomplishments are so rich and vast, that the artistic and
literary achievements of our people in comparison
could only seem, well, very small indeed.
Our culture is in the same position as British
culture was in the early sixteenth century. The Italian Renaissance had been underway for two hundred years by then, and English authors looked
back at Castiglione or Petrarch in Italy with shame
and envy. And they should have been ashamed and
envious, for English literature was in pretty bad
shape. John Skelton, for example, wrote many
poems with form and content like this one, whose
lines describe a grotesque moonshiner:
With a whim wham
Knit with a trim tram
Upon her brain pan;
Like an Egypt-i-an. (77)

And this from the poet laureate of both Cambridge

and Oxford! English literature was in trouble. Writers
like Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard began to
imitate Petrarchs sonnets. But it took most of the
sixteenth century for British writers to experiment
with poetic meters that actually sounded good. We
often think of Shakespeare representing the
Renaissance, but long before Shakespeare came
the experimenters who were less successful with
their subjects and their sounds. Consider Richard
Stanyhurst, who diligently translated Virgils
Aeneid into English, producing lines like these:
Madness hath enchanted your wits,
you townsmen unhappy?
Ween you, blind hoddypecks, the Greekish
navy returned? [. . .]
But lo! To what purpose do I chat such
janglery trim-trams? (55657)

To what purpose? I think I know. A few janglery

trim-trams must be coughed out before To be or
not to be can come to be. The European Renaissance was a period of three hundred years. For the
Mormon Renaissance, patience is in orderas well
as tolerance and encouragement for those in the
apprenticeship of their craft, or those who are willing to experiment with new forms of expression or
media. In the nineteenth century, less than twenty
Mormon novels were published. In the twentieth
century, there have been a thousand. Mormon
pens have awakened, and we would do better to
measure and commend each moment of literary
progress, than to await the messianic arrival of
some future Mormon Milton.

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For this reason the Association for Mormon

Letters presents its awards, prints its publications,
and holds its conferences: to encourage and critique Mormon authors. For nearly thirty years we
have been teaching one another upon whose shoulders we must stand to reach upward. I wholeheartedly believe Wayne Booths dictum that Mormons
will never attain a great artistic culture until we
have achieved a great critical culture (Booth, 32),
for until we learn discernment, until we can separate the wheat from the chaff aesthetically and ethically, we would not even recognize a Mormon
Shakespeare if we had one. You will forgive me if I
suggest that, after examining hundreds of Mormon
publications and products, I find there yet remains
some winnowing to be done.
Criticism was a central component animating
the European Renaissance, for the Renaissance was
not simply a period in which genius somehow flourished; those accomplishments occurred in response
to and in very conscious appreciation of superior
works of art that had preceded them. Paradoxically,
the great strides forward of the Renaissance were
only possible by looking steadfastly backward. They
looked to models of the greatest works of literature
among the Greeks and Romans and strove to imitate the powers they perceived in poets like Horace
and Ovid, in orators like Cicero and Demosthenes,
in playwrights like Terence and Seneca, and in the
epic writers Homer and Virgil. The past, they felt,
was passport to their future. They felt inferior to
what was written long before, and in this strong
humility they found a patience to observe the formal qualities of Latin syntax or of Greek constructions, and studied the classical authors as much for
their form and style as for content, for their rhetoric, their arrangement, their use of reasoning and
their riches of rhythm. The ancient writers were
held in awe, but the Renaissance humanists turned
their awe into analysis, knowing they could never
match the achievements of the ancients without
understanding their methods.
I believe we have the same inferiority complex
as Renaissance authors did, but I dont know that
we have transformed those feelings of inadequacy
into a similar humility in which we are willing to
study carefully exemplary authors from the past. As

a writing teacher I am continually amazed how

many students fancy themselves to be writers without bothering to be readers. The greatest writers
know their debts to generations who preceded them,
and in their long apprenticeships have tried on words,
styles, and forms they found effective in the greatest writers. Shakespeare was derivative, and gloriously so. I do not mean he simply borrowed plots.
He studied and transformed the genres he had read,
from Senecan tragedy to pastoral romance. His sonnets also show him working by imitation, closely
observing specific rhetorical strategies and patterns
from his predecessors. The great Renaissance literary works came about as acts of emulation.
Can we pretend to achieve Mormon Shakespeares if we will not imitate Shakespeares respect
for and careful study of his predecessors? Can we
pretend to aspirations in the novel if we will not
study how the best of novels work, both in our
own tradition and the larger world? I have read
some current LDS domestic fiction and know full
well the authors have read neither Jane Austen nor
John Updike. I see some LDS Young Adult fiction
whose authors havent bothered with E. B. White
or with LDS writer Virginia Sorensens Miracles on
Maple Hill, which won the Newbery Medal in
1957. And if Mormon writers of popular fiction
have read Dickens or Twain, it is not very apparent.
Do you want to write a philosophical novel but
have not read Herman Melville or Umberto Eco?
We have popular historical novels in spades now,
but have these authors read Stephen Crane, Irving
Stone, Lew Wallace, Gore Vidal? Any Mormon
writing historical fiction better have read Maurine
Whipples Giant Joshua and Virginia Sorensens
A Little Lower than the Angels. We condemn ourselves to a cycle of ephemeral pulp unless and until
we follow a literary spirit of Elijah, turning to our
literary forefathers and foremothers, preparing for
our children works that will outlast the first paper
they are printed on.
Such looking back and looking closely at our
literary heritage does not suit well todays produceand-consume markets, where appetites are quickly
fed and satisfied with little accounting to the past or
to the future. When the entire culture has attention
deficit disorder, it takes an act of bravery to look

Our Mormon Renaissance

over ones shoulder even a decade or two, or to

look beyond the afternoons best-seller list into a
lasting future. Planned obsolescence is the reality
of contemporary publishing, and Mormon markets, like national ones, feed on novelty, not necessarily quality, and there is always the distinct
possibility that a popular success may be falsely
equated with literary success. In contrast to todays
book marketing, I think of the publisher Aldus
Manutius in Renaissance Venice. Committed to
issuing the best texts of the best literary authors of
antiquity, his press put out quality, affordable editions of almost every significant Greek and Latin
author and made possible the growth of those
humanist studies that became the backbone of a
liberal education to this day.
If we look back to the early days of Mormonism we can find this same Renaissance hunger for
good literature, an appreciation of things literary
that went beyond gift books and doctrinal treatises.
We have an ardent desire to increase the value of
our literary productions, said Elder Francis M.
Lyman in 1899, speaking of the Sunday School
organization (Lyman, 83). The Sunday School had,
since the pioneers arrived in Utah, established
libraries in wards consisting of classical literature,
and church auxiliaries like the Relief Society promoted both the reading of great authors and the
writing of fiction. There have been so many Relief
Society lessons on studying the English novel or
Shakespeare that in the Mormon Literature Database we have had to establish the Relief Society lesson as a distinct literary genre. The Improvement
Era meant improvement educationally and culturally, not just spiritually, and tried to carry into
Mormon circles larger discussions about education, books, and films. Mormon history is especially rich in the literary contributions of women,
from Eliza R. Snows poetry to the many literary
contributions of Emmeline Wells as editor of the
Womens Exponent, to the annual short fiction contests in the Relief Society Magazine.
From the pulpit of general conference good literature has been endorsed and recommended, not
simply in negative terms to contrast with inappropriate entertainment, but because in its beginnings

Mormonism valued literature the same way that

the Renaissance humanists didas a vital link both
with the past and with the future, as a place where
a more holistic vision of human achievement could
find its proper expression. Elder Levi Edgar Young
was particularly ardent in the 1950s in attempting
to reanimate this early vision for language, learning, and literature, reminding the Saints how
Joseph Smith himself became a student of Greek
and Hebrew, and classes in the ancient languages
were organized in the Kirtland Temple (Young,
1950, 117). In Nauvoo schools and a university
were founded. The need for a fine library was
keenly felt, explained Elder Young, for the seventies must then as now be eagerly reading and
searching for the truths of the gospel (Young,
1952, 104). Like Orson Whitney before him, Levi
Edgar Young emphasized that a missionarys role
was not merely to dispense gospel truths, but also
to discover them among the peoples and writings
of the world. In 1845 the Times and Seasons
described Nauvoos Seventies library:
The concern has been commenced on a footing and scale broad enough to embrace the arts
and sciences, every where: so that the Seventies
while traveling over the face of the globe as the
Lords Regular Soldiers, can gather all the curious things, both natural and artificial, with all
the knowledge, inventions, and wonderful
specimens of genius that have been gracing the
world for almost six thousand years . . . [forming] the foundation for the best library in the
world! (Qtd. in Young, 1952, 104)

A few years later in Salt Lake City, attempting still

to fulfill this ambition of gathering and appreciating the worlds best achievements, the combined
seventies quorums proposed the erection of an
extensive rotunda in Great Salt Lake City, to be
called the Seventies Hall of Science,something like the British Museum that many of the
early Twelve had visited in London. Brigham
Youngs brother, Joseph Young, headed the project,
with Truman Angell designing the building in
an ambitious gothic revival style (Young, 1952,
1045). In this the early Mormons were like those
of the Renaissance whose imaginations had been

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fired by the architectural ruins of Rome and who

similarly desired a cultural revival on a grand scale.
The great Rotunda was not built, but this ideal
of collecting and disseminating the best literature of the past took hold, and soon the Seventies
library contained the works of John Locke, Tacitus,
Goethe, Bunyon, Marco Polo, and Charles Darwin.
In 1851 a vast library was purchased in New
York City and brought out to the Utah frontier,
adding to the territorial library the works of Shakespeare, Milton, Bacon, Homer, Juvenal, Lucretius,
Virgil, Euripides, Sophocles, Plato, Montaigne,
Spenser, Herodotus, Goldsmith, and others. The
library received copies of the New York Herald,
New York Evening Post, the Philadelphia Saturday
Courier, and the North American Review. Of the
scientific works there were Newtons Principia,
Herschels Outlines of Astronomy, and Von Humboldts Cosmos. . . . The treatises on philosophy
included the works of John Stuart Mill, Martin
Luther, John Wesley, and Emanuel Swedenborg
(Young, 1952, 1056).
We have a very strong history of valuing literature and writing in Mormonism, if we will embrace
our own peoples history and reanimate their early
vision of literatures role in building up a civilized
and sophisticated people, equally at ease with religious doctrine and with secular knowledge.
The Mormon Renaissance is not something in
the distant future, but already something underway.
It began with Mormonism itself, for the restored
gospel names the rebirth not only of the primitive
Christian church, but the rebirth of human civilization itself and of those liberal ideals of embracing all truth that shared by both Latter-day
Saints and their Renaissance forbears. Our theology, explained Parley P. Pratt,
is the science of all other sciences and useful
arts . . . philosophy, astronomy, history, mathematics, geography, languages, the science of
letters; and blends the knowledge of all matters
of fact, in every branch of art, or of research. It
includes, also, all the scientific discoveries and
inventionsagriculture, the mechanical arts,
architecture, shipbuilding, the properties and
applications of the mariners compass, navigation

and music. All that is useful, great, and good;

all that is calculated to sustain, comfort, instruct,
edify, purify, refine or exalt intelligences.
(Pratt, 12)

If we do not see ourselves as participating in

the ongoing Mormon Renaissance, then we have
abandoned the sense of vision that gave a few thousand immigrants and frontiersmen the courage to
lay down cities and raise up temples, founding universities, colonies and industries, confident that
God was providently leading his people forward
despite mobocracy, apostasy, and primitive conditions. Their small beginnings were matched by
their grand vision.
The early Latter-day Saints shared with their
Renaissance progenitors a profound sense of opportunity, renewal, wonder, and discovery that came
about in the wake of those ships that had newly
traversed the planet and opened new worlds up
to the Renaissance mind: Colombus had discovered
the New World; de Gama had rounded the Cape
of Good Hope and opened the East to the West;
Cabot had sighted Newfoundland; Vespucci had
found Brazil, Balboa had discovered the Pacific
Ocean, Magellan had circumnavigated the earth;
Jacques Cartier had discovered the St. Lawrence
Seaway. Similarly, early advances in science had
opened up both the heavens and the earth: Copernicus purported the heliocentric universe which
Galileos telescope and Tycho Brahes observation
confirmed; and Robert Hookes microscope in the
seventeenth century would open another world. In
this context of expanded possibility, it became possible to imagine new orders of being, new social
worlds to match the riches and wonders of the
physical world opening up. Thomas Mores Utopia
is an excellent example of how the Renaissance
humanists both looked backward to the ancient
world as a model (Mores Utopia updated Platos
Republic in fantasizing a better human order on
earth) and forward to new possibilities that had
been opened in the human spirit just as new geographies had been opened up on the horizon.
The nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints continued this Renaissance tradition in simultaneously

Our Mormon Renaissance

looking back to ideal societies in antiquitythe

primitive Church and Enochs City of Zion
while embracing the American ideal symbolized by
the very frontier that they pioneered, where new
human worlds seemed as possible as those vast
new landscapes before them. Mormons have
always envisioned a millennial society in the not
too distant future, embodying our highest ideals.
Mormons put their social idealism to work, of
course, creating Nauvoo, Great Salt Lake City, and
the United Order communities of late nineteenthcentury Utah in real-life Utopian experiments. Like
Thomas More, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, our
literature has included attempts to depict an idealized society. In Added Upon Nephi Anderson portrayed a millennial world where the literary arts
would be as significant as the innovations in economics and politics that other utopian literatures
have emphasized. More and Anderson are followed by speculative Mormon authors like Orson
Scott Card. In the realm of science fiction we can
recognize the Renaissance impulse to conceptualize new worlds.
Are we now reluctant to voyage upon the dangerous but rewarding seas of other genres, other
uses for literature? Are we content to settle for
some of the crass and hackneyed uses of literature
that surround us? Or can we envision literature as
carrying us toward something, as proving not an
ornament but a necessary accouterment of an exalted
society? To see the Mormon Renaissance fully
achieved we must re-envision the function of Mormon literature. It will not be a vehicle for marshaling recruits; it will not be pulpit pablum to
decorate doctrine; it must not be an inert alternative to worldly media; it shouldnt be an uncritical
imitation of established genres. It must be seen as
an engine, a vehicle for discovering truths sacred
and secular, a medium for bringing about Zion.
This is the understanding of literature that Orson
Whitney gave: literature is an epistemology, a way
of knowing, a way of capturing and focusing what
is of good report and praiseworthy within and outside Mormon borders. Literature is not a travel
brochure, advertising an attractive destination. It is
the ship in which we travel, by which we wend our

way, finding treasures in foreign ports, and weathering storms and waves.
The transformative powers of literature, the
spiritual resources of imaginative writing, were not
lost upon the Protestant reformers who formed the
second wave of the European Reanissance. I am
persuaded, said Martin Luther,
that without knowledge of literature pure theology cannot at all endure, just as heretofore,
when letters have declined and lain prostrate,
theology, too, has wretchedly fallen and lain
prostrate; nay, I see that there has never been a
great revelation of the Word of God unless He
has first prepared the way by the rise and prosperity of languages and letters, as though they
were John the Baptists. Certainly it is my desire
that there shall be as many poets and rhetoricians as possible, because I see that by these
studies, as by no other means, people are wonderfully fitted for the grasping of sacred truth
and for handling it skillfully and happily.
Therefore I beg of you to urge your young
people to be diligent in the study of poetry and
rhetoric. (17677)

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth

and seventeenth centuries brought a new focus
upon the literary, and upon the obligation of each
Christian to find his or her way not only by reading scripture, but by writing. The personal journal
became a necessary component of protestant
Christianity, for each person needed to compose
his or her own salvation narrative, a record of Gods
providence. Sometimes I think we cheapen the
notion of a personal record, as though we toss a
bone to the grandchildren by assembling a passable
scrapbook. We would do well to reread the soulwrenching devotions and meditations of John
Donne. When he wrote no man is an island, he
was not writing for posterity; he was writing for
sanity, each line a lifeline to his God. George
Herbert called his confessional poetry his private
ejaculationswhich in his day meant short
earnest prayers uttered in moments of emergency.
His poems may have lasted to futurity, but they
were his present means to wrestle with God, to
express his joys and to calm his fears. Perhaps the

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best Mormon tradition of devotional writings that

can ever be written must never be done with an eye
to publication, but to meditation. I think, perhaps,
that the great strength of Mormon writing will
come only as we give up worrying how our words
will sell, or how they will represent our culture. An
inner Renaissance is the only authentic one we
can fashion. Revision is repentance; turning a page
is turning a new leaf.
Such personal literary reformation is daunting
at times, perhaps because of the very fact that our
literary forbears loom so large in their eloquence.
We fear we could never measure up. Why should
we write? Every ship is a romanitc object, said
Emerson, except that we sail in. Embark, and the
romance quits our vessel and hangs on every other
sail in the horizon. Our life looks trivial, and we
shun to record it (252). But no life is trivial if
recorded with vigor and honesty and with respect
for the reforming force of form itself. To record
ones life is to reform ones life. In the spirit of
Renaissance explorationboth geographical and
literarywe should set sail across the unexplored
regions of our past or present, with as much faith
in where words can take us as they had faith that
ships would take them. They opened up worlds,
and words opened up them.
So let the Mormon Renaissance begin within
each of us! Enough of this hand-wringing and
timidness, this reluctance to compose ourselves in
ink, to do that work with words that is worthy of
the Word, the Son of God, who descended below
all things and above all things, tracing for us the
necessary trajectory of our souls and our art.
Enough of worrying ourselves into mumbling and
stumbling, when we have so much to say, so much
to express, inspired doubly by a living faith and our
faith in the lively, godly nature of the arts. We hold
back our personal salvation and we mock the progress
of Zion by not consecrating our aesthetic sensibilities, our drafts and redrafts, our stories, our narratives
of life in all its vibrant vicissitudes, its mystifying
contradictions, its soaring ecstasies and soulwrenching defeats. Eternity is within us and before
us; we have tasted the goodness of God. Yet we are
mired in ignorance and mortality and sin and self6

doubt and the misgivings and misfirings of a million sordid sorts. And in the middle of this mess
God has slapped us on the cheeks, has shoved a
paintbrush or a keyboard in our hands, presented
us with canvas and paper and stolen scraps of time
and told us Be like me, create. He has given us
redeeming work to do, if we will take the invitation
to work out our tangled thoughts, to work through
style and symbol, plot and character, to find him
and to better know the suffering he has known, to
find our siblings, all our fellow sufferers, and find
ourselves renewing and renewed through the rough
and tumble of these words and images, patterns
and rhyme, music and color and rhythm. And yet
we stand like balking Beehives at our first youth
dance, unwilling to embrace the Bridegroom,
unwilling to accept the gifts he lavishes on us
through that unspeakable opulence that is literacy.
I am a Mormon, and so I must create. I have
come to know a creating God, who calls himself
the Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters
of the Greek alphabet, his very name reminding
me that his good news comprises all that can be
said and thought within the bounds of language.
Can I be his disciple, really, if I will not unleash the
godly gift of language he has given me? I do not
think I can.
The Mormon Renaissance begins for us all the
moment any one of us steps forward to accept
the rebirth offered to us through the medium
of the Word. Immersed in words, will we be baptized by the Word, by the divine capacities of language, or will we stand to one side idling with
catchphrases and soundbytes, regurgitating words
and patterns acceptable within some applauded
genre, unwilling to bite our teeth into the pith and
core of what our language can convey if given even
half its mighty scope?
The Mormon Renaissance begins as we respect
what writing can effect within our souls and our
communities. The Renaissance Humanists believed
literature could rejuvenate both individual souls
and entire civilizations. Literature is a binding force.
It makes communities and makes communion, both
with God and every soul responding to its potencies.
It finds the parts of us that we had hidden and

Our Mormon Renaissance

ignored, it lets us feel the depths of wonder and confusion, pain and joy that we have never dared to
show to others. Oh, it is a messy thing, as messy as
the lives and thoughts that it reflects, deflects, inspects,
and redirects. It is a salving, saving medium, and
we have not discovered its rejuvenating center if we
reduce its function to teaching, preaching, or the
narrow motives of fame or money.
When will the Mormon Renaissance begin?
When your Mormon Renaissance begins. So tell
me, where is it you have hidden your true self while
you have tried to write or say what others might
approve of ? Where is that shadow self, the one so
full of anger and grief and profanity and lust and
all the other potent passions in which you live
and move and have your being as much as any better self you show at church? Where is he or she?
Free him. Liberate her. Grow brave enough to follow Jesus and to face your own Sanhedrin, and say
yes, this is who I am. Until we are willing to
stand condemned in open drama, we are not ready
for the closure of redemption in the final act.
Your Mormon Renaissance takes shape misshapenly, of course. So show me, where are all your
smudged and halting draftsdiscarded bodies of
your vain attempts to say your say? There is no
Renaissance without the thousand dying bodies of
those false attempts, the skeletons of first or worst
ideas, piling up a mound of wadded paper, or clotting up your hard drive in a folder you name
scrap. Creation is vivisection, things come halfalive and incomplete, a ream of shameful prose
must dung the way before a seedling roots itself in
viability. The ink is amniotic fluid that surrounds
and nourishes the thing you bring to being.
Renaissance means rebirth. Every birth is violent and delicate, precious, and messy. Birth is a
savage sea, says Pablo Neruda, that summons up
a wave and plucks a shrouded apple from a tree
(Neruda, 41). We must have the faith to be reborn
again and yet again, to find our vision in revision,
and then at length we shall emerge, shining and
upright, with words to match the glory of our God.

Booth, Wayne. Religion versus Art: Can the Ancient
Conflict Be Resolved? In Arts and Inspiration.
Ed. Steven Sondrup, 2634. Provo, UT: Brigham
Young University Press, 1980.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Complete Writings of Ralph
Waldo Emerson. New York: Wm. H. Wise and Co.,
Luther, Martin. Letter to Eoban Hess, March 29,
1523. In Luthers Correspondence, trans. and ed.
Preserved Smith and Charles M. Jacobs. Vol. 2.
Philadelphia: United Lutheran Publication House,
Lyman, Francis M. In Conference Report, October 1899,
7683. Salt Lake City: Deseret News Publishing,
Neruda, Pablo. Births [Los nacimientos]. In Fully
Empowered [Plenos Poderes], trans. Alastair Reid.
New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1975.
Pratt, Parley P. Key to the Science of Theology: A Voice
of Warning. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book , 1965.
Rollins, Hyder E., and Herschel Baker, eds. The Renaissance in England: Non-dramatic Prose and Verse of
the Sixteenth Century. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 1992.
Skelton, John. The Tunning of Elinour Rumming. In
Rollins and Baker, 7781.
Stanyhurst, Richard. The First Four Books of Virgil His
Aeneis. In Rollins and Baker, 55357.
Young, Levi Edgar. In Conference Report, October
1950, 11319. Salt Lake City: Deseret News Publishing, 1950.
. In Conference Report, October 1952, 1037.
Salt Lake City: Deseret News Publishing, 1952.

Keynote Address

The Place of Knowing

Emma Lou Thayne

t is an honor for me to be here addressing you

today, my friends. In many ways I am a babe in
your woods, you historians, biographers, genealogists, analyzers of facts, critics, purveyors of information, researchers, tellers of truth. In fact, when I
received a conference schedule from Jen Wahlqulst
listing my topic as Messianic Mormon Literature,
and another from Cherry Silver saying I would talk
on New Trends in Mormon Literature, I nearly
hopped back on a ship to the Panama Canal that
had just brought Mel and me home from eleven
days of no-think indulgence on the Caribbean. It
was my fault. Id been out of town for eleven days
as theyd tried to reach me. They needed a title for
the program, so Messianic? I looked it up: Marked
by mystical idealism in behalf of a cherished cause.
Maybe. But Messianic Mormon Literature? I was
flattered about their estimation of my scholarly
possibilities, and they could not have been more
accommodating when I returned and asked them
to include a more suitable title. My world of writing is one that sometimes has little to do with facts,
to say nothing of research. My historian husband
finds truth in what has happened. Without a calendar of events, to him, nothing has happened. My
truth is often in what surrounded that happening
and is most often not based on the calendar or
whats been written about it, even ordinary, let
alone Messianic. So instead, my topic will be what
I know something about, like whats in my new
book, The Place of Knowing, The Spiritual Autobiography of a Mormon Matriarch, out in October
with Greg Kofford Books.

Its about knowing. In other languages there are

three verbs for our English verb to know. First,
to know a factthat Im standing here, youre sitting there; that 2 + 2 = 4 (or did till quantum
physics had a say). Second, to know a person, to
have acquaintance with someoneas I know my
daughter Shelley, who drove me to Provo this
morning, or as I know many of you out there.
Third is simply to know that I know, not related to
anything palpable or provable, but to knowlike
about the hereafter.
Last Monday at 4:35 P.M. I was at the bedside
of Virginia Parker Peterson, my friend since
seventh grade at Irving Junior High. She was
dying. Her daughter Kari, a nurse, had called me
to come. She knew the fact that I had known Virginia for sixty-six years. She had lain in a benign
coma all day, not responding even to the love of
maybe twenty of her family who surrounded her
bed. Lou, we knew she wanted you to be here.
And goodness knows I wanted to be.
I took her handbeautiful, the hand of a
pianist, slim, unmarked, always her nails polished
her beautician daughter Ginni had seen to that
even thenshe knew how and knew how much her
mother liked it.
My friends face was stilled, immobile, far from
the face Id known on a young girl, a vital, colorful,
free-spirited young girl who dared to wear purple
lipstick in eighth grade when the rest of us wore
none, who dumbfounded us all by going from the
sorority at the U, on a mission, and then marrying
an ensign in the navy, getting her BA at the U

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when she was the mother of six, and counseling

there in Student Affairs. I knew her as a contributor on our General Board writing committee, as a
skier and water-skier, a reader of novels and scriptures and news that shed pass on to me, saying,
Lou, youd love thisor hate itshe knew me.
What a privilege it is to be known.
When her one living son was called to the Second Quorum of the Seventy, she smiled; when he
careened off a mountain starting a machine for a
young cousin and was paralyzed, she fell in a hallway, broke her hip, was taken to a care center and
never left. When her angel, steady, sturdy husband,
Wayne, died of cancer two years ago, she began
her disappearance. Now after surgery and complications with her diabetes dictating the possible
amputation of a leg, her four daughters and that
son in his wheelchair knew her well enough to
know to tell her attendants to pull the tubes, to let
her go.
Still holding her hand, as I kissed my dear buddy
on her forehead, her girls standing near said, She
fluttered her eyelidsher only sign of life for
hours. Then I leaned close to tell her what I was
there forwhat I know I was there for.
Virginia, you will be with Marilyn [her sister],
your folks, and Wayneand Kevin [who died at
eighteen months]. You will be welcomed into a beauty
you cannot imagineinto the Light. I know, Ive
been there, you know. I knew she knew. In a freaky
accident on the freeway Id had a death experience.
Wed talked of it often. Her breathing changed. In
five minutes my once colorful friend was gone.
Drew, her son, with tears streaming down his
handsome face, his hands immobile on the arms
of his wheelchair, said, She waited for you, Emma
Lou. She needed you here. What she needed was
what I know.
True or not, I needed to be there, was grateful
beyond words to Karl for calling me, to know to call.
Ill go from here this morning with all of you who
know so much that I dont, to speak at her funeral.
Thank you for allowing me this chance to
examine with you the knowing that is ineffable.

I know thoroughly that angels abide. Miracles

happen. Prayer is expectation and fulfillment. Here
and there are undivided except by our inability to
see without seeing. Love is eternal. As is God. We
are too. For all of my life, Ive been showered with
these truths. But only in my growing older and up
have I noticed. Maybe because Ive found them
most often in the ineffable.
I remember looking that word up about thirty
years ago to make sure I understood it when a sonin-law, Paul Markosian, used it in a poem about
flying solo in a small plane.
Ineffable: Beyond expression; indescribable or
unspeakable. Not to be uttered: the ineffable name
of God.
I understood it well. It was the moment before
the coming of a poem, seeing a baby born, watching that aspen drop its golden leaves in a wind, the
rich smell of their mulch, the song of a stream
falling into itself, an aria with flute, the flight of a
dancer. It was a wilted plant coming to life with
a drink of water, the crescendo of making love, the
disappearance of a bruise. It was seeing a vision
that I later leaned was not there in the painting of
the Sacred Grove in the chapel of my childhood.
It was accord surrounding a table, eyes holding. It
was that region between sleeping and waking, the
ultimate access to how. It was a daughter skiing a
flawless slalom, another playing a concerto or creating a stained glass window, any one of them
doing what I cantor can. It was the arrival of a
friend I had just thought about or the safe return of
a dear I had just prayed about. It was the whispering of my mother on the day she died, her talking
to someonenot meas I held her hand and knew
she was about to join that someone. It was what
happened to me in my death experience and long
return. Ineffable. That third kind of knowing.
How does it work in our world? For us writers?
Most of us dont write because we want to; we write
because we have to.
Were all here because were writers, part of that
solitary, confounding compulsion to put our kind
of truth on a page. It is a solitary occupation. Thank
all thats holy, remembering that God so loved the

The Place of Knowing

world that He didnt send a committee. But He has

given some instructions to the likes of us. As he did
to Emma Smith: And thy time shall be given to
writing, and to learning much (D&C 25:8). Ours
is a kingdom of words and access to what inspires
them. Again in Doctrine & Covenants 88:11: And
the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is
through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which
is the same light that quickeneth your understandings. That quickening is as persistent as a grain of
sand in the brain and then the surprise as it comes
up on a screen or a page. The outrageous peace of
letting it out. . . . What a forever crazy, lovely disease we have.
About this knowing as we write. Just because I cant
prove something does not mean it is not true. Just
because it does not appear on the calendar does not
mean it did not happen.
We are, after all, our stories. How to explain
the ineffable with a story? A good example is
Jostein Gaarders in Sophies Choice: The astronaut,
who was not a believer, said to the brain surgeon,
I have been in the cosmos many times, and never
has I seen a heavenly being. The brain surgeon,
who was a believer, replied. I have been inside
many clever brains, but never have I seen a thought
or an idea.
This is that third kind of knowing. Beyond believing or even having faith. Its knowing. It involves a
search for wholeness as ongoing as prayer. Let me
take you on my journey to that Place of Knowing,
starting through the perception of a childthrough
intuition and hope, my first experience with death:
First Loss

My grandma shared her bed with me

Till she died when I was twelve.
We slept with breaths that matched.
(I went to sleep every night restraining
Deliberately one extra breath in five
To let her slower time teach mine to wait.)
She never knew I waited, but talked
To me of Mendon where Indians ferreted

Her isolated young-wife home for cheese and honey,

And of Santa Barbara and eerie tides that
Drew her now for gentle months away from snow.
And sometimes of Evangeline lost in the forest
Grandmas batter-beating, white-gloved, laughing
Daytime self slept somewhere else, and she visited
Mellifluous beyond my ardent reach, always off
Before me. I followed into rhythms I knew
Were good, her chamois softness weighing me
By morning toward a cozy common center.
She died there when I was twelve.
I was sleeping, alien, down the hail
In a harder bed, isolated from the delicate
Destruction that took its year to take her.
That night my mother barely touched my hair
And in stiff, safe mechanics twirled the customary
Corners of my pillow one by one. Grandmas gone,
She said. Crepuscular against the only light
Alive behind her in the hall, she somehow left.
My covers fell like lonely lead on only me.
I lay as if in childrens banks of white where
After new snow we plopped to stretch and carve
Our shapes like paper dolls along a fold.
Now, lying on my back, I ran my longest arms
From hip to head, slow arcs on icy sheets,
And whispered childhoods chant to the breathless
Angel, Angel, snowy Angel,
Spread your wings and fly.

And later through experience with the ineffable:

Many years into my adulthood when asked by
my poet friend Maxine Kumin about why I stay
in my Mormonism, I wrote a story to explain it:
When I was a little girl, my father took me to
hear Helen Keller in the Tabernacle. I must have
been about eight or nine, and Id read about Helen
Keller in school, and my mother had told me her
story. She decided it would be more important for
me to go than for her. I remember sitting in the
balcony right at the back of that huge domed building that was supposed to have the best acoustics
in the world. Heleneverybody called her that
walked in from behind a curtain under the choir
seats with her teacher, Annie Sullivan. She talked at

AML Annual 2004

the regular placewithout a microphone in those

days, but we could hear perfectly, her guttural, slow,
heavily pronounced speechall about her life and
her beliefs. Her eyes were closed and when it came
time for questions from the audience, she put her
fingers on her teachers lips and then repeated for
us what the question had been. She answered questions about being deaf and blind and learning to
read and to type and, of course, to talk. Hearing
that voice making words was like hearing words for
the first time, as if language had only come into
beinginto my being at leastthat moment.
Someone asked her Do you feel colors? Ill
never forget her answer, the exact sound of it
Some-times . . . I feel . . . blue. Her voice went up
slightly at the end and meant she was smiling. The
audience didnt know whether to laugh or cry.
After quite a lot of questions, she said, I would . . .
like to ask . . . a fa-vor of you. Of course the audience was all alert. Is your Mormon prophet here?
she asked. There was a flurry of getting up on the
front row, and President Heber J. Grant walked up
the stairs to the stand. She reached out her hand
and he took It. All I could think was, oh, I wish I
were taking pictures of that. I . . . would like . . .,
she said, to hear your organ . . . play . . . your famous songabout your pio-neers. I . . . would
like . . . to re-mem-ber hear-ing it here, all the
time holding the hand he had given to her to
shake. I liked them together, very much.
I remember thinking I am only a little girl,
probably others know, but how in the world will
she hear the organ? But she turned toward President
Grant and he motioned to Alexander Schreiner,
the Tabernacle organist, who was sitting near the
loft. At the same time President Grant led her up a
few steps to the back of the enormous organ
it has five manuals and eight thousand pipes. We
were all spellbound. He placed her hand on the
grained oak of the console, and she stood all alone
facing us in her long black velvet dress with her
right arm extended, leaning slightly forward and
touching the organ, with her head bowed.
Brother Schreiner played Come, Come, Ye
Saints, each verse a different arrangement, the
organ pealing and throbbingthe bass pedals like

fog hornsas only he could make happen. Helen

Keller stood therehearing through her hand
and sobbing.
Probably a lot more than just meprobably
lots of us in the audience were mouthing the words
to ourselvesGird up your loins, fresh courage
take. Our God will never us forsake, and then well
have this tale to tellall is well, all is well . . .
I could see my great-grandparents, converts from
England and Wales and France and Denmark in that
circle of their covered wagons, singing over their
fires in the cold nights crossing the plains. Three of
them had babies dieall under twoand my grandmother, great grandpas second wife whom he loved,
burried in Wyoming. And should we die, before
our journeys through, Happy day! all is well. We
then are free from toll and sorrow too. With the
just we shall dwell. But if our lives are spared again
to see the Saints their rest obtain, Oh how well
make this chorus swell. All is well! All is well!
So then, that tabernacle, that singing, my ancestors welling in me, my father beside me, that magnificent woman all combined with the organ and
the man who played it and the man who had led
her to it, and whatever passed between the organ
and her passed on to me. I believed. I believed it
allthe seeing without seeing, the hearing without hearing, the going by feel toward something
holy, something that could make her cry and could
lift my scalp right off, something as unexplainable as a vision or a mystic connection, something
entering the pulse of a little girl, something that no
matter what, would never go away. What it had
to do with Joseph Smith or his vision or his gospel
I never would really understandall I know to
this day is that I believe. Whatever it is, I believe
in it. I get impatient with peoples interpretations
of it, with dogma and dictum, but somewhere
way inside me and way beyond impatience or
indifference there is that insistent, confounding, so
help me, sacred singingAll is well. All is well. My
own church inhabited by my own people, and probably my own doctrines, but my lamp, my song
my church. I would be cosmically orphaned
without it.

The Place of Knowing

That believing stayed. When I was a not-so-young

mother my knowing found voice in a hymn:
The year before my accident, the Mormon
church published a long-awaited new hymnbook.
On page 129 appeared the words I had written
while trying to deal with the scary biological illness
of our oldest daughter, then a freshman in college.
In 1970 manic depression or bi-polar disease,
anorexia, and bulimia were unknowns. More than
bewildered by our usually happy nineteen-year-old
Beckys self-destructive behavior, we stumbled in
the bleakest time we had known in our family.
Luckily, we sought professional help, found it in a
superb doctor and a newly found medical miracle,
a simple salt, lithium. She would need it for the
rest of her life. In and out of hospitals, through baffling efforts at continuing school, as she fought for
her very life, through anger and despair, she and I
never lost touch.
During that time of despair, I was working with
the General Board of the YWMIA to prepare a program for thousands of teachers of young women.
My friend Joleen Meredith had composed music
for a number of songs to lyrics I had written. We
needed a finale. Why not a hymn? Like Becky, Joleen
had suffered from a genetic depression herself, so
I knew that we both understood the imperative
behind asking Where can I turn for peace? On
one typically hectic Saturday morning I went to
my makeshift basement study among the lines and
shelves of the storage room, let my pen find its way,
and, in less than an hour, intuited three verses with
the answer. I called Joleen. She took the phone to
her piano, sat, and as I read a line, she composed a
line. We had our hymn, a hymn that would disappear after that program only to resurface in the
new hymnbook.
The search for inner peace is universal. Who of
us does not face grieving, loss, anger, illness, hopelessness? I know that the peace expressed in the
hymn is what provided the ultimate healing for
Becky and for me as her mother. When we included
it in our book Hope and Recovery, our New York
publisher declared it too religious. But we insisted.
What it spoke of had been basic not only to hope
but to recovery. It stayed in the manuscript.

In the years since, the hymn has been translated into uncounted languages, from Swedish to
Baba Indonesian, from Spanish to Cantonese. Once
my doctor brother on a medical mission with his
wife called me from an island off of Africa to say,
Hello, Lou. Im homesick for you. We just heard
your hymn sung by wonderful black twelve-yearoldsin Portuguese! It has been used by other
faiths, sung around the world and recorded on tapes
and CDs by congregations, duets, solos, groups as
various as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and New
Age improvising, even in jazz versions and rock and
roll in a new movie RM about returned missionaries.
Where Can I Turn for Peace?
Where can I turn for peace?
Where is my solace
When other sources cease
To make me whole?
When with a wounded heart,
Anger or malice, I draw myself apart
Searching for my soul?
Where when my aching grows,
Where, when I languish,
Where, in my need to know,
Where can I run?
Where is the quiet hand
To calm my anguish?
Who, who can understand?
He, Only One.
He answers privately,
Reaches my reaching,
In my Gethsemane,
Savior and friend.
Gentle the peace he finds
For my beseeching.
Constant he is and kind
Love without end.

Through her own strength and eventual willingness to accept loving support from family, friends,
professionals, and much from a young man, Paul,
who loved her, Becky found after three-and-a-half
years the healing that we so longed for her to find.
After twenty years of a good marriage to Paul, three
loving sons, success as a stained glass artist and real
estate agent, but still feeling the stigma of any history

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of mental illness, she called me, saying, Mom, I want

to tell my story. Lets write a booktogether. Ive
talked to lots of girls with the same problems I had,
and their mothers hurt as much as they do. Besides,
the problems I had are getting worse. She knew a
lot. I was proud of her. The book we wrote in a format of alternating Beckys story with Her mothers
story about the same incidents was published in
New York by Franklin Watts, and after two printings is now out of print there and being published
electronically for print-on-demand by Infinity
Publishing in Pennsylvania.
Then in my late fifties, seven months before the
accident that would take me to The Place of Knowing, came a new kind of knowingthe immediacy
of background meeting experience, coming to
know via the ineffableand the word suppose.
On November 16 and 17, 1985, seven months
before my own cosmic event on June 29, 1986,
Halleys Comet was said to be visible for the first
time in nearly a centurythe comet seen only every
seventy-six years, the one that Mark Twain waited
urgently to see before he died. He did. It last appeared
in 1910, the year of his death, and was now said to
be visible just to the right of the Plelades in the
eastern sky.
Nine of us residents from the William Stafford
poetry workshop at the Atlantic Center for the Arts
walked New Smyrna Beach, Florida, as we had for
ten nights of watching the ocean. That tenth night
we took turns looking through four pairs of binoculars to see the sky.
Naive viewer of the skies, I took my turn, skeptical of seeing anything but milky ways at every
focusing. Instead, after scanning left and right, up
and down, I called out, Hey! Near, but not at,
the place we had been instructed to look, darted a
bright flamboyant light. I handed the binoculars to
the others, said, See? See? They couldnt see. In
laughing frustration I pointed it out: Looksee
the star, very bright, just down from Pleiades?
Now, see the two not-so-bright stars just down and
left of that? Now, make an equilateral triangle with
those. At the apex of thatSee?
All more experienced with heavens and binocular sightings than I, they each tried, wanted to find

something as much as I wanted them to. No one

saw. You must be wiggling the glasses. Its a
UFO, Emma Lou, they said, not making fun, just
having fun, yet I think believing me. Why, I
thought, not just deny it? But I couldnt. Bracing
my elbows on a shoulder or the door of a car, trying to pick the light up anywhere else, using different glasses, taking time between viewingsno
matter what. I kept seeing that light. In exactly the
same place.
Finally one said, Oh well, Emma Lou, we know
you come from a visionary background. We all
laughed. From across the country, we were of different ages, backgrounds. and experience, selected
by William Stafford from our applications for residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts. We had
written, each of us out of our uncommon religious
backgrounds, from Catholic to Episcopalian to German founders of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to my
Mormon pioneer ancestors, all of us alive in our
differences. Bill Stafford, a poetic visionary, grown
up from the Quaker-like Church of the Brethren,
had said the day before, In any poetry workshop
we expect to be stimulated intellectually and emotionally, but this is the first time Ive been in on one
where we were stimulated spiritually.
The night of my sighting we walked home
along the hard, rippled Atlantic beach that, by day,
was for driving. Sticking up through the packed
sand in the slim moonlight, a bright shell caught
my eye. Jean, our naturalist, identified it for me.
An angel wing. Its whole, too! Thats rare for a
driving beach so much like Daytona. I took it to
my condo, set it on the table, and went to sleep
with it occupying my night.
For the next days workshop exercise, a Pantouma Malaysian verse form Id never heard of,
with lines repeated abcd, bedf, egfh, gihj, iajc. Mine
came from the night:
Meditations on the Heavens
The Comet Is an Angel Wing

Angel wings are on the beach

I found one shining in the sand
One late night looking for the comet
Wed been told would be by Plelades

The Place of Knowing

I found one shining in the sand

A nebulous and luminescent cloud like
Wed been told would be near Plelades
A long curved vapor tail by the moons first lifted lid
A nebulous and luminescent cloud now
Striated fragile rippled bone of wave tide wave
A long curved vapor tall by the moons first lifted lid
The shell as smooth and rough as what we walk
Striated fragile rippled bone of wave tide wave
An ancient icon like the comets head approaching
The shell as smooth and rough as what we walk
A celestial body grounded for our view
An ancient icon like a comets head approaching sun
An angel wing was on the beach
A celestial body grounded for our view
One late night looking for the comet.

Then, just before waking the next morning,

out of the night, the word suppose, linking comet
and shell to my visionary background. In my
Mormonism a fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith has
read James 1:5: If any of ye lack wisdom, let him
ask of God. On his knees, his heart full of questions, in a grove of trees near his fathers farm in
Vermont, he has a vision.
A new pantoum for me from the night.
The Comet Is a Startling Light

Suppose he really saw the vision, God, the angel

My church owns the story: Joseph in the grove,
A supernatural sight of extraordinary beauty and
While praying for a truth that had eluded others

It had to be believed, the unbelievable,

The meteor, the incandescent sparkler writing
names by Pleiades
Coming through binoculars the night I found
the comet
More than white on black that no one else could see
The meteor, the incandescent sparkler writing
names by Plelades
Suppose he really saw the vision, God, the angel
More than white on black that no one else could see
A supernatural sight of extraordinary beauty and

Suppose. A new dimension to believing. Later

I read: All direct knowledge is mystical. You can
never prove your experience of a color, a form
(Louis Thompson). The first major step in a religious life is wonder. Indifference to the sublime
wonder of living is the root of sin (Abraham Joshua
Heschel). By intuition, Mightiest Things / Assert
themselvesand not by terms . . . (Emily Dickinson). Just as it had been in my canyon or in Israel,
wonder was to be my friend in newly understanding the first prophet of my church, his dedication
to wondering and expecting a connection to the
divine, and his supernatural vision of extraordinary
beauty and significance.
Out of supposing, I wrote still another Meditation, this one while in seclusion in Sun Valley just
three months after my accident and before I could
even read it back. A new kind of meditation was
supplying me. I was remembering with vivid clarity being a young Mormon girl sitting in church.
The Comet Is Remembering

My church owns the story: Joseph in the grove,

Not unlike Joan, young Buddha, or Mohammed
While praying for a truth that had eluded others
From unusual encounter the gift more than

Not until today this small comet in my scalp:

The clattering of memory: the painting
In the chapel of my childhood against the organ
Joseph kneeling at the elevated feet of the Father
and the Son.

Not unlike with Joan, young Buddha, or

It had to be believed, the unbelievable
In unusual encounter, the gift more than surprising.
Looking through binoculars the night I found
the comet

The clattering of memory, the painting,

Backdrop to the hymns, the bishop, and the
Joseph kneeling at the elevated feet of the Father
and the Son.
Did the artist put it inthe visionor did I?

AML Annual 2004

Backdrop to the hymns, the bishop, and the

My quarter-century there, it rose indigenous as
Did the artist put it inthe visionor did I?
In the Sacred Grove, sun streaming on the boy
at prayer.
My quarter century there, it rose indigenous as
More real now than Palmyra, where I occupied
one grown-up Sunday
In the Sacred Grove: Sun streaming on the boy
at prayer
Indelible on knowing, like features of a mother
giving milk.
More real now than the Sacred Grove I occupied
one grown-up Sunday
Not until today this small comet in my scalp:
Indelible in the chapel of my childhood against
the organ loft:
the vision.

a friend her age, Susies heaven has an ice cream

shop, where, when you asked for peppermint stick
ice cream, no one ever said, Its seasonal.
Better written, Leif Engers Peace Like a River is
a novel about rare faith and even more rare family
affection. In his heaven Reuben finds, And now,
from beneath the audible, came a low reverberation.
It came up through the soles of my feet. I stood still
while it hummed upward bone by bone. There is
no adequate simile. The pulse of the country worked
through my body until I recognized it as music. As
language. . . . Like a rhyme learned in antiquity, a
verse blazed to mind: O be quick, my soul, to answer
Him; be jubilant, my feet! And sure enough my soul
leapt dancing inside my chest. Reuben knows he is
in heaven, his heaven.
So what about the reality of the heaven that I
know? The heaven I so ardently described to my
friend Virginia? My new book, The Place of Knowing, A Spiritual Autobiography, begins:
Chapter 1
A Journey to the Place of Knowing

Six months later, after another surgery had freed

up an optic nerve and I could see, I returned to my
childhood church, the Highland Park Ward chapel,
for the first time in maybe twenty years. Little had
changed. Through the entire missionary farewell
that we were there to attend, I studied with amazement the famous Lee Greene Richards painting
still huge in the nave that I had sat below for twentyfive years of growing up. Only the Sacred Grove
was there, trees, sunlight, sky. No boy at prayer, no
Father, Son.
Had it ever been there, the vision? I didnt ask
or need to know.

Things happen. Early in the world you travel

into them. One day
You rise without prayer in a far camp and
silently hurry away.
Having slept under stars and still breathing
the greyed fire.
Who would take time to suppose this the middle
of a lifetime? . . .

What more personal than believing? Knowing our

most intimate truth? Last week my husband and
I were on Mels dream, an eleven-day cruise to the
Panama Canal, just the two of us anonymous among
strangers. We sailed, we ate, we ate, we sailed. And
we read! Oh we read! Two best-selling authors of
novels took me to their personal place of life after
death, to their individual ideas of heaven. Alice
Sebolds The Lovely Bones is set in heaven. Susie at
fourteen has been raped and murdered in the first
chapter and watches life going on without her. With

The day I died my son-in-law Jim and I had to

leave camp early on that Saturday morning, 28 June
1986. He needed to be at the hospital, where he
was chief resident in plastic surgery, and I wanted
to be back to help a good friend with the announcement party at noon for her daughters wedding.
Leaving our loved ones asleep, we drove my husband
Mels new Taurus. Jim at the wheel, we laughed as
I read from the manual about what knob or button
would activate what magiclike how many miles
we were getting or how far before we ran out of gas.
Luckily. I was looking down, reading.


. . . an exaltation of joy . . . even more

beautiful than anything in a dream.
Madeleine LEngle, A Wrinkle in Time

The Place of Knowing

Without warning, the crash. A six-pound rod

like a tire iron with an elbow in it, somehow airborne, smashed through the windshield into my
face. It missed my right eye by a hair and lodged in
the back window of the car.
Jim didnt see the iron bar until it was crashing
into me, when he saw my head fly back and then
forward. Without a seat belt, he said later, Id have
crashed through the fractured windshield. What
hit me? I asked him, my hand at my temple full of
blood. Glass in my eye. That handful of blood. Jim
looked at me, then to the back of the car. Youll
never believe what hit you, Grey, I heard him say.
Its huge! A piece of iron as long as my arm, and
its stuck in the back window. I guess I asked him
to give me his T-shirt for the blood. He pulled onto
the shoulder of the highway, stopped, stripped off
his shirt, pushed it against my temple and eye.
What must it have felt like to him, specializing
in plastic surgery, knowing what he did about
facial and head injuries? How frightened was he?
Hed been my pal, my partner on the tennis court.
He loved our daughter and their children. Id happily helped pay his medical school expenses, in awe
of his photographic memory. Wed planned to write
a mystery novel about a bum patient incomprendibly
wanting his fingerprints changed. Jim turned on
the flashers and drove ninety miles an hour to his
hospital, almost hoping for a patrolman.
Outside of Emergency, attendants pushed here,
there testing reflexes, asking questions of Jim, of
me. They put a collar on my neck, laid me on a
stretcher, and rushed me to X-ray. I felt nothing as
doctors tried to clean glass out of my eye. Only distance and almost indifference. Windshield splinters covered me. My smashed sunglasses were in
my eye as well. What had hit methat spear from
the godswas the L-shaped rod that holds a mud
flap on a rig of two or three trailers with up to
eighteen wheels. Later, Jim, the scientist, calculated
the force of the blow when the three-foot rod
flipped up from the freeway and through the windshield: six to eight pounds of iron moving toward
us at fourteen miles per hour to collide with our
windshield moving at sixty-five miles per hour. Several hundred joules of energy, Jim said, dissipated

on the end of a rod into my temple. X-rays would

show eight fractures. Jaw broken. Six teeth killed.
My eyeball would have to be moved to allow repair
of the socket. Concussion, what else to my brain?
No one should have survived, the police officers, doctors, staff, and reporters said then.
But I thought I didnt even lose consciousness.
Uncharacteristically, my family were all either
back at camp or otherwise out of town. Jim was
meeting with his chief of surgery, Dr. Louis Morales,
renowned for facial reconstruction on children, to
discuss what needed to happen for me. I lay alone
in some white room, waiting but not waiting.
Out of the dim our oldest daughter, Becky,
mysteriously appeared, almost vaporized for me.
Jim had found her Markosian family where I had
told him they wereweek-ending at Snowbird
resort twenty miles away. As any one of my five
daughters would have done, she took my hand,
I think crying. Her love palpable, she was reality
but not reality. It would be weeks before I could
reenter myself, let alone my world. Where I was,
there was no such thing as emotion. Seven months
later I would write:
To you nothing here is immediate, crucial, in
the least attractive
No expecting beyond hours of X-rays, stitches,
shots, ice.
All that time returning, you vague about familiar hands,
Tangled in your head, the blow to trace, surely
someone elses story.

I never cried. I was not afraid. I felt nothing, not

even great pain. Someone else occupied my skin.
It would be seven months before I could read or put
my head down, seven months until the reality of a
future coming to pick me up and carry me home.
But it took others to tell me what had happened.
I had never in my life before been a victim to
violence. What must it have done to a psyche so
preserved in loving-kindness to be smashed by a
totally chance blow, to come so close to death and
yet be saved, to be put back together in essentially
the same fashion as before, and yet have stretched
and screwed and pounded into that same head so

AML Annual 2004

much that wasnt there before? How must it be,

I wondered, for people who are bludgeoned time
after time by not only chance, but circumstance?
I didnt tell Rachel Jeraldine McFarlane, whom
I had met a few months before, about the accident.
The February before that June, a friend had recommended Rachel to read my energy. Full of
humor, insight, and original metaphors, young as
one of my daughters. I found Rachel had astonishing gifts. After the disastrous trip in August, curious about my slow healing, I went to her for another
reading. At this point, there were no outward signs
of my smashed face. After the swelling subsided,
and I frequently applied liquid vitamin E, the scar
was barely visible.
Yet Rachel said, You are still you, but pastel,
pale. And so sad. You are walking very lightly on the
earth. You have been to the place of knowing, and
you have come back to do something. You have made
a promiseto tell us about that place of knowing.
Until you can do it, the sadness will be there.
Why should I be sad? I was alive. I was free of
the great fear of dying that pursues us all. But now
I had the displacement of surviving and not understanding why. But she was right. I could remember
having forgotten something. I had only the greyness of no desire, the absentness, the loss of wonder.
Yet, because I could not read or jiggle in activity
as I always had, I began to hear some inner music
that I had been too busy most of the time to let
play. It was all there, waiting to be reconnected.
The thought of making those connections did not
frighten me. Besides, I began to know what else
was therethe other place where beyond my
prayers I council with my guides, my departed
dears, in the time and space where I had made the
decision to return.
Recorded in my journal in January, before I
could read, the knowing. One morning as I awoke
I knew I had been in that place where I had gone in
the accident. The date of what would be the start
of my revelation was 1/12/87the address of my
childhood home where Id lived from the time I
was born until, at age twenty-five, I went away to
be married. It was less a dream than an awaking
to the child life I had known at 1287 Crystal Avenue,

where I still knew every castor bean and crack in

the pavement, where my family, of no age as their
forever selves, were waiting for me, a total enveloping of time, upstairs and down, everywhere alive as
the long past must be for the very old who can
remember so far back but little from today. Except
that today was there too, illuminated softly, everything softly, my heaven, the family at the table the
way we always sat: Father, Gill, Mother, me, Grandma
at the end opposite Father, on the other side,
Homer, Richard. Three gone, four still here. As Id
said in one of those peace poems about my Aunt
Edna, only survivor of her generation, everywhere
is now a dead and a living place. Then I was awake,
crying, my tears welling and spilling in a joy
beyond joy, everything and everyone utterly dear,
accessible, totally there. But I was not separated from
nowI was the true me again, in my childness, my
freedom and rightness, effortless the being.
My journal said I went back and back to it
early and late that morning, held, freed, not wanting to leave wherever I was. Crying. So strange for
me. Yet that day the only natural thing. I did not want
to surface. I could hold to any part of the vision, let
it play back and forth. I was a cloud, formless, in
motion but without a road or path, only the sky to
float across.
The experience was far beyond ecstasy or joy or
even bliss. And I brought back that intuited word
childnessnot childlike or childish, but childness.
And not a dream. I remember the feeling of childness when I see a new baby at a mothers breast or
a two-year-old like our final grandchild, Emma,
born on my birthday, climbing adroitly into her
car seat and saying to her two brothers and the rest
of us adults in the van, Hey guys, Im happy! Yes.
To a child everything is new, full of wonder that
gives rise to astonishment. Being is simply being,
without dictum or expectation.
Four months after my visit to that other existence, a poem came out of sleep explaining what
had happened. It happened again between sleep and
waking in that place Tibetans call lucid dreaming.
Without changing a syllable, I wrote on the pad
beside my bed what had been a mystery until that
gift from the place of knowing.

The Place of Knowing

Having Died
Out of fhe Night: Childness
More than a state of being
A new being
Suffused in light
Whatever is there like being held
In Fathers arms
Way beyond Safe
Carried asleep
From one quiet to another
All of it a heartbeat
Back back back the coming together
Carried in a dark velvet womb
Floating from density
Into light
This is only the beginning
Whatever that is
I like the others of no age
Willing for once to wait
Knowing in time
Only the exquisite balance
Of everywhere at once
Saying You are here
Come, you of no name
That Emma fits
Who hears and answers
The answers
Childness knows no blame
Only the lightness of being
In your childness
Nothing will be lost
Though all is right
In the place of no sides at all
Of return without going away
Know this that Time is Life
Enclave born to other enclaves

As I woke still scribbling the poem without

punctuation, reality began to take hold. The writing was beginning to come from me rather from
some other informing. The poem became mine to
explain my return:
Every step of the weaning
Still heavy on my pillow
The joy is lifted with me.

From even the light am I detached

It takes me in only
Till love calls me to
The things of this world.

The Richard Wilbur quote came out of a long-ago

response to his line. I knew much that I hadnt
known before. The poem had made it explicit.
Still, it took another friend, Sonla Gernes
poet, former nun, novelist, head of English at
Notre Dameto speak my change outright. She
had been on a Fulbright in New Zealand and,
catching up, I told her of my accident. She was the
first ever to actually say what had happened to me.
But of course I understand, she said. You died.
Off and on, I got used to the idea. Was death
what Rachel meant by going to the place of knowing? Was death why I was so profoundly altered?
Out of the night, another poem told me:
Was a Woman

Was a woman a twopart woman played as if

she wasnt all she was
who passed the middle
of the grave running
into herself trying to round
corners she got smaller
or was it bigger and had
trouble telling anyone
she had disappeared.

Little by little, I sensed my role, my promise: to

tell about knowing about the place of ultimate knowing that I had the privilege of visiting. Its about
PASSING THE PORTALS, yes, about a new definition of my believingfrom my grandmas death,
Angel, Angel, snowy Angel, spread your wings
and fly; to Helen Kellers teaching me about seeing without seeing, hearing without hearing, going
by feel toward something holy; to seeing a comet
that no one else could see. About supposing and
then knowing that Joseph saw the vision, God, the
angel; to being carried from a velvet womb into
the Light of Childness; to T. S. Eliots
We shall not cease from exploring
and the end of all our exploration
shall be to arrive where we began
And to know that place for the first time.

AML Annual 2004

Three kinds of knowing. All explored through

writing. All found in my Place of Knowing like a
photograph coming out of developing fluidat
first murky, then with an edge appearing here, a
detail there, until finally when the book is finished,
the clear picture of my death and my heaven. My
believing? My third kind of knowing? That is my
Mormonism with all my pillars still intact and with
the roof blown blessedly off the structure to reveal
a whole skyful of stars. Yes, ineffable. Perhaps the
fourth kind of knowingthat heaven is as personal as breath, as inviting as birdsong, as real as
any fact or acquaintance or ineffable discovery. It is
what waits like an angel or a vision or a heavenly
body, like an answer to a prayer:
The Wick and the Flame
Back from incandescence,
flame full, wick high,
to snuff or lower brightness
to accommodate
the crossing of a sill
from ultimate to less,
bewildered pulses run Amoco:
Head shoulders soul toes
fingers feeling for a place
to turn the screw
that separates bright then
a brilliant having been
full of mystery and surprise
from inner feasting
to the wan approval of sameness
in syllables and certainties
of wicks long settled
in the obvious
unfanned by air that stirs sweet night
like fantasies and rapture
made holy by the shining elsewhere
hovering out of sight.

Because I always know:


The Place of Knowing

Epilogue from Psalm 139

O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising,
thou understandest my thoughts afar off.
Thou compassest my path and my lying down and
art acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord,
thou knowest it altogether . . .
If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me;
even the night shall be tight about me.
Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night
shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both
alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins: thou
has covered me in my mothers womb.
I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully
made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul
knoweth right well.


The Tragedy of Brigham City:

How a Film about Morality Becomes Immoral
Michael Minch

suspect that in writing, directing, and portraying the main character in his film Brigham City,
Richard Dutcher wanted to make a movie about
the moral fabric of a community of faith. It seems
clear that this is the principal theme of the film. In
what I take to be the core scene of the film, because
it crystalizes the films purpose, an older member
and former sheriff of the community of Brigham,
Utah, states, The worlds gonna drag us in whether
we like it or not. See, what we got here is a paradise, and nothing attracts a serpent like paradise.
This is an allusion, of course, to the story of the Fall
in Genesis 3, but its also an allusion to the films
thematic dialectic: paradise is, well, paradise
until evil crawls in undetected from the outside
and then things change as evil begins to make its
mark. A pure community thus becomes harmed
and changed, innocence is lost, as an evil one from
outside makes his way into the community. Yes,
indeed, here is an echo of our first parents corruption, and a connection made between the innocence
of Gods children before sin and the innocence of
the Mormon community of Brigham.
But, while the film is putatively about, intends
to be about, the moral character of a religious community, it actually sends a different message to those
who pay attention. A film that wants to be about
a strong moral community is a film that becomes
subverted by itself. Thus, this movie becomes tragic
through the unintended irony it offers. Interestingly,
the film ends near to where it might more profitably beginwith the death of a guilty man who
is a part of the community, yet perhaps not a part

of the communityand his pregnant wife and her

child still in the community. How will she be received
by this community that so deeply values families
and valorizes their cohesiveness? Will his guilt stain
her too?
Well, I have signaled my take on this film, but
I will explicate my exegesis of it a bit further before
turning to a brief consideration of what a film about
morality requires by way of recognizing what morality is. Throughout the film, the good versus evil,
light versus dark dialogue is so frequent, obvious,
and without sophistication, that there would be
a comical element to it, except that since this isnt a
Simpsons episode and the film is so earnest, it comes
off as hubris and self-righteousness. Very early in
the film, the main character, played by Dutcher, the
towns sheriff, a man who is also a bishop of one of
the communitys wards, speaks of the real world
and the outside world. He says, Im sick of it,
the murders [and other crimes]. . . . Heres all I care
about, he says, referring to the paradise of Brigham.
Soon, the film takes us to a construction site
where several men from elsewhere are a part of the
construction crew building homes in a new development. One of them literally shouts from a rooftop about all the churches he sees around him
(misidentifying the ward buildings about which he
speaking). He then shouts that where he is from
there are taverns on every corner and whorehouses
in between! Of course, this is not likely an accurate characterization of any community in America,
but it serves Dutchers purpose to paint the corrupt
versus pure characterization he intends. Before long,

AML Annual 2004

we find the sheriff worried about what outsiders

might bring into his community, and he explains
to his young deputy, Im just trying to keep things
reigned in. When the first dead body is found,
a professional from Provo is called in. He tells the
sheriff that he never expected to make [such] a
business trip to Brigham. In response to this bloody
circumstance, the sheriff, named Wes Clayton, tells
his deputy, a young man relatively new to the community, This doesnt have anything to do with our
town . . . people dont even lock their doors in
our townand I dont want them to start. . . .
Terry, youre not even going to talk to your wife
about this. Indeed, the sheriff soon tells us that
until now, Brigham had never had a murder.
When a couple of FBI agents arrive in Brigham,
Dutcher makes sure they stand outtheyre always
dressed formally, and in black. They represent
another instance of the other, outsiders who dont
understand this unique community of true faith.
In fact a relationship is created throughout the
movie between Wes and one of the agents, who is,
predictably, from Manhatten, so as to continually
develop this theme. In a dialogue between them,
he assumes that she thinks these rural Mormons are
naive to the world. So he then has the opportunity
to tell her that her kind of people are naive as well,
and, of course, naive about more important mattersspiritual matters.
While there is only one dead body, and the
assumption is that an outsider killed the victim,
Wes can claim that all is well in Brigham, and the
first sacrament meeting scene presented to us has
the congregation singing these very words from a
well-known hymn, all is well. Yet, after a second
victim, and the former sheriff, Stu, has also been
killed, Wes asks his deputy with anger, Have
enough of the real world, Terry?!
There are a great many indicators of the good
versus evil theme. A few more include the willingness of the sheriff, who is, of course, the communitys keeper of the law, to break the law, by
ordering the men of his ward to search every home
in Brigham even by force and without warrants, if
necessary. So righteous is their cause, such is their
goodness, that not even the constitutional law of

the United States should deter them. During the

search, theres the scene in which a member of
Wess ward is found to have pornography hidden
in a closet in his home. The music builds, suspense
is created such that we might anticipate that this is
the murderer, but we find, not clues to murder, but
instead, porn. This guilt-ridden man proclaims that
he had meant to confess his sins to Wes, as his
bishop, and he begs Wes to keep this to himself,
stating, I think I would die if anyone knew. When
the character of Stu buys cigarettes shortly before
being murdered, the clerk gives him a hard time,
tries to dissuade him and tells him shell tell the
bishop. Stu lets her know hell tell the bishop himself, because he always confesses his sins to Wes.
The sheriff s secretary is engaged and her fianc
takes her to his house because hes worried after
three victims have been killed. As they are driving
to his place, their conversation assures us that they
have no intention of sleeping together. Even the
continual look of astonishment and admiration on
the face of Meredith, one of the FBI agents, is meant
to tell us constantly of the unique goodness of
these people she has encountered. When Wes gets
the idea to dust the mug Terry has used, for fingerprints, it is an answer to prayer, so we are to know
that God has led the bishop and sheriff to the evil
perpetrator. Lastly, there is the penultimate scene,
during which Wes confronts Terry, having discovered him as the killer. Speaking of his trusting
acceptance of Terry, he says It couldnt have happened anywhere but a place like this. Terry
responds, You brought the wolf right into the center of the flock.
I have by now, I hope, made this theme of good
versus evil, light versus dark, innocence versus corruption, clear. It is, as I said, the principal theme
of the movie. But this heavy-handedness does not
work. As I said, the film is clearly meant to be about
a moral community, but we actually get a different
message about morality other than the one intended.
John-Charles Duffy has rightly noted this portrayal
of white and blackness that Dutcher gives us.1 But
the moral world in which we live is not simply
white and black. The moral simplicity and clarity
that Dutcher gives us is an illusion, a mythology.

The Tragedy of Brigham City: How a Film about Morality Becomes Immoral

We do not live in such a Manichean world. And

something this film should know, but doesnt, is
that the Bible itselfparticularly Jesus and Paul
warns us often against this kind of either/or view of
sinfulness. That we simply are either holy or evil is
nonbiblical in the extreme and is an instance of the
very sin of pride and self-righteousness that is so
often and strongly condemned in the Bible.
The characters of this film who display normative morality are nearly devoid of any self-doubt or
humility. They, and especially the bishop and sheriff,
who is the films embodiment of spirituality, law,
and morality, are largely oblivious to the complexity of the circumstances in which they find themselves. I am not speaking of any kind of technical
complexity, but moral complexity. Two scenes come
to mind in which an awareness of moral weakness
seems present. The first is when Wes recalls how
when he was young he killed a rabbit and enjoyed
it, and he tells Terry that he still possesses some
measure of a taste for killing. And then, of course,
we see him do just that at the end of the film, when
it seems he could have kept Terry from reassembling the gun he was cleaning and perhaps kept
from killing him. But then, when that fatal shot
takes place, it seems the film wants us to believe it
was justified and inevitable (an allusion to the doctrine of blood atonement?). The second scene is
the second sacrament meeting episode in which
Wes refuses the sacrament (which is a reflection of
his sense of moral and spiritual impurity). The film
presents us with a vision of moral simplicity that
Dutcher would have us believe, it seems, is a moral
clarity. But clarity means seeing accurately; it is different from simplicity. In respect to morality, simplicity becomes mere moralism.
I will say something now about what morality
is and what morality requires us to see. It will be all
the clearer to us, then, what this film doesnt see.
I will end by describing two lost opportunities
missed by this filmhow it could have been the
moral film it wants to be. First, then, a few words
about morality. My fundamental point is that
Brigham City is an exercise in moralism, which,
in turn, is a kind of propaganda. Let me briefly
explain what I mean.

It is extraordinarily difficult to think about

morality without recourse to utilization of moral
rules. We order our moral lives, rather intuitively,
by way of rules. Further, we of course prioritize these
rules, making a hierarchy out of them, so that when
they come into conflict we can negotiate our way
by knowing which rules trump which other rules.
But this common and powerful feature of moral
life has its dangers. One of them is that we can be
seduced into a reductionism whereby we think of
morality in toto as an assemblage of rules. But rules
are abstractions of conclusions related to practices
and historical contingencies that allow us to identify certain things as goods. That is, rules are roughand-ready means to identify and protect goods and
practices. Further, rules are by definition reductionistic, in that while they draw us to other rules;
they do not contain the power to allow us to leap
beyond them, to see well what it is they are all
about. Rules tend to point to other rules, but in the
end, what we need to know is where the rules come
from. Rules are reminders and signifiers, valuable
but insufficient.
Another danger of morality reduced to rules
is that this paradigm carries the promise of selfjustification and therefore self-righteousness, just
as it carries the means to critique and condemn
ourselves and others. All of this is to say that
morality as rules simplifies what morality is and
does so in ways which are inevitably morally dangerous. Moral rules, if they are appreciated in a
nonreductivist manner, can help point beyond
themselves to a place where we can more nearly
approach a more comprehensive understanding of
morality. It is easy and understandable that people
fall back into, or fail to escape morality as rules; but
this reality only deepens the danger. Morality is
more complicated, more ambiguous, and more
interesting than a system of ruleshowever complicated any such system. So the first thing to note
is that morality does not properly or coherently
reduce to rules; it is not only insufficient, but dangerous when morality is treated as though it is precisely the right configuration of rules.
Behind, above, or below the rules we find deeper
and richer dimensions of morality. Rules imply that

AML Annual 2004

morality is analytical, but, in fact, morality is analogical. Let me briefly sketch out what I mean. The
understanding of a moral rule (or any kind of rule)
is not logically prior to some comprehension of
cases to which the rule may or may not apply. We
do not begin with a rule, which is grasped in some
analytical way and then apply the rule. On the
contrary, in order to even understand a rule, we
must begin with a set of cases that are recognized as
unproblematic instances of that rule and compare
them to a set of cases in which it is generally recognized that the rule does not apply. Furthermore, as
Wittgenstein reminds us, linguistic interpretations
of a rule are but approximations of the meaning of
the rule, and the meaning of the rule is adequately
expressed only in intelligent action.2 As we learn
from both Aristotle and Aquinas, we cannot get to
the point where we recognize what morality is per
se, and then offer an analytic account of morality
on that basis, because there is no such thing as an
essence of morality, because morality is, at least
in part, a complex social institution with a very
long history. A proper moral theory, we might say,
must be nontheoretical (and so some, like Bernard
Williams, are referred to as moral anti-theorists).3
So, as with rules, highly abstract conceptions
of goodness and obligation can be understood only
through apprehension of the sorts of cases that we
take to exemplify such concepts. This means that
meanings of moral concepts must be inherently
linked to the kinds of actions that exemplify the
concepts and, in the first place, to immoral actions.
There must be a kind of unity proper to the concept of morality, of course, and this unity must be
a unity proper to conceptsas they actually emerge,
develop, and function in natural languages. Again,
the unity of a concept of morality cannot derive
from a priori analysis; and so, again, morality is
analogical rather than analytical.4
Everything Ive said so far leads us to see that
whatever it is we say about morality has everything
to do with what it means to be a human being.
Indeed, for Aquinas, what he calls human action is
by definition moral action (not all things humans
do is human action, however, e.g., scratching
ones nose).5 When we consider what it is to be a

human being, we discover, among other things, that

we are limited and thus incomplete. Any system of
morality that ignores our limitations is incoherent
and unsustainable. Whenever we conceive of or
make moral claims, such that we ought to do this
or that, we tacitly acknowledge some limitations.
Ought judgments reflect shortcomings and failures by definition. This means that our moral reflections need to develop in relation to assumptions
and understandings about the limits of, and flaws
in, our moral capacities and capabilities.6 As Hilary
Putnam observes, moral rules are meant to function,
in part, to safeguard our consciences and to protect
us from our own selfishness and self-deception.7
It is the case, for example, that we cannot live lives
altogether free from harming others, and any helpful account of morality will need to see this for the
kinds of reasons Ive been sketching. As Aristotle
taught us, living a moral life not only cannot reduce
to rules but is an exceedingly difficult thing to do.
This insight is shared by the New Testament.
Even in those instances in which we very much
want to do the right thing, it can be hard, indeed,
sometimes it will be impossible, to know what the
right thing is to do.8
I offer this brief sketch of moral theory and its
necessary, analogical relationship to behavior or
action, because the rule-bound ethos, culture, and
theology that permeates Brigham City is one of the
problems the film possesses. Indeed, it is at the heart
of the films fundamental flaw. The film is a study
in moralism but seems to know little about morality.
Moral theory, philosophically but, especially, theologically grounded, knows something about human
complicity in immorality, the moral blindness of the
religious, the self-righteousness of the devout, the selfjustification of those who live by law rather than
grace. As I think is clear, the good citizens of Brigham
are presented as moral examplars, as members of a
morally exemplary community. But richly philosophical reflection, to say nothing of biblical
hermeneutics, knows such moral comfort to rest
upon illusion, hubris, and pride, which is to say,
sin. Charles Pinches writes in his book Theology
and Action: After Theory in Christian Ethics, Were
we interested here in apologetics, the point could

The Tragedy of Brigham City: How a Film about Morality Becomes Immoral

be made that the richness of a communitys moral

vocabulary could be a strong reason to consider the
claims that community makes, and that its philosophers and theologians articulate and refine, about
ultimate matters such as the nature of God, the
world, and human life within it.9 Dutcher certainly
seems to have intended that Brigham City would be
a vehicle that would draw persons to Mormonism
for reasons like those Pinches offers. But I suggest
that persons paying close attention to this film
would find the moral vocabulary of the community in this film unsatisfactory, thin, unappealing,
and perhaps even offensive.
I mentioned previously that moralism reduces
to propaganda, and that therefore this film is a
kind of propaganda. Propaganda always takes on
a deeply negative connotation, but this is unnecessary. Lets be clear about what propaganda is and
the way I am using the word, which is one of its literal meanings. Propaganda is the organized dissemination of information, the purpose of which is
to inform. The information need not be negative
or untrue. Moralism is the use of moral rules, conventions, and institutions so as to serve a purpose
beyond morality itself. Moralism is a conventionalism. Moralism is moral language put in service by
a community to help shape attitudes toward that
community. This is what Brigham City intends to
do. Morality is also a social institution, as I said
before, but its purpose is not merely to shape attitudes on behalf of a community (Aristotle notwithstanding). Moralism trades in rules for this purpose;
morality sees beyond rules and calls our own righteousness into question, as well as that of others.
I mentioned that there were two missed opportunities in this film, if the films purpose is to portray a moral community. Let me now explain. First,
the question permeates Brigham City, Is Terry a
part of this community or an imposter? The film
shows him to be an imposter, a wolf in sheeps clothing, someone pretending to be somebody else. But
why is this the way we must see Terry? Arent there
reasons for understanding him as part of the community in fact, not merely in appearance? Hes a
regular, consistent participant in the communitys
life, he works as a deputy sheriff, serving these

people (at least on some occasions), and hes married to a Mormon woman, apparently raising their
child in the faith. Hes certainly accepted as a member of the community. Does acceptance as a member
of a community not count for membership in a
community? In short, we have a number of reasons
to locate him as a genuine part of this community;
except, of course, he is a murderer, and the films
message is that no murderer can be a part of this
But consider this question: what community
would claim murderers to be ordinary members (other
than a community of murderers)? In other words,
if we simply describe community as those who
never commit these immoral acts, while presenting a list of such acts, we have left many thousands
or millions of people outside of communities, because
all communities, normatively, disenfranchise, marginalize, stigmatize, and punish those who commit
such acts. But we know that all people do, in fact,
belong to communities. Few of us were raised by
wolves and grew up without human contact. To be
human is to be embedded in communities of various kinds. Although not all communities are the
same, morally or otherwise, only a community of
murderers would happily claim a murderer as a
member. So, the claim that a murderer, by definition, cannot be a member of this community seems
far too easy. Tragically enough, murderers do live in
our communitiesall of our communities. Again,
this is another way that Dutcher wants to portray
his community that seems less than even-handed,
if you will.
But more importantly, in respect to the film,
the very question I am raising is one with which the
film might have wrestled in order to be a richer
expression of art and moral inquiry. What is a
community, after all? How do we know whos in
and whos out? What does a person have to do to
be a nonmember? And why? And, if we dont know
about a persons thoughts, motivations, intentions,
and actionsand of course none of us know all of
these things about anyonehow can we determine
who is in our community? If a community as strong
as the one portrayed in this film has the power to
transform a person (e.g., because it embodies the

AML Annual 2004

gospel), why wasnt Terry transformed? These are

the moral questions the film could have contemplated, but the opportunity was missed because the
film wanted to present a moralistic portrayal rather
than a moral inquiry.
Second, at the films end, Terry is killed after he
is identified by the bishop and sheriff, Wes, as the
murderer who is being sought. Terry leaves a pregnant
wife and a child. Given the importance of marriage
and family, the close, intimate, and eternal relationships Mormon doctrine teaches, what we would
now want to know is how will Terrys widow be
treated by this community? Will she be marginalized as though she shared somewhat in her husbands
guilt, or at least because she should have known
him better? Will she be accepted with compassion
and love? This is where the film ends, but the opportunity missed is the opportunity to show a moral
community embracing and loving a sister, as well
as wrestling with how to embrace, or even if to
embrace such a woman. This would make a more
deeply textured film about a real moral community.
Brigham City is a film brimming with great
potential. It might have learned from other films
such as Witness, Places in the Heart, and The Apostle10
about what might more carefully be said about
religious communities and their moral lives. But
this film capitulated to mere moralism and selfrighteousness. It became a kind of propaganda,
while its potential to be a film about morality went


1. John-Charles Duffy, Serpents in Our Midst:
What Brigham City Tells Us about Ourselves, Irreantum 4.1 (Spring 2002): 1420.
2. Jean Porter, Moral Action and Christian Ethics
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 35. See
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 3rd ed.,
trans. Elizabeth Anscombe (New York: MacMillan, 1958),
no. 198, p. 80. Cf. Garrett Barden, After Principles (Notre
Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990).
3. Porter, 45. See Bernard Williams, Ethics and the
Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1985). Cf. Raimond Gaita, A Common Humanity: Thinking about Love and Truth and Justice (New
York: Routledge, 2000).
4. Porter, 4648. See also Julius Kovesi, Moral
Notions (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967).
5. This part of Thomass moral theory/theology is
valuably discussed by Charles R. Pinches, Theology and
Action: After Theory in Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids:
William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002).
6. Porter, 70, 74.
7. Hilary Putnam, Taking Rules Seriously, in
Realism with a Human Face, ed. James Conant (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 193200.
8. Ibid., 83.
9. Pinches, 160.
10. In The Apostle, we can, for example, come to
believe that the preacher/evangelist portrayed by
Robert Duvall can be both a murderer and an honest
believer who has known Gods grace, love, forgiveness,
and transformation; he is a man who shares the gospel
out of this integrity and trust.

The Novelization of Brigham City:

An Odyssey
Marilyn Brown

righam City, Utah, is a real town with real

people getting up in the morning, brushing
their teeth, going to work. People in Brigham City
come home and have dinnersometimes with
someone they love. Then they may watch a little
TV and go to bed.
Ive just described life in Brigham City. Actually, Ive described life in America. And perhaps
of course with the exception of the TVlife in
the world. The main variable is . . . having dinner
with someone you love or, in other words, sharing
Brigham City, the film, is not about a specific
place. (One irate Utah citizen wouldnt go to see it
because it wasnt filmed in Brigham City, but in
Mapleton and Springville.) But it is a remarkable
representation of life in any place, and its message
is sharing communion. At last our Mormon ethos is
blessed with an artist who has been able to create
an archetype, a story that speaks volumes about all
of humankind, especially about communion and
how we come to it, or atonement, if you willwhich
is the entire overwhelming goal of our Father.
If I were an authority figure who wanted to
gather his children to him as a hen gathers her
chickens, so that theyas onewould be able to
share dinner or life together as they commune with
one another, Id certainly be impressed to do exactly
as the Father has done. From a position of authority, though He is unable to come Himself, He sent
His eldest and most trusted son. He sends prophets
to write inspiring words, to keep us on track. And
He encourages His servants to organize a body of

people in the community who stay focused on

coming together as one, caring for each other, and
sharing a similar language, and communion. We
call this a church. From the beginning people
have realized the benefit of this type of organization. The Mormons are dedicated to theirs. Of
course Im an insider, but as a whole, the Mormon
ethos thoroughly impresses me. Had I been born
in another era, in another place, I might have been
talking about communing with Buddhists. But Im
a Mormon and I am so grateful to have become a
part of this body I have come to love. And so the
message of religion as a whole, and ours in particular, is atonement, communion, and how we come to
partake of it.
And now, in this new era of communion, the
talented artist, Richard Dutcher, has been able to
tell us a powerful story which is not only about
atonement, but effects an atonement. It doesnt use
the word atonement. It doesnt need any preaching
in it at all. In the great tradition of all storytellers,
Dutcher is able to create identifiable characters
whose quest to find communion reminds us of our
own. The story serves as a vehicle whereby those
who partake of itlike the symbolic sacrament
reach greater understanding and love. The film
invests us in the essence of life: finding comfort in
each other when the terrors both outside and inside
hover so near.
It is no secret that we cannot fully protect ourselves from evil. In their criticism of Brigham City,
Michael Minch and John-Charles Duffy point out
that righteous behavior is tainted with the evil of

AML Annual 2004

pride. There is no way we can escape it. Michael

will try to convince you that the behavior in
Brigham City, tainted by pride, thus makes the film
immoral. I was ready to read him the riot act, when
he assured me he was just using that word in his
title to stir us up. He makes us think about our
pride, but he rests his argument on some weak suppositions. One, that Dutcher was trying to make a
movie about the moral fabric of a community of
faith. He also supposes that the community is
going to be mean to April after Terrys death! His
arguments are similar to John-Charles Duffys objection that the film simplifies behavior into black
and white, and the white sit pridefully in judgment
upon the dark. Like all contrary points of view, these
two give us fodder on which to hone the skills of
our thought processes. In other words, they wake
us up and keep us alert. There is opposition in all
But the film Brigham City is not a simplistic
piece of work that can be labeled immoral. Scott
Parkin offers three different readings of the film.
The first is the basic storythat evil enters paradise and destroys innocence. If the character speeches
are taken as literally true on this level, pride may be
seen in them. Scott also offers the interpretation
that the story is about Wes, and his own prideful
desperation to believe in a paradise he fears may
not be possible. Thus he leads himself into willful blindness and the ultimate destruction of his
own hope. There is obviously some of both of
these interpretations in Brigham City. Yet another
message of the film is Scotts dictum that a community based on faith can not only face evil and
overcome evil, but can expand its own power and
vision to enable hope in the face of hopelessness.
[These people of Brigham City] are able to forgive
the real and terrible errors made by Wes yet still
embrace him with real love and compassion
(Parkin, email, 3 February 2003.) Scott argues
strongly against Minchs view that Dutcher was
trying to portray a moral society. He points out that
the filmmaker practically screams at the audience
to see how this community has failed itself by
becoming complacent. . . . Brigham City is not a
how-to manual or travel brochure for some Mormon

conceptual paradise; its a wake-up call that the paradise weve built for ourselves is inadequate to the
challenges of our time. It doesnt confirm our social
insulation as a good thing; it deconstructs it.
Scotts brilliant observation of Dutchers eloquent
entreaty is indeed timely today!
So, Brigham City is a wake-up callthat there
are bad things going on. There are terrible problems in our society. And the question is, Are we
ready to face these things? My thoughts also go to
the Bush administration at the present time. There
is a vipers nest in the world. If you stir it up, you
will get hurt. There is a price for action. But there
is also a price for inaction. The question is, Which
will cost more?
When Richard Dutcher first asked me to write
the sequel to Brigham City, Kirtland County, he
wanted a romance. He specifically said he didnt
need to see any more done with Brigham City.
Sadly, I did get a slight impression from our conversation that some audience responses to this dark
film about a killer, and the fact that the market did
not recover the costs, gave him the feeling that he
wanted to continue with something in a lighter vein.
But as I thought about his invitation for the
next few months, I couldnt get it out of my head
that I really ought to begin with Brigham City. There
were too many interesting questions that needed to
be answered in the novel before I could write the
sequel he had in mind. Brigham City without a
doubt was, in my opinion, as good as, or better
than Gods Army, which he had allowed to be novelized. And I heartily feel Brigham City is the best
of the total rash of Mormon films now on the market, as well as the one that found the most favorable
national distribution. And now we are learning that
it is a hit in the foreign markets! I have always had
a feelingand still dothat this film is truly a classic.
As time passed, critics of Brigham City in
Irreantum and the AML-List began to support my
views. Though a few of them such as John-Charles
Duffy and now Michael Minch were willing to
come down hard on the film as a simplistic representation of pride in the Mormon culture, illustrating the Mormon inability to create complex
scenarios (Duffy, 1420), there were some strong

The Novelizaion of Brigham City: An Odyssey

voices for its artistry. I have already quoted Scott

Parkin, who in another comment noted that the story
is unflinching in depicting ugly experience . . . but
that [it] still assumes both hope and possible redemption. Michael Martindale champions the films
complexity by pointing out that it addresses a theological issue that is at the root of the Goods and
Bads of Mormon Culture. . . . We humans MUST
eat the forbidden fruit, leave the Garden of Eden
and live in a fallen world. He concludes with
I think Brigham City was a very very good film . . .
[which] succeeded enough and . . . generated a buzz
and lit the creative fires under a . . . lot of people
(Martindale, AML-LIST, 28 September 2002).
Rob Lauer notices that the very fact that Brigham
City supposedly upset so many good Latter-day
Saints (?!!!) while inspiring and moving so many
others, is in itself a testimony to the power of
[Dutchers] art. Also, Lauer states that Dutcher
and his associates have created the ONLY films that
have so far been regarded by anyone outside our
LDS community as serious art (Lauer, AML-LIST,
30 November 2002).
These commentsand morespeak incontestably to me that Brigham City is a powerful tour
de force with a complex theme inviting exhaustive
discussion. There were several questions I wanted
to answer before I wrote Kirtland County. I asked
Richard for permission to write a novel about
Brigham City. When he graciously said yes, I began
my quest to solve some enigmas.
The killer, Terry Woodruff, had always posed a
problem to me in the film. It had always seemed
(I think Im one of those proud Mormons) unrealistic to me that such an apparently good member of the Churcha family man with a career in
law enforcementcould have committed such
horrendous acts as he had committed. (Michael
Minch asks, Why wasnt he transformed?) Terry
was married to a nice young woman. They had one
child and a baby on the way. Yes, he was an excellent marksman, its truea fact which might have
given us a clue to something if wed asked the question, How did he get to be such a crack shot? However, in other scenes of the film, we see him playing
with his son, showing interest in his wife. It was a

disturbing film partly because as benign as Terry

appears to the audience in the beginning, the end
of the film still seems so believable.
So, the prospect of writing the novel of Brigham
City launched me into careful research. As much as
the doctrines of the Church have concentrated on
atonement and how we come to it, I knew there was
another side of the picturethe doctrines of destruction and how any maneven men of good intentionsmay come to utter darkness. As I discovered
what I thought might be the background and inner
character of Terry, I came to see the film as a parallel
study of repentance for two men, Wes and Terry.
What I discovered was that the goals for both were
atonement. Both, on two different levels, yearn in
similar ways to repent, to eschew the destructive
forces so they may experience communion, or
atonement, the driving force of mens lives.
My first question was, How had Terry Woodruff
been able to fall so far off the narrow way? What
were the early destructive choices he had made
that had clouded his vision so much? Through my
research, I discovered that Terrys choices were
embedded in the same driving force of every mans
psychethe need for love. Though as a child, he
desired to belong, to experience communion or
atonement, the way he sought it was through
something he had learned from an abusive adult:
sexual gratification. After he had developed a taste
for this way of belonging, he developed a habit,
and finally an addiction. He allowed the addiction
to control him.
I carefully studied some serial killersnotably
clever ones, like Ted Bundy. And I discovered their
needs and desires to be fueled in childhood by the
irresponsibility of adults. I discovered that in these
darkest of killers there had been for a time a strong
drive for repentance, for living a normal life and
changing their behavior forever, just as Terry pleads
at the end of the film, I dont know why I cant
stop . . . I . . . Ive tried . . . so hard . . . to be good
(Dutcher, 91). I also discovered that it is entirely
possible for a dangerously addicted person like Terry,
whoeven though he yearns for normalcyto come
into a community as a wolf in lambs clothing. And
that the havoc he might be capable of wreaking

AML Annual 2004

would be horrific. Our national laws admit the

likelihood of this panorama, now insisting that
the presence of sex offenders be disclosed in their
new neighborhoods.
Brigham City got many things right, but one of
them is that there is usually a record. Wes knew the
killer was not the man who had tampered with
narcotics. Wes was aware there would be a record
of sexual abuse, that such criminal action begins as
something the perpetrator believes is harmless and
escalates to a serious state. One of the observations
I have made in todays society is that the beginnings of the road to serious sexual addiction and
crime is now pushed down childrens throats. The
visual images of sex presented on every hand to
children as love are confusing. To point out the
fallacy that sex does not equate with atonement
is definitely a soapbox on which I have long wanted
to stand and shout. As I novelist, I would have the
responsibility to create and make believable Terrys
record. I am portraying Terry as a Mormon boy
abused by his stepfather and introduced to pornography. The addiction of pornography is truly one
of the most impossible to remove.
Next, I invented an entire background of reasons that Terry allowed his sexual addiction to
descend into murder. His sin in Snowflake is rape.
But as he leaves Snowflake and travels the empty
road through Utah, his rape, at first by accident,
turns to murder. He experiences euphoria. Unusual
power. The power becomes another addiction. When
he comes to Brigham City, he arrives in the middle
of nowhere, to a proud society, proud of their
crimelessness, proud of their innocence, a society
unprepared for the entry of evil. Minch doesnt
admit that Dutcher is totally critical of that pride.
We cannot afford it. Evil is everywhere. I explore
this same theme with the town of Sweet Pie in my
Ghosts of the Oquirrhs (Salt Press, 2002). My statement in that story is that there is no hiding place
away from the encroachment of evil.
Mormons are not the only ones who hoped to
establish their own communities to attain protection
and atonement. The nation of America is founded
on the same principles. Yet, of course, because of
the presence of free agency, dangerous elements will

always encroach. A trusting community may embrace

vipers without knowing they do so. There is no
defense against deceivers. It is the price of free
agency in a free society. How much can a society
and its justice system be expected to prevent terror?
How many criminals look like normal wonderful
people, yet cannot seem to undo their addictions?
In a loving, accepting way, Sheriff Wes Clayton
not only supports and puts his arms around Terry
Woodruff but offers him a job as deputy officer to
enforce the law. Wess sin is trust. And Terry survives by deceit. He tries to erase his past. He takes
up construction work in a new obscure town, marries, and eventually endears himself to the sheriff.
The film does its job very well. It is the novelists job to give Terry a background, telling how he
became a rapist, why he served four years for an
early misdemeanor, and then how he became addicted
to killing his victims. It is then just as important to
give Wes Clayton a background, telling how he
became trusting and loving, a communal saint who
follows his heart and does not search for hard and
cold records. He allows himself to be deceived because
he wants to believe in paradise. He wants to trust.
But he discovers he must face evil.
I was impressed with a statement Harlow Clark
made in Irreantum about Bela Petscos Nothing Very
Important and Other Stores. In his review he was
trying to say that people call a mission the best
two years because of all the bad stuff, that confronting and working through affliction causes
people to grow (33). Brigham City informs our
Mormon society that we must face the bad stuff.
By not facing it, how much do we enable deceivers?
Isnt enabling a serious crime in itself? As Scott
proposes, it is a woefully inadequate society that
doesnt prepare for the worst.
The opening scene of my novel shows that
Wes Clayton wants peacealmost at any cost. Wes
would like to have remained in a world with innocents around him always. He is addicted to the
search for paradise. After receiving a surface wound
in the L.A. police force, he asks for a transfer to
Orange County and specifically to the Lagunas
during the small hours, quote, Laguna Niguel,
Laguna Beach, and Dana Point. He had hoped for

The Novelizaion of Brigham City: An Odyssey

periods of profound quiet when he begged for the

beach district. Richard and I separately agreed
that Wes was from L.A.
When he receives a call that his grandfather has
died and willed his house in Brigham City to his
only grandson, Wes is willing to move even further
away from L.A. We can see right away that Wes
loves peace almost at any cost. But is he so addicted
to it that he closes his eyes for too long? Does he
refuse to partake of the forbidden fruit? Reminiscent of the Garden of Eden is the sequence of
events that leads to the Clayton familys accident,
a scene written for the movie that Dutcher found
necessary to cut. In the novel, Wess wife Sarah
shows suspicion of Terrys problems long before
Wes does. Finally, at the scene of the accident, Terry
(though he has nothing to do with causing the
accident) arrives as deputy to find Wes unconscious
and Sarah still alive. Terry knows that Sarah suspects his addictions, so he helps her to die. Wess
failure to listen to Sarah has allowed Terry more
time to wreak havoc in the community. Terrys
accusation at the end is true, that Wes has responsiblity for those killings. My heart goes out to President Bush, who must hear so much criticism. Doesnt
he just want to make sure our blood isnt on his
hands? Again, what is the price of inaction? These
are the questions to ask our own nation just as Wes
Clayton asked his little protected community long
ago. What a struggle it is to maintain safety in the
face of deceit.
But Brigham City goes even further. The last
question is, What is the price of refusing to move
as heartily as one can toward communion and atonement? Why do we make commitments to build up
the kingdom of God on earth? What is the price

of our inaction here? These are questions I will

explore in the novel, which is truly the most challenging writing I have ever done.
I am so honored to have the privilege of exploring such a pivotal work. Only by grappling with
good and evil, only by losing our innocence, can
we grow. Scott Parkin says it so well: Only by leaving the paradise of someone elses creationoften
forcefully (who would willingly leave paradise,
after all?)can we hope to learn the tools to build
a paradise of our own creation, a paradise not of
naivete but of the knowledge of good and evil
(Parkin, Response . . . on Brigham City, 29).
At last we know that Brigham City does not
shrink from communion. In accepting themselves
and their sheriff and his mistakes, the community
brings him to the table (the sacrament table) to
find atonement. The meaning of the sacrament has
never been so beautifully portrayed as in this story.
Though we have left the Garden of Eden to face
evil, we may focus on overcoming it. And when we
cant, we are able to find comfort with one another.
Clark, Harlow. Sing, Ye Waste Places of Jerusalem.
Irreantum 4.3 (Autumn 2002): 3334.
Duffy, John-Charles. Serpents in Our Midst: What
Brigham City Tells Us about Ourselves.Irreantum
4.1 (Spring 2002): 1420.
Dutcher, Richard. Brigham City. Original Screen Play,
Zion Films, 27 May 2002.
Lauer, Robert. AML-LIST, 30 September 2002.
Martindale, D. Michael. AML-LIST, 28 September 2002.
Parkin, Scott R. A Response to John-Charles Duffy on
Brigham City. Irreantum 4.1 (Spring 2002): 2029.
. Response to personal email, 3 February 2003.


Pious Poisonings and Saintly Slayings:

Creating a Mormon Murder Mystery Genre
Lavina Fielding Anderson

character in a murder mystery by D. R.

Meredith explains why she prefers crime fiction to romance by saying: There are more ways
to commit murder than there are to have sex, and
that makes murder more interesting (Meredith, 28).
While I would not presume to comment either
on Paul Edwardss sex life nor his sinister affinity
for crime, I may speculate that he is uniquely qualified to write Mormon crime fiction by his academic training in philosophy, his long history as an
explorer in the troubled waters of Mormon history,
his skill in navigating academic politics at Graceland College, and his entirely suspicious expertise
as a long-term bureaucrat at the world headquarters
of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter
Day Saints, now Community of Christ. I find it completely logical that he retired as head of the RLDS
Churchs Temple School and turned immediately
to a life of crime.
By the way, he deeply regrets not being here,
but he was compelled by forces beyond his control
his childrento show up at the bash they have
planned to celebrate not only his and Carolynns
fiftieth wedding anniversary but also his seventieth
birthday, which is being presented as an institutional
event by the Center for the Study of the Korean
War, of which he is the founder and director.
Michael Austin has done the most thorough
work and compiled the most extensive bibliography showing that an increasing number of Mormon
characters, Mormon settings, and Mormon writers
are participating in the steady popularity of this
nationally significant genre. He notes that Mormons

have traditionally made their literary debuts in bad

literaturesensational, clich-ridden, and disreputable. Over fifty adventure and romance novels
featuring violent, conspiratorial Mormon stereotypes appeared between 1850 and 1900, followed
by nearly fifty more such novelsalong with
more than two dozen silent movieswere released
between 1900 and 1920. Probably everyone here
has read Arthur Conan Doyles first Sherlock Holmes
mystery, A Study in Scarlet, published in 1887, in
which that is certainly the role that Mormons play.
Interestingly enough, a year before this work, Doyle
wrote a play titled The Dark Angels, never finished,
in which he tried out the Danite plot and gave a
role to Dr. John Watson in San Francisco. Sherlock
Holmes does not appear.
The core of Austins bibliography is books published between 1979 and 1998. He selected this
beginning date because a series of real-life events
has prompted renewed interest in Mormons as
negative and sensational in ways that reminded
the country of all of the nineteenth-century antiMormon stereotypes that had been bouncing
around in the countrys collective memory for a
hundred years. . . . These stories include the execution of Gary Gilmore, the excommunication of
Sonia Johnson, the shooting of John Singer, the
LeBaron murders, the Lafferty murders, the Mark
Hofmann forgeries, the standoff with polygamous
leader Addam Swapp, and the human-sacrifice
killings associated with Jeffrey Lundgrens Kirtlandbased RLDS offshoot. His eighty-plus books also
meet two other criteria: they deal in a substantial

AML Annual 2004

way to Mormonism, and they are marketed primarily to a non-Mormon audience.

Austin focuses on three nineteenth-century themes
refurbished for the twentieth century: the Mormon conspiracy, . . . the blood-atonement murder,
and the . . . hostage maiden. I think it may be possible to argue that Paul Edwardss first mystery
draws on but significantly transforms the first two
themes in philosophically and theologically interesting ways. I wont, in fact, make that argument
because I dont want to give away the plot, but I
hope to revisit this topic after publication.
But lets look more specifically at Edwardss contribution to this stream of spilled Mormon blood.
As you all know from reading the interesting interview with Edwards in Irreantum, The Angel Acronym is the first in a series featuring philosopher/
bureaucrat Toom Taggart, a not very thinly disguised version of Edwards himself, who arrives at
work one morning to find that one of his employees, the Church archivist, has died in an odd accident while examining a document written by Pauls
controversial grandfather in a successful effort to
seize supreme directional control of the Church.
With the assistance of the Churchs brainy lady
lawyer, Marie, he digs deeper, fighting bureaucratic
witlessness on one hand, discussing serious philosophical questions with the First Presidencys
expediter gopher and maybe hit-man on the
other. (I might add that Tom Kimball, the Signature publicist, thought that this characters original
name, Rockwell Porterfield, was too obvious and
Paul cooperatively changed this characters name to
Louis T. Cannon, who is definitely never called by
the nickname Loose.) Naturally, this character
was my nominee as suspect number one, but Toom
Taggart continues, relentlessly and gradually filling
in the little squares on his logic matrix that will
identify the murderer.
Those who have visited Community of Christ
sites in Independence or done research in its fine
library-archives will enjoy the fact that the murder
is set in the striking shell-shaped Community of
Christ temple and associated offices. The realistically realized setting is one of the strengths of this
novel. Another is the figure of Taggart himself. He

is married but childless, and his wife is institutionalized in a nearby town with a condition never fully
specified but which leaves her only intermittently
coherent and responsive. Taggarts reticence about
her condition, his suffering for her and because
of her on his weekly visits, and the marital limbo
that ensues adds an interesting dimension to his character. It also enables Edwards to balance his lonely
protagonist on the very thin knife-edge between
platonic friendship for and erotic attraction to Marie,
both elements of which she reciprocates on at least
some level, while both observe the essential restraint
expected of two employees of a conservative religious organization. Edwards complicates this relationship by developing a romance between Marie
and the detective investigating the murder, thus
creating a truly subtle and emotionally fraught triangle of desire and constraint.
A third appealing element is the plot. I read a
lot of crime fiction. In fact, I read more mysteries
than I do Mormon history (and some day everyone
is going to figure out that I read both for the same
reason and the jig will be up). But my point is that
theres a lot of plot recycling that goes on in crime
fiction, so its unusual to find a genuinely ingenious plot. Truth to tell, I encounter a lot of truly
stupid plots in my reading, so I have only the greatest admiration for Pauls research in documenting a
mechanism of death that is not only dazzlingly creative but absolutely plausible as well as possible.
A fourth genuine contribution to the genre of
Mormon mysteries is the philosophical element.
Toom Taggart has conversations with Marie about
the generational identity crisis that may be signaled
by what the students in his night class are named
and some very interesting discussions with Louis T.
Cannon on the uses of history, the nature of evil,
the difference between belief and faith, and the paradoxes of obedience. Heres a snippet from that conversation. Toom asks Cannon:
Is there anything theyd tell you to do that
you wouldnt do?
Cannon did not hesitate, even for a second. No. But I knowand you should,
toothat they would never ask me to do anything that was not right.

Creating a Mormon Murder Mystery Genre

So if they say it, its right?

No, Taggart, he said, as if explaining to a
small child. Thats not it. Its just the opposite
of. They wouldnt ask it if it werent right.
Theres a considerable difference between those
two positions.
Yes, youre right about that. But this
assumption predisposes you to think that
everything they ask is right?
Since they are, the flat voice went on,
Im not too worried about it.
Would you kill someone? Toom asked,
surprising himself.
Youre being asinine. What sort of a question is that?
Humor me. Im a philosopher.
Well, no. I wouldnt kill anyone. And the
reason I wouldnt is that they wouldnt ask me
to do that. (Chap. 14)

But I have to say that what I adore above all

else in this mystery is the office politics, which
forms a kind of hilarious subplot to the serious
business of murder. I want to read two scenes to
you. The first occurs when Toom comes to work
right after Labor Day and has
to pick his way through a tangle of Christmas
tree lights spread out on the floor of the foyer.
Laura Ripley, Marva Harper, Ashley Martin,
and Barney Sligo were screwing in lightbulbs.
Toom stared at them in disbelief. Only purple
and gold were going into the tiny sockets.
What is this? he demanded.
Its the decorations, beamed Marva
Harper as Saul staggered backwards out of a
closet. He was carrying a huge cardboard box
labeled Star.
I can see its decorations, said Toom
patiently. I can even tell that theyre Christmas decorations, in spite of the fact that Labor
Day was exactly forty-eight hours ago. What I
dont understand is why youre doing them now
and why you chose those colors.
Barney started to say, Were just checking
to be sure that but Laura snapped, Whats
wrong with these colors?
Well, nothing, I suppose, Toom said,
except that theyre awful, Laura.

This is all thats left.

Left from what, a garage sale?
No. It was Barney Sligo. Left to use.
Its real simple. Even a philosopher can
understand it. Barney was starting to get
mean now.
Try me.
My orders are not to use the same colored
lights this year as the Utah cousins next door.
Well, I checked, and between the visitors center and the meeting house, theyre using red,
green, white, blue, and blinking yellow. All that
leaves me is purple and gold.
And why cant we use the same colors as
the Mormons?
Laura sighed. The reason is that this is the
decision. If you want a reason that makes sense,
go somewhere else.
Why do we have to put up lights at all?
Toom demanded.
See previous answer, Laura snapped.
Theyre not all that bad, announced
Ashley judiciously. It might be a little difficult
decorating around these colors in the bookstore display, but . . . purple and gold would be
perfect. It would really make your book the
centerpiece of the Christmas season display.
. . . Saul held up an already lighted string,
the purple and gold lights reflecting weirdly off
his white shirt and teeth. . . . [He] plugged in
the last string and the foyer was filled with
winking ghoulish purple and gold lights. Merry
Christmas, said Toom. (Chap. 14)

The book that Ashley is referring to is one on

the role of angels that the Presiding Bishop has
assigned Toom to write for totally obscure reasons.
The scene in which he gets this assignment is
another of my favorites. He drops a bombshell on
the good bishop by explaining:
Lowell, this is very difficult for me. You
surely know that I dont believe in angels.
Bishop Pico walked back and sat down
again. He smiled sympathetically, tolerantly.
Oh, Tom [Bishop Pico always mispronounces
his name], I understand that you may have said

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that on some occasion. And of course none of

us believe in the sort of angels that you see on
TV. Toom could not recall ever having seen an
angel on TV so he was not sure what company
he was in. But everybody who believes in God
believes in angels.
They do?
Pico dropped his voice one more level,
producing an even more serious tone. It was an
incredible talent, and Toom felt frankly envious. Yes. Yes, Tom, they do. Remember that
wonderful movie about the baseball team
that was visited by the angels who helped them
win the pennant? There is a great line in that
movie. It was something like If you believe in
a God you cant see, then you must believe
in angels you cant see. That really is the position we need to take.
Lowell, Tom said with deliberate caution. I do not believe in angels.
Really. Pico was visibly taken back. The
Angel Moroni? You believe in the Angel Moroni,
of course? Theer, Book of Mormon?
Toom said nothing.
Bishop Pico crossed his legs, then uncrossed
them. He leaned forward again. This is really
something of a disclosure. How can you be a
faithful member and not believe in angels?
Its easier than you might think, Lowell.
But thats not the point. The point is that I
cant write a book on angels if I do not believe
in angels.
We are asking you to write a book about
angels. You could do that, couldnt you? You
dont have to believe in everything you write
about, do you? That is what writers do, isnt it?
Toom had to admit that this was, indeed,
what some writers did, but not usually those
employed by religious organizations to explain
theological concepts. (Chap. 4)

So Toom thinks he has refused to write this

book, but meanwhile it appears on planning schedules, publicity promotions, and, as we have seen,
color schemes for bookstore displays. His contribution to the project is to fasten a memo about
it to his bulletin board with a spiral of pushpins
that begins at the center and covers the entire page.

Fortunately, Myrmida, his sarcastic and competent

secretary, orders up print-outs from the library of
everything on CD about angels, much of it from
LDS works that sound suspiciously like Bruce R.
McConkie. (Myrmidas name, by the way, is perfect for an efficient secretary, since the Myrmidons
were a loyal people of Homers Achilles, whose name
has come to mean a subordinate who executes orders
unquestioningly. But the name is actually another
in joke, since it was Pauls mothers middle name.)
A few weeks later, Toom drags himself to work,
terminally depressed because
the rough draft of that pestilential angel book
was due to the Resource Committee and
Aaronic Priesthood Commission. . . . Myrmida
had circled the date in a lurid day-glo purple
with an interior circle of day-glo orange. It had
taken strenuous personal discipline to train
himself to ignore that side of the room.

Then he gets a call from Bishop Pico congratulating him on the fine job hes done. It only takes him
a few seconds to figure out what has happened.
Toom hung up the phone, then got up and
strolled out to Myrmidas desk. So how did
you do it? he asked.
She . . . explained modestly, Oh, it was
simple. . . . The stuff that the Aaronic Quorum
had done was really pretty good, so I just used
their manuscript as an outline and stuffed each
topic with scriptures and stories and snippets
of sermon until it was 230 pages long. With
the computer, it practically wrote itself. . . .
So now I know how you did it, he said.
Why did you do it?
She sighed. Toom Taggart, has it ever
occurred to you that if you got fired, Id have to
work for a living? (Epilogue)

All of this and mayhem, too! Its with utter joy

that I anticipate the continuation of this series.

Murder Most Mormon:

Swelling the National Trend (Part II)
Conspiring to Commit
Paul M. Edwards

not sure that I can tell you just what the difI am
ference is, but I sense there is a difference between

being a murderer and being a killer. So begins Toom

Taggarts efforts to explain murder to his friend
Marie, in Murder by Tithes, the third in the murder
mysteries to be published by Signature Press. In this
violent world it appears to be necessary that there
be men and women who, placed in harms way,
become killers. The essence of this social necessity
means that there are persons all around us who
have killed, but few of these, thankfully, are murderers. It was in trying to understand this sometimes subtle distinction I was required to consider
the concepts of intent and expectation.
The mystery writer Lawrence Block once
explained that writers get ideas the way oysters
get pearls. This appears to be the manner in which
the idea of a murder mystery came to me, one
hot August afternoon, following my attendance at
a mandatory five-day conference on visioning.
Several times during the week I had considered
murdering one or more of my colleagues. Such frail
thoughts do not linger long, however, and it was
not until later, when I was mowing the lawn, that
in retrospect I wondered if I had taken such a step
could any jury of my peers find me guilty.
My complaint is of no importance other than
its potential justification for murder. The point, of
course, is that I considered murder but did not
and for the recordwould not commit such a deed.
I was not going to murder those persons despite the
fact they deserved it. But, I wondered, might there
be any situation in which one might find justification

for murder? The answer, I believe, is yes. Thus, as

promised, I will make a brief comment on this consideration. I will then close with a short confession.
One: The Issues
The followers of Joseph Smith are no strangers to
violence. Over the years we have dealt with murders
of passion, greed, and confused theology; and, I suspect, some murders of institutional existence or in
fear of benign neglect. Yet it does not seem reasonable to me that the decision to murder someone
would result from a reaction to an already established theological issue. Few persons understand
such things and fewer still treat them seriously.
Rare also would be murder to right some insult
against the body of the church. The larger church
has suffered many such insults and has dealt with
them with enviable restraint.
Rather, I believe that an act of murder would
have to be an extreme reaction to an equally extreme
threat. And probably, the issue involved would be
little other than an extreme interpretation of an
issue (or issues) dealt with more calmly every day.
I do not believe the crime of boredom requires punishment by blood atonement. But murder might
be the result of a passionate fear of spiritual loss or
the need to defend something key to the soul of the
believer. It is not too difficult to anticipate what
some of these areas of concern might be. The most
basic, I thought, would be the issue of historicity,
and so I started there. Others, identified later during
other afternoons spent with the lawn mower, became
plots for the rest of the series.

AML Annual 2004

I envisioned the murderer, like his or her cause,

would be clear and simple. It was important that
the murderer not be a bad person, but rather a
believing human being whose fault was a passionate but misdirected commitment. The persons I
fear are not the mean-spirited fellow travelers who
occupy places of importance in our lives. Rather
I fear the sweet, narrow-minded individual who is
prone to letting single issues become an obsession.
I fear the persons who, in seeking to be good, are
incapable of understanding the degree to which
they seek to get their prejudices enacted into law.
The person identified as the murderer in The
Angel Acronym represents a kind of person we all
know, a basically good person for whom the justification for murder would, in his or her context,
also be seen as good.
The hero, identified as Toom Taggart, needs to
be smart and clever, but he must not be arrogant.
He must, also, suffer from some of the same flaws
of the villainthat is being easily identified with
his own passions. To make it easier I gave him much
of the same background as my own, but taking
advantage of fiction, I was able to make him nicer,
smarter, younger, and thinner than myself.
Two: The Environment
I consider the environment created by the RLDS
(now called Community of Christ) as a field ripe
for such a murder and ready for the harvest. After
sixty years a member and more than four decades
in professional association with the institution,
I am both knowledgeable of and frustrated by the
movement. The body of the church is identified
with its passionsor lack of themand the good
and evil it does is often confused by the paradoxical structure of the goal, purposes, and mission of
the church. I see it as the perfect environment in
which to picture humanitys expectations and follies.
The more one is committed to the articulations
of the movement, the easier it is to be dissatisfied
with its lesser goals. Mere involvement identifies a
passion of sort, but, as acceptance becomes standard, it is important to acknowledge that love without passion is no love at all. As the body becomes

standardized, those who are deeply committed are

inclined to challenge the fear by the development
of an extreme passion, one which acknowledges
their passion and which often ends up projecting
the mundane as the magnificent.
Despite what I have said so far, no actual persons
are represented in the characters of my books. This
is not only to protect individuals from what might
be seen as criticism, but also because there are no
persons within the headquarters structure who possess the extremes I wanted to portray. I am very fond
of the church archivist (Ron Romig) and only reluctantly kill his character who held the archivists job.
But having said this, the characteristics of leadership within the Community of Christ provides a
representation of both the humanity and the divinity of the calling. The fatal flaw in this circumstance is found in the paradox of leadership inherent
in the organization. Those in leadershipat headquarters and in congregations (wards)are torn
between their calling as ministers and their assignment as managers. Despite Stephen Coveys nave
optimism, this will never be a winwin situation.
And, under a lot of circumstances, this variance is
the source of many of the ills of the movement. It
is the conflict between order and compassion.
Let me illustrate from this brief passage from
Murder by Tithes:
So, what can I do for you? he asked.
What did you want to talk to me about? The
congregational pastor was an honest man who
took his responsibility very seriously.
Im afraid I have made some rather
unwise decisions lately, Ida said, some things
I need to reconsider.
Yes, the older man said. Yes. How can
I help?
Well, Ida was determined to express herself clearly, there is this man at work. He and . . .
Hold it! Hold it! The pastor was excited.
Does this have anything to do with sex?
Well, yes, in a way, Ida said. We . . .
Hold it! Hold it! I need to warn you Ida
that as the pastor I will need to take some
action if you have broken the laws of the

Murder Most Mormon: Swelling the National Trend

I thought I could talk to my pastor freely.

It was a statement.
You can, oh yes you can. It is just that as
the pastor, I am to report any church law that
has been broken.

In any conflict, the primary commitment to

the organization looms largest and most easily justified. Given a serious challenge to the life, or the
value, of the movement, the value of a single person is often sacrificed for the larger needs of the
community. A fellow traveler of this difficulty is
the inherent confusion between having authority
and being an authorityin the Community of
Christ some of these persons are actually called
General Authorities. The transfer of authority
from spiritual calling to technical decision making
looms large and is the source of considerable institutional confusion and mediocrity.
Three: The Seriousness
From my perspective, members of the Mormon
persuasion take things very seriouslytoo seriouslyand some members take some things so
seriously that they cannot be considered at all.
That seems to me to be counterproductive: faith
without a doubt is no faith at all. I have tried my
hand at suggesting a less serious look and have not,
in the main, been very successful.
The mysteries, I concluded, might make it possible to raise some of these serious topics by presenting them in a manner where they would not be
seen as a threat. After all, it is only a mystery story.
Perhaps I could use this genre to suggest just how
ludicrous some ideas become when left unconsidered.
Let me illustrate with this passage from the second volume of the series, Murder by Sacrament. It
is part of a conversation between Toom and the
Community of Christ theologian Michael Coors,
who has accused Toom of having desecrated the
What did you do? Michael Coors asked.
I flushed it down the toilet, Toom said.
Why would you do that?
It gets there eventually.

Michael Cores was not amused. The

No, Toom said and then thought it
sounded defensive. The bread and the grape
juice, the leftover. It was just leftover food.
But it was communion, he said again.
No it wasnt Mike. It had been communion earlier in the morning, Toom replied, but
by the time I flushed it down the toilet, it was
just leftovers.
The communion is supposed to be disposed of with dignity.
You mean like down the garbage disposal.
Youre trying to make this sound as if it
were not serious. It is serious, Mike said, his
face was a light red.
It is serious, to some folks, but not because
what I did was wrong. But because you and a lot
of others like you are making a problem out of it.
I wanted to hear your side to the story.
Dont you think that tells us more about
you than it does about me, or the communion? Then asked, You dont agree, do you?
Toom asked. You dont think that what I did
was a desecration of the communion?
No, I suppose not, but there is a thin line
between the idea of sacrament as mystical participation, and the communion as a symbolic
re-enactment. When you make such an unfeelingan insensitive move, it seems to betray
the spiritual side of it, the mystical side.
Mike, I think you are confusing the symbol with what it symbolizes, Toom said.
Right. It is symbolic but must be treated
as that which it symbolizes, Mike said.
Thats it. They are symbols. So as symbols
they have no value in and of themselves. If that
is what we believe, what does it matter what
happens to the symbols when they are no
longer the symbol?
I am not sure Michael said. It is just not
the same.

Four: The Confession

A brief confession is called for in case you think my
efforts are altruistic. To a very large extent I wrote

AML Annual 2004

these mysteries because I wanted to. Lets call it therapy. My experience in writing nonfiction is that
few persons read what I have written, and fewer
still agree with it. Writing fiction which someone
might read, and no one will take seriously, has been
food for my soul. Besides, fiction gives me the
opportunity to comment on almost anything that
aggravates or excites me without a lot of supporting arguments and elaborate footnotes.
Take this brief exchange between Toom and his
friend Marie concerning the names of students in
one of his classes:
In the same small class I have one girl
called April Love, another named September
Morn, two who answer to Solomon, and a
wide assortment of Trishes, Trickets, Wendee,
and one Moralnada.
Interesting! observed Marie.
Theres more. I have a girl named Thomas
and a burly, heavyset young man who answers
to the name Delilah.
Come on, she said. This is too much.
He raised his hand like a witness taking an
oath. Verily, I lie not. Thinking about this
I have come to the conclusion that each new
generation seeks an ever-stranger means of identifying its young. And I think the future is in
In commercials? Marie furrowed her
brow. It was distracting.
Yes, as this generation gets more conservative and institutional-minded and the bewildered


parents look for something better than the cute

names of the late seventies and eighties, they
are moving away from Barbie doll and movie
star names. Just as totally non-pious folks, in
a nostalgic and defiance appropriation of religion, revived Quaker and Pilgrim names a generation ago
Marie nodded, Chastity, Joshua, Sarah.
so the truly modem person will turn to
modern religion. In other words, commercials.
I am thinking of Static Cling or Downey Soft
for the girls; and Pop Tart or Automax for
boys. And for parents who prefer not to differentiate genders, a simple Fruit of the Womb
might suffice.

It would be unfair to suggest that I engaged in this
activity in hope of social revision or organizational
change. That is giving my intentions and expectations far too much credit. But there is some truth
to the idea that I recognize the value of fiction in
trying to articulate philosophical ideas because of
the baggage they carry. I have made the attempt to
use the mysteries to express concerns and beliefs
while at the same time hoping to tell an interesting
story and amuse the reader. The writing of them
has been a highly successful venture for me, only
time and the readers will tell if that is going to be
true for anyone else.

God and Man in

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint
Bradley D. Woodworth

well-known American novel begins with


PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this

narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting

to find a moral in it will be banished; persons
attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
Chief of Ordnance.
(Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry

Brady Udall has given the same sort of message

to readers of his fiction. In an interview with the
journal Irreantum, Udall said: I dont want to
teach the reader a lesson of any kind. I simply want
them to have a hair-raising, heart-thumping, mindnumbing, soul-tearing experience (Interview:
Brady Udall, 15).
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint is certainly not
a didactic novel. However, like The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn (both indeed are heart-thumpers)
it contains deeply literary and morally informed
themes and artistic material that enrich the story
and raise the novels aesthetic power and, I would
argue, its spiritual resonance.
The novel describes the suffering of a young,
half-Apache boy named Edgar Mint. Though much
of what Edgar experiences is described in black
comic style, he still is subject to a series of horrific
events: he loses his parents; his head is run over by
a mail truck from which it takes him several years
to recover; and he undergoes physical and psychological torture at a boarding school.

My fundamental interpretive stand toward this

novel is that Edgar is simply a representative of the
human race. He is us, as we move through the vale
of this mortal existence. You might call Udalls novel
a version of Mans Search for Happiness, though in
the case of Edgar it is more like Mans Search
in Enduring Suffering.
Udalls power as a writer is rooted in his refusal
to flinch from the suffering and evil that we experience in life. Udall is not sadistic; the reader realizes that the author does not get any pleasure from
showing us the awful things that happen to Edgar.
What we as readers gradually come to realize is that
Udall is simply showing us the human condition.
He is saying, Look, here is a case of real trials and
suffering; here is what life can bringnow, lets see
how this character deals with it. How does Edgar
deal with his suffering? Though Edgar realizes he is
a character in his own story (the novel is one long
flashback described by an adult Edgar), he does not
dramatize his own suffering. Childlike, he takes it
in stride, accepting the world for what it is. Edgar
survives simply by enduring; he just keeps moving
forward. And isnt this the case with us, when
undesirableeven very bad thingshappen?
I dont think that Udall finds redemption in
suffering; he doesnt see it as a path to greater understanding. Udall likes his joy, contentment, and personal satisfaction as much as the next guy. But he
knows that life dishes up large servings of pain and
suffering, and it is these difficulties he is interested
in exploring in his art. We cannot change the fact
that we will experience disappointment and great

AML Annual 2004

difficulties in life, Udall argues, but we can explore

ways in which we can cope and even win in the end.
For me, this book is made aesthetically and
spiritually profound through the combination of the
engaging primary storyUdalls depiction of Edgars
journey through his youthwith the deeply Mormon cosmological world within which he places
his hero and other characters. At the center of the
action of the novel are two relationships: first,
between Edgar and an old, alcoholic, broken man
named Art; and second, between Edgar and a onetime physician, Barry, who stalks the boy throughout the book. These relationships are allegories for
the relationships between man, God, and Satan in
their traditional Mormon conception, with Edgar
as man (that is, mankind), Art as God, and Barry as
Satan. This spiritual, cosmological element reveals
the ambition of this novel. Like Milton in his epic
of mans condition on earth, Udall also seeks
what is low [to] raise and support;
That to the height of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.
(Paradise Lost, Book 1, 2326)

I hesitate to lay out all the figurative events and

circumstances in the book that I think refer to the
Mormon variant of the Christian story of the relationship between man and God, because you all
should have the chance yourselves to find the parallels that Udall has placed in the book. I will not
have time here to mention all the allegorical and
metaphorical material I find in the novel; there is
probably plenty more I have not yet found. But let
me present a few key examples.
Lets start with Barry. Many readers, professional book reviewers included, have had a hard
time understanding why the alternatively annoying and terrifying Barry keeps showing up. After
Edgar, Barry is the character the reader spends the
most time with. Who is he? At the opening of
the novel he is a young, driven, and caring doctor
who saves Edgars life after the horrific accident
with the mail truck. But when Barry does not get
the credit he thinks he deserves after saving Edgar,
his sense of injured merit and thwarted ambition

quickly destroys his career as a doctor. He is forced to

leave the hospital, named, significantly, St. Divines
that is, he ceases being a chosen angel. He soon
becomes a drug-dealing devil, ever at Edgars heels,
trying to bring him into his orbit of influence,
seeking to convince Edgar that he, Barry, knows
what is best for the boy. How art thou fallen from
heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! (Isa. 14:12).
Toward the end of the novel, we see that like Satan
in this passage from Isaiah, Barry too is brought
down to hell, to the sides of the pit (Isa. 14:15).
Let me mention a couple of other points about
Barrys allegorical identity. In the Utah sequence,
when Edgar is in the Indian Placement Program,
Barry seeks to get close to the boy through flattering and tempting Edgars foster mother, Lana.
What goes on between Edgars foster parents and
Barry clearly parallels events in the Garden of
Eden. By the way, note that Lana, married to Clay
(like Adam, meaning of the earth), is the more
educated and inquisitive of the two. Just how successful Barry is with his seduction of Lana is
unclear, but there is no doubt about what is going
on: Lana and Clay, Edgars adoptive parents, are in
a struggle with Barry over the boys future, just as
Satan entered the Garden and contended with our
first parents over the future of the human race.
Why does Udall give Barry so many pages in
the book? If you read Udalls first book, the collection of short stories titled Letting Loose the Hounds
(Norton, 1997), you will see that he has a rather
dark view of the world. I think I agree with Udall
that here on earth we have to contend with Barrys
much more than we get to spend time with people
like Art.
Before I move on to discuss Art, let me ask:
what about Christ? If my interpretation of the novel
is correct, surely there must be a Christ figure! I think
Cecil, Edgars best and closest friend at the boarding school, is Udalls Christ. Cecil delivers Edgar
from the torments of a bully when he shoots the
bully with a homemade bow and arrow. We learn
that Cecil is convicted of aggravated assault and is
sent to a juvenile prison in Nevada. Later, when
Edgar is in Utah, he learns of Cecils death from a
fall in the prison. He and Clay then drive to the

God and Man in The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint

prison and manage to view the body, a scene reminiscent of the two Marys viewing Jesus body in the
sepulcher after the Crucifixion.
Let me move on to some comments about Art.
First, I think the very choice of Arts name shows
Udalls sense of humor. The words Art is God can
be taken several ways, depending on whether you
mean Art the character or art, the thing that
artists create. Udall, however, is not at all flippant
in his treatment of this character. Art in his own
way is indeed a shepherd for Edgar, a role to which
his surnameCrozierpoints. (A crosier is the
shepherds hook used by high-level officials in several Christian churches.) Art and Edgar meet in
St. Divines hospital, and as Edgar begins to recover
from getting run over, Art watches out for him. In
this passage, Art assists Edgar in getting loose from
the restrains of his hospital bed, while at the same
time he helps Edgar move from his bed to solid
[Art] unbuckled the restraintsit took him
awhile to figure them out with only one good
handthen stole every pillow and blanket he
could find in the room and placed them around
my bed, creating a landing pad. That night I
threw myself off the bed twice, and both times
Art was there to help me back up, make sure I
didnt have any lasting injuries, and to argue
with the nurses when they came in wanting to
know why the restraints had been taken off.
(Udall, Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, 34)

Another example: Before Edgar leaves the hospital, Art gives him an old manual typewriter, a
Hermes Jubilee model (Hermes is a messenger of
the gods in Greek mythology). Throughout the
book, Edgar types out his thoughts, his fears, and,
occasionally, letters to Art, which invariably go
unanswered. Clearly, Edgars letters to Art are prayers
to God.
I find Art to be moving, especially as he is not
depicted as omnipotent and all-knowing, or even
as particularly virtuous. He is flawed, and like
Edgar, he too suffers. Simply, Art is a member of
the human race. The clearly implied anthropomorphic view of God is I think the very most Mormon
thing about the underlying theology of the book,

and I find it deeply moving. Art cannot save Edgar

from suffering and pain; he is limited by the world
both live in. What he can do is be there every once
in a while just to show that he understands and
that he cares.
I treasure this traditional Mormon anthropomorphic view of God. I dont mind at all that God
might be finite, subject to the constraints inherent
in the physical universe. I feel more comfortable
with a contingent than an absolute deity, one who
is more like than unlike me in nature. The anthropomorphic and anthropocentric theology of The
Miracle Life of Edgar Mint bears out the spiritual
power and artistic potential of these ideas. We need
not surrender these traditional Mormon views to
the juggernaut of neo-orthodoxy. Neo-orthodox
Protestant Christian thought describes God as very
different and distant from us, as an absolute being
from whom man is inevitably alienated. The recent
adoption of neo-orthodox views in many LDS
circles has included a focus on Christ and his perfection, one so strong it seems to eclipse God in
significance. Within LDS neo-orthodoxy, man and
deity are fundamentally different from each other,
rather than fundamentally alike. Udalls theology
in The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint points to more
traditional Mormon views of God and the Godhead.
Toward the end of the novel, Art and Edgar
meet again. (The scene, incidentally, has clear parallels with LDS temple worship.) We find that Art
treasures the contact he has with Edgar: he needs it
to get himself through his own suffering. In Udalls
view, both man and God are co-sufferers. I find the
notion that Edgar and Artman and Godneed
each other to help them give meaning and substance to their lives a profound theological insight.
Like our own lives, Edgars life is a mixture of
survival and miracle. I think the existence of this
book is a miracle, and I am very grateful for it. I think
it is one of the most honest books Ive ever read
about how happiness and divinity, suffering and
evil, really do work in our lives. In a recent interview
Udall has said:
Though Im not the most spiritual or religious
guy in the world, I know that God plays a central role in the lives of people everywhere. Its

AML Annual 2004

hard for me to understand why so many contemporary writers seem to be reluctant or

downright afraid to confront God in their
work. I guess I write about God because God is
in our lives, whether we want Him there or
not. (Udall, Interview)

One of the amazing things about this book is

that one can read and enjoy it merely for its rousing
and touching story, while remaining unaware of the
theological elements I have discussed here. Udalls
accomplishment is all the greater in that you do not
need to see the theology to enjoy the book, though
in my case it certainly gives the book even greater
aesthetic and spiritual power. At times in the novel
these two worldsthe mundane world of Edgar
and the deeper theological world in which Udall
has placed himcome together and are joined. Let
me end by reading to you one of these passages.
Here, God chooses Edgar, then Edgar chooses God:
The Elders taught me all they could and I
tried my best to get it all sorted out. I learned
that my mother and I could be reunited and
live on together into eternity where nobody
got old or sick orElder Spafford promised
mebored. I learned that Jesus, Gods only
son, had suffered for every one of my sins, for
all the guilt and sorrow they caused. This did
not seem very fair to me, but I kept my mouth


shut. I learned that cigarettes, beer and coffee

were all no-nos, and that chastity, which I understood to mean keeping away from females
entirely, was a must. And most importantly,
I learned about this God who presided over
this place called heaven where my mother was,
who had a plan for me, who loved me without qualification, who watched over me. God,
I learned, would never die, would never disappear without notice, would never beat anybody
up, would never grow sick or old or tired of living. He might become angry or disappointed,
yes, but He would never abandon you.
Okay, I would accept Him, I decided. Id
have to be an idiot not to.
So, I typed Him a little prayer that said:
God. This is Edgar. I will take it. (Udall, Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, 22627)
Interview: Brady Udall, Irreantum 3.4 (Winter
20012): 1317.
Udall, Brady. Interview. Available at http://www
. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. New York:
W. W. Norton, 2001.

Brady Udall,
the Smart-Ass Deacon
Mary L. Bingham Lee

f I could tell you one thing about my life it

would be that I kissed Brady Udalls cousin . . .
On the first day of class, Professor Barnes
rounded the desk at the front of room 2150 JKHB,
swung her ample thigh up on one edge of the desk,
slid her behind onto the well-worn desktop, and
finally dragged her other leg up to join the rest of
her. When she was seated comfortably, legs dangling and swinging back and forth, she called the
roll. My name came midway through the listit
was a change from my earlier years in college when
I was a Bingham. But marriage moved me to the
L section, where I blandly answered here to
the name Lee.
By the time Professor Barnes reached the U
section, my mind had drifted away; I wondered if
my babysitter was managing well enough, I started
a shopping list in the top left-hand corner of my
notebook and I wondered if this teacher was going
to be hard or easy. I left those thoughts sitting in
midair and shifted my attentions to the back of the
room when I heard the name Udall called out. It
had been a few years since I had heard that name
there were one or two dates, a quick see ya later
and then we had parted amicably enough. When I
looked over my shoulder so see if it was him, I saw
someone who could have shared the gene pool
with the Udall that I once knew, but who was definitely not the him I was worried about.
This was enough to make me notice Brady Udall
the first day of class. I remember him as a guy who
sat on the back row. He was a whisper-under-yourbreath joker who spoke just loud enough for his

buddy next to him to hear and sometimes loud

enough for some of the rest of us to hear.
The next time I saw Brady Udall was on the
back flap of his book jacket of The Miracle Life of
Edgar Mint. Good for him, I thought, and I started
to readdespite a small tickle of jealousy in my gut.
As I read the pages of Edgar Mint the margins
began to swim with my commentary: Drunk Indian
mothernice stereotype . . . idiot . . . how does a
white boy know how to be Apache? . . . How
does a white boy know how to be a woman? . . . No
Eros . . . the minute I feel compassion I feel like I
am being set up for another tragedyor to be
mocked . . .
I was horrified at the attention to detail but the
lack of intimacy I felt with the charactersas if I
were watching a burlesque of pain and tragedy.
I would have set the book down but continued to
read as a matter of principlediscomfort is not
a reason to put down a bookit is often the only
reason to keep reading.
When I finally made it through the novel and
started reading reviews, I found that others shared
some of the same attitudes. There were many who
objected to Udalls work, but mostly I saw overwhelming support of his work. Mormon men, it
seemed, loved it. Mormon women did too. Some
Mormons stopped reading it before it was over but
usually those who objected kept reading, and in
what seemed to be a sort of penance, some felt
compelled to list all of the offensive things in the
book. Sometimes it was immediately followed up
with an I loved it despite these things.

AML Annual 2004

I couldnt love it. Reading the book reminded

me of being stranded in Bullhead City on our Mutual
Super Activity. We were waiting to set down on the
river when some problem that only the adult chaperones were privy to required us to sit and wait for
hours. While the deacons threw decomposing fish
carcasses at one another, the Beehives braided one
anothers hair and shot disparaging glances at the
immature boys. The deacons had a predilection for
decomposing life; we, on the other hand, were drawn
to a life of order. I wrote in large block letters across
page 187: BRADY THE SMART-ASS DEACON IS TRYING TO MAKE ME SQUIRM. He seemed to be leading me to piles of rot to sift through with him
when I kept asking for an order, a moral, a purpose. He infuriated me.
Despite boiling Beehive anger, I had to admit
on thing: this was a smart-ass who knew how to
write. He was someone who had paid attention
to detail. He could nuance the awkwardness of
belief in Edgars discomfort with his own selfdiscovery. Udall could call in the demons of longing for something yet undefined in the heart of an
eight-year-old. He could take you to the point, as
reader, that you want to call foul for emotional
manipulation but leave you just shy of doing so
because he knows when to stop.
I began to ask myself questions about this creative brand of impudence, and why he used his talent in a way that so offended me. I thought about
the things I knew of his originscommon lore
about St. Johns, Arizona, and Mormonism, and his
writings that might lead me to something significant to say about him. I tried to examine what it was
that set him apart from other Mormon writersor
made us as Mormons respond to him so clamorously.
So how does a boy who was too smart for his
own good, son of educators, baptized in good literature and small town life, who peered out at the
world from the middle of a clan that made enough
noise to keep the world distracted while he took
note, grow up to tell a story? How does one who
seems to soak up the world around him decide to
put it all together and why does he write without
the least bit of earnestness? How does he tell a story
without being the very fool that he so easily can

spot, re-create, and set down in medias res? How

can he be so maddening but unapologetic and at
the same time so unconcerned with Mormon issues?
He shies away from taking himself too seriously, he
refuses to wax platitudinal He was not at all what I
was used to seeing in a Mormon writer.
There was no insecurity about where he came
from culturally, none of the typical nombrilism of
a writer who comes from our small town of Mormonism. I could not detect either the Ill-showthem-that-I-am-not-from-a-peculiar-people nor
the Ill-show-them-how-special-we-Mormons-are
underlying worries. He seems to have escaped the
insecurities that we all seem to have and simply
writes well.
It occurred to me that he escaped all of angst
that we share with one another at gatherings like
this AML conference by just having a good time.
But even more than that, he seems to have made
a (possibly instinctual or maybe a deliberate) wise
choice: he put on a persona that we Mormons
rarely approve of in anyone older than a deacon
that of smart-ass. Brady Udall became the adult
version of the kid who gets ushered out of hushed
meeting rooms because he is disrupting the gravity
that should be felt in the house of God. We Mormons dont really want to believe in the profane
and the sacred sitting together in the same room
or existing in the same person simultaneously. We
thump deacons who disturb meetings and shame
them into the appearance of holiness.
Sometimes those smart-asses grow up to be people
we know: the pseudo-iconoclast, the pious/conflicted
believer, the world weary come-home-to-set-youprovincial-people-straight prodigal son, the Church
has done me wrong person, the if-you-dont-likeit-then-leave prig. We see these people all around
us. Sometimes the conflict makes artists out of
them and we are quick to categorize their art. This
is the art of a Mormon artist, or a lapsed Mormonwe sometimes rely on labels to instruct our
reading of a particular art. But Udall, it seems, has
managed to elude most of the common labels by
adopting a stance that we have a hard time recognizingthat of Trickster. Brady Udalls use of the
Trickster persona in Edgar Mint requires the Mormon

Brady Udall, the Smart-Ass Deacon

audience to reevaluate our reading or misreading of

his work, recognize our own culpability in the misreading of ourselves, and possibly ameliorate the
pain of our cultures self-inflicted wounds.
Because we have lost the Trickster tradition,
and maybe have a hard time recognizing him, let
me give you some background on this figure. Trickster has been a part of the Western canon for centuries, but we often call him Hermes, before that
he was Mercurius (Jung, cited in Radin, 195). He
is both a God and a fool in Native American traditions. He comes in many forms, from animals, to
female and male, to a grotesquely disproportionate
almost-human creature with overly developed or
extra body parts. He is a mythical figure whose job
it is to move humans from one state of being to
another. He is also overbearingly obnoxious and
never apologetic for being so. He is a mischiefmaker whose mischief often turns on him, but who
continues on his course. He is not accountable to
tradition, decorum and social mores, but is surprisingly often accountable to God.
I was a bit embarrassed to realize that, like the
women from a classic Trickster tale who were surprised to find that they were picking more than
strawberries on the bank of the river across from
Tricksters hiding placeI had been fooled by all
of his attempts to goad me. By taking myself too
seriously as a reader, and he, as a writer, I walked
into his mischief and became the fool. It seems to
me that many of us, whether we love or hate Udalls
work, have misread him and remade his work into
our own image. He is neither a God or cretin, nor
possessed or dispossessed, he is Trickster stirring up
a bit of trouble. That trouble is supposed to lead us
to change.
Trickster was the king of irony when Rabelias
donned his persona as a response to courtly love in
the sixteenth century (Bakhtin, 2). He is the persona who dismantles highly ordered, structured,
restrictive codes of conduct. He means to push the
audience with audaciously stereotyped characters.
For instance. Udalls women are meant to be relatively one-dimensional because they are seen from
the point of view of a young boy. While other contemporary novels might have tried to make them

more sympathetic to a sensitive audience, Udall

allows that young boys impression to standeven
at the risk of making his audience wince at the
stereotype. In classic Trickster tales, we do not have
the luxury of a reliable narrator but are carried
along on a journey that is not cushioned to make it
more comfortable. Tricksters job is to jarr the audience, to tease them and make them uncomfortable.
His job is that of transporting a person/culture from
one place to anotherin other words, growth
from discomfort, growth through irreverence, through
setting up expectations and tearing them down.
So my earlier complaint about the lack of Eros
in Edgar Mint is absurd, because in an ironic piece,
one cannot demand such an earnest element. Eros
is simply inappropriate to the genre. A picaresque
never promises to treat life as if it has an overarching meaning with happy endings, romance with
meaning and earnest instruction for living. Trickster never promises to be anything but an irreverent smart-ass. If Edgar Mint is indeed ultimately
controlled by Trickster, most of my complaints of
foul play can simply be dismissed, as the genre and
tone do not support sincerity.
Edgar Mint is full of references to be read and
misread over and over again, but Udall insists over
and over in interviews that he doesnt believe in
symbols in literature; he claims to be simply telling
a story. My co-panelist, Brad, began his paper with
Mark Twains indictment of those who would superimpose meaning over a damn good story, and I think
he is exactly right in his implication that Udall
stands firmly in Twains camp. Udall takes a great
liking to Twains temerity and often lists him as an
influence in his writing, but I would go further to
say he looks to him as a model for interacting with
his readershipthat of taking an ironic distance
from praise with an occasional tweak of his publics
nose. He can be seen as a sort of Trickster figure for
his irreverence and lack of apology for it.
Lets not forget that Udall is more than just
an average guy telling a tall tale. His exposure to
good literature seeps out, possibly by accidentas
he may like us to believe, though it may be said
that God (and symbols) are there whether you
want them to be or not. If we are to allow Udall his

AML Annual 2004

awe-shucks-Im-just-spinning-a-yarn-posture, at
least we can credit him with coming to the table with
more slung on his back than the average Trickster.
Udalls nods to Trickster in Edgar Mint are generous. At times Edgar, at times, Barry, and at times
Nelson takes up the role of Trickster. Edgar is
Hermes escorting the dead to Hades when he
throws Barry into the pit. Barry is Trickster in
his constantly shifting shape and his insistence
upon mischief. Nelson is nothing but malicious
jokes; he burns the anus of a fellow classmate
instead of his own (as Trickster has been known to
do), but is finally punished for his predatory activities (as Trickster often is).
Not only are people symbolic of Trickster, but
objects allude to the Trickster tradition: Edgars typewriter the Hermes Jubilee delivers his prayers
to God and delivers him literally from Barry and
figuratively from illiteracy. His talismana urinal
puckis reminiscent not only of Hermes talisman,
but more recently of the cake of soap Leopold Bloom
finds in his pocket in the Hades chapter of James
Joyces Ulysses. Udalls references to a wide array of
Trickster figures show, if nothing else, Udalls
attraction to the idea of Trickster.
As Mormons we may have a difficult time recognizing Trickster because of our own attempt at
repressing this character in our culture as well as in
our system of belief. In his essay entitled Job and
the Trickster, Stanley Diamond compares Trickster to Job. We tend to embrace the figure of Job,
who serves to reinforce the concept of good and
evil originating from two distinct sources (xixiii).
Though this matches our theology we may find
some use in allowing the Trickster figures alternative to such a worldview to shed some light on the
bias built into our own system of belief.
According to Diamond, Trickster serves as a
manifestation of an ambivalent God who is the
single source of both good and evil. Diamond
claims that as a culture moves from a primitive to
civilized culture it tends to want to repress the idea
that God has the capacity for humoror tolerance
of mischief. The culture begins to take itself so seriously that it rejects its own past, which is considered to be full of folly and foolishness (xixiii).

It is difficult to find many Trickster figures in

our Mormon culture. Because Trickster has a transgressive side, he is often asked to leave our community or repent. We allow Trickster to live outside
of our culture, in other communities, but we are
uncomfortable with him as a good-standing member of our own. Often those who take on the Trickster role in our Mormon culture are marginalized.
They take their place quietly on the back row of
our meetingsclose to the door.
We watch Trickster from a distance in mainstream culture while we extricate him from our
own. Possibly the only reason we reject Trickster
is upon moral grounds, but we also may fall into
Diamonds model. We may be trying to forget a
past where model Mormons swore, chewed tobacco,
drank, practiced folk magic, danced in the temple,
and had many wives. Diamond describes a culture
that leaves Trickster behind in the road to becoming what that culture sees as civilized. In this belletristic setting it is hard to deny that we aspire to
establishing our own collection of arts and letters.
We dream of making lasting contributions to the
world with our art. There is little doubt that Mormon
culture loses a few more insecurities that come
from being a peculiar people every time we are
recognized by someone outside our own culture,
when we are deemed civilized by onlookers. This
is evidenced as we celebrate laudatory headlines,
mainstream acceptance of a Mormon personas,
and as we rush to claim art created by Mormons
as Mormon Art if it is not too transgressive, but
reject art created by Mormons if it is contrary to
Mormon ideals
Diamond warns us that in the pursuit of civilization, as we repress our Trickster past, we may
lose the value of a vision of God through Tricksters
eyes. He claims that a society which attributes evil
to two separate sources (e.g., God and Satan in the
Job story) perpetuates the idea that
integrated acts have been disintegrated into
contrasting ideas: human behavior is now seen
as representing, and being driven by, principles
that are in the first instance, abstracted from
the reality of actual behavior. Actual behavior
is never wholly good nor wholly evil: such

Brady Udall, the Smart-Ass Deacon

pristine purity is never encountered, least of all

in primitive societies. It is only with the civilized reversal of principles and persons that such
an attitude becomes conceivable; the abstraction becomes a weapon against the person.
(Diamond, xv)

Primitive cultures that include Trickster in their

society dont even have the notion of a person who
is purely good or purely evil. In primitive perspective, human beings are assumed to be capable of
any excess. But every step of the way, the person is
held to account for those actions that seriously
threaten the balance of society and nature (Diamond, xxi).
We may see why a society as a whole may benefit from a tradition of Trickster from Diamonds
perspective. Carl Jung advocates the importance of
the Trickster figure for the individual:
Man has forgotten the trickster. He remembers
him only figuratively and metaphorically. As
soon as people gather together in masses and
submerge the individual, the shadow is mobilized, and, as history shows, may even be personified and incarnated. . . .
He thinks the meaning of existence would
be discovered if food and clothing were delivered him gratis on his own doorstep, or if everybody possessed an automobile. Such are the
puerilities that rise up in place of an unconscious
shadow and keep it unconscious. As a result of
these prejudices the individual feels totally
dependent on his environment and loses all
capacity for introspection. In this way his code
of ethics is replaced by a knowledge of what is
permitted or forbidden or ordered. (Jung, cited
in Radin, 207)

The implications of our overwhelming absence of

a Trickster figure in our society as well as our arts
and letters are too many to draw out in this context, but it is instructive that Jung seems to think
the animas or soul lives inside the shadow of
Trickster and that if we repress that shadow we may
not ever experience animas. A minatory and ridiculous figure, he [ Trickster] stands at the very beginning of the way of individuation (Jung, cited in
Radin, 211).

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint has been called

a coming of age story, and it arrives upon the
scene of our attempts to come of age as a Mormon
people. Brady Udall, whether by providence or plan,
has provided us with a hint of what we so hunger
forauthenticity. We can deify Udall, or dislike
him immensely, but his role in the making of this
novel has given us the opportunity to reexamine
what it means to be a Mormonand in our context here, a Mormon artist. Udall has cast a perspicuous shadow on what we know about God, our
culture, and ourselves by choosing to resurrect a
figure that we have so long ago dismissed from
among us.
It is said that the Gods sent Trickster to man to
help us. His greatest tool in doing so is humor. And
unlike our common usage todayof humor as
simply laughtermaybe we can return to the original use of humor which has much to do with balance. Too much emphasis placed one of the original
four humors and a person was said to lack balance.
Blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy were produced by Tricksterto make us balancedto
make us see and be transported to a place where we
might be made whole. Even in sorrow and melancholyin a story full of sadnesswe need humor
to lend us balance. Tricksters presence, if allowed,
will help us examine our choices as individuals and
as artists; art (and a life) that suffers from lack of
introspection or individuation can be decidedly
anemic or wholly a practice in mimesis.
Brady Udall could have told his story about
little Edgar from the safe acceptance of the pulpit
in one of our churches. I am sure it would have
been as compelling, sincere, and grave in a voice
other than that of Trickster. He may have even had
a larger Mormon readership. But Udall moved to
the back rowthe place where humor has managed to keep a tiny hold in our culture, the place
where smart-ass deacons go to sit when they are all
grown upand he set about weaving a story for
us. Told from the back row, in Tricksters uninhibited voice, this story becomes one that with humor
and humanity beckons all to renew our faith in the
joy of all who sorrow.


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Diamond, Stanley. Job and the Trickster. In The

Trickster: A Study in American Indian Mythology, by
Paul Radin, xixxii. New York: Schocken Books,
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans.
Helene Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana University
Press, 1988.
Radin, Paul. The Trickster: A Study in American Indian
Mythology. New York: Philosophical Library, 1956.
New York: Schocken Books, 1972
Udall, Brady. The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. New York.
W. W. Norton, 2001.

Eberhart, John Mark. Mint Pairs Humor, Injury in

Tale of Orphans Life. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,
online posting, 4 January 2003. www.jsonline
My Zone. Author Interview: Brady Udall Online
posting. 5 February 2003.


Egypt and Israel versus Germany and Jews:

Comparing Margaret Blair Youngs House without Walls
to the Bible
Nichole Sutherland

n the novel House without Walls, Margaret Blair

Young carefully juxtaposes the charged concepts
of Judaism, Mormonism, and Nazism. To complicate this task, Young also gives her characters
metaphorical biblical names (which represents the
challenge of making the old stories new, yet recognizable as a rendition of the old). The names Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac are indicative of the relations
between these characters and their trials. Comparing these characters to their namesakes and stories
found in the Bible brings new depth to Youngs
semi-traditional Holocaust story.
The similarities between Youngs Abraham
Cohen and Sarah Sinahson and the Bibles Abraham and Sarah are remarkable. The first similarity
is the arrangement of marriages. Although Sarah is
not married to Abraham first (he is her elder and
principal) as in the Bible, she is the first to have a
binding relationship with him. The first time the
reader sees Sarah and Abraham meet, Abraham
makes the prophetic comment, It seems as though
you and I are destined to know each other well
(9). This certainly foreshadows their eventual marriage and child.
In the same meeting, Abraham tells Sarah he
wishes their future meetings to be about the artwork
Sarah has doodled during classes and concerning
which he has called her in for discussion. When
Sarah asks for the confiscated picture, Abraham
broadly smiles and says There are many artists in
the world today, some good, some bad. But one
never knows which will become famous or why.
This little drawing may be quite valuable someday,

and I intend to keep it (10). In the Bible, Abraham prays to the Lord what wilt thou give me,
seeing I go childless. . . . Behold, to me thou hast
given no seed. . . . [And the Lord said] Look now
toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to
number them . . . So shall thy seed be. And [Abraham] believed in the Lord (Gen. 15:23, 56).
Sarahs picture can be seen as a type of marriage
license that binds her to Abraham. By keeping the
picture, Abraham mirrors his namesakes faith in
Gods promise of astronomical amounts of children through Sarah. The artist Sarah, her artwork,
and her potential to be a good artist symbolize the
realization of Gods promise through her, and she
eventually bear a son named Isaac.
To complicate the story line, however, Young
mixes her scriptural allusions with irony. In his
review of Youngs book, Harlow S. Clark states, The
characters spiritual [and physical] lives in House
without Walls are tinged with deep irony (part 4).
In the Bible, because Abraham and Sarah are unable
to have children in the beginning, Sarah gives Hagar
to Abraham and Hagar bears Ishmael (Gen. 16).
Sara Sinahson and Abraham Cohen are also unable
to bear children in the beginning of House without
Walls because of their roles and age difference.
Thus Abrahams marrying Deborah Fried, a marriage initiated by the customary matchmaker, is a
type of the biblical matchmaker Sarah giving
Hagar to Abraham.
The irony comes when Deborah is the one
who has trouble bearing children and is described
as being more like the biblical Sarah than Hagar.

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Sarai (Sarahs first given name) is described simply

by her husband as a fair woman to look upon,
while Deborah is described in more words but with
the same implications to beauty: She was gentle,
graceful, purposeful in all her movements and her
cheeks glowed like pearls when she smiled
(Young, 4950; see Gen. 12:11). Hagar, Deborahs
semi-prototype, is simply described as being
Egyptian, thus one may assume that her looks were
nothing extraordinary (see Gen. 16:1).
Another ironic similarity is seen in the departing of Abraham and Deborah compared to the
parting of Abraham and Hagar. The biblical Abraham is commanded by God to turn Hagar and her
son out on their own to wander in the wilderness
of Beer-sheba (Gen. 21:10, 14). Likewise, Deborah
is cast out of Abrahams house by a power stronger
than themselvesthe Nazis. The wilderness Deborah
must wander is the concentration camps, and, ironically, unlike Hagar, she does not survive her
The last, most obvious similarity between
Abraham and Sarah in the Bible and in House
without Walls has already been stated: that both
bear a son named Isaac. This simple similarity,
however, opens the door for many more similarities and ironies as the relationship between Youngs
Abraham and Isaac is compared to the biblical
The most well-known Bible story of Abraham
and Isaac is Abrahams commandment to sacrifice
his son (see Gen. 22). In religious studies this puts
into perspective Gods sacrifice of his only begotten
son Jesus Christ. In Youngs novel, a twisted
metaphorical type of the Bible story represents the
sacrifice that comes from conversion. The irony, as
Clark points out in his review, is that it is Isaac
who must sacrifice Abraham . . . to follow the God
of Abraham and Isaac (part 3).
When Isaac Cohen finds a love interest in the
Mormon church, he begins to explore her beliefs.
While their relationship is on hold because of his
fathers disapproval of it, Isaac prays to know if the
Book of Mormon is true (Young, 141). That night
he has a vivid revelation that the Book of Mormon
and the Church are true and Jesus is the Redeemer

(14143). Upon hearing his fathers voice in the

morning he shrinks and cries: Oh no . . . No,
I could never do that to him! Please, Lord, tell him
what youve told me! Dont give me such gifts that
make me dance on my fathers heart! And to this
thought came a distinct, almost audible answer:
Do you think, my son, that you love Abraham
better than I do? (143). This representation of the
Bible story brings greater understanding of both.
Surely Abraham of old must have thought the Lord
has asked him to do a hard thing, but he was comforted in knowing that the Lord loved his son just
as much as he did. Furthermore, when the Lord
stops Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, He blesses
Abraham with countless seed because of his obedience and because I know that thou fearest God,
seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only
son from me (Gen. 22:12). In the end of House
without Walls Isaac is similarly blessed by his fathers
consent to let him join the Mormon church and be
married in the Mormon temple, where the same
promise that was given to Abraham is given to the
Clark also observes what he calls a parody of
the Abraham and Isaac story. While in the concentration camp, Abraham is cautioned by a young
partisan to stop being a rabbi because they catch
you and make you administer the deaths. In some
places, the rabbis sit on councils. It is they who
make up the lists of Jews to be killed (Young, 71).
Clark states that putting rabbis in charge of death
lists is a parody of Abraham sacrificing Isaac: if he
wants to practice his religion Abraham must sacrifice others of his faith (part 4).
As Mormons are taught that the Abraham and
Isaac story is a type of Christs atonement, so too is
Youngs version. While speaking of Isaacs sacrifice
of his father to his conversion, the words of Abraham Cohen come to mind. He has just visited an
anti-Mormon bookstore and received a pamphlet
from a boy whose parents are the Mormon equivalent of his Jewish self. Upon leaving, Abraham says
to himself, Somewhere an atonement was being
wrought. Abrahams son was replacing the other
mans son in the Mormon faith, and he, Abraham,
was bearing the pain of barrenness (151). Thus

Comparing Margaret Blair Youngs House without Walls to the Bible

the ex-Mormon youth is a twisted Christ figure

and Isaac Cohen is the equivalent of his namesake
in this situation.
The last two similarities are stated in the text
itself. The moral of House without Walls is to follow
ones heart, even when tradition and loved ones
resist. Young explores and tries to explain the most
complex concept a Jewish convert to Mormonism
must faceaccepting that Jesus Christ is the Savior
and that the Atonement really did happen. (The
reader should know that Jews do not believe that
the Messiah has come yet because he promised to
free them from physical bondage, something Jesus
did not do. Mormonism teaches that Jesus is the
Messiah and that he freed the Jews and others from
spiritual bondage and will free the Jews from physical bondage only when he comes the second
time.) Youngs characters compare themselves to
the brothers of Joseph who sold Joseph into Egypt
as a slave, then came to Egypt for food during the
famine but did not recognize their brother who
had become the governor of the land (see Gen. 42).
At their converting moment, Sarah and Isaac feel
that as Jews they are the brothers of Joseph who
cannot recognize him who represents Jesus, in that
he saves them from the famine (Young, 40, 41).
This analogy puts Jewish ideologies into perspective and makes Jewish beliefs easier for Mormons to understand, enabling Mormons to connect
the unfamiliar Jewish faith with the familiar Bible
story of Joseph in Egypt. Jeff Needle, a Jewish convert, affirms House without Wallss accuracy in Jewish and Mormon matters in his review of the novel:
I can only guess that the author spoke with Jews
who, like myself, converted to Christianity, and
lived the anger and hurt that ensued. The conversations between father and son, between Jew and
Mormon, are strikingly constructed and very real
The final similarity is the fact that the book
covers forty years (192972), which is the same
amount of time Israel was left to wander in the wilderness after their exodus from Egypt and the time it
took to build the Salt Lake Temple, where Isaac and
Elsa Grubbe are married. Forty years, then, seems
to be the time it takes a converted generation to

forsake old religious traditions and develop new

traditions under the new religion, and to raise the
next generation completely within the new tradition, causing them to not know another. Thus the
converting seed that is planted in the first generation, where it germinates and sprouts, does not
reach maturity until the next generation. In House
without Walls this is primarily seen in Sarahs converting while in captivity (represented by Nazi
Germany), her hiding, and her falling away from
the Church once she is free and in the wilderness of
America. It is her children, however, who, like the
children of Israel, obtain the Promised Land and
fully accept the gospel. All this is done in the same
way the children of Israel called upon God while in
bondage but then forgot once they were set free
(Exodus). It is true that Sarah often thinks about
her conversion and secretly accepts it, but her unwillingness to outwardly show it is like the Israelites
who will not simply look upon the serpent Moses
raises to heal their plagues (see Num. 21).
Youngs metaphors of and allusion to scripture
make House without Walls a rich personalization of
the scriptures and greatly help the reader relate, not
only to the Bible because the novel characterizes
the well-know stories in latter-day terms, but also
to House without Walls because the reader can relate
his or her scriptural background knowledge to the
book. While the characters emotional levels are
successfully related through the text alone, making
the familiar scriptural connections is the tool that
unites the reader with the characters from both
House without Walls and the Bible. Needle also states
in his review that House without Walls is one of the
best LDS novels Ive ever read. It presents real problems, and offers no simple solutions. The trauma
of conversion is presented realistically and painfully.
No decisions are final; questions about faith and
about God permeate the work. Clearly this is a wellconsidered work, and it accomplishes its purposes
(Opinion). Thus, the elaborate scriptural connections combined with worldly historical concepts and
insights to Judaism create an intensely diversified
and rich text and make House without Walls a good
model for didactic literature.


AML Annual 2004

Clark, Harlow S. Letting the Temple Burn, Learning
from God How to Restore It: Review of House
without Walls, by Margaret Young. Online review,
posted to Association for Mormon Letters email
list, 9 December 1999. Archived at http://www, accessed
22 November 2002.
Needle, Jeff. Review of House without Walls, by Margaret Blair Young. Online review, posted to Association for Mormon Letters email list, 27 January 1997.
Archived at
/b/B199708.html, accessed 22 November 2002.
Young, Margaret Blair. House without Walls. Salt Lake
City: Deseret Book, 1991.


Stone Tables :
Believable Characters in
Orson Scott Cards Historical Fiction
Holly King

n his book Characters and Viewpoint, Orson

Scott Card outlines how to create believable
characters and an exciting story line by adhering to
certain principles for character development. In his
novel Stone Tables, despite specific restrictions
related to history and religion, which cannot be
altered, Card is nevertheless successful in creating
imaginative, yet believable characters. His talents
are not fully utilized because of these restrictions,
yet his rendition of the story of Moses and the
Israelite nation is engaging and successful.
Most of Cards works are highly imaginative
and tell the story of a character that he has conceived completely on his own. Therefore, telling
the story of real people at some actual point in time
while portraying real events is a different experience altogether. Card first wrote Stone Tables as a
play while serving an LDS mission in Brazil. When
Card sent the unfinished two-act dramatic play to
his mentor Charles Whitman at Brigham Young
University, Whitman immediately wrote back asking for the remainder of the play and added it to
that seasons schedule for BYUs Pardoe Theater. It
was not until years later when Deseret Book persuaded
Card to convert the play into a novel that he undertook the difficult task of detailed character development for his version of the story of Moses and
the Israelites.
Stone Tables presents major restrictions to Cards
imaginative characters and worlds, such as the fact
that most of his readers already know the story of
Moses. Because the story of Moses is so clearly delineated in the Bible, there is no place for suspense

or for changing major events to create plot twist.

For example, most readers know that at the time of
Moses birth, all male Israelite children were to be
killed and that Moses is instead set afloat in a basket
on the Nile by his mother and later rescued by the
daughter of Pharaoh. Readers undoubtedly understand that although Moses is the son of Israelite
slaves, he grows up in Pharaohs palace, has to leave
after killing an Egyptian, and then comes back as a
prophet of God to free his people. If Card were to
tweak and twist such a historical account, readers
would definitely notice. He must rely on historical
accounts of the event, thus relying less on his own
An additional constraint Card faces in creating
Stone Tables is that the characters are people from
history whose life events he is depicting exactly as
they happened and whose friends and family are
clearly named and portrayed in the work. In some
of his other novels, Card mirrors historical figures
but does not actually use their names. For example,
in Seventh Son, the first of The Tales of Alvin Maker,
although Card alludes to many characteristics and
events in the life of Joseph Smith as he develops the
character Alvin Maker, he never actually names
Joseph or admits that the work has anything to do
with him. In contrast, Stone Tables names Moses,
his parents and siblings, and many of the Israelites
whose stories are told in the Bible. Card does not
have to convince most readers that even though
Moses is the son of Israelite slaves he grows up in
the Pharaohs palace. Neither does he have to
persuade readers to believe that the parting of the

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Red Sea actually took place, because most people

who have read the Bible or heard Bible stories
simply accept such miracles.
Although Card is presented with particular
restrictions for this project and is unable to explore
the dimensions of his characters to the extent that
he does in some of his other works, he nevertheless
manages to use his expertise to develop believable
characters. He uses his vivid imagination and his
own speculations to make up for what is unknown
from history.
Card explores character development with particular detail in both of his how-to books: Characters and Viewpoint and How to Write Science Fiction
and Fantasy. He outlines elements that must be
utilized to create believable characters and explains
how to choose the roles each character will play in
a story. Card calls the first of these roles the viewpoint character. In Stone Tables, Card chooses Moses
as the viewpoint character because, as he states in
his book How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy,
such a character must be present at the main
events, must be actively involved in those events,
and must have a personal stake in the outcome
even though the outcome depends on the main
characters choices (73). Moses is the obvious
choice because he qualifies for all three criteria.
In this same passage of Characters and Viewpoint, Card discusses the process of choosing which
character will function as the protagonist and
whether this same character will also become the
main character and the viewpoint character. He asks
certain questions about the characters in order to
choose these roles. One question is, Who suffers
the most? In the story of Moses, the answer to that
question could be the Israelite slaves. After all,
Moses does grow up in Pharaohs palace, with all of
his needs and desires met, and does not suffer to
the extent that the Israelites suffer. He trains as a
soldier and becomes strong according to his own
will, not as a slave to others, and is not forced to
participate in heavy labor. Although Moses may
not suffer as much as the slaves, he has other trials
that draw the readers sympathy. His life is spared
when the daughter of Pharaoh takes him from the
river, yet he is deprived of his own family and lives

with the knowledge that he does not belong in the

palace and that many people resent him.
Moses qualifies even better for the next criterion
that Card imposes with the question, Who has the
power and freedom to act? (67). Moses is the instrument of change in various ways throughout the narrative. He is the commander of the vast Egyptian
army and a mighty leader at Hatshepsuts side. He
has the power to change things in the world, even
if it is a struggle. The movement in the story follows Moses. Because Moses life takes place in
so many different settings with so many different
people surrounding him, the story has to be told
from his point of view. For example, when Moses is
forced from Egypt after killing an Egyptian whom
he finds beating an Israelite slave, he flees alone
into the wilderness. Therefore, the plot must be
advanced from Moses thoughts, feelings, and
actionsin other words, from his viewpoint.
Card suggests that the most important part of
creating a character is to show through words and
actions the personality and motives of each character. He explains in Character and Viewpoint that if
readers know a characters actions, motives, past,
reputation, relationships, habits, talents, and tastes,
theyll . . . feel as if they know the person (13).
Card knows how to showrather than simply tell
what happens. He uses the characters thoughts,
words, actions, and relationships to carry the narrative and advance the plot. He allows the reader
to enter the minds of the characters. For example,
much can be learned about Moses brother Aaron
from this one passage of dialogue:
Maybe I am ambitious, said Aaron. Growing up a slave, growing up hearing Mother and
Father and Miriam talk all the time about how
you were the chosen one, you were the hope of
Israel, yes, I did, I wanted to be the one, I prayed
to God to let me be the one to set Israel free. But
I grew up, Moses, something you might want
to try, and I realized that I wasnt the chosen
one and so all I could do was try my best to get
you to do what God has prepared you to do. (71)

In another passage of Characters and Viewpoint,

Card suggests that aspiring authors need to use
every ounce of skill [they] have, every technique

Stone Tables: Believable Characters in Orson Scott Cards Fiction

[they] have learned . . . to help readers discover

how important and truthful [their] story is, to help
them understand (16). Although the majority of
those who read Stone Tables are probably already
convinced that the story of Moses freeing his
people from Egyptian bondage is important and
truthful, Card is able to use his storytelling expertise and clever imagination to bring the story to life
and make the characters interesting and believable.
Card no doubt realizes the responsibility he has to
readers to keep the story as closely in line with the
actual occurrences as possible, yet hold readers
attention and mark the story with his special touch
of imaginative flare.
The restrictions posed by the story of Moses as
historical fiction could definitely limit the overall
development of each character, but this does not
completely hinder Card. What most people do not
know is that the identity of the Pharaoh of Moses
time is uncertain. The Bible says that the Pharaoh
who rules when Moses kills the Egyptian and flees
into the desertis a man. The incident is recorded
in the Bible in Exodus 2:15, Now when Pharaoh
heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But
Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh. Card uses
every piece of historical information and educated
guessing he can get his hands on to develop the narrative. He adds his own speculations and research
of the story to create enough of a twist to make it
interesting, yet not enough to throw the entire
story off course.
The ambiguity of historical records as to which
Pharaoh is linked with Moses allows Card a little
freedom to use his imagination and add a dimension to the story that is new and exciting. Cards
Pharaoh is Moses Egyptian mother, who has been
transformed into a man by her father in order to
inherit the throne. In the preface to Stone Tables,
Card refers to the book Return to Sodom and Gomorrah, written by Charles Pellegrino, who speculates
that Hatshepsut (a daughter of one of the Egyptian
Pharaohs) is linked with Moses. Card further explains
in the preface that he was always bothered by the
story of the daughter of Pharaoh being able to take
a baby out of the water and adopt him as her son
(xiv). Card emphasizes that the political life of

Hatshepsut makes her completely uniquethe only

daughter of Pharaoh who would have had the
power, completely on her own, to make such an
adoption have force (xiv). Such insights into the
history of the Pharaohs of Egypt supply Card with
the background he needs to fully develop the character of Hatshepsut and to reveal her relationship
with Moses and others of her court.
Card also reveals in Characters and Viewpoint
his belief that by the time readers finish a story they
want to know your characters better than any
human being ever knows any other human being
(4). Cards fictional Moses gives readers insights
into how Moses may have felt when he came to the
knowledge that he was the son of slaves and how he
may have felt when he finally realized that he was
Gods chosen servant, called to perform the enormous and daunting task of freeing the children of
Israel from bondage. Card adds a new perspective
to the story by not characterizing Moses as a majestic prophet figure. He instead shows the reader the
human qualities of the prophet Moses. For example,
Card illuminates Moses not only in his role as a
prophet but also in his journey to become such.
The reader is allowed glimpses into Moses early
life, such as the squabbles he has with his siblings,
his courtship with Zeforah (the daughter of a Midianite priest), his initial lack of faith in himself and
in God, and eventually his frustration with the
iniquities among the tribes of Israelincluding his
struggle to keep them from turning from the very
God who has released them from bondage. Card
also displays the intricacies of Moses relationships
with both of his mothers, with his siblings, with his
wife, and eventually his relationship to the nation
of Israel as their leader, the prophet of God.
In his review of Stone Tables, Michael Martindale describes Cards Moses as down-to-earth, realistic, and sometimes even casual ([1]). He says that
Card does not ignore details like some depictions
of the story of Moses have in the past, such as Cecil B.
DeMilles classic movie The Ten Commandments,
which features Charlton Heston. Martindale asserts
that Cards Moses was . . . slow in . . . speech to
a . . . fault and that Card serves up an excellent
justification for Moses speech impediment: he was

AML Annual 2004

bilingual (Hebrew and Egyptian), but speaking

Hebrew would brand him as a slave. So Moses had
to constantly be on guard to speak the politically
correct language ([1]). Martindale points out that
such a portrayal humanizes the character of Moses,
helping readers to better relate to and sympathize
with him. Martindale also mentions that Moses
comes across as another Orson Scott Card character, right along with the adult Ender Wiggin and
Alvin Maker. This book has the feel of Card all
over it ([1]). He resolves that considering the
novel is not only historical fiction, but scriptural
historical fiction, that might not be such a good
thing. This comment by Martindale suggests that
even though Stone Tables maps the life of an actual
historical figure, Card puts his personal stamp on
the story. By using the very principles he outlines
in his how-to books, Orson Scott Card creates
masterful imaginative dialogue and description to
show the story rather than simply tell it, and he
develops believable characters that engage the reader
in an exciting narrative of Moses and the Israelites
despite the restrictions inherent in portraying the
lives of actual historical figures.


Card, Orson Scott. Characters and Viewpoint. Cincinnati: Writers Digest Books, 1988.
. How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Cincinnati: Writers Digest Books, 1990.
. Seventh Son. New York: T. Doherty Associates,
. Stone Tables. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,
Martindale, D. Michael. Move Over, Charlton Heston;
Cards Moses Is John Wayne. Online review of
Stone Tables, by Orson Scott Card, posted to Association for Mormon Letters email list, 5 August
2000. Archived at
reviews/b/B200051.html, accessed 22 November

Out of the Mouth of Babes:

An Analysis of Orson Scott Cards Use of Dialogue
in Enders Game
Casey Vanderhoef

rson Scott Cards Enders Game is a unique

piece of science fiction that is both engaging
and reflectively deep. It combines multiple layers
of meaning with a surface level that appeals to all
types of readers. One element in the novel that helps
create this dexterity is Cards masterful use of dialogue. The dialogue in this novel works so effectively
as a textual tool mainly because of the range of purposes it serves. More specifically, it aids in not only
character development but also plot advancement
and character realism. The reason Cards dialogue
is capable of covering all these areas is that the
approach from which it is written creates a show
without telling effect. William Tapply, an accomplished author most known for his series of twelve
mystery novels called The Snake Eater, writes: Truly
effective dialogue, like all writing, shows without
telling. It works, like an effective film scene, through
pictures and dialogue alone. The writer is invisible.
What is not stated shows as much about the character as what is said (8). As a result of this technique, the reader hears the story from the voices of
dynamic and flamboyant characters, allowsing him
or her to experience the novel more completely.
The first manner Card uses dialogue as a tool
is in developing characters. Dr. James McKinley, a
professor of English at the University of Missouri
Kansas City, comments: Dialogue is a main means
by which characters feel and behave, the way they
express the node or action center of their scene
(13). Cards characterization through dialogue construction illustrates McKinleys point but also adds
an extra twist to it. Card uses both internal and

external dialogue to illustrate his characters thought

processes and personalities. This style is most apparent in the development of the novels protagonist,
Ender Wiggin. In Ender, Card frequently uses internal and external dialogue as a contrast to illustrate
the dynamics and complexity of the character. The
internal dialogue shows Enders internal motivations
and persona, while the external is used as a tool to
cause people to react to him the way he wants them
to. This illustrates the complexity of Ender. The
internal and external dialogue causes the reader to
understand the character more and to create a strong
relation with him.
Early in the book Ender is confronted by a gang
of young bullies who try to rough him up. The initial internal dialogue enables Ender to exhibit his
strategic thought process: I have to win this now;
and for all time, or Ill fight it every day and it will
get worse. Then the action ensues as Ender physically disables the leader of the group. The external
dialogue that immediately follows is aimed at the
remaining boys in the group: You might be having
some idea of ganging up on me. You could probably
beat me up pretty bad. But just remember what I
do to people who try to hurt me. After that Ender
reverts back to internal dialogue to resolve the conflict within himself: Im just like Peter, take away
my monitor, and I am just like Peter (Card, 7). Card
uses this exchange of intellectual assessment, false
projection, and self-internalization to develop a pattern that shows the reader who Ender is and how
he thinks.

AML Annual 2004

By illustrating how systematically Enders mind

works, his precise execution of strategy and his
deep-seeded emotional conflicts, Card prepares the
reader for what Ender encounters later in the novel,
along with setting up the reasons he sees the world
the way he does. Card maintains the same pattern
of contrastive internal/external dialogue with
Ender to make his physical, social, and emotional
progressions as a character more evident.
Also, toward the end of the novel, Card uses
internal and external dialogue patterns to create an
additional layer in Enders characterization. For
instance, after Ender experiences some success as a
commander in Battle School, many of the older boys
become jealous. To appease their battered pride, a
group of the older boys trap Ender in the shower
room. The leader of the group, Bonzo, gives Ender
the advantage he needs by deciding to fight him
one on one in order to preserve his honor. Enders
internal dialogue show the reader his assessment of
the situation: Where are the teachers? Dont they
realize that the first contact between us in this fight
might be the end of it? Ender next projects the
persona he schemes and externally muses: Bonzo,
dont hurt me. . . . Please. This enrages his attacker
and causes him to charge and fall into Enders trap.
Ender quickly catches the boy in the nose with a
head butt, instantly killing him. After the brutal
display of force from one so young, Enders internal
dialogue again provides resolution to the incident:
Peter might be scum, but Peter had been right,
always right; the power to cause pain is the only
power that matters, the power to kill and destroy,
because if you cant kill then you are always subject
to those who can, and nothing and no one will ever
save you (Card, 210). This internal resolution
illustrates progression or character movement.
The next way Card uses dialogue is in plot
advancement and foreshadowing. Before every significant plot progression, Card prefaces it with a
dialogue between the adult supervisors of Ender,
usually the head commander of his battle school,
Colonel Graff, and his second-in-command, Major
Anderson. This display of dialogue also follows the
show without telling style, by foreshadowing
Enders next move in the plot. Mostly appearing

at the beginning of transitional chapters, the dialogue signifies upcoming events, Enders development in his training, and the gravity of the task for
which he is preparing.
A good illustration of this comes at the beginning of chapter 7, shortly after Ender arrives at
Battle School. Upon his arrival, Ender is socially
isolated intentionally by Colonel Graff, causing him
to be ostracized by the rest of the boys and serving
as a test of his abilities as a leader. Overcoming this,
Ender begins winning the trust and friendship of
his peers, but he seems to be constantly put in unfair
positions by his commanders. The chapter starts
with the plot-advancing dialogue between Colonel
Graff and Major Anderson. Anderson begins the
dialogue with a question and then Graff responds;
the two alternate from there:
Does it ever seem to you that these boys
arent children? I look at what they do, the way
they talk, and they dont seem like kids.
Theyre the most brilliant children in the
world, each in his own way.
But shouldnt they act like children? They
arent normal.
Were trying to save the world, not heal
the wounded heart. Youre too compassionate.
(Card, 67)

Analytically, this exchange shows the logic of the

instructors at the school. The show without
telling style of dialogue, in this sense, sets a tone
for the following chapter and prepares the reader for
the action soon to occur. In this specific example,
the dialogue prepares the reader for the roles that
Cards main characters are being prepared forthe
role of soldiers, not children.
The last (and most effective) way Card uses
dialogue in Enders Game is to create realism. The
idea behind Enders Game presents a very difficult
task for an author. Card builds a plot centered around
a world where children possess the intellects of
adults and begin military training at a young age in
order to prepare for the daunting task of saving the
world. Card could have set this stage by simply
explaining the situation to the reader through
some type of narration. This method would have

An Analysis of Orson Scott Cards Use of Dialogue in Enders Game

proven easy and quick and allowed Card to begin

developing the rest of the story. The down side
would have been that the plot and characterization
context would not have resonated very deeply
inside of the reader. Card chose to use a much
more challenging method of presenting the novels
foundational factsby illustrating them through
the characters dialogue. This textual approach is
far more difficult than narrator explanation and
requires a strong sense of consistency throughout
the novel, but it makes the plot much more believable and tangible to the reader. Cards brilliance
really shines in his demonstration of this trait.
Card successfully plants his plot structure in
the mind of the reader by having the children he
uses for characters constantly engage in topically
adult conversation. Their conversations reflect
complex theoretical issues, apocalyptic stresses, and
mature adult relationships. This kind of dialogue
creates a picture of intelligent people being trained
for something important and unique. Card next
adds a wrinkle in his dialogue by making it believable to the reader that these supreme intellects exist
in the bodies of children. In the mist of philosophical debates on military strategies and the art of
war, Card slips in childish vulgarities and slang that
give the children a language of their own and consequently sells the plot to the readers. Readers find
realism in the fact that the dialogue reflects the way
children distort language to make it their own in
order to express their individualism.
This is shown when Ender is first learning to
maneuver in the vastly important Battle Room, the
place where the childrens military futures are determined. Ender and his friend Alai are inventing
strategies of movement that will develop necessary
skills and abilities to help them survive in this highly
competitive game. While doing this, they decide to
race. Ender speaks first, followed by Alai:
You win.
I want to see your fart collection, Alai said.
I stored it in your locker. Didnt you notice?
I thought it was my socks. (Card, 60)

This juvenile banter effectively typecasts the characters age, which is internalized by the reader based

on the method in which it was shown. The dialogue allows the children, and the world they are
surrounded by, to be magnified by contrast. Card
is also able to maintain consistency as he keeps the
readers mind aware of the plots structure by giving
traces of this type of dialogue throughout the novel.
In another scene later in the book, Enders
Dragon Army is preparing for a battle against an
army that has twice the manpower his does. Bean,
one of Enders Toon leaders, prepares to launch the
first assault on the larger group when they begin
taunting him: As if to corroborate Beans statement, the enemy began to call out to them. Hey!
We be hungry, come and feed us! Your ass is draggin! Your ass is Dragon (Card, 215). This again
shows how in a serious environment, the children
still express their youth through their language and
adolescent wordplay.
The dialogue in this novel represents a handrail
that Card uses to guide the reader through the ideas
the novel presents. Academically and analytically it
serves as a tool for laying essential groundwork in
characterization, plot, and structure. The combination of these three styles creates a surface level that
has a lasting effect: it makes the novel fun. It gives
the novel a voice and personality that stays with the
reader long after he or she has finished the book. In
an interview Card once revealed one of his reasons
for writing, commenting: I want to reach people
who read books for the sheer pleasure of it, because
those are the people who are open to having their
lives changed by what they read (qtd. in Ciporen,
51). This represents the combining effects of
Orson Scott Cards use of dialogue, which makes
the novel more enjoyable for the reader.
Card, Orson S. Enders Game. New York: Tom Doherty
Associates, 1985.
Ciporen, Laura. PW Talks with Orson Scott Card.
Publishers Weekly 7 (2000): 51.
McKinley, James. Writing Dialogue That Speaks to
the Reader. Writer 106.8 (1993): 1316.
Tapply, William G. Dialogue That Showswithout
Telling. Writer 107.3 (1994): 711.

Subversion and Containment in Xenocide

Daniel K. Muhlestein

rson Scott Cards Xenocide (1991) is a peculiar book. Although it occupies the space
between Speaker for the Dead (1986) and Children
of the Mind (1996), much of the plot of Xenocide
revolves around a cluster of characters that are new
to the saga, and the books emotional center of
gravity is less Ender Wiggin than Han Qing-jao.
Further, although Xenocide received a Hugo nomination, its critical reception has been surprisingly
mixed, with one reviewer grumbling about the
books frequent, irksome, and interminable theological / philosophical interludes (Review of Xenocide, 699). But if Kirkus Reviews was partly in the
right, it was also wholly in the wrong: the most
perplexing thing about Xenocide is not the sudden
emergence of some grand theology but rather the
way in which that theology is employed. More than
any other novel in the Ender Wiggin series, Xenocide wrestles with fundamental questions of faith
and free will. And it does so by way of a rhetorical
strategy that is interesting and powerful but not
always entirely successful. This strategy is not new;
it can be found in texts ranging from Beowulf to
Ulysses (1922). But the critic who describes it most
succinctly is the New Historicist Stephen Greenblatt,
whose essay Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and Its Subversion is thus a helpful place to
begin an exploration of what goes wrongand
rightin Xenocide. Helpful and oddly appropriate:
Greenblatt writes from within the Marxist tradition,
and Cards novel describes a civilization whose roots
go back to Mao Tse-tung.
In Invisible Bullets Greenblatt describes a process commonly called subversion and containment.

Many apparently orthodox cultural texts, he observes,

plant the seeds of revolution. They describe something, or do something, which poses a potential threat
to an important aspect of the culture of which they
are a parta threat to a dominant institution, perhaps, or to a prevailing ideology. In that sense they
are subversive texts. King Learto choose an obvious exampleis a subversive play insofar as it calls
into question the ideology of the divine right of kings
and describes the carnage that follows a king gone
awry. At the same time, Greenblatt continues, such
texts work overtime to control the subversion they
are creating, to lock it down, to contain it in the
sense in which a prison contains a prisoner. They
create a threat in order to destroy it, and in doing
so they reinforce the very ideologies and institutions that they put at risk. Thus, King Learto
continue the examplesubverts the notion of kingship precisely in order to reaffirm it.
But if King Lear represents subversion and containment at work, Xenocide shows subversion and
containment gone astray. The novel describes the
life, death, and rebirth of a religious community
comprised of the people of the planet Path. At the
center of their religious life are the godspoken: men
and women to whom the gods are said to manifest
themselves through what appear to be obsessivecompulsive disorders. In the Catalogue of Voices of
the Gods, for example, Door-Waiting, Countingto-Multiples-of-Five, Object-Counting, Checkingfor-Accidental-Murders,
Skin-Scraping, Pulling-Out-of-Hair, Gnawing-atStone, and Bugging-Out-of-Eyes are all identified

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as penances demanded by the gods, rituals of obedience that cleanse the souls of the godspoken so
that the gods can fill their minds with wisdom
(Xenocide, 51). In spite of the odd nature of their
religious rituals, however, the people of Path face
many of the same challenges encountered by
othermore earthboundreligious communities:
they must translate evidence of divinity into rules
of conduct; they must mediate between science
and religion and between religion and politics; and
they must find a way to transmit their faith from
one generation to the next. In these respects the
people of Path are like people of faith everywhere.
In describing the people of Path, Xenocide
explores a number of important philosophical
issues, including the nature of education, of history, and of obedience. In the process it testsand
appears to prove truefour subversive hypotheses
about the nature of religion. The first hypothesis is
the same one Greenblatt discusses in his reading
of Thomos Harlots A Brief and True Report of the
New Found Land Virginia (1588): it is the Machiavellian theory that religion is a political tool of the
ruling class. Early in Xenocide the link between
obedience to the gods and obedience to the government is statedin positive termsby Han Feitzu, the most honored of the godspoken. In the
following passage he is speaking with his daughter,
Qing-jao, who has just discovered that he has been
lying to the people of Path on behalf of the political rulers: Just as the gods speak only to a chosen
few, declares Han Fei-tzu,
so the secrets of the rulers must be known
only to those who will use the knowledge
properly. . . . The only way to retrieve a secret,
once it is known, is to replace it with a lie;
then the knowledge of the truth is once again
your secret. . . .
If we can lie in the service of the gods,
what other crimes can we commit?
What is a crime?
An act thats against the law.
What law?
I seeCongress makes the law, so the
law is whatever Congress says. But Congress is

composed of men and women, who may do

good and evil.
Now youre nearer the truth. We cant do
crimes in the service of Congress, because Congress makes the laws. But if Congress ever
became evil, then in obeying them we might
also be doing evil. . . . However, if that happened, Congress would surely lose the mandate of heaven. And we, the godspoken, dont
have to wait and wonder about the mandate of
heaven, as others do. If Congress ever loses the
mandate of the gods, we will know at once.
So you lied for Congress because Congress
had the mandate of heaven.
And therefore I knew that to help them
keep their secret was the will of the gods for the
good of the people. (9091)

Midway through Xenocide, however, Han Feitzu becomes convinced there is no heaven, there is
no mandate, and the way of Path is a lie propagated
by a tyrannical government. He becomes convinced,
in short, of the Machiavellian view of religion:
We, the godspoken, cries Han Fei-Tzu, are not
hearing gods at all. We have been altered genetically . . . [to perform absurd, humiliating rituals]
and the only reason I can think of is that it keeps us
under control, keeps us weak. . . . Its a monstrous
crime. . . . We are the slaves here! Congress is our
most terrible enemy, our masters, our deceivers
(289). Perhaps more importantly, Han Fei-tzus conclusions about the way of Path are shared by Ender
Wiggin, the protagonist in the series and the character who typically articulates Cards perspective.
Subsequent eventsincluding the release of a virus
which cures the godspoken of their behaviorappear
to justify both Han Fei-tzus assertions and Machiavellis theory. Indeed, only one of the godspoken
Qing-jaocontinues to believe that her obsessivecompulsive behavior is a form of purification sent
by the gods. Her continued faith, however, ultimately serves a subversive function as well, for it
points towardand seems to prove truea second
subversive hypothesis about the nature of religion.
This hypothesis concerns the power of hegemony, especially religious hegemony. In his Prison
Notebooks (1992) Antonio Gramsci defines hegemony

Subversion and Containment in Xenocide

in terms of class warfare. A given class can gain

power, he says, by consent as well as coercion. It can
do so by disseminating its particular class-based
ideology throughout society and then persuading
the other classes to accept that ideology as the Truth.
Universalize, Gramsci says, naturalize, and conquer.
Later, critics built upon Gramscis theory, and today
the term hegemony means a societys dominant
system of meanings, practices, and values. Hegemony is what most people believe. It also describes
how most people act. Hegemony is more than
mere ideology; it is ideology in action, ideology as
it is put into practice by those who believe it. And
when people live an ideology as the Truth, they
generally do so in a very specific way: they attempt
to act upon their beliefs in precisely such a way
as to insure that their actions ratify their beliefs.
They actthat is to sayin such a way as to confirm reciprocally the validity of their beliefs, whether
those beliefs are factually true or not. Hence the
equation, Hegemony = Ideology + Action + Reciprocal Confirmation.
The story of Qing-jao is a textbook example of
religious hegemony at work. Qing-jaos most important ideology is her belief that the gods speak through
her. Her most important actions are those of obedience, of living properly the life of a godspoken.
Those actions ratify her ideology; they confirm her
belief that she is an instrument of the gods. And
the lynchpin in this process is a binary which juxtaposes religion to science and views scientific theories and evidence as a heaven-sent screen or cover,
a divinely inspired way of concealing the deeper
truth of religion. Her father first states this binary:
The gods are the cause of everything that happens,
he observes, but they never act except in disguise
the disguise being the fortuitous appearance of
a scientific explanation (Xenocide, 148). The belief
that the gods hide their actions from the eyes of the
unbelievers behind a cloud of natural laws and
scientific explanations thus becomes the defining
tenet of Qing-jaos faith: Qing-jao knew that she
must listen [to the scientific explanations] with one
question in mind. What do the gods mean by
this? (292). On the basis of that tenet Qing-jao
transforms every piece of scientific evidence that

Congress manipulated her genes into spiritual evidence of the handiwork of the gods. Every proof
that is to saythat the government engineered her
obsessive-compulsive behavior reciprocally confirms Qing-jaos belief that the hands of the gods
were upon her and that the gods are using science
to conceal their work. The more the scientists prove
her wrong, the harder she works to transform their
critique into proof.
When presented with evidence of genetic manipulation, for example, Qing-jao retorts, Dont you
see? This genetic difference in usits the disguise
the gods have given for their voices in our lives. So
that people who are not of the Path will still be free
to disbelieve (290). When she is infected with a
virus designed to counteract the effects of the genetic
manipulation, she reasons:
And if the gods wished to stop speaking to the
people of Path, then this might well be the disguise they had chosen for their act. Let it seem
to the unbeliever that Fathers Lusitanian virus
cuts us off from the gods; I will know, as will all
other faithful men and women, that the gods
speak to whomever they wish, and nothing
made by human hands could stop them if they
so desired. All their acts were vanity. If Congress
believed that they had caused the gods to speak
on Path, let them believe it. If Father and the
Lusitanians believe that they are causing the gods
to fall silent, let them believe it. I know that if
I am only worthy of it, the gods will speak to
me. (581)

Even when the virus produces its intended

effect and causes Qing-jao to lose her disorder,
after a moment of agonizing doubt she interprets
the success of the virus as yet another evidence
of the gods hidden power. She could not bear
[her fathers] embraceby this point in the novel
Han Fei-tzu has rejected the way of Path, and he
is the one who has infected her with the virus
She could not endure it because it would mean
his complete victory. It would mean that she
had been defeated by the enemies of the gods. . . .
It would mean that all Qing-jaos worship for
all these years had meant nothing. . . . It would
mean that Mother was not waiting for her when
at last she came to the Infinite West.

AML Annual 2004

Why dont you speak to me, O Gods! she

cried out silently. Why dont you assure me that
I have not served you in vain all these years?
Why have you deserted me now, and given the
triumph to your enemies?
And then the answer came to her, as simply
and dearly as if her mother had whispered the
words in her ear: This is a test, Qing-jao. The
gods are watching what you do.
A test. Of course. The gods were testing all
their servants on Path, to see which ones were
deceived and which endured in perfect obedience.
If I am being tested, then there must be
some correct thing for me to do. . . . She
dropped to her knees. She found a wood-grain
line, and began to trace it [which is her
obsessive-compulsive behavior].
There was no answering gift of release, no
sense of rightness; but that did not trouble her,
because she understood that this was part of
the test. (58788)

In its description of Qing-jao, then, Xenocide both

tests and appears to prove true a second subversive
hypothesis about religion: the hypothesis that a religious hegemony can become so powerful that it can
transform even contradictory evidence into confirmation of belief. To insure that readers do not somehow miss the point, Ender spells it out for them:
Qing-jao, I know you well, thought Ender.
You are such a bright one, but the light you see
by comes entirely from the stories of your
gods. . . . Most people are able to hold most stories theyre told in abeyance, to keep a little distance between the story and their inmost heart.
But . . . for you, Qing-jaothe terrible lie has
become the self-story, the tale that you must
believe if you are to remain yourself. . . . I know
you, Qing-jao, and I expect you to behave no
differently than you do. . . . Few who are captured by such a powerful story are ever able to
win free of it. (307)

Interestingly Xenocide uses families, what Louis

Althusser calls Ideological State Apparatuses, to
transmit such powerful, and powerfully perverse,
stories from one generation to the next: Until a
few weeks ago, laments Han Fei-tzu near the end
of the novel,

he had been proudest of all of the fact that he

had accomplished his oath to Jiang-qing. This
was not an easy accomplishment, to bring up
his daughter so piously that she never went
through a period of doubt or rebellion against
the gods. True, there were other children just as
piousbut their piety was usually accomplished at the expense of their education. Han
Fei-tzu had let Qing-jao learn everything, and
then had so deftly led her understanding of it
that all fit well with her faith in the gods.
Now he had reaped his own sowing. He
had given her a worldview that so perfectly
preserved her faith that now, when he had discovered that the gods voices were nothing
but the genetic chains with which Congress
had shackled them, nothing could convince
her. . . .
I wish dogs had torn my tongue out before
I taught you to think that way. (47879, 525)

Having tested and apparently proven both

Machiavellis critique and Gramscis theory, Xenocide then proceeds to test yet a third subversive
hypothesis about the nature of religion: that when
people of faith are confronted with evidence that
what they believe is false, they invariably attempt
to preserve their faith by retreating from reason to
emotion. Not surprisingly, Qing-jaos actions provide
an obvious example of just such a psychological
defense mechanism at work. When she confronts
evidence that her obsessive-compulsive behavior
has been caused by genetic manipulation, Qing-jao
retreats from her head to her heart:
Qing-jao knew that these were all the lies of a
seducer. For the one thing she could not doubt
was the voice of the gods inside her. Hadnt she
felt that awful need to be purified? Hadnt
she felt the joy of successful worship when her
rituals were complete? Her relationship with
the gods was the most certain thing in her life;
and anyone who denied it, who threatened to
take it away from her, had to be not only her
enemy, but the enemy of heaven. (301)

This is a particularly poignant passage, one

that helps make Qing-jao a very sympathetic character. By the end of the novel, however, what was

Subversion and Containment in Xenocide

at first touching has become tragic, for the most

certain part of Qing-jaos life has proven damnably
wrong, and her quick shift from reason to feeling is
revealed as a false step, a dangerous retreat.
Subversion upon subversion upon subversion.
And Xenocide is not done yet. In its exploration of
the dynamics of hegemony the novel tests yet a
fourth subversive hypothesis. This time, though,
the stakes are, if not higher, at least broader. The
issue is epistemology, and the question is whether
one can discover truth of any kind, be it religious
or secular. The buggers pose the question in its
most fundamental form. Maybe were the fools,
they muse, for thinking we know things. Maybe
humans are the only ones who can deal with the
fact that nothing can ever be known at all (317).
Qing-jao herself wonders whether in the final
analysis either external evidence or powerful emotions can be truly reliable guides. After all, does not
what they mean ultimately depend upon the frame
of reference within which they are interpreted?
What if she was wrong? How could she know
anything? Whether everything Jane said was
true or everything she said was false, the same
evidence would lie before her. Qing-jao would
feel exactly as she felt now, whether it was the
gods or some brain disorder causing the feeling. (3045)

This is a moment of authentic agony in the novels

well as one of authentic subversion, a sudden sunburst of aporia in which even the trace of truth, to
use Barbara Johnsons provocative phrase, becomes
Church as a tool of the state, the power of
hegemony, religion as retreat, aporia: all are subversive impulses in Xenocide. All reverberate outside of
the text as well. For what is ultimately at stake in
Xenocide is not the way of Path but rather religion
in general. That is, the issues raised by the novel are
clearly portable issues, as relevant to Card as to Qingjao, to Christians as to the godspoken. Certainly,
Machiavelli is no stranger to earthbound debates
over the covert relationship between religion and
politics. Christianity has long been accused of
hiding behind emotion, and discussions of aporia
are a commonplace in contemporary analysis of

philosophy and religion. The most substantial threat

to religion per se, however, is the ease with which
Qing-jao turns contradictory evidence into evidence
of divine province. What matters here is not just
Qing-jaos way of confirming her faith but the whole
process of reciprocal confirmation itself. If religious
hegemony can become so powerful that it can confirm even Qing-jaos beliefs, and confirm them in
the face of, indeed precisely because of, an enormous
amount of evidence to the contrary, then it can potentially confirm any religious belief; and if it can do
that, if religious hegemony can potentially confirm
all belief, then all reciprocal confirmation is necessarily suspect. Whatever else readers may think
of Xenocide, they can surely agree on this point: it
produces the subversion half of the subversion /
containment dialectic, and it does so in spades.
But what of containment? Does Xenocide produce
that as well? Is Machiavelli overthrown, religion justified, free will proven and demonstrated? In part,
yes. For although Qing-jao is never able to depart
the way of Path, others are, including both her
father and her secret maid, Si Wang-Mu, a working
class foil to Qing-jao who is equal parts sister, double,
and replacement. By counterbalancing Qing-jao
with Han Fei-tzu and Wang-mu, Xenocide makes
clear that reciprocal confirmation sometimes fails
and that not all believers abandon reason at the first
sign of trouble. Nevertheless, this character-driven
attempt at containment is surprisingly tentative and
provisional in part because Han Fei-tzu is not nearly
as compelling a character as Qing-jao; nor is Wangmu, though readers with a proletarian bent probably wish she were: neither Qing-jaos father nor
her double has anything like Qing-jaos stage presence. Further, although their abandonment of the
way of Path underscores the limits of religious hegemony, both Han Fei-tzu and Wang-mu become
stout defenders of the Machiavellian view of religion. And although both characters choose reason
over emotion, that choice leads them to cast off their
religion like so much dead weight. Thus, although
Han Fei-tzu and Wang-mu are interesting foils for

AML Annual 2004

Qing-jao, neither does much to contain the subversion that lies at the heart of Xenocide. Apparently, apostates are not especially good defenders of
the faith.
For that Xenocide brings in the heavy hitters:
Ender Wiggin and Jane, a computer entity which
has achieved sentience. And in a series of discussionsthose frequent, irksome, and interminable
theological / philosophical interludes noted by
Kirkus ReviewsEnder makes a spirited defense of
the doctrine of free will, a doctrine which (if it can
be proven true) is capable of overthrowing Machiavelli and Marx alike, capable of justifying the belief
that truth does not merely exist but is accessible.
Interestingly, Enders first attempt at containment
begins in subversion; he initially plays the devils
advocate, reiterating various ways in which philosophers explainand explain awayfree will:
Either were free or were not, said Miro. Either
the storys true or it isnt.
The point is that we have to believe that
its true in order to live as civilized human
beings, said Ender.
No, thats not the point at all, said Miro.
Because if its a lie, why should we bother to
live as civilized human beings?
Because the species has a better chance to
survive if we do, said Ender. Because our
genes require us to believe the story in order to
enhance our ability to pass those genes on for
many generations in the future. Because anybody who doesnt believe the story begins to act
in unproductive, uncooperative ways, and
eventually the community, the herd, will reject
him and his opportunities for reproduction
will be diminishedfor instance, hell be put
in jailand the genes leading to his unbelieving behavior will eventually be extinguished.
So the puppeteer requires that we believe
that were not puppets. Were forced to believe in
free will.
Or so Valentine explained it to me.
But she doesnt really believe that, does
Of course she doesnt. Her genes wont
let her.

Ender laughed again. But Miro . . . was

outraged. . . .
Calm down, Ender said.
No, Miro shouted. My puppeteer is
making me furious! (38586)

After a moment of lightheartedness, however,

Ender turns deadly serious by responding to the
argument against free will with a counterclaim of
his own. Man has free will, he asserts, but precisely
and only because he has always already existed:
I think that we are free, and I dont think its
just an illusion that we believe in because it has
survival value. And I think were free because
we arent just this body, acting out a genetic
script. And we arent some soul that God created out of nothing. Were free because we
always existed. Right back from the beginning
of time, only there was no beginning of time so
we existed all along. Nothing ever caused us.
We simply are, and we always were. (386)

Enders first attempt at containment, then, comes

by way of a grounding assumption which can be
neither proven nor disproven, an assumption which
is Mormon orthodoxyCards own faithpar
excellence: The mind or the intelligence which
man possesses, wrote Joseph Smith, is co-eternal
with God himself; the intelligence of spirits had
no beginning, neither will it have an end (Smith,
353). Enders second attempt at containment
comes by way of a similarly orthodox Mormon
definition of the nature and purposes of God. A
real god, observes Ender, would have no patience
for hegemonic systems or ways of enforcing obedience. He would already have all the control he
would need or want. And his work and his glory
would be to help, to teach, to lift, to improve: So
let me tell you, Ender declares,
what I think about gods. I think a real god is
not going to be so scared or angry that he tries
to keep other people down. . . . A real god
doesnt care about control. A real god already
has control of everything that needs controlling. Real gods would want to teach you how
to be just like them. (Xenocide, 412)

A real god, in short, would not merely allow but

also guarantee the free agency of his subjects. He

Subversion and Containment in Xenocide

would be much like a parent who loves and seeks

to persuade but never forces. As Wang-mu, who has
by this point in the novel become Enders student,
puts it,
What were the gods, then? They would want
everyone else to know and have and be all good
things. They would teach and share and train,
but never force.
Like my parents, thought Wang-mu. . . .
That was it. Thats what the gods would be. . . .
They would want everyone else to have all that
was good in life, just like good parents. But
unlike parents or any other people, the gods
would actually know what was good and have
the power to cause good things to happen,
even when nobody else understood that they
were good. As Wiggin said, real gods . . . would
have all the intelligence and power that it was
possible to have. (43233)

In essence, then, Ender counters subversion

with orthodoxy (at least Mormon orthodoxy). He
acknowledges the power of various subversive
hypotheses about religion, but he does so without
accepting a corresponding loss of faith. In the process he contains the subversion that lies at the heart
of Xenocidebut not completely.
Why? Part of the answer is a simple matter of
aesthetic technique. In fiction, showing is almost
always more effective than telling. While subversion
in Xenocide is writ large in its characters actions,
containment comes chiefly through reflection and
dialogue, the predictable result being that the novels
subversive elements are felt in a way that its attempts
at containment are not. Ironically, the unexpected
strength of the novels subversive elements is due in
part, at least, to the fact that Card appears to have
made Qing-jao into what he elsewhere calls too
memorable a character. In the first of a series of
essays on The Finer Points of Characterization
Card notes that good fiction includes a hierarchy
of charactersfrom central to vanishingand warns
authors against overdoing the minor ones: Every
character who makes an appearance cant be just as
important as every other. . . . When you make a
[minor] character too memorable, your audience
assumes he will matter more than you intend him

to (Finer Points, I, 27). Yet that is evidently what

happens to Qing-jao. In some prefatory remarks
about Xenocide Card recalls that
a chance meeting with James Cryer . . . led
directly to the story of Li Qing-jao and Han
Fei-tzu at the heart of this book. Learning that
he was a translator of Chinese poetry, I asked
him . . . if he could give me a few plausible
names for some Chinese characters I was developing. . . . My idea for these characters was for
them to play a fairly minor, though meaningful, role in the story of Xenocide. But as James
Cryer . . . told me more and more about Li
Qing-jao and Han Fei-tzu . . . I began to realize that here was the real foundation of the tale
I wanted this book to tell. (Xenocide, ix)

Not surprisingly, Qing-jao bears the marks of

this transformation. On the one hand, she has two
of the characteristics that Card typically associates
with minor characters: The way to make such characters instantly memorable . . . is to make them
eccentric or obsessive (Finer Points, I, 28). But on
the other hand, Qing-jao begins Xenocide as a child
in jeopardy, has a well-documented past, is driven
by unusually complex motives, experiences a full
measure of pain, and is drawn in truly heroic proportions: all of which, says Card, are the hallmarks
of a major character (Finer Points, II and III).
Indeed, by the end of Xenocide Qing-jao along with
the subversion she embodies has become the focal
point of the novel, while Ender, Jane, and the containment they represent have become almost incidental. Have characters that are so important and
so believable to the audience that they cant forget
them, declares Card in his last essay on characterization (Finer Points, III, 36). In Xenocide he does
just thathe creates a character who is simultaneously unforgettable and uncontainable.
Qing-jaos stage presence is not the only threat
to containment in the novel, however. Another
more serious concern is that the very hypotheses
Enders theology seeks to lock up potentially
undermines it. His assertion of preexisting free will
is susceptible to the counterclaim that such an
assertion itself demonstrates religious hegemony in
action, ideology made flesh, as it were. Certainly,

AML Annual 2004

Althusser would have thought so. Althusser builds

upon Gramscis notion of hegemony, paying particular attention to the term ideology. Ideology,
says Althusser, is more than just a worldview or
system of beliefs. Rather, ideology is a Representation of the Imaginary Relationship of Individuals
to their Real Conditions of Existence (Althusser,
152). By this Athusser means that although ideology depicts the conditions under which men live
quite accurately, it depicts their relationship to
those conditions inaccurately, since it depicts them
as free subjects rather than as people who live in
subjection to God, to the state, to the boss, etc.
and it does so precisely in order to persuade them
to toe the line:
The whole mystery of this effect lies in . . . the
ambiguity of the term subject. In the ordinary
use of the term, subject in fact means (1) a free
subjectivity, a centre of initiatives, author of
and responsible for its actions; (2) a subjected
being, who submits to a higher authority, and
is therefore stripped of all freedom except that
of freely accepting his submission. This last note
gives us the meaning of this ambiguity . . . : the
individual is interpellated as a (free) subject in
order that he shall submit freely . . . , i.e., in order
that he shall (freely) accept his subjection.
(Althusser, 169)

From Althussers perspective, then, Enders

assertion of free will is not an escape from ideology
but an expression of it. The problem, of course, is
that both Enders and Althussers statements are
mere assertions with no proof asked or given. Ender
asserts that men are free. Althusser asserts that claims
of freedom are ideologies designed to enforce compliance. Men are left to choose which perspective
they prefer. Or are they? Unfortunately, no. For
although Ender does not prove his assertion of free
will any more than Athusser proves his theory of
ideology, Ender does prove something, not by word
but by deed. What Ender proves through his deeds
is that Athusser was probably right all along. When
Ender Wiggin and Han Fei-tzu conclude that the
people of Path have been manipulated without
their consent, their solution to this violation of
choice is itself yet another such violation. They

secretly infect the population with a virus designed

to counteract the effects of the manipulation,
doing so in secret precisely because they realize that
if the people of Path knew what they were doing,
they would stop it: they would never willingly consent to be infected by the virus. Readers know that
this is so, as do both Ender and Han Fei-tzu, because
when Han Fei-tzu asks Qing-jao (as a representative of those who still follow the way of Path) for
permission to release the virus, she stoutly refuses,
declaring: Father, I beg you, dont do this. . . .
What can I do to persuade you? If I say nothing, you
will do it, and when I speak to beg you, you will do
it all the more surely (Xenocide, 526). Further,
when the virus becomes effective, Ender and his
coconspirators conceal both their secrecy and their
violation of the peoples freedom of choice behind
a cloak of lies, just as had Congress before them:
The news reader . . . began reading a report
about a document that was turning up on computers all over the world. The document said
that this plague was a gift from the gods, freeing the people of Path from a genetic alteration.
This document says that the whole world
is now purified. The gods have accepted us.
The news readers voice trembled as she spoke. . . .
[Han Fei-tzus] face was radiant. Triumphant.
Did you see the message that Jane and I
prepared? he said.
You! cried Qing-jao. My father, a teller
of lies? (584, 585)

Thus, Ender Wiggin, the great voice of freedom

in Xenocide, grants the people of Path no more
choice and no more access to truth than did Congress. His motives are different, but his covert
methods and his calculated willingness to eliminate choice in the name of choice are the same.
Through his actions, Ender proves Althusser true.
He subverts his own theology and undoes his own
best attempts at containment. That, Althusser would
surely declare, is the real lesson Xenocide teaches.
An even more serious impediment to containment in Xenocide, however, has less to do with
technique or ideology than with epistemology. How
can men know for sure, the novel forces readers to

Subversion and Containment in Xenocide

ask, that what Ender says is true? How can men

know that they are free, that God is good, and so
forth? How can men ever know, if, as Xenocide makes
abundantly clear, the evidence can always already
be seen to cut both ways? How, asks Wang-mu, can
men ever figure such knowledge out?
But a being like thatwho was someone
like Wang-mu to judge a god? She couldnt
understand their purposes even if they told her,
so how could she ever know that they were
good. Yet the other approach, to trust in them
and believe in them absolutelywasnt that
what Qing-jao was doing?
No. If there were gods, they would never
act as Qing-jao thought they actedenslaving
people, tormenting them and humiliating
Unless torment and humiliation were good
for them. . . .
No! She almost cried aloud, and once
again pressed her face into her hands, this time
to keep silent. (433)

Wang-mus answer to her own question is illuminating. She says: I can only judge by what I
understand. . . . Perhaps Im so stupid and foolish
that I will always be the enemy to the gods, working
against their high and incomprehensible purposes.
But I have to live my life by what I understand
(434). This is powerful doctrine. Unfortunately,
it is powerful in precisely the wrong way. Wangmu is eloquent and persuasive, but what she says is
not a solution but a confession: in this world of
flesh and bone there is simply no way to transcend
the subjective, the personal, the conditional. At
this stage, at least, there is simply no way to know
for certain.
Wang-mus response to the riddle of epistemology, then, is neither immanent, in Gilles Deleuze
and Felix Guattaris sense of the word, nor transcendent. Rather, it is what Michel Foucault calls the
will to knowledge, which is also, Xenocide seems
to suggest, as did Foucault, the will to power, for
when push comes to shove, Wang-mu challenges
the gods to prove her wrong neither through reason nor emotion, but rather through a brute show
of force:

And if the gods dont like it, they can poison me in my sleep or catch me on fire as Im
walking in the garden tomorrow or just make
my arms and legs and head drop off my body
like crumbs off a cake. If they cant manage to
stop a stupid little servant girl like me, they dont
amount to much anyway. (435.)

Wang-mus defiant challenge sounds much like

what Fredric Jameson says when he, too, finds himself in an epistemological crunch. The truth of history, writes Jameson at the most difficult moment
in The Political Unconscious (1981),
can be apprehended only through its effects. . . .
This is indeed the ultimate sense in which History as ground and untranscendable horizon
needs no particular theoretical justification: we
may be sure that its alienating necessities will
not forget us, however much we might prefer
to ignore them. (Jameson, 102)

Jamesons outburst is of course a retreat rather than

an explanation, a textual symptom of a subtextual
aporia. So is Wang-mus. They are at once the collapse of containment, the triumph of power and of
willful subjectivity.
Ironically, the novels failure to contain its own
most subversive elements adequately is probably
the partial result, or at least a clear symptom, of
Cards own extraordinary confidence in the success
of his novelistic enterprise: only an author who has
an abiding faith in religion is likely to have the
confidence necessary to put it to the screws the way
Card has in Xenocide, with full faith in its ultimate
triumph. In one respect, at least, Cards confidence
is richly rewarded: though Xenocide never fully contains its own most subversive impulses, in the smoke
and flame of the battle it does become significant
art. None of the other novels in the Ender Wiggin
saga risks nearly as much as does Xenocide, and
none burns so brilliantly in the ensuing struggle
between faith and doubt. In spite of, perhaps even
because of, its failure at containment, Xenocide is
oddly like Qing-jao herself: Gloriously Bright.

Reprinted from Literature and Belief 24.1 (2004).


AML Annual 2004

Athusser, Louis. Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. In Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays,
trans. Ben Brewster, 12373. New York: NLB, 1971.
Beowulf. Trans. Charles W. Kennedy. In The Literature
of England, ed. George K. Anderson and William E.
Buckler, 1:1, 1565. 5th ed. 2 vols. Chicago: Scott
Foresman, 1966.
Card, Orson Scott. Children of the Mind. New York:
Tor, 1996.
. The Finer Points of Characterization Part I:
Just How Important Are These People? Writers
Digest 66 (October 1986): 2628.
. The Finer Points of Characterization Part II:
Creating Characters That Readers Care About.
Writers Digest 66 (November 1986): 3738.
. The Finer Points of Characterization Part III:
Making Your Characters Believable. Writers Digest
66 (December 1986): 3236.
. Speaker for the Dead. New York: T. Doherty
Associates, 1986.
. Xenocide. New York: Tor, 1991.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. What Is Philosophy?
Trans. Hugh Tomlinson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.


Foucault, Michel. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice:

Selected Essays and Interviews. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1977.
Gramsci, Antonio. Prison Notebooks. Ed. and trans.
Joseph Buttiglegg. New York: Columbia University
Press, 1992.
Greenblatt, Stephen. Invisible Bullets: Renaissance
Authority and Its Subversion. Glyph 8 (1981):
Harlot, Thomas. A Brief and True Report of the New
Land of Virginia. London: n.p., 1588.
Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious: Narrative
as a Socially Symbolic Act. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981.
Johnson, Barbara. The Critical Difference: Essays in the
Contemporary Rhetoric of Reading. Baltimore: John
Hopkins University Press, 1980.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. 1922. New York: Random House,
Review of Xenocide, by Orson Scott Card. Kirkus
Reviews 59 (1 June 1991): 699.
Smith, Joseph. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
Ed. Joseph Fielding Smith. Salt Lake City: Deseret,

Keynote Address

Art and Soul:

Lessons from Willa Cather for
Mormon Writers, Critics, and Audiences
Marilyn Arnold

It is no wonder that when [Nellie Melbas] old

teacher out in Melbourne went over to Paris to
hear her in one of her great triumphs, he bowed
his head and said, Ah, my poor child, if I could
but have given you a soul! How strange that one
who has so much should yet lack that thing holier
than all, that thing which alone gives art a right
to be.1

hat, from Willa Cather at age twenty-four. Now,

two passages from well-beloved novels, when
Cather was in her forties and fifties. This from My
ntonia, near the end of the book. Jim Burden has
returned to the prairie after a twenty-year absence
and found his childhood friend a battered woman
rather than the lithe, spunky girl he had known as
a youth. Nonetheless, he discovers that her personality, her essential being, is not in the least diminished by years of childbearing and hard farm life.
She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes
which we recognize by instinct as universal and
true. I had not been mistaken. She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still
had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop ones breath for a moment
by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the
meaning in common things. She had only to
stand in the orchard, to put her hand on a little
crab tree and look up at the apples, to make
you feel the goodness of planting and tending
and harvesting at last. All the strong things of
her heart came out in her body, that had been
so tireless in serving generous emotions. . . .
She was a rich mine of life, like the founders of
early races.2

The second passage is from Death Comes for

the Archbishop. It occurs near the end of the book
when the old Archbishop realizes that he cannot,
after all, retire in his native France as he had once
expected. He finds that the desert has insinuated
itself into his very being and that he must live out
the remainder of his life there. On his final visit to
France, he remembers the light dry wind of New
Mexico, air that was filled with the fragrance of
hot sun and sagebrush and sweet clover; a wind
that made ones body feel light and ones heart cry
To-day, to-day, like a childs. He knows now that
beautiful surroundings, the society of learned men,
the charm of noble women, the graces of art, could
not make up to him for the loss of those lighthearted mornings of the desert, for that wind that
made one a boy again. Cather concludes Bishop
Latours revery with this lovely lyrical passage:
That air would disappear from the whole
earth in time, perhaps; but long after his day.
He did not know just when it had become so
necessary to him, but he had come back to die
in exile for the sake of it. Something soft and
wild and free, something that whispered to the
ear on the pillow, lightened the heart, softly,
softly picked the lock, slid the bolts, and
released the prisoned spirit of man into the
wind, into the blue and gold, into the morning, into the morning!3

What is it about passages like this that stir us?

What is it about Cathers writing that has drawn
people to her work in ever larger numbers? Why is
it that I return to it again and again with increasing

AML Annual 2004

wonder and appreciation? Why does her work

endure? There are, of course, many gifted writers
whose work has lasted and will last, but I believe
Willa Cather, in particular, has valuable things to
teach LDS writers, critics, and readers. The passages
I have cited from her fiction illustrate, I think, the
essence of her gift. I hope they suggest the quality I
have tried to capture in the phrase art and soul,
itself a play on words from a very old love song.
In an early newspaper column assessing the
performing styles of three famous actresses, written
when she was a student at the University of
Nebraska, Cather first linked the two words art
and soul, enlarging the concept of soul to
embrace artistic desire, passion. The supreme
virtue in all art is soul, she writes; perhaps it is
the only thing which gives art a right to be. And
then she adds that in theater, the greatest art is
to play a part . . . with power and passion.4 Two
years later she would criticize the fiction of Emile
Zola on the grounds that it lacks the impress of a
human soul. . . . You may heap the details of beauty
together forever, she says, but they are not
beauty until one human soul feels and knows. That
is what Zolas books lack from first to last, the
awakening of the spirit.5 These things she knew
early on, in her gut. From the beginning, art was in
her very bones, whether consciously or not. A few
letters penned in her middle teens turned up several years ago, letters she had written to an old
neighbor who had moved away. The passion is
already there, in embryothe pull of art, the fascination with literature and languagealong with
the self-conscious adolescent posing and a few
dozen misspelled words. I shall quote briefly from
the letters, but because of testamentary restrictions, these extracts will not appear in the published conference proceedings.6
[adolescent letters]
Now, it is true that the journalist in her early
twenties, like the precocious fourteen-year-old
writer of learned epistles, displayed all the brashness
of youth in her newspaper columns and reviews.
And, she contradicted herself right and left. (On
the matter of contradiction, let me add a parenthetical note. In 1940, seven years before her

death, Cather declined by letter an invitation to

speak at Columbia University on the grounds that
she changed her mind too often to speak in public
and didnt want to be held accountable for what
she had said ten years before.7) Contradictions notwithstanding, when it came to core beliefs about
art, she was quite consistent, if somewhat dramatic.
As an adult, Cather liked to joke about the purple
flurry of my early writing, what she called her
florid, exaggerated, foamy-at-the-mouth, adjectivespree period. . . . It is agony, she added, to be
smothered in your own florescence.8 Thus, in the
young, especially, there may be an overbalance of
passion, though I think Cather would say better
too much than too little.
And through the years Cather never stopped
asserting the importance of passion in art, and she
wrote a good many stories and novels about it.
Clearly, for her, its absence meant that the performer or writer was a mere practitioner and no
artist. She insisted in a lecture that art is taking the
pains for the love of it; art is just taking pains. A
man [or woman] must be made for his art; he must
work for it, and he must work intelligently.9 She
observed in the interview cited above that it is the
longest distance in the world between the artist
and the near artist.10
Near the end of her life, in response to a student who wrote to ask about an early short story,
Pauls Case, Cather stated in no uncertain terms
that a strong desire for beauty is the real gift, the
important gift, a blessed gift that cant be denied.
She refers her correspondent to her 1915 novel
about a girl destined by her own irrepressible desire
to sing opera. The Song of the Lark, Cather informs
the young man, tells how she herself feels about
this almost unnameable treasure.11 If you want
to experience Cathers passion for art, read that
novel, the most autobiographical of her works.
Never mind that her main character is a musician,
not a writer.
Significantly, Cather speaks of art in terms of
calling and vocation, even holy vocation. Statements
like these characterize her early columns and reviews:
Ink and paper are so rigidly exacting. One may
lie to ones self, lie to the world, lie to God, even,

Lessons from Willa Cather for Mormon Writers, Critics, and Audiences

but to ones pen one cannot lie. You may talk

brilliantly and still be very much of a fool. But
when one comes to write, ah, that is different!
Every artificial aid fails you. All that you have
been taught leaves you. . . . You are then a translator, without a lexicon, without notes, and
you are to translateGod.12
In the kingdom of art there is no God, but one
God, and his service is so exacting that there
are few men born of women who are strong
enough to take the vows.13
[True artists know] the loneliness which besets
all mortals who are shut up alone with God. . . .
Gloom . . . is the shadow of Gods hand consecrating his elect. . . . Solitude . . . is the veil and
the cloister which keep the priesthood of art
untainted from the world.14
The world was made by an Artist, by the divinity and godhead of art. . . . Yet when we come
to worship this Painter, this Poet, this Musician,
this gigantic Artist of all art that is, this God
whose spirit moved upon chaos leaving beauty
incarnate in its shadow, we bring the worst of
all the worlds art and lay it at his feet.15

Im sure we agree that the young Cather takes

hyperbole to new heights in these statements, but
we would probably also agree that she is right
about the mountains of kitsch produced in the
name of religion. It is no compliment to God to
package his message in cheap wrappings. The late
Bernice Slote rightly sees a fundamental religious
metaphor of art running throughout Cathers
work, beginning with her earliest columns and
critical reviews.16 Even in adulthood Cather
acknowledged the holy origins of art, declaring in
an interview that one must have a technique and
a birthright to write, and adding that she didnt
know how else to express it.17 More pointedly,
she asserted that art and religion express the same
thing in us,that hunger for beauty. On the matter of art Cather was adamant, and she nearly
always linked art to life, the souls life. Art thrives
best, she continued, where the personal life is
richest, fullest, and warmest, from the kitchen
up. Art is made out of the love of old and intimate things.18

Willa Cather never outlined a set of rules for writers, of course, but over a lifetime she had much
to say, very much, about writing and reading. Indirectly from her fiction, and directly from her
overt statements about the writers craft, I glean a
few lessons or precepts that seem especially pertinent to us as writers and readers in the faith.
Cathers first lesson, as I see it, speaks to the
presence of soul in art, but in a more personal way
than do her statements about the artists passion.
The precept is simply this: write with feeling and
care deeply about your material and characters,
deeply enough to give the best of yourself to them.
Reading Cathers 1922 letters about her Pulitzer
Prizewinning novel of that year, One of Ours, tells
me how much she gave to her main character,
Claude Wheeler. More than a dozen letters to her
old college friend and fellow writer, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, are literally bursting with her feelings
about Claude and his story. She says that while she
was working on One of Ours her only life was the
life of the book and her character. She describes
the experience as total possession, companionship
with a living soul. Everywhere she went, whether
attending a concert or walking in the park, she met
Claude. When the book was finished, her sense of
loss was excruciating; it was as though she had been
buried with her character.19 Letters to H. L. Mencken
and Carl Van Doren, presumably also in 1922,
confirm the enormous emotional investment
Cather had made in her character and his story.20
Granted, Cather had reason to be especially
absorbed in the story of a boy drawn from a young
cousin of hers, but once she found her own voice as
a writer of fiction, everything she wrote absorbed
her. Her interviews, lectures, early newspaper
columns, reviews, and personal correspondence are
filled with references to feeling and emotion in
connection with her own work and that of others,
as well as to the necessity and demands of art.
Much as Cather elevated art and what it exacted
from the artist, she never underplayed the role of
emotion, insisting that the work of the artist is to
find the right form for an emotion that he wants
to pass on. The emotion, she said, is bigger than

AML Annual 2004

style.21 She complained in a letter to lifelong friend

Carrie Miner Sherwood that she could never make
people understand that an emotion or an excitement
is what a story is made of, an impression from personal experience that has stayed with one. Cather
adds that the person created on the page is not an
actual picture, but a memory, the effect someone or
something produced in the writers mind or heart.
The character of ntonia, she says, is the fictional
embodiment of her feelings, all of them, about the
early immigrants she knew on the Nebraska prairie.22
While acknowledging in a lecture at Bowdoin
College that hate is a fruitful emotion, she
unequivocally declared that the great characters in
literature are born out of love, not hate.23 And her
preface to a collection of stories by Sarah Orne
Jewett echoes that sentiment. There she says that if
the writer achieves anything noble, anything
enduring, it must be by giving himself absolutely
to his material. And this gift of sympathy is his
great gift; it is the fine thing in him that alone can
make his work fine. He fades away into the land
and people of his heart, he dies of love only to be
born again.24 Were not talking about syrupy
sweet stuff here, what she disdained as the Sunny
Jim and Pollyanna schools of grape nuts optimism,25 but about feeling that has been refined by
a higher purpose.
What you are no doubt gathering from all this is
that Willa Cathers writing, and her ideas about
writing, reflect her most cherished beliefs and values. We always know where she stands because she
makes it apparent through her characters, her subject matter, her landscapes, and the clean thrust of
her art. Cathers mature fiction is value-centered,
butunlike her expository pronouncementsrarely
preachy, because undergirding her values are what
for her are the necessities, even holy impulses, of art.
Cathers second precept, then, is celebrate the
noble and good. I should add that this may at times
require the exercise of restraint, in both subject and
treatment. Most of us are familiar with the Cather
story Neighbour Rosicky, and we remember
Rosicky as a soft-spoken, gentle man whose quiet,
grateful manner softens the restless heart of his

daughter-in-law. We remember him as a man who

gamely organizes a family picnic on the day hot
winds wither and destroy his corn crop and as a
man who has no anxiety about death should his
failing heart give out. We remember, too, that his
wife Mary refuses to sell the cream from her cows
milk because she prefers roses in the cheeks of her
children to money in the bank. As the Rosickys
friend, Doctor Ed Burleigh, reflects, People as
generous and warm-hearted and affectionate as the
Rosickys never got ahead much; maybe you couldnt
enjoy your life and put it into the bank, too.
Burleighs further reflection outlines the secret
to a happy life, for all of us. Thinking of Rosicky
and Mary, he realizes that life had gone well with
them because, at bottom, they had the same ideas
about life. They agreed, without discussion, as to
what was most important and what was secondary. . . . A good deal had to be sacrificed and thrown
overboard in a hard life like theirs, and they had
never disagreed as to the things that could go. . . .
They had been at one accord not to hurry through
life, not to be always skimping and saving. They
saw their neighbours buy more land and feed more
stock than they did, without discontent.26
The kind of harmony Cather describes between
Rosicky and his wife, however, does not universally
obtain in her fiction. Even in the Rosicky story, the
appeal of the city and greater material comfort
threatens to pull Rosickys eldest son off the land;
and the land is always a value in Cathers work,
always associated with soul. Indeed, Cather creates
a good many conflicted characters, but she does so
without compromising her own values, her innate
sense of what is right and good. Typically, her conflicted characters are torn by the clash between
their personal values and the degenerating or
twisted values of people around them, often people
they lovefamily members, friends, associates.
The pain cuts especially deep if the conflict occurs
within ones family, as in The Professors House. In
that novel, Professor Godfrey St. Peter personally
ascribes to the nonmaterialistic values of the Blue
Mesa, values embodied in young Tom Outland,
while his wife and daughters have succumbed to
the allure of worldly glitter and achievement.

Lessons from Willa Cather for Mormon Writers, Critics, and Audiences

One of Cathers firmest beliefs, apparent from

her earliest pronouncements as a youthful critic to
the last line of her final posthumously published
story, was that art has an inherent morality. The
only unpardonable sin is artificiality, she declared
in a critical column.27 For her, there was no greater
sin than the sin against art and its integrity. We
need only remember her countless stories about
artists, whether singers, painters, or sculptors, to
know that about her. (Interestingly, she published
only one obscure story about a writertwo writers, reallythough she mentions writers in another
story or two.) One of her most memorable characters is old Wunsch in The Song of the Lark, Thea
Kronborgs piano teacher. Dissolute and anguished
though he was, he never compromised his art,
never stopped loving it, caring about it. Music was
the only thing that still fired his imagination, the
only happiness he knew. Art owned his soul and
gave him a certain nobility.
The morality of the writers art lies in the written wordwhat you and I choose to write and
how we choose to write it, what we choose to read
and how we choose to evaluate what we read. On
the matter of what we as believers can or cannot in
good conscience portray or praise, Cathers views,
I think, are especially helpful.28 Her important
1925 lecture at the University of Chicago addresses
the responsibility of the artist in a permissive climate. One newspaper account of that lecture
reports the following:
[Cather] spoke at length about the new
freedom of subject matter. She voiced the
belief that periods of the greatest freedom have
never been periods of the greatest beauty in
literary creation. The very fact that there are
restrictions, things one must not talk about,
tends to make the art a richer one. That is also
true of language, she said. There now are being
used words which formerly were to be found
only in patent medicine almanacs. . . .
She said that the power to stir the reader
erotically was the charge of dynamite which
every great author had, but that, used to excess
or even used without distinction, the charge
lost every whit of its power.

There is such a thing in life as nobility,

she said, and novels which celebrate it will
always be the novels which are finally loved.29

In an essay decrying the overly furnished novel,

Cather affirms what she said in her lecture, asserting in deliberately crafted euphemisms that characters can be almost dehumanized by a laboratory
study of the behaviour of their bodily organs under
sensory stimulican be reduced, indeed, to mere
animal pulp. And then she adds, rather wickedly,
for she knew the Lawrences in New Mexico, Can
one imagine anything more terrible than the story
of Romeo and Juliet rewritten in prose by D. H.
In response to a request from Commonweal
magazine, and a national debate as to the role of art
in society, Cather wrote a letter/essay which the
magazine published. What she says near the end of
the piece underscores the substance of both her lecture and her essay on the novel:
The condition every art requires is, not so much
freedom from restriction, as freedom from
adulteration and from the intrusions of foreign
matter; considerations and purposes which
have nothing to do with spontaneous invention. The great body of Russian literature was
produced when the censorship was at its
strictest. The art of Italy flowered when the
painters were confined almost entirely to religious subjects. . . . . Religion and art spring
from the same root and are close kin. Economics and art are strangers.31

We should not mistake Cathers remark about

spontaneous invention to mean that anything
goes if done in the name of art. She makes herself
very clear in her point about great arts ability to
flourish even under severe religious censorship.
After all, as she has said in an early story, we sometimes feel the divas power more in the holding
back than in the release of the floodgates. Of the
great Madam Tradutorri, the young Cather writes:
Tradutorri holds back her suffering within herself. . . . She takes this great anguish of hers and
lays it in a tomb and rolls a stone before the
door and walls it up. . . .

AML Annual 2004

See, in all great impersonation there are

two stages. One in which the object is the generation of emotional power; to produce from
ones own brain a whirlwind.
. . . The other is the conservation of all this
emotional energy; to bind the whirlwind down
within ones straining heart, . . . to hold all
these chaotic faces still and silent within ones
self until out of this tempest of pain and passion there speaks the still, small voice unto the
soul of man. This is the theory of repression.
This is classical art, art exalted, art deified.32

In this instance, we must concentrate on what the

youthful writer says rather than on what she does.
(She is still in her florid stage.) Later, she follows
her own counsel.
We should remember, however, that Cathers
mature restraint did not mean that she avoided difficult subjects in her fiction. On the contrary. She
wrote of adultery, slavery, murder, and suicide
without apology, and at a time when some readers
were offended by her frank realism. Her first novel,
Alexanders Bridge, tells the story of an engaging,
powerful man, who lives a double life. While married to an attractive woman in America, he carries
on an affair with an actress from his past in London. The fatal flaw in his character is represented
symbolically in the climactic collapse of the bridge
he is building, a grand structure that would have
been his greatest achievement. Cathers second
novel, O Pioneers!, portrays the sexual fall and murders of Emil Bergson and Marie Shabata. Her third
novel, The Song of the Lark, quietly reveals that
Thea Kronborg and Fred Ottenburg live together
without benefit of matrimony.
Cathers fourth novel, My ntonia, tells not
only of Papa Shimerdas suicide and ntonias giving birth out of wedlock, but it details in a comical
way the marriage, indiscretions, and murder-suicide
of the Wick Cutters. One of Ours details the anguish
and eventual violent death in war of an idealistic
boy who has married a pinched, frigid wife. A Lost
Lady portrays the fall of a lovely woman who opts
for life on any terms, even if it means giving herself
to scoundrels. My Mortal Enemy chronicles the
decline of a selfish, but indomitable, woman whose

husband apparently finds solace in other women.

Lucy Gayheart describes the infatuation, fall, and
death of a talented young woman of beauty, spirit,
and grace. Granted, Death Comes for the Archbishop
has no moral conflict of a sexual nature, unless you
count the lechery of Father Martinez. Of that book,
Cather wryly told friends that a novel in which the
only woman was the Virgin Mary was not likely to
excite much interest among the reading public.33
Cather did not avoid touchy subjects and situations, but neither did she dwell on them, leaving
little to the imagination. It seems to me that she
struck the proper balance between realism and
taste. We come away from her work lifted, energized,
and profoundly satisfied. Her focus was always on
qualities of character, on hardihood, on lasting values, on story. Does todays world impose a kind of
reverse pressure, tempting us to get a little loose or
a little ugly simply because much contemporary
publishing allows, even expects, it?
Cathers third precept is related to the second. She
articulated it in describing her method in Death
Comes for the Archbishop. The essence of such
writing, she says, is not to hold the note, not to
use an incident for all there is in itbut to touch
and pass on. By contrast, she continues, the general tendency these days is to force things up.34
What Cather is talking about here is the power of
suggestion, the strength of understatement, the
skillful use of tone.
Consider her portrayal of the legendary death
of the opulent, tyrannical, and self-indulgent Fray
Baltazar in Death Comes for the Archbishop. The
humble Indians to whom he ministers cater to his
tastes for fine foods and gracious living, even
though they themselves live meagerly. They carry
water on their backs to nourish his garden, and
serve his wants endlessly. But one day he oversteps
their limits, flinging an empty pewter mug at a boy
who accidentally spills gravy on one of the priests
dinner guests. The boy dies and his people take
quiet action. Fray Baltazar knows his Indians and
doesnt resist. Without fanfare, at the rising of the
moon, several of the men lift the portly priest and
fling him off the steepest edge of the high mesa.
This is how Cather tells it:

Lessons from Willa Cather for Mormon Writers, Critics, and Audiences

They cut his bonds, and taking him by the

hands and feet, swung him out over the rockedge and back a few times. He was heavy, and
perhaps they thought this dangerous sport. No
sound but hissing breath came through his
teeth. The four executioners took him up again
from the brink where they had laid him, and,
after a few feints, dropped him in mid-air.
So did they rid their rock of their tyrant,
whom on the whole they had liked very well.
But everything has its day.35

Now, this is certainly high drama, but I think the

drama is more powerful, the tension more gripping, because the scene is understated. What is not
said rattles our souls.
Cather speaks to that method in her essay on
the novel that I cited above:
Whatever is felt upon the page without
being specifically named therethat, one might
say, is created. It is the inexplicable presence of
the thing not named, of the overtone divined
by the ear but not heard by it, the verbal mood,
the emotional aura of the fact or the thing or the
deed, that gives high quality to the novel or
the drama, as well as to poetry itself.36

That this was a cardinal principle for her is obvious

in her letters as well as in her fiction and her published pronouncements. For example, she writes to
Thornton Wilder in the fall of 1938, praising Our
Town. The play is important, she says, principally
because it reflects something that is felt by everyone but remains beyond anyones ability to define.
In attempting to describe such a work, she continues, we are left to rather vague terms like spiritual quality.37 Beauty, she tells F. Scott Fitzgerald in
a letter, can scarcely be defined at all. The most a
person can say about it is how hard it hit him.38
Cathers fourth precept is related to the previous
two: write for the fine reader. In other words,
make a conscious choice about the audience you
wish to reach. Referring specifically to the reader of
novels, Cather says, One must make it clear
whether one is talking about the novel as a form or
amusement, or as a form of art. . . . One does not
wish the egg one eats for breakfast, or the morning

paper, to be made of the stuff of immortality. . . .

Fine quality is a distinct disadvantage in articles
made for great numbers of people who do not
want quality but quantity, who do not want a thing
that wears, but who want change,a succession
of new things that are quickly threadbare and can
be lightly thrown away. . . . Amusement is one
thing; enjoyment of art is another.39
In a New York Times Book Review interview, she
reported a recent conversation with William Dean
Howells in which he lamented the loss of a period
some forty years earlier when only good books
were published and only cultivated people read.
Cather said she disagreed with him in part, arguing
that fine books are still written for fine people.
Then she added, suppressing a smile, Sometimes
the others read them, too, and if they can stand it,
it doesnt hurt them. Next, she clarified what she
meant by the fine reader: By the fine reader I
dont necessarily mean the man or woman with a
cultivated background, an academic, or a wealthy
background. I mean the person with quickness and
richness of mentality, fineness of spirituality. She
went on to say that those qualities were often found
in people who worked with their hands.40 I never
had any intellectual excitement more intense than
spending a morning with a pioneer woman at butter making and hearing her talk, she told another
interviewer.41 Cather was also fond of saying that
she knew no truer artists than some immigrant
farm women of her acquaintance.
She was fully aware that the books she wrote
were unlikely to interest the popular audience. In a
letter to Dorothy Canfield Fisher, she jokes about
the limited size of her reading audience in Lincoln,
Nebraska. She allows as how Dorothys readers,
which she judges outnumber her own about
twenty to one, quarrel with her readers. Dorothys,
she says, claim that Cather writes immoral rot, and
Cathers readers argue that Dorothy is dull. You,
she tells Dorothy, have the Geres, the Westermanns,
the university people, and the newspaper editor,
Will Owen Jones, to whom you are most welcome.
I, she says, have Sarah Harris and five German


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Cathers fifth precept is easy. Be earnest in your

work, but maintain a sense of humor. (She would,
however, have spelled it humour.) Her humor is
often indirect and subtle in her novels and stories,
though it is openly present in comic characters like
the Wick Cutters and Mrs. Archie (The Song of the
Lark). In her interviews the humor is often sly, but
clearly intentional. In her letters it takes every
form, and in her newspaper writing it is obvious
and often ironic. For example, when the Lincoln
Courier featured a symposium inviting readers
to submit questions on the topic of Man and
Woman, members of the editorial staff responded.
One reader, who identified himself (I assume it was
a he) only as Bible Student,asked this: Does not
the Bible teach that God created woman subject to
and subordinate to man and is it not a dangerous
presumption in her to claim to be his equal?
Cather, newly graduated from college, gave a classic answer, which I can only excerpt here:
The Bible undoubtedly teaches that woman
should be subservient to man, but does it say
that she was, is, or ever will be? It began with
Eve who wheedled Adam into eating more
fruit than was good for him. Then there was
Rebekah who put gloves on Jacob and deceived
poor Isaac into willing his property to the
wrong son. Later Rachel made poor Jacob herd
sheep for her fourteen years and then made
him sublimely miserable after he got her.

Cather goes on to describe the demoralizing

experiences of Samson and David and Solomon at
the hands of various women and points out that
Jezebel ruled with a rod of iron three generations
of the kings of Israel. She also recounts Esthers
triumph at Haamans expense. This is her conclusion:
These are only a few of the hundred Biblical instances in which the women who were
undoubtedly created subservient turned the
tables. In theory the Jews maintained the superiority of man but in practice it did not always

One can sense that Cathers revenge was especially

sweet. The Bible student met his match. Cather had
cut her teeth on the King James Bible.44

She was no less quick-witted in her extemporaneous comments. As she was boarding a train at
Grand Central Station in New York City, an interviewer intercepted her and began plying her with
questions, the last of which asked what she thought
was the greatest obstacle American writers have to
The ever-wily Cather replied with a question
of her own: Well, what do other writers tell you?
Some say commercialism, and some say prohibition (this was 1926).
I dont exactly agree with either, Cather
responded. I should say it was the lecture bug. In
this country a writer has to hide and lie and almost
steal in order to get time to work inand peace of
mind to work with. Besides, lecturing is very dangerous for writers. If we lecture, we get a little more
owlish and self-satisfied all the time. We hate it at
first, if we are decently modest, but in the end we
fall in love with the sound of our own voice. . . . All
human beings, apparently, like to speak in public.
The timid man becomes bold, the man who has
never had an opinion about anything becomes
chock full of them the moment he faces an audience. A woman, alas becomes even fuller! . . . Its
especially destructive to writers.45 (And here we
are, lecturing each other!)
Cather had a lot of other counsel for us, stated and
impliedsimplify, cut out the excess furniture, use
allusion to add layers of meaning, dont try to imitate New York,46 and so on. But, the sooner to
recover from the unfortunate effects of the lecture
bug, Im going to quit with those Ive named:
(1) write with feeling, (2) value the noble and
good, (3) touch the note and pass on, (4) write for
the fine reader, and (5) maintain a sense of humor.
In the spirit of that final precept I conclude with
a letter Cather wrote to her editor at Houghton
Mifflin, Ferris Greenslet, before she switched over
to young Alfred Knopf. Greenslet had forwarded a
request from some group asking that she give permission to change the name of the bull in My
ntonia from Brigham Young to Andrew Jackson,
for a special edition of a thousand copies. Ill
conclude by reading from her letter of response,

Lessons from Willa Cather for Mormon Writers, Critics, and Audiences

though I cant quote it in the published text of this

discussion, and no paraphrase could do it justice.47
[bull letter]
1. Willa Cather, Lincoln Courier, 29 January 1898,
2; rpt. in William M. Curtin, ed., The World and the
Parish: Willa Cathers Articles and Reviews, 18931902,
vol. 1 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970),
416. Cather heard Melba sing on several occasions
between 1895 and 1898, in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and
New York. After Cather left Nebraska and moved to
Pittsburgh in the summer of 1896, she continued
to send columns back to the Courier and to the
Nebraska State Journal.
2. Willa Cather, My ntonia (Boston: Houghton
Mifflin, 1918), 398.
3. Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927), 27677.
4. Nebraska State Journal, 4 March 1894, 13; rpt. in
Curtin, 37.
5. Nebraska State Journal, 16 February 1896, 9; rpt.
in Bernice Slote, The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cathers
First Principles and Critical Statements, 18931896
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), 371.
6. Willa Cather to Helen Stevens Stowell, 31 August
1888; 31 May 1889; 28 August 1889, Nebraska State
Historical Society, Red Cloud. Testamentary restrictions
forbid direct quotation of unpublished Cather letters.
7. Willa Cather to Frederick Paul Keppel, 16 February 1940, Columbia University Library.
8. Quoted in Ethel M. Hockett, The Vision of a
Successful Fiction Writer, Lincoln Daily Star, 24 October 1915; rpt. in L. Brent Bohlke, Willa Cather in Person (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986), 12
13. Cather made similar comments about her florid
prose in a letter to Will Owen Jones, editor of the
Nebraska State Journal, 22 March [1927]; rpt. in
Bohlke, 181.
9. Quoted in Myrtle Mason, Nebraska Scored for
Its Many Laws by Willa Cather, Omaha Bee, 30 and
31 October 1921; rpt. in Bohlke, 149.
10. Hockett, in Bohlke, 14.
11. Willa Cather to John Phillipson, 23 December
1943, Nebraska State Historical Society, Lincoln and
Red Cloud.
12. Lincoln Courier, 23 November 1895, 7; rpt. in
Slote, 409, and Curtin, 276.

13. Nebraska State Journal, 1 March 1896, 9; rpt. in

Slote, 417.
14. Nebraska State Journal, 16 June 1895, 12; rpt.
in Curtin, 208.
15. Nebraska State Journal, 7 October 1894, 11;
rpt. in Curtin, 117.
16. Slote, 82.
17. Quoted in Eva Mahoney, How Willa Cather
Found Herself, Omaha World-Herald, 27 November
1921; rpt. in Bohlke, 37.
18. Mason, in Bohlke, 149.
19. Willa Cather to Dorothy Canfield Fisher,
8? March, 27? March, and 7? April 1922, Guy Bailey
Library, University of Vermont.
20. Willa Cather to H. L. Mencken, 6 February
[1922], Enoch Pratt Library, Baltimore; Willa Cather
to Carl Van Doren, n.d., [1922], Princeton University
21. Quoted in Flora Merrill, A Short Story Course
Can Only Delay, It Cannot Kill an Artist, Says Willa
Cather, New York World, 19 April 1925, sec. 3, pp. 1,
6; rpt. in Nebraska State Journal, 25 April 1925, 11, and
in Bohlke, 79.
22. Letter, January 27, 1934, Nebraska State Historical Society, Red Cloud.
23. Quoted in Menace to Culture in Cinema and
Radio Seen by Miss Cather, Christian Science Monitor,
14 May 1925; rpt. in Bohlke, 156.
24. The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett, in
Willa Cather on Writing (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
1949), 51.
25. Mason, in Bohlke, 149.
26. Willa Cather, Obscure Destinies (New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1932), 15, 24.
27. Nebraska State Journal, 4 August 1895, 9; rpt.
in Curtin, 237.
28. So also are the views of the late distinguished
novelist and Chaucerian scholar, John Gardner, in his
book On Moral Fiction (New York: Basic Books, 1978).
Gardner says that moral art in its highest form holds
up models of virtue. . . . Great art celebrates lifes potential, offering a vision unmistakably and unsentimentally rooted in love. . . . In art, morality and love are
inextricably bound; we affirm what is goodfor the
characters in particular and for humanity in general
because we care (8284).
29. Art Now Only Rule for Writing Novels, Willa
Cather Says, Chicago Daily Tribune, 21 November
1925; rpt. in Bohlke, 167.

AML Annual 2004

30. The Novel Dmeubl, in Not under Forty

(New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1936), 5051; rpt. in
Willa Cather on Writing, 42.
31. Escapism, Commonweal 23 (April 17, 1936):
67779; rpt. in Willa Cather on Writing, 2627.
32. Nanette: An Aside, Lincoln Courier, 31 July
1897, 1112; rpt. in Willa Cathers Collected Short Fiction 18921912, ed. Virginia Faulkner (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1965), 408.
33. Willa Cather to Dorothy Canfield Fisher,
17 August [1927], University of Vermont; and Willa
Cather to Fanny Butcher, [September 1927], Newberry
Library, Chicago.
34. On Death Comes for the Archbishop, in Willa
Cather on Writing, 910, emphasis added.
35. Death Comes for the Archbishop, 116.
36. The Novel Dmeubl, 50.
37. Willa Cather to Thornton Wilder, 8 October
1938, Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven,
38. Willa Cather to F. Scott Fitzgerald, 28 April
1925, Princeton University Library, Princeton, New
Jersey. The letter is in response to Fitzgeralds writing
Cather out of concern that she might think he had borrowed from A Lost Lady in describing the character of
Daisy in The Great Gatsby.
39. The Novel Dmeubl, 4344.
40. Quoted in Rose C. Feld, Restlessness Such as
Ours Does Not Make for Beauty, New York Times
Book Review, 21 December 1924; rpt. in Bohlke, 69.


41. Prize Novelist Finds Writing and Eating Kin,

Cleveland Press, 20 November 1925; rpt. in Bohlke, 88.
42. Willa Cather to Dorothy Canfield Fisher,
2 September [1916], University of Vermont.
43. Womans Place, Lincoln Courier, 28 September 1895, 10; rpt. in Curtin, 127.
44. Despite this slap at the chauvinistic Bible student,
in her columns and reviews the young Willa Cather frequently expressed doubts about women writers. In her
view at that time, women were born to the opera and
theater and not to the pen. I wonder if the mature
Cather remembered those early declamations.
45. Quoted in Readers and Writers, Nebraska
State Journal, 5 September 1926; rpt. in Bohlke, 9091.
This piece was obviously lifted from a New York newspaper and printed without attribution in the Journal,
but the source has not been located. This kind of piracy
was not uncommon at the time.
46. Dont try to imitate New York. . . . It seems to
me as I travel out through the great middle west, the
people are trying to imitate New York, she reportedly
said at dinner (in her honor) sponsored by the Nebraska
League of Women Voters. The statement was quoted in
Dont Imitate Is Advice of Novelist, Omaha WorldHerald, 30 October 1921; rpt. in Bohlke, 150.
47. Willa Cather to Ferris Greenslet, 24 February
, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

I Write Personal Essays to Save My Soul:1

The Sermonic Roots of
Eugene Englands Literary Voice
Travis Manning

o person reacheth Mormon literature and

Mormon studies but by England. There are
few who have contributed as great an energy as
Eugene England has to the study, critique, and
promotion of literature for, by, and about those of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or
Mormons. England stands nearly unmatched in
his personal passion and subsequent contribution
to the genre of Mormon literature, notably through
his commitment to and critiquing of Mormon culture and literature through the mouthpiece of his
personal essays.2 With his distinctive essay voice
the philosophy of England mingled with literature
and scripturehe confronted the difficult religious
paradoxes and the contraries of Mormon life and
belief in an open and honest personal style, that
was Gene England. This examination intends to
get at the sermonic influences of Englands essaying as it deals with the sermo humilis, or lowly, or
humble style.3
In his essay Enduring, England refers to himself as a hypocrite, a talker, an absurd posturer who
knew to do good and did it not.4 His own recognition of personal fallibility and subsequent attempt
at humility draws out his own inner tensions, tensions that worked at his mind and heart as evidenced
in his many published writings. Many of his essays
are indicative of the Christ-centered sermo humilis,
an intricate theological thread that wove itself into
Englands authorship. After Gene England passed
away 17 August 2001, Salt Lake Tribune Religion
editor Peggy Fletcher Stack asked Sunstone magazine editor Dan Wotherspoon if there would ever

be another like Eugene England. He replied, To me,

Genes power was not only his mind and his writing and his insights, but the personal example of
someone bleeding from the pain of being misunderstood, who still forged ahead. . . . Would you really
wish for someone else to be in that much pain?5
Always thinking, with his 2" x 4" pocket calendar handy, England penned notes that would later
work their way into his writing.6 His hypersensitivity to paradox elicited a fascination for the
Prophet Joseph Smith, who said, By proving contraries, truth is manifested.7 Proving contraries
and asking difficult questions became fodder for the
vast body of Englands personal essays. For example,
Sometimes being Mormon and being human
[seem] in sharp conflict,8 and Though, as Mormons and U.S. citizens, we call ourselves Christian, we consistently deny Christs command and
the counsel of modern prophets.9 If good earthly
parents had a chance to send one child to a badly
run summer camp and one to an excellent one,
where would they send the troubled child?10
England, trained in literature at Stanford University, became a bishop and branch president in
the Mormon church, high counselor, speaker, lecturer, creative writer, outdoorsman, humanitarian,
scholar, and teacher.11 He was a man who wore
many hats, but always he was a teacher.12 Though
he readily admits character flaws throughout his
personal essays, his own redeeming persona is
played out in the positive impact he had on the
lives of thousands who knew him. Eugene England
compiled four collections containing forty-six of

AML Annual 2004

his personal essays: Dialogues with Myself (1984),

Why the Church Is as True as the Gospel (1986), The
Quality of Mercy (1992), and Making Peace (1995).13
The vast majority of his essays were first published
individually in Mormon literary publications like
Dialogue: Journal of Mormon Thought, Sunstone,
BYU Studies, Ensign, Exponent II, AML Annual,
Literature and Belief, BYU Today, The Student
Review, and This People.14
With a religious and literary voice unabashedly
questioning, sincere, and open, England attempted
to engage those concerned with Mormon culture, arts, and letters in a dialogue.15 In 1966 he
co-founded a literary journal of the same name
with G. Wesley Johnson and Paul Salisbury,16
while England was a Ph.D. student at Stanford.17
In Englands maiden 1966 editorial, he wrote, We
must truly listen to each other, respecting our
essential brotherhood and the courage of those
who try to speak, however they may differ from us
in professional standing or religious belief or moral
vision . . . and then our dialogue can serve both
truth and charity.18
England wrote about himself and other Mormon
authors, questions and fears, dreams and expectations, family and friends, traditional literary characters and prophets of God. He wrote about
Mormonism with a boldness and literary flair, with
a meandering long-winded syntactical style decidedly his own rhetorical formulation, as indicated in
the following sentence:
[Reynolds] Price also provides a more intellectual solace based on his own experience and his
reading of the great religious texts, especially
Job and the Bhagavad Gita, that the God who
is both our omnipotent Creator and the mute
witness of so much agony . . . is what is or is in
all that exists: that he is our only choice, and
that since god has made us for his glory
and that glorification is pleasing to him . . .
wouldnt that glory be augmented by a wider
spectrum of light and dark in our own dim
eyes if we saw and granted and tried to live in
the glare of a fuller awareness of his being?19

One hundred twelve words later the reader can

breathe appropriately. England often used long

sentences interspersed with much smaller sentences

as a rhetorical balancing act. In this long sentence from Englands The Weeping God of Mormonism we see reference to an author, Reynolds
Price; a biblical prophet, Job; a Hindu text, the
Bhagavad Gita; and we see rational argument
four seminal threads in all of Englands essays.
England wrote about the challenging Mormon
issues: blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, the progression and character of God, women and the
Church, Mormon intellectualism, nonviolence
and war, environmentalism, celibacy, Mormons as
Christians, academic freedom and combating racism
and sexism at Brigham Young University, nuclear
weapons, Martin Luther King, and Shakespeare and
the at-onement.20 One does not necessarily read
Englands essays for solace; in Englands essays,
the face behind the page, as George Orwell
referred to it, is unflinchingly resolved. In All is
not well in Zion:21 I have become uneasy about
what our culture has traditionally designated the
masculine virtues of courage, pride, self-confidence,
rational assertion, generalization, decisiveness
which, for all their apparent value, seem to leave
individuals and societies in constant, unsatisfied
desire, engaged in endless envy, rivalry, and imitative violence.22
The roots of Eugene Englands essay voice derive
from the rhetorical parameters of the traditional
Mormon sermon, cousin to the Mormon personal
essay. These sermonic underpinnings are based upon
what scholar Erich Auerbach would likely agree to
as sermo humilis.23 England believed Auerbachs
examination of Christian symbolism and methods
of historical criticism, especially of the phrase
sermo humilis within that context, could also be
applied to the Mormon sermon. He believed that
this lowly, or humble style . . . is characteristic of
the New Testament and of the best writing and
speaking through the Middle Agesbut has
increasingly been lost in rhetorical and moral posturing since then.24 In Englands essays, the humble sermon manifests itself through the telling of
personal experiences, literary and scriptural references, prophetic voices, and personal testimony.
Engaging the traditional American and British

The Sermonic Roots of Eugene Englands Literary Voice

literary canon, coupled with specific allusions to

holy writ and anecdotes from Latter-day Saint historical documents, England employs these varied
texts as intentional rhetorical mechanisms. Like
Shakespeare, England utilized speeches, images,
and themes derived from his own Christian training.25 England spoke and wrote the language of literature and scripture, and he blended such phrases
and concepts with his own personal prose. Importantly, Englands essay voice was most influenced
by the sermonic and oratorical styles of Mormon
prophets, notably Brigham Young and Spencer W.
After graduating from East High School in Salt
Lake City, Gene England and Charlotte Hawkins
attended the University of Utah and the LDS religious institute program in the early 1950s, where
they met religion instructors Lowell L. Bennion
and Marion D. Hanks,26 who mentored England
through their examples of a Christian lifestyle.
These examples nourished the roots of Englands
spiritual foundations and subsequently his personal essay voice. In the mid-1950s, Gene, along
with his wife Charlotte, served for two-and-a-half
years as missionaries in Samoa and Hawaii. This
life-altering adventure of moving halfway across
the world to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to
native Polynesian peoples added to his theological
perspective and religious testimony, and it encouraged him to accept cultures and philosophies that
were not his own. After serving the mission in
Samoa and Hawaii, Gene returned to the University of Utah and renewed tutelage under Bennion
and Hanks.
In 1962 Gene enrolled as a Ph.D. candidate at
Stanford.27 Like his Utah mentors, he worked as a
part-time instructor at the LDS Institute while
at Stanford. His sermonic voice developed over a
period of time, as he studied holy scripture in institute classes, as he taught native Samoan peoples the
gospel, and as he shored up his own theological
and spiritual perspectives as an institute instructor.
Throughout these experiences, England also had
opportunity to teach and serve members of his
local ward. In the early 1970s, England accepted a
teaching position at St. Olaf College in Minnesota,

where he also served in a lay leadership position as

branch president of the local Mormon congregation, an opportunity that provided him with
weekly public speaking and teaching engagements.
England had opportunity to learn and practice the
sermonic and oratorical styles that had begun to
influence his personal prose.
Spencer W. Kimball had a marked influence on
the young Eugene England. Before he became a
president of the LDS Church, Elder Kimball delivered a sermon in his apostolic position that the
impressionable England never forgot. In his essay
about Kimball, A Small and Piercing Voice: The
Sermons of Spencer W. Kimball, England writes,
The first sermon that I remember hearing by
Spencer W. Kimball remains for me the most surprising, challenging, and influential speech in my
experience.28 He summarizes Elder Kimballs
impassioned rhetorical power as the Apostle discusses the ties of various ethnic and cultural
groups. Elder Kimball wrote the sermon in rebuttal to an anonymous letter he had received, and
which he quoted from over the pulpit; in the letter
the writer refers to Indian bucks and squaws
and their supposed inferiority to Mormons:
O ye who hiss and spurn, despise and scoff,
who condemn and reject, and who in your
haughty pride place yourselves above and superior to these NephiteLamanites [peoples in
the Book of Mormon]: I pray you to not despise
them until you . . . have that faith to burn
at the stake with the prophet Abinadi. It is possible that the prophets children may be among
us. Some of them could be now called Lagunas
or Shoshones.
I beg of you, do not disparage the Lamanite
Nephites unless you, too, have the devoutness
and strength to abandon public office to do
missionary work among a despised people . . .
as did the four sons of Mosiah. . . . Their seed
could be called Samoans or Maoris.
I ask you: Do not scoff and ignore these
NephiteLamanites unless you can equal their
forebears in greatness and until you can kneel
with those thousands of Ammonite Saints in
the sand on the field of battle while they sang
songs of praise as their very lives were being

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snuffed out by their enemies. . . . Perhaps the

children of the Ammonites are with us. They
could be called Zunis or Hopis.29

England further explains that Elder Kimballs sermon continues for five more examples, climaxing
when the Apostle mentions Christs personal appearance to the Nephite and Lamanite peoples on the
American continent, A.D. 34. This particular address30
was first heard by the newlywed Englands shortly
before they left for their two-and-a-half-year mission to the islands. According to Gene, It left
Charlotte and me moved and changed: We were
made ashamed of the liberal condescension of our
earlier desire to go save the Samoans.31
Elder Kimball utilizes several rhetorical devices
in his speech. First of all, he relates these comments
in response to a personal experience, an important
element of the sermo humilis. Essayist and scholar
Phillip Lopate explains, in part, the essayists strategy
of revealing self. The spectacle of baring the naked
soul is meant to awaken the sympathy of the reader,
who is apt to forgive the essayists self-absorption in
return for the warmth of his or her candor.32
The repetition of you, including O ye, I pray
you, I beg of you, I ask you, hints at the language of prayer, not just with the obvious I pray
you, but with the sincere querying one might
engage in when begging God for help, or answers.
Notice the repetition of the phrases at the ends of
each short paragraph: Some of them could be now
called Lagunas or Shoshones, and Their seed could
be called Samoans or Maoris. and They could be
called Zunis or Hopis.33 Elder Kimball utilizes
spiritual language and repetition as a point of
emphasis, but theres something more important
going on here than a discussion of lineage. Elder
Kimball is appealing to his audiences respect for
the Book of Mormon, asking his audience to
transfer feelings for Book of Mormon heroes to the
present-day Indians.34 Kimball employs the infrastructure of a spiritual text as the frame for supporting modern cultural ethnicities.
There is also the bite of chastisement in this
Kimball sermon, the notion that the anonymous
letter writer (and anyone else with like prejudices)

has been reprimanded, but it is kindly delivered

out of love, lest listeners esteem [him] to be [their]
enemy (D&C 121:43). Elder Kimball drew the
boundary line against prejudice with references to
Book of Mormon scriptural peoples, the Nephite
Lamanites, Abinadi, sons of Mosiah, and the
Ammonites. Kimballs use of scriptural allusions
and of the conditional coulds to soften his
rebuke is the locution of the sermo humilis tradition, delivering instructive Christian principles in
humble diction to attract followers.
Like Spencer W. Kimball, England had the
desire to affect stereotypes and to motivate positive
Mormon cultural change. He had the quintessential personal essayists ability to see his own personality as problematic and to dramatize the resulting
tensions. In all of his personal essays, England seeks
to live a more Christian life, despite his zest for
proving contraries, his most-oft quoted phrase
from Joseph Smith.35 In his personal essay Letter
to a College Student, originally published in Dialogue, England responds to a letter sent to him by a
troubled young missionary who has developed
concerns regarding the hierarchical superstructure
and religious culture of The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints. Because of the community
presence and literary persona England developed,
he was often the listening ear for the earnestly
questioning voice. And in this friendly and earnest
rebuttal, we see England draw upon his own lifes
experiences, admit personal weakness, while offer
gentle encouragement.
Your letter caught me by surprise, not
because your particular form of unhappiness
and your objections to the Church are unique
and not only because I remember you as a person living in quite a different universe than the
one of sharp criticism and disillusionment which
you now project with such vividness. No, my
surprise was due mainly I think to the distance
that I have moved in my own spiritual life from
constant attention to those kinds of problems. . . .
You talk about your disillusionment with
your mission, how, after committing yourself
to offer people peace and kindness and hope,
you found among your companions much

The Sermonic Roots of Eugene Englands Literary Voice

pettiness, narrowness, deceit and childishness,

not to mention the obnoxious piety that only
those who have the One And Only Way of Truth
can possess. Yes, Ive seen those things, still do
sometimesin fact find them in myself.36

Englands honest, open, yet direct approach is after

the mode of the sermo humilis. England does not
mask his intentions. He clearly and overtly admits
that he has also had difficulty dealing with the LDS
Church. England lays issues out in the open,
strategically, tactfully, as his powerfully balanced
prose is apt to do. His diction, syntax, and tone here
do not create multiple layers or levels of meaning;
he is not speaking metaphorically, though he does
employ this rhetorical element in other essays.
England is honest and forthright, sincere as he
restates the main tenets of this disgruntled opinion.
He admits surprise at this young mans discontentment, using surprise twice, first at the beginning and then again in the very next paragraph,
utilizing this tool of repetition for emphasis. In the
second paragraph of Letter, he uses the phrase
find them in myself, then (still in the second
paragraph) he repeats the exact same phrase two
sentences later. England, who wrote his doctoral
dissertation on poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, understands that tight, repetitious language,
if used carefully, can be optimally effective. Gene
was a poet who loved words for their own sake, as
clay and canvas, wrote Mary Bradford, an essayist
herself and former editor of Dialogue.37 In his letter response, England wants the reader to know he
is concerned with the young mans disaffection.
England appears genuinely chagrined, yet admits
to having similar dilemmas with fault-finding.
In Letter, England relates well to the backslider, the fault-finder or questioning Mormon
because he has tread a similar question-fraught path
in his own life. These questions, England strongly
believes, are an intimate and spiritually healthy
aspect of developing a surefooted faith in God, of a
house founded upon a rock, as the Apostle Peter
would say (Matt. 7:25). In Englands mind, questions are tools. He takes the reference in James 1:5
literally, as did Joseph Smith: If any of you lack
wisdom, let him ask of God. In Englands mind,

questioning God is integral to spiritual growth and

moral development. Ask and it shall be given unto
you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be
opened unto you (3 Ne. 14:7). Perhaps questioning,
then publishing questions, was one of Englands
Brigham Young, second president of the
Church, also believed in studying and questioning
as a fundamental premise for grounding faith in
God and understanding His higher ways. There are
nearly 800 sermons by Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses. In 1980, England published a
biography, Brother Brigham. And like President
Kimball, Brigham also utilized the sermo humilis,
more often in oratory, which influenced the
rhetorical core of Englands sermonic foundation.
Here is an example of the straightforward, faithful,
and confidently humble voice of Brigham Young,
6 February 1853, as he spoke what England believed
was his foremost address on the central principle
of eternalism:
The organization of man, I suppose, is one
of the deepest and most profound studies
for philosophers and theologians there is in
nature. . . . [It is] considered a mystery by the
wisest and most expert philosophers that have
lived, and is a subject that daily occupies the
thoughts and researches of the more intelligent
portion of the children of men. . . .
To a person who thoroughly understands
the reason of all things, and can trace from
their effects to their true causes, mystery does
not exist. Yet the physical and mental existence
of man is a great mystery to him. . . .
The first great principle that ought to
occupy the attention of mankind, that should
be understood by the child and the adult, and
which is the main spring of all action (whether
people understand it or not), is the principle of
improvement. . . .
All [the Saints] earthly avocations should
be framed upon this principle. This alone can
insure to them an exaltation; this is the starting
point, in this existence, to an endless progression. All the ideas, cogitations, and labors of
man are circumscribed by and incorporated in
this great principle of life.38

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Inherent in the logical tone of this quote is the

faithful testimony voice of Brigham Young; he is
confident and self-assured, there is the sense of
humble spiritual conviction and an educated and
everyday diction. Notice the phrase I suppose in
the first paragraph. This rhetorical and strategic
pause (with the words I suppose) sets up a
humbly questioning registry. England was a pupil
of Brigham Youngs. Though they were never in
the same live company, they were in the same written company, and England admired the great colonizer. Wrote England, Brigham Young was not
only the greatest orator the LDS church has produced, but, in both powerful content and effective
style, one of the finest orators who have used the
English Language.39
In the previous quote, Brigham moves from the
universal to the specific, from speaking about the wider
concept of philosophers, theologians, and humankind to speaking about individuals, the child and
the adult. This articulated move from the big picture to the small encourages listeners (or readers)
to identify with the generic child and adult.
Brigham moves logically through his sermon, matter-of-factly, confidently. His voice is the expression of steady focus and faith.
England is also effective at moving the reader
from the big picture to the small in his own writing
(or small to big, which he most often employed),
while maintaining nondidactic explanations. Like
Brigham Young, England utilizes a steady focus and
faith in his personal essay voice. In Enduring,
England recounts a boyhood experience while he
was out doing chores with his father on the familys
southeastern Idaho farm. (Pay careful attention to
the tone.)
One June dawn we drove toward the reservoir
farm for a day of weeding the fallow ground.
He would drive the tractor. I was old enough
to ride the twenty-four-foot rod weeders,
jumping off to tromp away stubble as it accumulated around the goosenecks and rods. That
morning, as he often did, he stopped the truck
and took me to see how the wheat was heading
out in that lower 320. We kept our feet between
the rows as we walked out on a ridge, I just

learning how to imitate his motion of plucking

a stalk to examine critically its forming kernels.
He asked me to kneel with him, and he spoke,
I thought to Christ, about the wheat. He pledged
again, as I had heard him at home, to give all
the crop, all beyond our bare needs, to build the
kingdom, and he claimed protection from
drought and hail and wind. I felt, beside and in
me, something, a person, it seemed, something
more real than the wheat or the ridge or the sun,
something warm like the sun but warm inside
my head and chest and bones, someone like us
but strange, thrilling, fearful but safe.40

There is the metaphorical use of simile, the comparison of the inner feeling like the sun and the
inner influence like us. Again, think about the tone
of this paragraph, especially in the casual and natural scene/setting of this early spring morning, and
the shy awkwardness of a boy experiencingthough
he doesnt seem to know at the timewhat he later
believes to have been a spiritual experience of sorts,
during his fathers prayer. There is a simplicity and
softness, a humility in the authors delivery. There
is a steadiness in the narrative voice as he describes
in near poetic language this personal experience:
He asked me to kneel with him, and he spoke,
I thought to Christ, about the wheat. and I felt,
beside and in me, something, a person, it seemed,
something more real than the wheat or the ridge or
the sun, something warm like the sun but warm
inside my head and chest and bones, someone like
us but strange, thrilling, fearful but safe. My ear
can sense the line breaks in the meter of this narrative (He asked me to kneel with him, / and he
spoke, / I thought / to Christ, / about the wheat.).
I can hear the repetition of the words something,
or, and, and but that move the sentence
along, rhythmically, purposefully. This first-person
reflective voice is after the tradition of the sermo
humilis. There is no pulpit-pounding. There is no
fire and brimstone. Yet there is spiritual content.
Readers are left to educe deeper meaning from the
words on their own. England does not force readers
to experience this essay, but rather in his casual, poetic
conversation style of writing allows them to sense a
deeper spiritual realization embedded within the

The Sermonic Roots of Eugene Englands Literary Voice

text. Novelist Levi Peterson said about England that

his theory of an essay wasand he lived up to it
in his practicewas that narrative detail should
suggest theme and interpretation to the reader; the
author had no business pointing out what they
added up to.41
England learned about educing meaning from
literary texts from longtime friend Lowell L. Bennion,
among the gentlest and meekest of men, constantly
conciliatory and nonconfrontive.42 Brother Bennion,
a professor, humanitarian, institute instructor, mentor to thousands, was also an accomplished author
who wrote for both independent and official Mormon periodicals and published widely in the
Mormon market for over fifty years. Bennion
wrote with a sound logic and simple goodness
that was, according to England, his great gift and
the heart of his legacy.43 Intrinsic to Bennions
approach to teaching and essaying was his ability to
ask the humble question or to suggest the humble
answer. Whether Bennion was conscious of it or
not, his approach was modeled after the sermo
humilis tradition, a tradition that deeply impacted
the personal essaying of Eugene England.44
Like those of Brigham Young and Lowell Bennion,
Englands thoughtful arguments and resulting persuasiveness, his willingness to entertain opposing
views are key to his rhetorical strengths. Longtime
friend and colleague Bruce Jorgensen believes that
Eugene England was well suited for the personal
essay:45 I think he found the genre personally
congenial, a chance to be himself, to use a voice he
needed to use, neither scholarly nor quite sermonic,
and to explore what mattered to him personally,
literarily, and religiously. I dont think that for him,
finally, those three categories were separable: the
personal essay was a place where Gene could essay
to be Gene.46
But England was not without flaws in his essay
voice. His long-windedness and long, loose sentences
tended toward unwieldy shapelessness, something
that can come along with a conversational style.47
By and large, Englands discussions and arguments
are thoroughly and carefully crafted, well researched,
and peer reviewed for theological and grammatical
accuracy. Englands rhetorical use of sources dis-

arms potential authoritative opponents by using

the words of the potential critics themselves. Bert
Wilson, folklore professor and lifelong friend,
understood this about England. He was an expert
at twisting statements of General Authorities to fit
his own purposes. He would take a statement made
by one of his critics among the Brethren and then
use it to support his own argument. This probably
drove some of them right up the wall. How could
they jump on him when he was merely quoting
what they had said themselves. When I pointed
this out to him, he usually said nothing but smiled
Because England often wrote for and about
educated Mormon people, many Mormon intellectuals knew England, personally and through his
published work (though England discouraged the
use of the word intellectual because he felt it
unfairly labeled those within the Mormon community concerned with Mormon literature). And
because of his ability to make and keep friends, both
within the LDS Church and withoutincluding
those who backslid from their original Mormon
ideologyEngland was intimately familiar with
his audience, and they with him. This connection,
this transaction of ethos, or ethical appeal, based on
the charisma of the speaker plays large in Englands
effectiveness as a writer and public speaker.
Englands literary personae stands paramount in
his ability to engage in often controversial dialogue
on religious, philosophical, and other Mormon
hot-button issues such as blacks and the priesthood, BYU politics, and prejudice at all levels. He
worked tirelessly to prompt the repentant and
unrepentant Mormonalways including himself
in both categoriestoward honest and deliberate
confrontation of their own personal testimony and
relationship with Deity. Englands ultimate philosophical and theological position within Mormon
arts and letters was the cultural and political middle
ground, though he spent a good portion of his life
perceived as being far outside center.
In a 15 April 2001 interview with California
journalist Louisa Dalton, England explained his fascination with the personal essay, specifically with
the intriguing notion of opposition as construct for

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interpreting universal truth. He often referred to

them not only as contraries, but also as polarities,
antitheses, paradoxes, contradictions, problems, struggles, and dialectics. For example,
how could Christ be both just and merciful? How
could we lose our life for Gods sake in order to
find it? How could God love humankind yet allow
suffering? Im very attracted to paradox and contradictions, said England. Many of my essays
attempt to prove contraries, to explore what seems
like a contradiction and hope that the process itself will reveal truth greater than either part of the
In this same interview, he also spoke of decisions he had made regarding provocative personal
essay topics, dialectical topics, mentioned previously. Steady as ever, and only a few months before
dying of brain cancer, England discloses personal
regrets: I could have done better writing, I could
have avoided some of the mistakes Ive made when
Ive challenged things I probably shouldnt have.50
It just caused pain and difficulty there, rather than
increased understanding. And if I had listened to
Charlotte and not published certain things, it might
have been better. So Im still learning.51 Ever the
teacher, ever the student. It is also intriguing to
think that the scar Eugene England had on his
scalp after brain surgery was what his wife Charlotte described to Margaret Young as a backwards
question mark.52 One can only surmise the backwards question mark symbolized Englands ability
to ask the difficult question, the unorthodox question, the faith-promoting question.
In referring to Englands book Why the Church
Is as True as the Gospel, Mormon and science fiction
author Orson Scott Card wrote: England is walking the narrow path on which our feet are also set,
he is holding firmly to the Iron Rod to which we
also cling, and because of that his words of encouragement and chastisement, of insight and illumination, all have meaning to us.53 Always the pivot
in his essays is the personal experience point of
view; what scholar Candadai Seshachari refers to as
cast[ing] down [the] bucket into the life-giving
waters of [ones] own culture and into the stream of
[ones] own inner self.54

Gene England firmly believed in the literary

potential of the Mormon personal essay, cousin to
the Mormon sermon, and in dipping the bucket
into his own culture and life. England delivered
these words on the matter as a speech for Dialogues
twentieth anniversary banquet, held in Salt Lake
City on 27 August 1987.
I am perhaps most delighted that Dialogue
published, encouragedeven helped many
Mormons first learn to write and appreciate
the personal essay. I am convinced that that
particular literary form, which has only recently
begun to achieve its proper recognition in world
literature, best expresses the Mormon theological and cultural qualities: It allows us to bear
witness, in effectively artistic ways, to our personal religious and moral experience and to the
development of our eternal selves as children of
God and members of a covenant community.
It encourages in us the most effective kind of
voice, that of the great writers of scriptures and
givers of sermons in our traditionfrom
Nephi and Alma and Mormon to Joseph and
Brigham and Spencer: The voice is rooted in
the extremes of honest revealed feeling and
experience, from doubt and inadequacy and
anguish to exalted faith and love and encounters with divinity. It is the voice that seems to
come more naturally in modern Mormon literature to Mormon women.55 . . . Dialogue has for
twenty years published most of the best writing
by Mormon women and has also encouraged
Mormon men to develop that same honest,
meek, and thus more genuinely powerful,
prophetic voice that makes the personal essay
work. That voice, in that genre, can, I believe,
not only help us develop a more valuable Mormon literary culture but may become our
major contribution to world literature.55

There is much to be said for the personal essay

and its artistic potential. How will the world ever
learn who Mormons are if we never tell them?
Others will tell them incorrectly. Personal essays
are one way of telling the world who we are, both
within the Church and without. There is also much
to be said for Utah Valley State Colleges only Mormon Studies program on the planet. At colleges and

The Sermonic Roots of Eugene Englands Literary Voice

universities today there are centers for Middle Eastern and Islamic studies, womens studies, gay and
lesbian studies, Hispanic studies, African American studies, Asian studies, Catholic, Hindu, and
Jewish studies, but no Mormon studies. Well, now
we have one. As we look ahead into the twenty-first
century, ahead to the challenges and opportunities
for Mormons, Mormon writers and artists, and those
concerned with issues involving Mormonism, I suggest we also take time to look back. Let us utilize
the Mormon personal essay to look both forward
and backward. By displaying his own Mormon
individuality, Eugene England reminds us of ours.
It is time Mormons realize it is acceptable to examine our own cultural and religious roots. Like fine
cheese, Mormons have been around a whileand
we just keep getting better.
Its been nearly 173 years since the Prophet
Joseph Smith organized The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints. Weve had 173 years to
age, to pioneer the West, to work for equality among
women, men, and minorities, to have more members of the Church outside the United States than
inside. Weve had nearly two centuries between us
and Governor Boggs and the militias of the Midwest.
Its been over a century since Mountain Meadows
and polygamy. The Mormon past is as imperfect
as the Mormon present. We will not turn to salt as
did Lots wife for looking back. We will not forget
to remember who we arewho we really arewho
we can become, and who weve been. But looking
ahead requires that we also look back.
1. Eugene England comment at first annual Mormon Writers Conference held at Utah Valley State College, 1999. This quote found in authors personal notes.
2. I will use the terminology essay and personal
essay simultaneously. However, in the subgenre of personal essaying, there are many subcategories that divide
up the term essay, for example, environmental and
travel narratives, history and philosophical essays.
3. Many of the best modern personal essays are
reworked sermons, showing the close connection between
these two forms (Eugene England, Mormon Literature:
Progress and Prospects, Irreantum 3.3 [Autumn 2001]:
90, n. 87).

4. Eugene England, Enduring, Dialogue (Winter

1983): 106; also found in Irreantum 3.3 (Autumn 2001):
2937; also found in Dialogues with Myself, 191205.
5. Peggy Fletcher Stack, LDS Peacemakers Death
Leaves Intellectual Void, Salt Lake Tribune, 1 September 2001, C-1.
6. See author interview transcript with Charlotte
England, 19 February 2003. According to Charlotte, even
as a child, Gene did a lot of thinking and forming of
ideas while driving tractor on the familys Idaho wheat
7. History of the Church, 6:428.
8. Eugene England, On Being Mormon and
Human, Sunstone (April 2001): 74.
9. Eugene England, On Trusting God, or Why
We Should Not Fight Iraq, Sunstone 14.5 (October
1990): 9.
10. Eugene England, Are All Alike Unto God?
Prejudice against Blacks and Women in Popular Mormon Theology, Sunstone 14.2 (April 1990): 20.
11. LDS Church positions such as bishop, branch
president, and high counselor are lay clergy assignments, as are most other church positions.
12. In On Spectral Evidence, England says: As
for me, my job is to teach students in ways that can
improve the moral quality of their lives, including using
what I learn from the Brethren and from literature and
experience and the Spiritand to try meticulously
never to resort to spectral evidence myself. My role is
certainly not to use the imagined weaknesses of others
or problems in the Church as an excuse for my own failings or to lash out in kind (in Making Peace [Salt Lake
City: Signature Books, 1995], 41).
13. Eugene England published four collections of
personal essays: Dialogues with Myself (Salt Lake City:
Signature Books, 1984), Why the Church Is as True as
the Gospel (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986), The Quality of Mercy (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1992), and
Making Peace.
14. Eugene did not have a hand in the formation
or editing of BYU Studies. But he was given an award
on the 40th anniversary of the journal for author most
published in the journals history. Or something like that.
And we were (I as dean) able to get increased funding
for BYUS when Dallin Oaks was asked by the Brethren
to give BYU scholars a place to publish in lieu of Dialogue.
He did not have a hand in the founding of Literature
and Belief, but he was very supportive and contributed
a number of articles in the early issue and published his

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book on Norris in connection with L&B. You know, of

course, of his membership on the Sunstone Board at
the end of his life; he was always very supportive of
Sunstone. He was careful not to have too high a profile
in many of these journals as he felt, with some justification, that his name carried the Dialogue onus which
newly founded LDS-centered journals did not want to
havepublicly at least. He influenced, via Dialogue,
the foundation of the short-lived journal The Carpenter, in Madison, Wisconsin, in 19681972, edited by
Thomas D. Schwartz, with Richard H. Cracroft and
Edward Kimball as associate editorswe saw ourselves
as the eastern (Midwestern) Dialogue, but after about
eight issues folded. Obviously, his influence on all the
journals you note was significant and persuasive. He
pushedand got publishedmany articles by others,
as well as his own (Richard H. Cracroft to author,
email, 10 February 2003).
15. Many more of his sermons, essays, scholarly
papers, reviews, creative works, and chapters in books
were published in books and other periodicals, but many
remain unpublished. Also of note, England wrote many
columns for and Letters to the Editor to the Deseret
News and the Salt Lake Tribune, which can be accessed
via their respective online archives.
16. England indicates that Johnson and Salisbury
were both original editors (see Eugene England, Growing Up Mormon: Maturity for a New Era, Dialogue
6.1 [Spring 1971]: 109).
17. Other early Dialogue collaborators included
Francis Menlove, Joe Jeppson, and Diane Saderup Monson, who thought to get the discussion going between
group members in the first place.
18. Eugene England, The Possibility of Dialogue,
in Dialogues with Myself, 41.
19. Eugene England, The Weeping God of Mormonism, Dialogue 35.1 (Spring 2002): 65.
20. See Englands four volumes of personal essays
cited previously, including the original citations in the
literary journals also mentioned previously. All topics
were first published in individual journals, then in his
personal essay anthologies.
21. Zion, in this interpretation, as being any place
where members of the LDS Church presently reside; as
pertains to the Book of Mormon definition, where it
discusses the great and abominable church and how
the kingdom of the devil must shake. For behold, at
that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of
men, and stir them up to anger against that which is

good. And others will he pacify, and lull them away into
carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion;
yea, Zion prospereth, all is welland thus the devil
cheateth their souls and leadeth them away carefully
down to hell (2 Ne. 28: 1821). Gideon Burton has
also remarked in his essay The Literary Legacy of
Eugene England, Irreantum 3.3 (Autumn 2001), that
he [Eugene England] was no armchair dilettante.
Gene was driven by his dissatisfactions as much as by
his optimism.
22. Eugene England, On Being Male and Melchizedek, Dialogue 23.4 (Winter 1990): 73.
23. England made use of Erich Auerbachs discussion and definition of the Latin term sermo humilis in
his own essay about President Spencer W. Kimball: A
Small and Piercing Voice: The Sermons of Spencer W.
Kimball, in Why the Church Is as True as the Gospel,
12527; see also Erich Auerbach, Literary Language
and Its Public in Late Latin Antiquity and in the Middle
Ages (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1965), especially 2566.
24. Small and Piercing Voice, 127.
25. See Eugene England, Shakespeare and AtOnement of Jesus Christ, 34. Also, with regards to
Shakespeare and audience, while England was professor
of English at BYU, England said his own audience there
was merely comparable to Shakespeares original audience in Stratford and London. England did not intend
to publish a New York Times best-seller. And he didnt
care. Englands audience was methodically Mormon.
He didnt want to write for those outside the Mormon faith. All are welcome to read his writing, but the
audience is specifically chosen: those with a Mormon
connection. England also wrote that his favorite alltime character and piece of literature are Hamlet and
King Lear, respectively.
26. T. Edgar Lyon was also an influential institute
teacher. But as far as I know, England did not write
about Lyon, only about Bennion and Hanks, who is
now an emeritus member of the Quorum of the Seventy
in the LDS Church.
27. England worked with poet Ivor Winters, whom
he admired greatly, says Charlotte England. Ivor had a
sensitive personality, and though he was an eccentric
personmost poets areGene liked his spirit, and he
was moved by his personal touch with people. England
also had opportunity to work with writer Wallace Stegner
while at Stanford.
28. Small and Piercing Voice, 125.

The Sermonic Roots of Eugene Englands Literary Voice

29. Ibid., 12627.

30. Given originally at BYUs devotional exercises,
13 February 1951, and published in the Church Section of the Deseret News, 28 February 1951, this speech
was repeated in various forms and quoted in subsequent
speeches by President Kimballfor instance, as Immodesty in Dress at the Portland State quarterly conference
MIA session, 9 September 1956, and as part of his
devotional address at BYU, 12 September 1978. This
endnote found in Englands essay on Kimball in Why
the Church Is as True as the Gospel.
31. Small and Piercing Voice, 127.
32. Introduction, in The Art of the Personal Essay, ed.
Philip Lopate (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1994), xxvi.
33. The coulds in these last phrases soften President Kimballs suggestions that there could be a link
between the ancient Book of Mormon peoples and
modern-day ethnicities. But, some may have not read
any of Kimballs other teachings, where he explicitly
believes that the ancient Book of Mormon peoples are
in fact the forefathers of some of these other cultural
34. Harlow Clark, personal email to author, 17 February 2003.
35. By proving contraries, truth is made manifest
(History of the Church, 6:428).
36. Eugene England, Letter to a College Student,
in Personal Voices section of Dialogue (Autumn/Winter
1973): 17880; also found in Dialogues with Myself,
37. Mary Bradford, personal letter to the author,
31 December 2002.
38. Eugene England, Brigham Young as Orator
and Intellectual, in Why the Church Is as True as the
Gospel, 98.
39. Ibid., 9394.
40. Eugene England, Enduring, Dialogue (Winter 1983): 106; also found in Irreantum 3.3 (Autumn
2001): 2937; also found in Dialogues with Myself,
41. Levi Peterson, personal email to author, 6 November 2002.
42. Introduction, in The Best of Lowell L. Bennion,
Selected Writings 19281988, ed. Eugene England (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988), xii.
43. Eugene England, The Legacy of Lowell L.
Bennion, Sunstone (September 1996): 27.
44. See The Best of Lowell L. Bennion; see also Mary
Lythoge Bradford, Lowell L. Bennion, Teacher, Counselor,

Humanitarian (Salt Lake City: Dialogue Foundation,

45. The essay is often considered a subset of nonfiction writing, or, Fourth Genreafter poetry, fiction,
and drama.
46. Bruce Jorgensen, personal email to author,
7 November 2002.
47. Bruce Young, personal email to author, 7 November 2002.
48. Bert Wilson, personal email to author, 13 November 2002.
49. Louisa Wray Dalton, interview with Eugene
England, 15 April 2001, transcript in authors possession. Dalton, a BYU graduate, wrote the profile on
England for a class on essay writing while attending
UCSanta Cruz. Her interview is thought to be
Englands last, as England passed away 17 August 2001.
50. England comments in his last interview with
Louisa Wray Dalton about how he would promote
peace differently: Yes, peace is important, of course.
Its related to mercy. I really think thats the only way to
bring peace in the open. I think force always begets
force. I think even arguing violently for peace is a good
way to increase violence. And Ive been guilty of that
sometimes. In my book Making Peace, the arguments I
make there against violence may not be as important
as my essay in there called Monte Cristo, which just
describes what peace is like. So Im trying to get to a
point where I can describe peace as maybe the best way
to help people find it. If I can get through the experience Im in right now [brain cancer], Id like to write
about it in an essay or book called Being Herewhat it
is like to be, rather than so actively doing or changing.
51. Louisa Wray Dalton interview. Also, Charlotte
edited much of Englands writing. She commented on
the subject in a personal interview with the author.
I think what I could do was view Genes writings from
a readers point of view. I could read anything he wrote
and knew what he was saying. But, without that constant background which I had, with working with him
all the time, as he was writing . . . it could be jarring to
some people that didnt understand him as a person.
52. Margaret Young, post to AML-List, 7 March
53. Orson Scott Card, Eugene England and the
Lighted Lamp, in A Storyteller in Zion (Salt Lake City:
Bookcraft, 1993), 179.
54. Candadai Seshachari, Insights from the Outside: Thoughts for the Mormon Writer, in Arts and

AML Annual 2004

Inspiration, Mormon Perspectives, ed. Steven P. Sondrup

(Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press), 25.
55. See Eugene Englands essay Virginia Sorensen
as the Founding Foremother of the Mormon Personal
Essayists, Exponent II 17.1 (1992): 1214. England
delivered this paper twice: first, Virginia Sorensen as
Personal Essayist, paper read at Symposium for Virginia Sorensen, BYU, October, 1988; second, Virginia
Sorensen As the Founding Foremother of the Mormon
Personal Essay, paper read at Association for Mormon Letters, Ogden, Utah, January 1989. It must be
noted that Virginia Sorensen disputed Englands claim
that she was in fact a personal essayist. England indicates in the article Founding Foremother published
in Exponent II that he had originally read the paper with
Sorensen sitting four feet in front of him. England continues: It became worse when she rose at the end of the
hour, fixed me with her clear eyes and, with only a
slight smile, told me that it was hard for her to accept
my allegations of literal truth-telling and designation of
her as an essayist rather than a fictionist. In an Authors
Note in the Exponent II piece, it states that Virginia


Sorensen liked to travel to her childhood home in Utah,

and on one such planned occasion, the BYU English
Department sponsored a workshop on her writing.
England delivered his paper wherein he described the
wonderful personal literary qualities of Sorensens firstperson narrative fiction voice. England felt that the
quality of this self-reflective narrator qualified her as
the foremother of the Mormon personal essay,
though her collection of short stories, Where Nothing Is
Long Ago: Memories of a Mormon Childhood (1963), was
fiction. The Authors Note further states that Sorensen
did not agree with his premise and said so. Just before
she found out how ill she was, she had agreed to write a
rebuttal to be published with his essay in Exponent II.
As far as I know, the rebuttal was never published.
56. Eugene England, On Building the Kingdom
with Dialogue, Dialogue 21.2 (Summer 1988): 131
32; see also The Possibility of Dialogue, the original
editorial for the first issue of Dialogue, in Dialogues with
Myself, 3942. See also Genes explicit affirmation and
promotion of the personal essay genre in Mormon Literature: Progress and Prospects, 9192.

Bridging the Divide:

Writing about Spirit for the National Young Adult Market
Kimberly Heuston

his session will address the process of writing

and editing a mainstream work of Young Adult
historical fiction, The Shakeress (Asheville, NC: Front
Street Books, 2002), for a national market. My
editor, Stephen Roxburgh, is known in the trade as
the Prince of Darkness because of his willingness
to push the envelope in young adult fiction. Why
was he willing to acquire the book? What has its
reception been? And why is it so hard for me to tell
people what it is really about?
Five and a half years ago, my daughter Jennifer and
I were driving through southern New Hampshire
on our way to do some school shopping when we
passed as small brown sign that said, Shaker Village,
next exit. The traditional response whenever our
car passes a small brown sign that might be pointing to anything even faintly educational is an eruption of howls and loud retching noises from the
back seat, and I braced myself for the inevitable.
But wed left the boys at home. With some
awe, I realized that on that beautiful, magical, sundappled afternoon my only companion was my
small blonde well-behaved daughter. Jen, I asked,
scarcely able to believe the opportunity that was
mine. Shall we stop?
She made a face and shook her head, but I am
bigger than she is, and a few minutes later we
emerged from a wooded lane into a well-tended
settlement set on a knoll overlooking rolling acres
of farmland. The prospect was so peaceful and
enticing that, although we hadnt planned on staying, we parked and bought two tour admissions

that we really couldnt afford. For the next hour or

so, we learned about the Shakers, a celibate religious
community whose spare, beautiful furniture is a
perfect symbol of the creative ingenuity that lies at
the heart of their attempts to make a heaven on earth.
It was, as I have already said, a magical afternoon,
one of those times which seems to confirm our
hope that God is in his heaven and all is right with
the world. When I began an MFA in writing for
children six months later and was told that my first
task as a writer for children would be to get rid
of my characters parents, I thought that if someone
were to get rid of me I hoped my children would
find people like the Shakers to love them and teach
them that good work is the finest and most enduring form of creation and, hence, of worship.
Thats how The Shakeress begannot as a missionary tract, but as an exploration of the way a
girl like me, or like my daughter, would go about
rebuilding her life if her family were taken away
from her. I told the story as honestly as I could.
Because the way I rebuild the parts of my life that
get smashed is by asking God to help, thats what
Naomi does, too. She does so in a variety of religious languages, as I imagined a girl living during
the Great Awakening might. Her parents are Baptists, her aunt is a Presbyterian, and she is herself a
Shakeress for most of the book, as the title suggests
(although thats not its original title, which was
Seasoned with Grace). She ends up Mormon,
because thats the spiritual framework that I understand best and is most compelling to me. But The
Shakeress is not a primer on early Mormon beliefs;

AML Annual 2004

if its a primer on anything, its a primer on finding

meaning, purpose, and solace in realities big and
sturdy enough to withstand our personal tragedies,
no matter how shattering they may be. It is a book
about spirit, about that part of the self that transcends physical, describable reality, which holds
steady across the ravages of time, which if I may, is
eternal, rather than temporal.
In this I am not so different from many other
writers for young adults. Adolescence is, after all,
the season in life when we begin to define ourselves
against the various cultures that intersect in our
lives. Just as young children are fascinated by the
material physicality of lifethe specific textures,
smells, and tastes of the natural worldso adolescents are fascinated by the ways all that stuff comes
together into the patterns of life. Young people
search for people to admire with the eagle-eyed
determination characteristic of newly mobile babies
to search and destroy. What do teenagers want to
destroy? Ways of being that they experience as futile
or misguided. What are they looking for? A person
who can teach them a better way. And when they
find that person, they imitate the way he combs his
hair, the way she laughs, and they repeat the anointed
ones jokes and taglines with all the solemnity of a
sacred ritual. You can always tell when theres a popular new teacher in our upper school by the mannerisms that start cropping up in class. Lots of scarves?
Those senior girls must have Ms. Rhoton for creative writing. Enthusiastic journal descriptions of a
simplified life devoted to mornings and evenings of
scientific research interrupted by afternoons spent
skiing? Theyre in AP Physics with Mr. Shorthill.
The innocent arrogance of the young, fueled
sometimes by the desperation of the powerless,
allows them to believe that anything is possible,
that the intensity of their desire must be sufficient
cause for the creation of the perfect life only they
are clever enough to see. At the same time, a more
humble, better-hidden part of their brains is searingly aware of the ways in which they do not
match up to whatever standards are meaningful to
themthe front cover of Cosmopolitan magazine,
the Super Bowl defensive line, Mother Theresa.
They ache for the balm of stories that not only

trace out the glorious paths of those who have gone

before, but which also remind them that they are
not alone in their awkwardness and their pride
stories that confirm that what exists now can be
changed, that the dreams of the spirit persist
beyond dislocation of every circumstance.
Another way of saying this is that young people
are beginning to move away from focusing on the
what of life as they begin to puzzle through the how.
The how may be construed in terms of the unfolding of personal relationships (i.e., friend stories,
family stories, and romances) or in the way a society absorbs a new technology, idea, or threat (i.e.,
science fiction, fantasy, and thrillers) or, most directly,
in biographies of every variety, from sports figures
and entertainers to Holden Caulfield and Huck Finn.
My editor said much the same thing to me when,
in preparation for this occasion, I asked him why
he had been interested in my manuscript:
It seems to me that so much of what kids are
dealing with either overtly or implicitly are what
I would consider spiritual issues, even though
they may not be cast in terms of what we would
think of as religion. . . . The search for identity
is always the center of [Young Adult] books,
[and] it takes many forms. In some cases its an
artistic sensibility, in some cases its a pragmatic
sensibility, in places its a vocation or profession.
The form it has taken in your book, it seems to
me, is a quest for her on a spiritual level. Its about
identifying a spiritual path, realizing there is such
a thing, struggling with it, trying to find it.1

Lots of people are interested in finding and

exploring spiritual paths. But, like those first disorienting, sleep-deprived, and joyful months of
motherhood or the excruciatingly lonely grief of
single parents watching wounds they are helpless
to prevent scar their beloved children, finding a
path toward God is not a part of the human journey that gets a lot of public press. When I say public, I suppose I mean popular press, because of course
there are huge numbers of subcultures that specialize in documenting and discussing every aspect of
new motherhood or single parenthood or spirituality. But they speak dialects that are as incomprehensible to the world of Walmart and People magazine

Bridging the Divide: Writing about Spirit for the National Young Adult Market

as are Sanskrit and hieroglyphics. There is no public language to describe the process of coming to
God in a way that is equally meaningful to all who
hear it, as there is to describe the pleasures of food
or sex, the demands of the business world, or the
bittersweet negotiations of family life. Thats why I
mumble a lot when people ask me about my book,
at least people like my college roommate, a secular
Jew for whom the words of Christian conversion
carry the burden of centuries of oppression, or my
Episcopalian friend, for whom any reference to
Joseph Smith brings up distasteful associations of
frontier polygamy and insularity. I know what to
tell my Mormon friends. Hey, its a conversion story.
Most of you probably know pretty much what to
expect now. But there are no public words, no public scripts that allow me to say the same thing
beyond my own subculture without being understood to be proselytizing in a peculiarly embarrassing and clumsy way.
The impoverishment of our national language
by contemporary cultures secularization is not a new
idea. Andrew Delbanco, for one, has written a marvelous book called The Death of Satan (New York:
Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1995) that addresses this
subject with eloquence and passion, and there are
many other popular and scholarly texts on the same
topic. The way I get around the lack of a contemporary spiritual vocabulary in The Shakeress is by
setting it in a time and place where people were not
afraid to talk about spiritual issues, and they did so
in the language of organized religion.
Not every reader, however, is willing or able to
make that imaginative leap back in time with me.
Those who conflate any discussion of the spiritual
journey with the promulgation of, as my editor
would say, specific religious orthodoxies,2 find
The Shakeresss presentation of the LDS faith puzzlingly vague and inadequate. They attribute this
state of affairs to my putative desire to conceal
various unsavory and discredited early Mormon
beliefs, i.e., polygamy. They are mistaken. First of
all, of course, neither polygamy nor most other distinctively Mormon practices like the United Order
had yet been instituted. Second, even if Mormon
cultural practices had been alive and kicking, they

would have been invisible to Naomi, who lived

750 miles away in what we would today call the
mission field. Someday I would very much like
to see what happens to her when she gets to Kirtland and has to deal with the word made flesh,
when she must negotiate a place for herself in a
community distinct in important ways from her
own conversion. But The Shakeress is not that book.
Why is this a book for the national market?
Because in the final analysis, Naomi does not join
the LDS Church because of its institutional gifts
or the Word of Wisdom or Family Home Evening or
their 1830s functional equivalents. She joins because
she hears God telling her to. We dont know how it
will turn out for her. We just know that she has been
calling to God and that when she most needed him
he answered in ways meaningful to her. That has
been the story of my life, and that is the story I
wanted to tell.
Both the promise and the peril of telling stories
lies in the fact that these stories are not completed
by you, the author, but by the reader. The promise
is that those readers who are part of your audience
take your few words and amplify them with all the
capacity of their hearts, minds, and souls, magnifying and adorning them with the rich materials of
their own life experiences. The peril is that readers
who are not prepared, who have no interest in your
topic or little germane experience, find so much
less than you put in because their own hearts and
minds dont know how to create meaning from the
clues you have given them. Katherine Paterson once
said something similar to me:
The ending of Jacob Have I Loved is an example
of that. They want me to say that Louise has a
profession of faith and then goes and throws
herself on her sisters bosom and confesses all of
her sins andNo, no, no! All she has to do is
hear the first two lines of I wonder as I wander. And its left to the reader to, one, remember the rest of the song and, two, to understand
whats happened in her heart, which I think is
a reconciliation with her sister. You do that
subtly, and if the reader isnt ready for that,
then the reader doesnt come to that conclusion, and the reader has a choice as to how to

AML Annual 2004

read the story. And its not up to the writer to

dictate. Its no longer your story. The writer
does not convert. Only the Spirit converts.
Weve all been changed by books, but weve
chosen to change.3

own. And thats really a great gift, I think. To

pass on what knowledge, what belief we have,
and then send them out to do what they can
with what weve given them, and to release them
to go onthats a kind of transcendence.4

I would not presume to write a book that purports to convert because I cant; its a fools errand.
That is the one great lesson that every real grownup has learned: none of us has the power to control
another human being. The best we can hope for is
to offer our own experience, with all its pain and
confusion and hard-won joy, and to do so with the
humility and truthfulness and love that invites
the Spirit to become co-creator with author and
reader. Lois Lowry says it even better, as she so
often does:

That is the work that childrens writers do. And

when we do it well we are not only suggesting specific solutions to aspects of the human dilemma
but also modeling the cycle of questioning, finding, and finally returning to sharethat is the
essence of the spiritual quest.

In essence, what we do as writers is what we

can for other people. . . . We give them what
gifts we can, and then we say youre on your


1. Stephen Roxburgh, telephone interview, 13 September 2002.
2. Ibid.
3. Katherine Paterson, personal interview, 8 August
4. Lois Lowry, telephone interview, 14 August 1998.

Real Life, Who Needs It?

Real World Influences on
the Writing of Young Adult Fiction
Randall Wright

O! that the Desert were my dwelling place,

With one fair Spirit for my minister,
That I might all forget the human race,
And, hating no one, love but only her!
George Gordon, Lord ByronChilde Harold
(Canto IV, St. 177)

f a place can be said to be alive, to have character

and awareness, a volition and will of its own, that
place is the saguaro haunted wilderness of southern
Arizona. Known as The Great Sonoran Desert, it is
a place where the heat siphons away both moisture
and motivation and leaves its inhabitants burned
brittle. Thorny plants and animals reflect the hard
nature of life in this desert. It is a forbidding place
that brands those born to it with a keen affection as
powerful as any love, a mark that remains on the
soul despite time and distance.
In A Hundred Days from Home, my novel of the
desert, I have tried to fill the hole in my life where
that desert used to be. This novel is a story of loss,
prejudice, friendship, healing, and magicall themes
born out of my experiences as a boy growing up in
a place that left an indelible imprint on my psyche.
Though by no means autobiographical, still, it is
an account of myself. Through its words, details of
my own reality may be uncovered.
A Hundred Days tells the story of Elam, a boy
transplanted from the mountains that he loves to
a small mining town deep in the desert. Already
struggling with the loss of his best friend, Brett, to
drowning a year earlier, Elam, ironically, finds himself in a place where the only rivers are dry arroyos
filled with sand and shimmering heat. His first

experience in this strange landscape leaves him

wondering whether he can cope with life in his
new home.
After Brett died, Elam discovered that he
liked being alone in the mountains, hiking
through the ponderosa pines, exploring the
crags and canyons and grassy meadows. It
made him feel big as the treeslike he was
part of the mountains themselves. When he
was alone like that, he could feel as if Brett
were still with him.
But today, when he stepped across the
back road toward the desert canyon, he shrank
inside. He felt out of place among the strange
noises that buzzed and snapped through the
dry air.
He carefully made his way down the near
slope. Bizarre plants and shrubs scattered the
hillside: emerald-skinned trees with miniature
leaves and thorny branches; dark green bushes
that gave off a pungent aroma that reminded
Elam of freshly oiled railroad ties; cacti of
assorted shapes and sizes from tiny pin cushions to giant armed sentinels. He peered intently
into the shadows beneath the strange plants,
wondering what kind of life they might harbor.
From the corner of his eye he thought he
caught a movement, but when he turned to
look there was no sign that anything on the
hillside had ever changed.
Is someone there?
He frowned at the harsh sound of his own
voicean intrusion that was quickly swallowed
by the blistering air. (1819)

AML Annual 2004

The desert of my memory is a place of solitude,

but a solitude in which it is impossible to be alone.
There is a feeling of expectancy, of watchfulness,
almost of ill-will in the dry heat that rattles against
the skin and hums in the ears. This apparent malice, however, is simply a misunderstanding of a
nature that is not accustomed to human intrusion.
Elam, too, finds the desert more alive than
he would have imagined possible. At first, the
scraggled mesquite, spindly ocotillo, and bristling
chollo cactus seem to be haunted by the departed
spirits of Indians and Conquistadors, farmers and
ranchersall those who wore themselves out trying to eke a life from that inhospitable wasteland.
To Elam even the animals appear to lament those
Elam awoke in the dark to mournful wailings. A yipping and howling filled the early air
with phantom harmonies that sounded as if
they were right outside his window.
He pulled a blanket over his head, but the
muffled voices turned eerier still. His breathing
felt thin and unnatural under the covers, so he
climbed out of bed and hurried toward the glow
of light from the kitchen. There he found his
father hunched over a cup of steaming coffee.
What gets you out of bed so early? Daddy
Whats that noise?
Coyotes. Must be chasing around down
in the back canyon. Kind of spooky sounding,
aint they?
Elam nodded and sat across from his father.
I thought they might be ghosts, he said.
Theyre that, too. Theyll keen up a storm,
but you'll never see em. (2627)

These coyotes echo a loss that Elam feels but

has been unable to express. He yearns to answer
their cries, but he doesnt quite know how. He
finds in his exploration of the desert, however, that
there is always something just at the edge of discovery that hints of healing, but when he turns to
look, it is gone.
One of my earliest memories, one that I find
impossible to fix in time, is of a canyon somewhere

in the desert outside our small mining community

where rocks and boulders piled upon each other to
form enchanted castles and grand palaces. It is one
of those disjointed recollections that surface from
time to time out of the fog of infancy. Though the
event must have occurred long before I was allowed
to explore the desert on my own, I clearly recall the
feeling of wonder at such a magical scene. Many
times in later years I searched for that place of
memory but in vain. It is lost to me, as if it never
existed, but like all real loss, the associated emotion
Though Elams cause for mourning (fictional
though it is) is more real than my half-remembered
dreamscape, it, too, is tied up with a loss of place.
Because his father believes the change will do him
good, Elam has to leave the mountains to which he
was born and bred. It is a difficult parting for him.
May was ending, and the Little Colorado
River was swollen with the melt when Elam
hiked Mount Baldy for the last time. He stood
at the summit and surveyed the places he knew
by heart, pointing to each with the fishing pole
he carried: Big Lake, Flag Hollow, Pine Top, the
Fair Grounds, the Trading Post, the Sloughs.
He turned in a circle from north back to north,
reaching out with the pole as if to touch each
familiar site and fix it in his mind.
Once his circuit of farewells was complete,
he hiked back down and hid the fishing pole
behind a ponderosa pine alongside the creek
in a place where only he could find it. After a
moments hesitation, he looked full on at the
rushing water. It had been a year since he had
been able to face the stream like that, especially
here, at this spot. He knew he couldnt blame
the river, but still it was a reminder.
He pulled a handful of leaves from a flowering sumac and threw them spiraling into the
On his way home, he stopped at Flag Hollow. Purple gladiolas and blue bearded irises
crowded the wrought-iron fence, pushing up
through a riot of new spring growth. He ran
his hand across the familiar headstone and
traced out the carving: Brett McClellan, born
January 13, 1949; died May 12, 1960.

Real World Influences on the Writing of Young Adult Fiction

He lingered for another moment, then

meandered back home, arriving just in time to
tell it goodbye, too. (78)

Though Elam would prefer to remain in his

beloved home, there is no remedy to his fathers will.
His attachments to place cannot resist the authority of parenthood.
Elams father is a man of obdurate wisdoma
believer in solutions. He is a man who trusts that
action and change are the answers to Elams selfimposed solitude and grief. He believes that easy
acquaintance can make up for a lost friendship of
the heart. He is a composite of all the fathers who,
with their families, shared the long row of company houses in which we lived. These were men
who chose familial distance, with only occasional
forays into corrective direction, as the prime psychology of child-rearing. Elams father is a master
of this philosophy.
After dinner Elam sat on his bed in the
dusky half-light of his room, staring at the tattered photographa school picture of a skinny,
towheaded boy, grinning so his eyes sparkled.
Elam ran a finger over the pictures dog-eared
corners. Except for Elams brown hair, Momma
had said they could have been twins. Elam had
always wished they were.
He flipped the photo over and back, over
and back, turning it in his hands so that the
face and the faded blue ink of the inscription
blurred in his eyes. He knew the inscription by
heart: To my friend Elam, from your friend Brett.
A sudden knock on his door made him
clamp the picture tight between his palms.
The door squeaked open and Daddy poked
his head into the shadowed room. Need some
light? He flipped on the switch without waiting for an answer.
Elam squinted at the sudden brilliance.
Daddy stepped through the open door.
How are you liking it here? he asked.
Elam shrugged.
You ought to get out and make some
Elam shrugged again. There was too much
to do today, he said.

Well, tomorrow then. Daddy eased back

out the door, shutting it behind him.
Elam unclasped the photograph.
I dont like it here at all, he whispered to
the picture. (1617)

Such were the styles of most fatherly encounters in my life. Perhaps it is the desert that allows
for a limited success with this kind of paternal tradition. There is no duality of purpose in the searing sun, no difficult questions of right or wrong in
the gray expanse of sand and mesquite. Decisions
of nature are marked by a single-minded scrabbling for existence. This enforced morality makes
for a certain kind of freedom that is well suited
to childhood. Human nature, however, manages to
introduce more sophisticated concepts into this
austere world. Because of this, I grew up in a town
divided. Though the desert compelled people of all
races to band together to establish a living in this
place, no sooner were the homes built, than lines
were drawn. Mexicans lived on the north side of
town in San Pedro, while the rest of us were free to
settle anywhere we chose. The pressure to remain
separate came from every hand: friends, parents,
even the schools. Though institutional segregation
had already been abolished, Mexican students were
constantly chided on their differences, particularly
in terms of language and pronunciation. Afterschool friendships between Mexicans and whites
were considered unconscionable. I grew up with
these prejudices lodged within me.
The attachments to the place, however, were
buried much deeper, which now allow me to look
back on those prohibited associations with regret.
Through Elam, I have made a friend, Refgio, who
represents every dark-skinned boy I wished I had been
friends with, but wasnt because of societal pressures.
Refgio has come to be one of my best amigos.
What do the coyotes find to eat around
here? Elam asked. He and Refgio sat in the
shade of the cottonwood at the edge of Elams
backyard. The morning had faded into noon,
and the blazing sun stood high overhead.
Refgio pulled at a bull-headed thorn, yanking it out of the ground, root and all. Everything, he said. Mostly rabbits, I guess. But

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my grandfather says theyll eat whatever they

can catch. Birds. Snakes. Lizards. But not horny
How come not horny toads?
They squirt blood out of their eyes.
Naw! Elam dismissed the ridiculous
notion with a shake of his head. They dont.
How could they do that?
They do. Refgio pulled up another thorn
plant. And the coyotes dont like it. It makes
them sick.
How do you know?
My grandfather told me.
Elam still felt skeptical. Does he know
Hes old. He knows a lot. He knows that
the coyotes howl because they don't like the
night to be empty. He knows how to find water
in the desert and how to catch rattlesnakes
with his bare hands. Refgio sat up straighter.
His eyes sparkled as he talked of his grandfather. He knows how to live where there is
no living.
Elam leaned back on his elbows to get a
better view of Refgios profile. My grandpa
was a cowboy, he offered. I was named after
Refgio laughed. Mine is part Indian.

In Refgio, Elam has accomplished his fathers

wish and made a new friend, but as is often the case
with fathers such as his, Elam misunderstood the
parameters of his fathers injunction.
I found a friend today, Elam said at the
dinner table.
A friend? Really? Daddys forehead
wrinkled up with a hopeful look.
Elam nodded.
Thats good, his father continued. Thats
real good.
His name is Refgio.
Refgio? What kind of name is that?
Hes Mexican.
What? A Mexican? I didnt mean for you
to . . . Daddys voice trailed off, and he shook

his head. After a moment he continued. Youve

gotta be smarter than that about choosing your
Elam felt confused. But . . . I thought
He could feel the pressure rising in his chest
again. He looked to his mother for help.
She gave him a reassuring nod. Hank,
she said. At least hes met someone he likes.
Isnt that what we wanted?
He just needs to be careful who he makes
friends with, thats all Im saying.
Elam shoved back from the table, gathered
up his plate and cup, and carried them to the
sink. Then he pushed through the front door,
wondering what it would take to make his
father happy.
As he sat on the porch, he heard the door
open behind him. It closed with a rattle.
His mother sat on the step beside him.
Tell me about your new friend, she said.
Elam stared at the orange sky that silhouetted the houses on the far ridge. I think hes
a lot like Brett, he finally offered, though he
couldnt explain why. (6162)

Just as the desert has had a powerful influence

on the writing of A Hundred Days from Home, so
have my personal relationships with friends and
family. When my father moved us eight miles to a
new town, his instructions were Be careful who
you make friends with. There were no explanations as to his meaning, but the words have stuck
with me through the years. Because of that, in the
relationship between Elam and Refgio, there
remains a touch of the segregation with which I
was raised. For a reason Elam doesnt discover until
later, he is never invited to visit Refgios home.
For now, however, their simple friendship is
enough for him. To Elam, Refgio represents the
healing power for which he has been searching.
Refgio is an embodiment of all the promises the
desert has hinted at. He symbolizes the magic of
life in the desert, and even with his fathers
attempts to separate the two, Elam is loath to give
up his newfound friend.

Real World Influences on the Writing of Young Adult Fiction

Elam watched Refgio disappear around a

bend. Suddenly he panicked, afraid that Refgio would somehow slip away. He raced after
him, keeping to the edges of the wash, scurrying along, trying to keep Refgio in sight, but
careful not to be seen himself.
The wash widened, fanning out into a flat
dotted with creosote and scrubby mesquite.
Still Refgio continued, and still Elam kept up
his pursuit. At last Refgio came to a dirt road
a rutted track that gouged its way through the
rocks and sand, leaving scraggly plants growing
up between the ruts.
Elam stole onto the path himself. The sun
had descended toward the hills at his back,
stretching his shadow out before him. He
feared it would catch up to the other boy and
give away his presence, but he didn't dare lag
any farther behind.
Finally the road climbed a slight rise. Elam
kept low and hurried upward, his breath coming in gasps. He stopped at the top.
The rutted path swung down across the
hillside, leading to a set of cultivated fields.
Watermelon vines sprawled over the nearer
field. Beyond that grew cotton. Past the fields
a row of tall, desert-bred cedar trees stood as a
break in the monotony. Through the trees
Elam caught a glimpse of a wide riverbed and
the glint of water between rocks.
A house trailer, missing wheels and axle,
sat flat on the dusty ground just before the
fields, its silver finish dulled with streaks of
rust. Tattered curtains hung in its windows,
and an absurd metal chimney pierced its roof.
Tumbleweeds had piled up against its side
almost to the windows.
Refgio disappeared around to the front of
the trailer.
Elam hurried down the sloping road, skipping over rocks and shabby plants. He slowed,
however, as he approached the trailer. A humming sound filled the air.
Back home in the mountains, he and Brett
had once come across a wild beehive just gone
to swarm. The two had found delight in the
sky turned dark with bees and the constant
buzzing drone. The humming Elam heard now
was similar, only deeper, richer.

He moved closer, listening. The sound

seemed to come from the trailer itself. He crept
to the near side and peeked around. At the
front a veranda fashioned from saguaro ribs
and ocotillo spears shaded the entrance to the
battered trailer. Trumpet vines with their orangered blossoms twined through the rough construction, covering the thorny supports with a
ceiling and walls of green.
Small, opalescent shapes flitted through
the greenery, darting from flower to flower
tiny birds with wings that beat so fast they were
Elam stepped into the veranda. A thrumming past his ear made him duck his head.
Hundreds of miniature birds hung in the air,
bobbing on hidden currents, disappearing then
reappearing, as if they had temporarily blinked
out and then back into existence. Elam stood
hypnotized by their flitting movements and the
droning hum. It was several moments before
the opening of the trailer door startled him
from his reverie.
Refgio stepped out and stopped in surprise.
Uh, hi, Elam said, suddenly uncomfortable.
Refgio stared at him. You followed me.

Elams very first excursion in the desert convinced him that the place is haunted by ghosts. In
reality he finds the desert itself is aliverife with
unexpected pleasures: the sapling of a ponderosa
pine, growing where none should be; a spring,
bubbling up from the hard-baked earth; a rattlesnake that gives its cast-off skin to bring Elam and
Refgio together. He finds a place of magic. But
even more than that, when Elams world is rocked
by a second death, it is the desert that offers itself
for healing.
As Elam stepped once more into the canyon,
sibilant whispers murmured on all sides, rising
up with waves of morning heat. Dry air crackled over his face. Refgio had already disappeared beyond the curve of the slope, but still
Elam did not feel alonethe desert itself surrounded him now, a living presence that pulled
at him, more insistent than ever. He eased downward, and it was like descending into a dream.

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Shimmers of warmth flowed along the

wash, forming an indistinct river. Elam waded
through its current. He could feel it tugging at
his legs. He passed on through, drawn again up
the gully to the pine tree. The green had spread
along each branch, and now the tree stood full
and vibrant against the gray backdrop. It was
not possible. Or it was a dream.
Or magic, Elam said aloud.
He ran his fingers over the surface of the
rock wall. Moisture began to trickle from above,
coating the wall with a crystal sheen. Yellow
mosses and lichens sprouted under his touch.
A rushing sound like a breeze among the
aspens swirled about him. He spun around.
Green shoots sprang up to carpet the floor of
the basin. A second pine sapling poked its way
through the new growth. And then another,
unfurling its tiny branches to reach out for the
warm sunlight.
Elam felt like laughing out loud.
Its not dead, he cried. Its all real!
He clambered back down the gully, excited.
The trickling water flowed after him, growing
into a tumbling stream, filling the air with
chattering conversation. At his passing, wildflowers blossomed on the bankssnowdrops
and columbine, paintbrushes, wild strawberry, and bright yellow sunflowers.
He breathed in the sweetness of the new
blossoms. He could feel the desert retreating
from the burgeoning advancegiving way to
the riot of impossible growth that followed
him down the hillside. Sumac and chokecherry;
towering ponderosa pines thick with longfingered needles and stubby cones; thistles and
ferns; moss and lichens and mushrooms the
size of cracker boxesall joined together to
obscure the raw scarcity of this place.
In an instant the last three months
sloughed away, and Elam was home. Breezes
moved through the trees in natural rhythms,
whispering, but with no will of their own. He
breathed in the smells of damp earth and pinescented air. He felt a power returning to him, a
swelling within as he swept through the undergrowth, trampling a path through the alpine

The exhilaration exhausted him. He sank

to the ground and was nearly swallowed by the
cushion of soft vegetation. Sunlight filtered
through the trees. He blinked his eyes closed
and lay motionless, basking in the comfort of
sifting breezes and dappled light.
He reached high over his head to stretch a
years worth of pain from his body.
Ouch! he cried
Something had pricked his arm.
He rolled to his stomach and hunted
through the clustered plants behind him. Carefully he pulled aside the ferns and creeping
vines and uncovered a helmet-shaped pincushiona miniature cactus that bristled from
beneath the choking greenery. A small, white
blossom adorned its crown, struggling in a
feeble attempt to spread its petals.
Elams heart began to break all over again.
Through blurred eyes, he tried to focus on the
tiny cactus. He brushed his fingers over the fishhook thorns. It would suffocate if he didnt do
something. He tugged at the other plants,
uprooting them, frantically pushing them back
to make room for the cactus. Finally free, its
flower stretched upward toward the sun.
Elam blinked against the tears. He unwound
a creeper from the thorns. You dont have to
do this, he said. Not for me. He pushed
himself to his feet. Please, you dont have to
do this.
The scene about him seemed to freeze
expectantly, as if unsure of his words. The
breeze died, the air became still.
Elam rubbed the scratch on his arm. The
tears streamed down his face. Ill be all right.
The tallest trees wavered, as if seen through
water. And then a sound, like a sigh of relief,
whooshed through the air. Elam felt a sudden
warmth on the back of his neck. The forest
began to evaporate in the blazing light, melting
into tattered shreds of greenery.
He shielded his eyes. But thank you, he
cried to whatever would hear. (13741)

A Hundred Days from Home, a novel of rattlesnakes, coyotes, and friendship is born of my own
veneration for a place I left more than thirty years

Real World Influences on the Writing of Young Adult Fiction

ago. Its words demonstrate its sources better than I

ever could.
In retrospect, the storys influences include a
belief that life stretches beyond our limited concepts of being, that real magic exists in the world,
and, as Elam discovered, that what we call reality
extends much further than our own imperfect vision.
My writing will always be informed by pieces
of this reality, shards of experience that are significant to no one but me. But from these pieces,
stories form that are larger and more meaningful
than any experience of my own ordinary life.


Defiling the Hands with a Holy Book:

The Future of Book of Mormon Scholarship
Mark Thomas

ortunately for all of us, Friday the Thirteenth

comes on a Wednesday this coming August. So
suppose that on the night before that numinous
day, a knock comes at your door. You open the
door to find an old man dressed in robes, with a
beard and a pointed hat. Sensing hidden danger and
defilement, you close the door half way and glance
in the bushes for possible accomplices. But instead,
you see in the strangers eye a look of scholarship,
mixed with romance and unknown adventure.
I am Raphael the Wizard, he says. I have come
to take you on your greatest adventure. He turns,
walks down the path, and calls back to you, Come
with me! A cluster of possible fates races through
your mind, should you choose to follow: perhaps
robbery and a quick death at the hands of hidden
assailants hiding in your yard, or a trek based on
the discovery of a faded map of the buried library
of ancient Alexandria, or finding the missing and
intimate portrait of your hearts true love, or best of
all, the sight of the breath of God in the cool air
coming from just around that corner.
Do you follow this professed wizard on his
unknown adventure? No, you do not! So you
timidly close the door, pick up the phone and call
the police. But by then, Raphael has vanished. No,
you do not follow this or any other wizard! . . .
unless . . . unless you are that rare breed of true
scholar, ready to meet and greet an unknown fate.
I have come here today on the improbable chance
that in this audience I may find someone with
a heart for high adventure ready to travel on the
path of future Book of Mormon scholarship. Why

Book of Mormon scholarship will be adventurous

will soon become apparent. But most of you will
rather choose a life of predictability and grinding
routine; near the end a long life, you will come to
see that your only romance has been what O. Henry
described as a pallid thing of a marriage or two,
a satin rosette kept in a safe deposit drawer, and a
life-long feud with a steam radiator.
But a few of you will hear the wizards call among
the Nephites. Your Nephite research mission, should
you choose to accept it, begins in Palestine in the
first century.
According to the Talmud, a first-century woman,
apparently concerned with the obvious sensual
nature of the Song of Solomon, approached a rabbi;
she asked the rabbi if this book was scripture. The
rabbi replied by saying that the Song of Solomon is
scripture because it defiles the hands. Certain
ancient rabbis taught that all sacred writings defile
the hands.1
This rabbinic response contains the best definition of written scripture that I knowscripture is
a book that defiles the hands with sacred power.
But it is a rather startling notionthat something
holy should contaminate or defile. But that is where
our Book of Mormon adventure beginsby hefting the text. Doctrine and Covenants 68 gives us a
parallel definition of oral scripturewhatever one
speaks when moved by the Holy Ghost is scripture.
So the essential experience associated with scripture is holiness. The concept of scripture assumes
an ontological dualism between holy and profane,
between ritually clean and ritually unclean, between

AML Annual 2004

good and evil. But the holy is ambiguous. The holy

must be handled cautiously, because it can defile
and kill, as the story of Uzzah steadying the ark
reminds us. The God of life and healing is the God
of death and wounding when stepping out of the
holy into the profane.2
Today I will predict how future scholarship on
the Book of Mormon will demonstrate three ways
by which the Book of Mormon defiles the hands.
These three areas of future research are the Book of
Mormon as oral tradition, Nephite religious symbolism, and what we might call the spiritual and
scholarly crossroads.
1. Holiness and
the Book of Mormon Oral Tradition
And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the
things which were taught among my people;
neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking: for when a man speaketh by the power of
the Holy Ghost, the power of the Holy Ghost
carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of
men. (2 Ne. 33:1)3
And I said unto [the Lord], Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our
weakness in writing: for Lord, thou hast made
us mighty in word by faith, whereunto thou
hast not made us mighty in writing: . . . Thou
hast also made our words powerful and great,
even that we cannot write them; wherefore,
when we write, we behold our weakness, and
stumble because of the placing of our words;
and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our
words . . . (Ether 12:23, 25, emphasis added)

Here Nephi and Moroni indicate that the Book

of Mormon is based on a strong oral tradition and
a frail written tradition. Nephi states that, unlike
the written word of God, the oral word is carried
by the Holy Ghost to the listener, giving inspired
sermons a special spiritual power of holiness.4 This
belief in the power of the vocal word is typical of
oral traditions; according to Walter J. Ong, oral
people commonly, and probably universally, consider words to have great power.5 Since both the
holy and oral communication are experiential,

orality is linked with the power of God in the Book

of Mormon. For the Book of Mormon, the written
word of God is a secondary, less powerful experience. For example, listen to Helaman 12 as the
narrator dramatically describes the evil inclinations
of the natural man in what I call The Great Nothingness Speech:

O how foolish!
and how vain!
and how evil!
and devilish!

5 and how quick to do iniquity

6 and how s-l-o-w to do good
7 are the children of men.
8a Yea, how quick to hearken unto the words
of the evil one
8b and to set their hearts upon the vain
things of the world!
9 Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride
10a Yea how quick to boast,
10b and do all manner of that which is iniquity
11a And how s-l-o-w are they to remember
the Lord their God
11b and to give ear unto his counsels
12 Yea, how s-l-o-w to walk in wisdoms paths! . . .
[And here comes the paradoxical conclusion:]
13 O how Great is the Nothingness of the
children of men
14 Yea, even they are less than the dust of
the earth. (Hel. 12:45, 7, emphasis and line
organization added)

The emotional intensity and contrasts of this

section are best reflected in the evanescent music of
the voice playing to the ear. The eye and the written page cannot capture them. Moroni was right:
Thou hast made our words powerful and great,
even that we cannot write them. What is lost in
turning oral words to writing is more than the ear
and the voice. Orality digs deep into a different
part of the brain than does writing and therefore
organizes thought and literature in fundamentally
different ways. We who are primarily literate in
our expression and reading do not appreciate the
structure, organizing principles, or psychic depths

Defiling the Hands with a Holy Book: The Future of Book of Mormon Scholarship

of oral texts. We read them analytically, as if they

were sloppy written texts.
Oral texts require a different mentality in the
both the speaker and the audience. For example,
speakers in oral traditions generally do not memorize texts verbatim. They rather tend to utilize traditional stock phrases and formulas that are stitched
together as a mosaic. Speakers in oral traditions
organize thought around the memorable: mnemonics
devices, balanced patterns (such as chiasmus), repetition, antithesis, alliteration, assonance, standard
thematic settings, inherited proverbs, stock characters, formulaic plots, the repetition of three in narratives (all common in the Book of Mormon), and
redundant returns. These mneumonic devices, at
their best, also provide artful presentation.6
In speaking Helaman 12 out loud, we add a
dimension not evident in the written text. The
Book of Mormon is a Malcom X, not a Dostoevsky. It is a quick, violent, and vulnerable sketch
in pencil, rather than a carefully crafted oil.
The wind blows where it will in the emotion of
the spoken work and is gone forever. But a faint
whisper of a holy voice remains in the written
word, enough of an echo to defile the hands when
we heft the text. Should you choose to follow
Raphael, you are likely to be given a new map
locating hidden oral Nephite treasures. Following
this map, you are likely to dig up a new Nephite
logic and rhetoric of defilement.
2. Holiness and
Book of Mormon Symbolism
We can also sense a defiling of the hands in the
symbolism of the Book of Mormon, the second
inn on the adventure of future Book of Mormon
scholars. The Book of Mormon itself, as revelation,
is symbolic.
All revelation is symbolic; it points beyond
itself to something elseto some aspect of the
holy. The adequacy of revelation can therefore be
judged only as true or false on symbolic terms, not
on historical or empirical terms. And the adequacy
of religious symbolism can be judged only by its
ability to express the human condition in light of

the holy. Symbols thereby liberate the historically

trapped text. Bruce Jorgensen has already demonstrated that in his classic work on Lehis dream. But
we have done very little since his article first
appeared, years ago. The road ahead will see many
symbolic inns before we reach our home.
There are several types of symbols in the Book
of Mormon. The first is a two-tiered narrative symbolism. After hearing Lehis dream and Nephis
visions, Laman and Lemuel ask Nephi if that
dream is literal history or symbolism. Nephi tells
them that it is both literal and symbolic. In other
words, Lehis dream was understood by the book
itself as literal history in allegorical form and
simultaneously a symbolic, spiritual map featuring
the love of God, spiritual blindness, and so forth.
This duel level of interpretation is confirmed by
the interpreting angel that appears to Nephi.7 The
Book of Mormon also indicates that it understands
some of its narratives and the prophecies of Isaiah
on both a literal and a symbolic level. This twotiered view of narrative tells us that in this secular
world, every factual stone is an altar and every garden path leads to a tree of life.
A second feature of Book of Mormon symbolism and a third way in which it defiles the hands is
in its use of existential symbols. These existential
symbols are representations of the limits of human
existence. In other words, the Book of Mormon
portrays the universal human situation through
imagery. Death is a monster, powerlessness is captivity and chains, guilt is the stain of blood on a
garment, meaninglessness and ignorance are a state
of blindness or sleep. The Nephite gospel does not
come as pure stone tablets from heavenit comes
as the answer to the limits of human existence.
Let us look at examples of these existential
symbols in Alma 5, one of the most clever rhetorical speeches in the Book of Mormon. Here we
find the human condition of blindness and sleep
transformed into sight through spiritual rebirth:
a-Behold, he changed their hearts
a-Yea, he awakened them out of a deep
a-And they awoke unto God

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a-Behold, they were in the midst of

a-Nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word.
(Alma 5:7)
These are traditional phrases that express the
innate human condition as blindness, and the spiritual birth as a transition from blindness to sight.
In the next few verses, another set of existential
symbols combine the imagery of captivity and freedom in this same spiritual transformation. It includes
such phrases as breaking the bands of death, loosing the chains of hell, and singing redeeming
love. Alma 5 continues the symbolism by portraying human guilt as a stain of blood and filthiness on the garment, the hands, and the heart.
The symbolism in Alma 5 portrays the stain of
blood cleansed by washing in more blood, the
transition from blindness to sight, and the release
from chains. These symbols are not only existential, but psychological depth symbols as wellthey
evoke the psychological depths of the sources of
evil as contamination, blindness, and captivity. A
holy book taps into these depth symbols, which act
as much as rituals as they do symbols. These symbols are rituals because they are bearers of the realities that they represent. They are both experiential
and transformational. Salvation is such a dramatic
event. So when I read a dramatic Nephite narrative
with an implied symbolic meaning of deliverance,
I am participating in the processes of my own
deliverance simply by reading. And when I read
the existential imagery, I am personally participating in the conquest of death, guilt, powerlessness,
and meaninglessness by evoking the defilement of
my own soul. Hence, we experience scripture as a
defilement of the hands.
These symbols act as primitive psychic voices
in our heads whispering to us what we already
sensethat we, all of us, are incomplete and contaminated. Neither these symbols nor the symbolic
phraseology of the Book of Mormon existential
images is unique. But as is typical with oral texts, it
weaves traditional existential symbols, biblical phrases,8
and traditional proverbs9 into new mosaic patterns.

3. The Crossroads of Holiness

and Scholarship
The imagery utilized by Isaiah 2 of the gathering in the top of the mountains is the imagery of a
crossroads. At this crossroads for all nations, swords
will be beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, and we will no longer need to learn the
symbolism of war anymore.
In sight of this approaching crossroads, a group
of scholars at Brigham Young University is organizing a Book of Mormon Round Tablea crossroads
of scholars from a variety of faiths and disciplines
to join in an interpretive analysis of the Book of
Mormon. We will see some first-rate scholars at
this event. The organizers include Steven Walker
from the BYU English Department and Kent
Brown the Director of Ancient Studies at BYU. We
have invited such diverse thinkers as Alan Tull (an
Episcopal priest with theological skills), Robert
Price (a New Testament scholar and the editor of
the Journal of Higher Criticism), and Wayne Booth
of the University of Chicagoto participate. And
you are all invited. This is the grand adventure.
This Round Table will meet annually to discuss
papers on a particular genre in the Book of Mormon.
The first meeting may be as early as 12 August
2003. We will come in a spirit of cooperation to
wrestle with this text. After five years, these gatherings will become the basis for an introductory book
on the Book of Mormon, entitled The Critical
Introduction to the Book of Mormon. We hope
that this book serves as the premier and standard
introductory text for both Mormons and nonMormons. This book will briefly summarize the
evidence for and against the historicity of the Book
of Mormon and then spend the remainder of the
book interpreting the Book of Mormon itself. We
intend to make this an exciting, even-handed introduction that could be used in a BYU Book of Mormon class or at a Duke literature class. This is the
crossroads that we wish to replace the battlements.
Most current research on the Book of Mormon
is not about the Book of Mormon at all. Its about
religious authority. We pretty much ignore the
Book of Mormon itself. But in this Round Table,

Defiling the Hands with a Holy Book: The Future of Book of Mormon Scholarship

the current ad hominen attacks between Mormons

and non-Mormons will change to serious and honest examination of the text. Come, let us reason
together at the crossroads of open dialogue. This is
the crossroads that will produce critical and higher
quality research. By our entering into honest and
open dialogue, the Mormon arguments will become
stronger because we will have a chance to try them
in the marketplace of ideas.
In 2 Nephi 29, we read of the gathering of
Israel and with that gathering will come the gathering of holy books from all nations. Scripture, then,
is the breath of God blowing at the crossroads in
the presence of gathered texts. With the coming
of Mormonism, the house of Gods lodging is
expanded, and by expanding the holy, it no longer
defiles but ritually cleanses and makes holyAsians,
Islanders, Africans, Notre Dame, Duke, BYU,
Stanfordpeople from all lands will bear books
that sanctify our hands.
Excuse me, I forgot to introduce myself. My
name is Raphael the Wizard. I have come to invite
you to our greatest adventure. Come with me!
1. Jacob Milgrim, The Anchor Bible; Leviticus 116

(New York: Doubleday, 1991), 10004; John P. Meier,

A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 3
(New York: Doubleday, 1991), 1068.
2. In Leviticus 10, God tells Aaron to put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean
and clean (Lev. 10:10). The way a society separates
clean from unclean, holy from profane is a reflection of
its value system. Weeds are flowers in the wrong place.
Dirtiness is soil in the wrong place. Pornography is sex
in the wrong place. Canonization is one way of setting
the societys boundary between the holy and the profane.
3. Unless otherwise noted, versification of the Book
of Mormon in this paper is from the current Utah edition, and the text is from the 1830 first edition.
4. Sermons throughout history maintain a tradition that something is lost when it is written down. See
Bruce Rosenberg, The Art of the American Folk Preacher
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1970).
5. Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy (New York:
Routledge, 1982), 32.

6. An example of artfulness can be found in the

brass plates story, which utilizes the typical oral use of
the repetition of three as narrative structure. The brass
plate story is filled with events that occur in threes. In
this story, the spirit speaks three times to Nephi, followed by three responses from Nephi. Sarai asks three
times for the return of her sons. The sons return
three times to Jerusalem.
The dramatic irony in the story occurs in the three
visits of Nephi to Laban to get the brass plates. This and
the preceding stories echo the biblical Exodus: they are
on a journey to the promised land with a prophetic
leader and murmuring followers. After two failed
attempts at getting the plates from Laban, Nephi compares their third attempt to Moses defeating the army of
the Egyptians at the Red Sea (1 Ne. 3). The first two
visits increase the dramatic confrontation. So the readers expectations are set in the expected third visit to see
an escalation of power from Godakin to killing the
first born or death of the Egyptians in the Red Seato
follow the explicit Exodus pattern. But the climax in
the third and final visit contains a surprise: rather than
with an escalation of power, Laban is defeated with
Unlike in the previous visits to Laban, Nephi not
only does not bring added powers or gifts to complete
the escalation of power, he goes into the city with no
plans at all. Nephi enters the city without a request,
with no gifts, with no defense, with no weapons, even
with no idea of what he will do. At the climax of power,
he ironically, unexpectedly defeats Laban with nothing,
thus emphasizing the theme of weak overcoming the
strong through faith rather than power. (More in line
with Jael, David, and Judith in the Bible, than with the
Nephi finds the drunken Laban, passed out on the
ground. God commands him to kill Laban, with Labans
own sword. Nothing conquers the mighty Laban. The
irony is double, because it is Labans own sword that
kills him; the wicked are killed by their own powerful
weapons. This surprise in the story of three adds emphasis to the point that God is the delivererGod can conquer the strongest foe with nothingness and turn power
against itself. So here the repletion of three brings the
point home with the unexpected dramatic irony making the theological point. For other examples of repetition of three as an organizing principle, see Mark Thomas,
Digging in Cumorah: Reclaiming Book of Mormon Narratives (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999).

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7. See 1 Nephi 15:3132 for Nephis response to

his brothers. For an exegesis of this passage and the twotiered understanding of narratives in the Book of Mormon, see Thomas, Digging in Cumorah, 79, 99118.
8. A few samples of biblical phrases used in Alma 5:
The Son of the Only Begotten of the Father,
full of grace and mercy and truth. (Alma 5:48//
John 1:1418)
The Son of Man cometh in his glory. (Alma
5:50//Matt. 25:31)
Behold the ax is laid at the root of the tree
(Alma 5:52//Matt. 3:10)
For the name of the righteous will be written in
the book of life and unto them will I grant an
inheritance at my right hand.(Alma 5:58//Rev.
13:8, Matt. 25:33)
9. An example of one of the proverbs used in the
Book of Mormon of differing occasions which suggests
a previous verbal and theological tradition that Alma is
drawing upon:
Whatsoever is good cometh of God
And whatsoever is evil cometh of the devil.
(Alma 5:40)


There is nothing that is good save it comes

from the Lord
And that which is evil cometh of the devil.
(Omni 1:25)
Whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good
is of me [the Lord]
For good cometh of none save it be of me.
(Ether 4:12)
A bitter fountain cannot bring forth good
Neither can a bitter fountain bring forth good
water . . .
All things which are good cometh of God
And that which is evil cometh of the devil.
(Moro. 7:1112)
All things which are good cometh of Christ
Otherwise men are fallen,
And there could no good thing come unto
them. (Moro. 7:24)
Also see 3 Ne. 14:1520//Matt. 7:1520.

Cities of Refuge
Harlow S. Clark

We must always be aware of the possibilities of

radically different responses from the ones we
have experienced, and not judge either the
intelligence or the morals of those who experience those different responses, but simply
accept them as facts.
Jonathan Langford, AML-List, 24 September 1999 Re: Repudiating the darkness. . . .

man whose child my wife watches told us

one day there would be a story about his tiny
hometown on TV that night, ABCs Nightline. A
woman in his hometown had been convicted of
murder because her boyfriend killed her daughter
while the woman was asleep. Tabitha Pollock was
prosecuted under the theory that parents have the
responsibility for their childrens safety, and she
should have known. She eventually heard about
the Center for Wrongful Conviction and enlisted
their help. The conviction was overturned, ruled
unconstitutional on the grounds that a prosecutor
cant hold someone accountable for a crime she
didnt commit, even if the prosecutor thinks the
person should have known.1
A less dramatic story. Since reading Louis
Owens The Sharpest Sight, which includes a Hispanic ghost who keeps popping into his grandsons
patrol car for a visit and is working to help a murder victim through her grief at having been murdered, and a shaman who is trying to save his
grand-nephew from the spiritual destruction of
war in Vietnam that claimed his brother, I have felt
that Native American writing can act as a model
for LDS writers wanting to explore a culture that

believes people who work all day in mundane jobs

like auto mechanics, morticians, financiers, or school
teachers have the ability to lay their hands on other
people and call upon unseen healing power.
I told my brother the librarian about Owens
work a couple years back. In December I went to
his library and looked up Owens name, which led
me to Paula Gunn Allens anthology, The Song of
the Turtle: American Indian Literature, 19741994.
What do these two stories have to do with my
title? The first storys connection is apparent if you
think of the six cities Moses set up, three on either
side of the River Jordan, where an unintentional
manslayer could flee the vengeance of the slain persons relatives.
Tabitha Pollock and hundreds of others like
her should have had refuge from the laws vengeance. Listening to the Nightline story, hearing
the prosecutors justification for prosecuting Pollock, reinforces my sense that as a culture we rely
too heavily on punishment. I think the reliance on
punishment is true not only in how we approach
transgressions of the law but also in how we
approach art as well. In September 2002 AML-List
was discussing what to teach students about the
creative arts and Eric Samuelsen made a list which
included, Teach students that they are children of
a culture thats frankly pretty hostile to art and that
will hold them back if they let it.
All the responses assumed Eric was referring to
LDS culture, so I sent a post asking about that:
What fascinates me is that all the discussion
of Erics list assumes that the word culture

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refers to LDS culture. I thought it referred to

American culture. I can think of a lot of handicaps American culture imposes on a lot of
people, including a polarizing political rhetoric
that frames public and political debate in
simplistic divisive terms that dont reflect the
diversity of our students lives, but may well
affect the conditions under which they live.
I especially think that phrase a culture thats
frankly pretty hostile to art describes American culture. Think about this: Suppose there
was a huge defense contractor, Northcrock
Grubmoney, for example, that was involved in
a huge overcharging scandal. Would anyone in
Congress be making speeches about how we
ought to slash the budget for the National
Endowment for Arms because it was funding
immoral and corrupt companies?

The day after this posted I got a one word reply

from Eric, Bingo.
A culture thats frankly pretty hostile to art may
suggest a punitive attitude toward artists, but I suspect artists also rely too much on punishment,
caustic reviews, or invective against the poor taste
of the general public, or on dismissing genres like
science fiction, fantasy, romance, or thriller. Writers in all these genres post to AML-List and we
have had vigorous discussions about genre as a
marketing tool, or a concept of quality, or a matter
of readers tastes, or a convenience for classifying
works, but irrelevant to questions of whether a work
is worth reading.
Scott Parkin has been an insistent defender of
peoples right to tell their stories. Not all gifts are
given to all, and not everyone comes to understanding, peace, or acceptance by the same
method. There are more true stories to be told, by
more methods and metaphors than were seeing.
Eric Samuelsen has been similarly insistent on
the inherent goodness of all art. On 24 September
1999 in a thread about the moral effects of art
Eric wrote:
I believe absolutely that literature does
have and can have a moral and ethical impact
on those who read it (or see it performed, in

the case of my discipline.) But deciding exactly

how such an impact happens, or speculating
regarding the potential moral impact of any
particular work is simply impossible. We dont
know enough.

Commenting further on literatures impact, and on

trying to predict the impact, Eric says,
All literature is written to have a POSITIVE
moral impact on an audience. All of it; thats
my argument. I dont think anyone writes with
the intention that his/her readers will, as a result,
behave immorally (as the author defines morality). Which is why making any sort of negative
moral judgment about the work of art itself
automatically involves an inappropriate moral
judgment about its creator. Thats the dilemma
I face here, and I cant see my way out of it.

Let me deepen the dilemma a little. A potent

recurring theme in literary criticism since Plato,
and maybe before, is the danger inherent in art.
Plato tells us Socrates worried about the effects of
art on children and those with weak minds. That
concern recurs throughout literary history partly
because you cant prove that a work of art wont
damage someone, and if your relationship with a
work of art is to feel an overwhelming power, or
a power whelming you, its reasonable to assume
that other people might feel the same thing and
not be able to handle it.
In his essay On the Teaching of Modern Literature Lionel Trilling expresses this concern as it
occurs to a teacher devoted to modern literature
and its enormous power, which he compared to a
howitzer, but wary of aiming a howitzer at his students. Some people deal with the threat of censorship implicit in imaging art as an act of violence by
denying the power thereofbut thats unsatisfying
to people who know literary power.
Trilling is not suggesting the violence of art is
badhe sees the howitzer as aimed at bringing
down a corrupt societyand though he doesnt
mention Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Toms Cabin
was written in the modern period, and Lincolns
greeting to her, So this is the little lady who
started the Civil War,certainly suggests the power
of art to oppose or destroy corrupt culture.

Cities of Refuge

I suggested in one paper that the power Trilling

felt in modern literature comes from the Holy
Ghost and is part of Daniels stone rolling throughout the world destroying all kingdoms. However,
the image of art as violence has consequences; it
alienates artists from their culture, and if art is part
of a giant stone rolling throughout the world, how
do you know you wont be crushed?
I want to suggest a different image. The city of
refuge as an image implies that indeed the art or
artist has caused harm but allows us to create a
mental space where art and artist can flee our
wrath. But why should we allow an offending artist
to flee? Now let me pause here. Having written
that, I could hear Jen Wahlquists oft-repeated
instruction to her students not to end a paper with
a rhetorical question. Its good advice because some
smart aleck, often with the initials HSC, will
answer the question in a way that defies the rhetoric implicit in the question.
So I often find myself writing, This is not a
rhetorical question. Or perhaps I should say that
the assumption behind my wanting to answer the
question is that we ought to treat works of art
the same way we (should) treat each other. We provide mental refuges for each other very often. Especially in marriage. Ive said and done about every
stupid thing I could (short of covenant breaking),
but Donna still thinks Im good (or treats me as
though I were), So apparently she has carved out
some mental space where she can send all my idiocies without exiling me.
Ill come back to this idea of creating a mental
space to which we can send offending works of art
until the high priest who presides over the city of
refuge dies, but I want to also suggest that art itself
can be a refuge. The general tenor of much of Scott
Parkins AML-List comment could be paraphrased
as, If you dont find refuge in a story or poem or
painting or song, if it offends you or doesnt touch
you at all it may not be your city of refuge. But
there are people inside the walls who found refuge
in that city, perhaps could find it only there.
And yet another aspect of refuge. Trillings
metaphor suggests that art is outside our power to
resist. You can hide from a howitzer, maybe, but

how can you resist it? But for all its power art is not
a howitzer. I love the words I remember (or misremember) hearing from N. Scott Momaday at
BYU maybe twenty years ago, And as often as this
story was told it was always only one telling from
extinction. Art may have a profound effect on us,
but only if we allow it to affect us, only if we keep
telling the story. Because art is created for an audience, for someone else, if we refuse to tell ourselves
the story, that art is extinct for us. Thus the communal nature of art provides us a way to escape the
power, to avoid being overwhelmed.
And this is what my second story, about finding Paula Gunn Allens anthology The Song of the
Turtle, has to do with the image of cities of refuge.
In introducing each story Allen traces two main
tropes, liminality, or border crossing, or crossing
back and forth between cultures or worlds or spiritual states, and transformation.
I cross a lot of borders, into and out of the
city of refuge, and have sought to transform our
image of art from violence to refuge, so I much
appreciate Paris Andersons story Tough-Luck:
Sitting Bulls Friend, a fine piece of refuge and
transformation.2 He manages to capture Sitting
Bulls stature as a holy man and the tragedy of his
murder without telling it in a way that might overwhelm the children hes writing for.
He does this partly by choosing a naive point
of view character, Tough-Luck, Sitting Bulls horse
in Buffalo Bills Wild West Show.
Sometimes sad folks came to the show lugging
mire in their hearts and shadows in their eyes.
Tough-Luck liked to make tricks for them,
because after the tricks, after the sawdust and
gun smoke, after the thunder of cannons, bloodcurdling shrieks and war paint, folks went home
with rainbows in their hearts and sparkles in
their eyes. Tough-Luck saw this plainly, for the
eyes of four-legged people are not like the eyes
of two-legged people. (7)

This image of the sight of four-legged eyes carries

through the story, along with another image:
Hes smart, too. Watch. Buffalo Bill fired
his gun into the air.

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Tough-Luck began to prance around the

corral. He stood on his hind legs and danced.
He sat on his rump and waved one hoof in the
air, he bowed low then trotted back to the two
men. (10)

Later, knowing of his impending death and his

betrayal by his people, Sitting Bull asks Tough-Luck
to perform for him, fires his gun, and ToughLuck performs his trick. When the tribal police
come to arrest Sitting Bull and they shoot him,
Tough-Luck hears the signal and performs his trick
again. (Anderson says in a historical note that the
horses action was well documented.)
This could be an overwhelmingly tragic moment.
Sitting Bull receives two or three warnings that hes
going to be killed, and when an author structures a
story that way its got to end with either rescue
or deaththe warning cant be bogus. If it ends in
death the story is tragic. But Andersons choice of
narrator allows this story to offer a refuge from the
Ho, ho, ho! Thank you, Tough Luck, he
heard the wind whisper. You are my friend.
A rainbow drifted toward the sky.
Tough-Luck saw and heard this plainly, for
the eyes and ears of four-legged people are not
like those of two-legged people. (32)

To return to the question I asked earlier, Why

would we want to create a mental city of refuge for
offending artists? Ivan Wolfe, writing on AMLList 7 March 2000, countered the general sense
of posts by Scott Bronson, Eric Samuelsen, and
D. Michael Martindale that art is an inherently
righteous endeavor with this comment:
Seemy problem with D. Michael Martindales
argument is that it is used to only allow art to
do good. Artists are suddenly only allowed
to take credit, but not blame. Unfortunately,
either artists should take the credit AND the
blame, or disavow all connection with their art
and take neither.

But surely good and evil are not symmetrical.

Evil is neither as powerful, rational, clear-headed
or virtuous as Good (evil only gets a capital letter

because it begins the sentence. Good has good capital anyplace). Good has virtue, vertu, the word
Chaucer used to describe life force, ability to bring
forth, strength, power. Evil has that power only by
attaching itself to something good, so of course
some people use good things for evil.
We dont hold the Book of Mormon accountable because the Lafferty brothers used it to justify
murdering their sister in law and niece. When we
talk about scripture we recognize there is not a
symmetrical relationship between a work of art
and scripture is very much artand its effects. Its
not like a teeter-totter set to the middle rung,
where the evil balances out the good. We recognize
that scripture is meant to testify of the Savior and
bring people to Him, and we give more weight to
that effect than to the evil uses people make of
scripture for their own ends. Indeed we could give
evil the greatest leverage on the teeter-totter and
good would still have greater weight.
To recap, art can be a city of refuge both for
artist and viewer, partaker, and sharer; art can provide us a refuge from itself, and all art provides
refuge for someone because all art has some vertu if
only from the act of creating. All making defeats
the Unmaker.
As the allusion to Orson Scott Cards Alvin
Maker series suggests, I was going to extend this
paper to show more examples of art as refuge in
Mormon literature, but I got an e-mail in December 2002 that offended me and by the time I finished with it I realized my changing reactions
illustrated my thesis perfectly.
I get a lot of e-mail from a fellow my wife grew
up with, a good friend of her brothers. Its mostly
Internet fluff, much of it with a distinctly Evangelical Christian flavor, which surprises me a bit
because Evangelicals dont often consider LDS to
be fellow travelers, though I suspect the two groups
have more in common than they like to think.
This story came under the title If you were
in Gods shoes. Ill summarize the first part with
a note that it involves a mystery flu sweeping
the world, and despite European countries and the
U.S. sealing their borders it comes to the borders,
east and west and starts sweeping in toward the

Cities of Refuge

midwest. A search ensues for someone with untainted

blood from which a vaccine can be made. People
are asked to go to hospitals to be tested.
Suddenly a young man comes running out of
the hospital screaming. Hes yelling a name and
waving a clipboard.
What? He yells it again! And your son tugs on
your jacket and says, Daddy, thats me. Before
you know it, they have grabbed your boy. Wait a
minute. Hold on!
And they say, Its okay, his blood is clean. His
blood is pure. We want to make sure he doesnt
have the disease. We think he has got the right type.
Five tense minutes later, out come the doctors
and nurses, crying and hugging one another
some are even laughing. Its the first time you have
seen anybody laugh in a week, and an old doctor
walks up to you and says, Thank you, sir. Your
sons blood type is perfect. Its clean, it is pure, and
we can make the vaccine. As the word begins to
spread all across that parking lot full of folks,
people are screaming and praying and laughing
and crying.
But then the gray-haired doctor pulls you and
your wife aside and says, May we see you for
moment? We didnt realize that the donor would
be a minor and we need . . . we need you to sign a
consent form.
You begin to sign and then you see that the
number of pints of blood to be taken is empty. Hhow many pints?
And that is when the old doctors smile fades
and he says, We had no idea it would be a little
child. We werent prepared. We need it all. But
but . . . You dont understand. We are talking
about the world here. Please sign. We need it all!
But cant you give him a transfusion? If we had
clean blood we would. Can you sign? Would you
sign? In numb silence, you do.
Then they say, Would you like to have a
moment with him before we begin?
Can you walk back? Can you walk back to that
room where he sits on a table saying, Daddy?
Mommy? Whats going on? Can you take his
hands and say, Son, your mommy and I love you,
and we would never ever let anything happen to

you that didnt just have to be. Do you understand

And when that old doctor comes back in and
says, Im sorry, wevegot to get started. People
all over the world are dying.
Can you leave? Can you walk out while he is
saying, Dad? Mom? Dad? Why, why have you forsaken me?
At first this story offended me deeply, and for
the same reason the film The Green Mile did. I recognize that both are supposed to be parables, but
for a parable to be effective it must first be a believable story.3
Perhaps the jailers total lack of attempt to help
Coffey is supposed to mirror the Apostles desertion of Jesus in Gethsemane, but they werent in
any position of power over him. It seems to me
that Stephen King just couldnt resist the irony of
the Ancient Mariner ending, of JC giving the narrator the gift of semi-eternal life as a punishment
for his cowardice. But the christology of the ending
is so blatant it feels forced, or like its trying to
force me to think a certain way about the Atonement. The science is completely wrong. You dont
make a vaccine out of untainted blood. You make
it out of a weakened or dead form of the virus. And
even if you could make vaccine out of blood, does
the author really expect me to believe that one persons blood could create enough vaccine for the
whole world?
Well, yes, he or she does. Its obvious, so blatant you dont have to reflect on it. The story has
no layers like the parables of Jesus, nothing to discover when youre thinking about it later. Because
the story exists only on the symbolic level, all details
are chosen to support the symbolic level. Theres
no need to say, Master, declare unto us this parable,
because its already clarified. You cant escape the
meaning, theres no refuge from it, as Jesus said
there was from his parables, that hearing they
might not hear and seeing they might not see.4
And I want that refuge, the freedom to ponder
and reflect and see meanings arise out of the story,
without being forced upon me.
And it offended me for the same reason as the
story about the bridge keeper whose son comes

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running across the tracks just before the train comes

in the opposite direction. Both are inviting us to
feel the emotions God might feel at sacrificing
his son, but both stories ignore Jesus Here am I
send me. In both the sons death is involuntary.5
But the offense was even more visceral,
reminding me immediately of a poem I have
wanted to write for more than thirty years, since
reading a magazine article perhaps in August 1971
as we traveled through Europe after my fathers
stint as a Fulbright professor at the University of
Oulu, Finland.
In searching Time and Newsweek for that year I
did not find the story but found two more to add
to it.
The armies of Tikka Khan do not trifle
when unbelievers declare a desh in East Pakistan.
The soldier parting this mans sarong with his
barrel may shoot
if he is uncircumcised.
Hide when the Khans soldiers come.
Noticing movement in this womans bed they fire
again and again.
Two children diea third wounded.
When the army trucks roll into a village they are
after blood.
And there is no hiding.
The commander rounds up young men to donate
blood for wounded soldiers,
straps them down.
One pint? Two?
He waves aside the niceties.
No need to measure.
When the bag is full just attach another.
The soldiers leave
when the blood stops flowing.

I have not titled this yet. The Vampire Speaks

of Blood Atonement, perhaps. But I would actually have to enter into the commanders mind,
speak in his voice, to justify the title. I would rather
enter the minds of the boys strapped onto the
That image of blood filling bag after bag, emptying body after body is so intense, so horrifying,
that I simply cant accept as anything but a war

crime the idea of draining all the blood out of a

living person, simply cant see it as something
a doctor would willingly do.
Or perhaps Im just trying to escape an uncomfortable story by enumerating the points where the
analogy breaks down. Lets see, if the son represents
Jesus and the father represents God, who does the
doctor represent? Surely the people who find
refuge in this story would insist the question is perverse: By definition there can be nothing greater
than God. But for me, seeking refuge from the
story, the idea is intriguing. I can imagine a man
and woman being called and anointed as god and
goddess and learning, or re-learning that this exaltation requires the most exquisite suffering.
For their son. I begin imagining the scene with
the words,
One thing more . . . , he said, letting his
words hang in the air.
And as I think about this scene I realize Ive
transformed this story I find no refuge in. It has
yielded me a poem, suggested a story, given me a
gift. So Ive taken refuge from the story, created
a refuge for it, and received a gift from it.6
So there it is, even this poorly wrought work of
art can bless me despite the coercive packaging,7
can give me refuge if I know how to find refuge.
And thinking about refuge I remember the
brilliant and witty young woman I dated in high
school, well read and eloquent, oldest of seven children, who told me that all the children in her family had been wild beasts until they learned how to
And one last thing. I opened my e-mail while
preparing this paper and read an AML-List note
from Justin Halverson replying to Richard Dutcher,
who believes the essence of the gospel can be captured in a work of art. Justin wonders what it
means to say a particular essence might inhere in a
work of art separate from the audience that shares
or challenges the artists vision. At the end of this
post, struggling to define the difference between
capturing the essence of the gospel and only desiring to capture it, he says, Heres a thought (but
not thought through): wouldnt a work of art that

Cities of Refuge

possessed such an essence in and of itself (that

shared the essential universality at the core of the
Atonement) be equal in power to the Atonementa sort of philosophers stone, a holy grail?
Yes, thats the point, yes. All art wants to be
part of the Atonement, to lead us to the life-giving
waters of the river Jordan, to those six heavenly
cities of refuge.
ABC News, Primetime, 9 January 2003. Conviction
Overturned: Illinois Woman Exonerated in Daughters Death. Transcript at:
Allen, Paula Gunn, ed. The Song of the Turtle: American
Indian Literature, 19741994. New York : Ballantine Books, 1996.
Anderson, Paris. Tough Luck, Sitting Bulls Friend.
Orem, UT: Sharp Spear Press, 1999.
. On Growing Up Tough. Irreantum 3.2
(Summer 2001): 3843.
Card, Orson Scott. Seventh Son. New York: Tor, 1987.
Clark, Harlow S., Re: [AML] Religious Educator
Article on Creative Arts. AML-List, 1 October
Halverson, Justin, Re: [AML] Gospel in Art. AML-List,
12 February 2003.
King, Stephen, The Green Mile: The Complete Serial
Novel. New York: Pocket Books, 1999. Filmed by
Frank Darabont, CastleRock Entertainment, 1999.
. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. In Different Seasons, 15106. New York:
Penguin, 1982.
Parkin, Scott. Re: LDS Film and Its Critics Article.
AML-List, 8 November 2002. The thread was a
response to Keith Merrills online article Throwing Stones at Ourselves: LDS Film and Its Critics,
Meridian Magazine,
Samuelsen, Eric, Re: Repudiating the darkness. . . .
AML-List, 24 Sepember 1999.
Trilling, Lionel. On the Teaching of Modern Literature. In Beyond Culture: Essays on Literature and
Learning. New York, Viking Press, 1965.
Wolfe, Ivan Angus, Re: Artists Influence. AML-List,
7 March 2000.

1. In a tragic twist, our friends sister just finished
ten years in prison for a murder she didnt commit,
because she was present and stoned with her husband
when he shot her best friend in a bar, then killed the
waitress. He told her that when the police came to their
apartment to investigate he would be standing behind
the door with the gun pointed at her head and if she
said anything to them he would shoot her. So she was
prosecuted for obstruction of justice and providing a
gun to a felon, a gun she had bought to protect their
tattoo shop, not to give him.
2. Pariss AML-List posts are full of border crossing
and the search for refuge. He gives some idea of why in
his account of a violent head injury, On Growing Up
Tough, Irreantum 3.2 (Summer 2001): 3843.
3. The Green Mile offended me partly because the
Christ symbolism at the end was so obvious, but mostly
because I simply couldnt believe that after everything
John Coffey had done for the warden and the other jailers they would not even try to save his life. If nothing
else, they could have claimed that the prisoner the
sadistic guard shot in his madnessthe man who really
murdered the two girls Coffey is sentenced for murderingshot him because he was taunting the guard about
the botched execution and asking if he were going to
conveniently forget to put the wet sponge on John
Coffeys head, and wouldnt that be fun because I
killed those little girls, and a good old southern boy like
you sure must love the idea of putting a innocent nigguh to death.
The ploy wouldnt have to work for me to accept
The Green Mile as a parable. There just has to be some
attempt made to save his life. I suppose its part of the
thriller/false imprisonment genre. I found Stephen
Kings opening paragraphs compelling, but since the
book ends the same as the movie I decided not to read
it. I would probably find it as unsatisfying as I would
have found Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank
Redemption if King had ended it with the guards finding Andy Dufresne and shooting him down in a cornfield the morning after his escape.
4. Of course, searching for this quote I find I have
inverted Matthew 13:13: Therefore speak I unto them
in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing
they hear not, neither do they understand. A rather
sarcastic comment, but my inversion is true to our exegetical sense, that Jesus spake in parables as a way of giving
his hearers something to grasp upon later reflection.

AML Annual 2004

5. I sense, reading the story, that the authors think

this world theyve created where government has the
power to ask everyone to come to the hospital for a
blood test is a good world, and see no overtones of evil
in the doctors willingness to drain the boy dry of blood.
The culture he or she describes seems totalitarian, a
common type in sci-fi dystopias, but the piece shows no
awareness of the horror we should feel at a government
that has the power to pressure, yea compel, a man to
give up his sons life.
6. And yet I still hate the story. In rereading it while
revising this paper I have the same visceral reaction, the
same sense the author is manipulating me rather than
sharing a story with me.
7. In looking for this story on the Internet I found
several variants, including this addition to the ending:
And then next week, when they have the
ceremony to honor your son, and some folks
sleep through it, and some folks dont even
come because they go to the lake, and some


folks come with a pretentious smile and just

pretend to care.
Would you want to jump up and say, MY
Is that what GOD wants to say? MY SON
Father, seeing it from your eyes breaks our
hearts. Maybe now we can begin to comprehend the great Love you have for us.
The coercive packaging goes beyond the bludgeoning satire and shouting capitals. Like many e-mails I get
this one included an altar call at the end:
You can now spread the gospel . . . or delete it.
If you are not ashamed of God or what he has
done for you pass this on, PLEASE spread the
word. Someone on your address list might not
know God and this could change their life. So,
take a few moments to forward this.

Gathering in Nauvoo:
The Lofgren Family Remembers
Elizabeth Mangum

fter the establishment of The Church of Jesus

Christ of Latter-day Saints in April 1830, its
members were persecuted, driven from their homes,
and terrorized for their beliefs. Early members
gathered in Nauvoo, Illinois, to seek refuge from
their tormentors and to attempt again to pay homage to their Lord with the construction of a temple.
President Gordon B. Hinckley describes their obedience despite threatening circumstances: Denied
the protection of the law and left to the mercy
of the mob, they knew they would be forced to
abandon their homes, their farms, and their city.
Nonetheless, they determined to complete the
temple.1 Pioneers resolved to finish the temple
before being driven from their homes yet again,
and they sacrificed all of their earthly possessions
to do so. Having a temple would mean the chance
to make sacred covenants with the Lord; newly
revealed church ordinances, such as the receipt of
holy endowments and the sealing of a couple in an
eternal marriage, could be performed only within
the walls of a dedicated temple. These faithful
members did eventually finish the construction,
but even Brigham Young had left the city by the
time the Nauvoo Temple was completely dedicated
as a house of the Lord in 1846.2
Now part of a well-respected and widely recognized group, members of The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints enjoy relative safety and peace.
Temples around the world facilitate sacred ordinances for both the living and the dead. The lands
once settled and owned by pioneer members are
slowly coming back into the possession of the Church

as a tribute to their sacrifice and fortitude. Increasingly popular are the sites that once acted as Church
headquarters; places like Nauvoo see more and
more visitors every year. Expansion of the Church
gave leaders the opportunity to begin restoring the
abandoned homes and buildings of the small town
on the banks of the Mississippi River. The restoration process in Nauvoo officially began in 1962
under the direction of a privately owned corporation named Nauvoo Restoration, Inc.,3 headed by
Dr. LeRoy Kimball. Ralph and Ruby Jones, who
happen to be my great-grandparents, lived in Nauvoo for a year working with this group, fostering
goodwill and respect for Mormon activities and
starting the search for artifacts left behind in the
great migration of the 1840s and 1850s. Their
daughter, Donna Jones Lofgren, and her extended
family have made at least four trips to Nauvoo
since this restoration began. The first trek took
place in 1963, and the most recent trip in June 2002
culminated with the dedication of the now-restored
temple. Several key aspects combine to qualify these
trips as pilgrimages, such as traveling as a group to
holy places. Nauvoo is becoming a Mormon mecca
of sorts, and rightfully so.
With a functioning temple and restored pioneer homes, Nauvoo has many more visitors today
than just the Lofgren family. My research focused
on the motivation for these pilgrimages: are they
tributes to pioneer forebears or just fulfillment of
personal curiosity? What was so magical about a
town so small that it didnt even have a McDonalds
restaurant? Visitors flocked to the temple during

AML Annual 2004

the summer of 2002, booking every empty bed in

a one-hundred mile radius around the holy edifice.
A pilgrimage to Nauvoo almost became a status
symbol among families in the Salt Lake Valley. Commercial tours touted popular speakers and guaranteed accommodations. Even the campground in
Nauvoo spilled over with people who came to see
the temple in its restored glory. The attention of
thousands fixated on that one gleaming white
building on the hill: the Nauvoo Temple.
For the Lofgren family, the connections to the
Nauvoo Temple date back to the beginning. All
told, sixteen ancestors of the Lofgren family eventually migrated from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City,
Utah. The Winegar and Judd families lived and
worked in Nauvoo to create the city beautiful
out of a murky, mosquito-infested swamp. Alvin
Winegar carved one of the original oxen for the
baptismal font in the first Nauvoo Temple. Mary
Judd was present at the early meetings of Relief
Society and was actively involved in the sisters
Penny Fund, which bought glass for the temple
windows. Given the extensive family history in
Nauvoo, I assumed that would be the primary
motivation to return as a large family group. As the
conversations about the trip in June 2002 progressed, I found that it was just as much the personal history as it was the ancestral history that drew
the crowd of twenty-four Lofgrens to the almost
hidden town in Illinois. From eighty-year-old
David Lofgren to six-month-old Brooke Mangum,
they gathered in Nauvoo to share the family stories
and make a few new ones while they were at it.
When I interviewed the middle-aged Lofgrens,
almost no one talked at first about the pioneer
ancestors who were so pivotal in the construction
of the temple and city. Instead, they spoke of the
fun they had as children in Nauvoo when the town
was completely unrestored. Family members even
had a hard time coming up with stories from the
most recent vacation just months before, yet had
no trouble recounting stories from long ago. Dan
Lofgren spoke of wanting to show his kids the places
he played as a child.4 Voracious debates about exactly
which corner the five-and-dime store had been on
forty years agowhether it was now the bank or

the gift shopinterrupted stories during oral interviews. And did ten-year-old Diane really kill the
bunny when she sat on it so many years ago? Personal experiences drew them back to Nauvoo, as if
they could recapture those nights spent catching fireflies next to the mighty river. Even though several
noteworthy moments during the 2002 trip might
have been mentionedlike the shouting match with
the motel manager over the reservations made two
years priorno one focused on those stories when
first asked about Nauvoo. It was moments of childhood and innocence that came up again and again
as stories started out, Were you there when . . . ?5
The return to Nauvoo was in many ways a return
to youth and simpler times.
Nauvoo became a place of family bonding as
family members shared feelings and values. With
the captive audience, the family used this trip to
cement their own personal histories. Remembering
the stories gave the experiences value, and increasing the collective knowledge of those experiences
ensured that someone would remember what had
happened there. Stories like the supposed bunny
murder were told over and over and over, until even
the latest generation of ten-year-old cousins talked
about it as if it happened yesterday. The blue cheese
factory and, yes, even the fireflies came up in several conversations.6 David Lofgren told the story at
least twice on tape about working at the temple site
in the 1960s as a landscape architect: once in Nauvoo
standing outside the temple and then again during
a group interview last October.7 For him, the temple
triggers the importance of education; an unusual
connection, he nonetheless uses the temple to persuade children to stay in school and succeed academically. Simple stories turned into teaching
moments. The Lofgrens cemented the living generations together by passing on these oral histories.
It was these passed-on histories that gave the
family a sense of belonging in Nauvoo. Even my own
siblings, who went to Nauvoo for the first time in
1990, talked about when we were there before.8
I was surprised to hear that the reason my youngest
brother Jordan wanted to go was because it was
going back to some place weve been to many a
time,9 when in fact he had been there only once,

Gathering in Nauvoo: The Lofgren Family Remembers

and as a four-year-old at that. He felt drawn into

the heritage, and even though he didnt remember
most of it, he knew he was somehow a part of it.
Although the town pulled strongly on some, other
family members didnt feel quite the same need to
return. Denice Smith, the youngest child of David
and Donna Lofgren, chose not to take her family
of six on this trip, even though the Smiths had
been on group vacations with the Lofgren family
before. When asked why, she responded that she
just didnt feel the same connection to Nauvoo that
the other children had. She was only a toddler at
the time of the first trip and didnt remember any
of the significant moments that took place in
Nauvoo.10 Even though the sense of urgency to
return wasnt quite universal, the collective family
and church experience in Nauvoo was still enough
to motivate the orchestration of a ten-day pilgrimage for four generations of Lofgrens.
Just like pioneer families, children in the Lofgren family had little say in the cross-country journey. Some things never change. The adult Lofgrens
joked that they went in 1963 because Mom and
Dad threw them in the station wagon and started
driving.11 The children of those children were
equally pressured to be in attendance. Ben and
Doug Mangum, each newly married, fought to get
out of the familial obligation despite the bonus of
an all-expenses paid vacation. Ben Mangum and his
wife Dawn at first did not plan on attending; school
and work made the long vacation a near impossibility. In the end, it was a desire to please the family
and a small miracle in university scheduling that
got them there. Doug Mangum had no interest in
taking his wife and new baby back to Nauvoo,
since it meant spending endless days in the car, but
his wife Heather convinced him that they should
participate.12 Despite the struggles to get the family there, they feel it was all worth it. The traditions
of Nauvoo are already extending to future generations. Ben and Dawn Mangum now talk of when
we go back and reference taking their as-yet unborn
children,13 evidencing the value of the town and
temple, but more importantly, the journey.
One by one, the Lofgrens all remarked about
how similar Nauvoo was to what they had seen

before. With all the progress and technological

advances, life in Nauvoo has changed very little
over the past forty years.14 Physically returning to a
place that looked the same as it had in their youth
gave family members a chance to relive and remember that youth. Perhaps part of the power of Nauvoo
is its uncluttered structure: modern trappings have
yet to pervade the quiet town, allowing time for
thought and contemplation. Nauvoo is physically
distinct in its simplicity, giving a feeling of constancy. The unchanging town echoes the eternal
nature of families sealed in the temple that now
functions again.
While personal remembrance took precedence
in the memories, a strong undercurrent of family
history surfaced soon enough in both group and
personal interviews. First connections had to be
made among the living generations, but they soon
expanded to continue back through the family
line. These ideas are perhaps best summarized by
President Hinckley, who gave the following proclamation at the dedication of the temple: I am sure
there is a great unseen audience looking upon us,
those who passed to the other side and see in the
structure which we dedicate today a fulfillment of
their hopes, their dreams, and some compensation
for their tears and their indescribable sacrifices.15
Feelings of gratitude for what the Lofgren ancestors
accomplished swelled while we walked the streets
of Nauvoo. Walking west on Parley Street, looking
back towards the temple, brought silent meditation
and a few tears while we thought about how much
those ancestors suffered for their faith. Even Dawn
Moyes Mangum, who married into the Lofgren
family and was sure that she would have no personal connection to Nauvoo, found that she in fact
had ancestors who lived and worked there.16 Sharing
an experience with prior generations brings forth
deep feeling as one of the defining characteristics of
a pilgrimage; one historian notes that the experience of a pilgrim in actually walking in the way of
others enables them to become a participant in all
that has happened. The pilgrim becomes one with
all who have gone before.17 Passing the portals of
time, generations connect in Nauvoo. This magic
is what keeps the visitors coming back.

AML Annual 2004

The children on the trip sensed the importance

of the journey simply because it was so obviously
important to the family. Group identity in both
the family and the Church told them that Nauvoo
was a special place. Going through the temple was
the crowning moment of the 2002 trip for all
involved, even though some could not articulate
why. It was just special, Jennie Mangum kept
saying.18 As nineteen-year-old Spencer Mangum
said, I thought a lot about those who had gone
before me and the sacrifices they had made on my
behalf, but overall, I had the feeling that I could in
no way truly comprehend what went on there.19
A feeling of connection to these ancestors buzzed
through the town. Even those who did not have
direct ancestors in Nauvoo still sensed their pioneer
heritage as a member of the Churchwide family.
A sense of magical mysticism surrounded the
building and enveloped the town; a very real sense
of the presence of ancestors evidenced the importance of the temple dedication. The Lofgrens needed
to be there as a family group to best comprehend
that significance. The temple is about families being
together forever, and the Lofgrens learned that
family means more than just the people you eat
dinner with each night. Family means lots of generations; family means legacies and traditions; family means having faith that what you are doing today
will matter to someone else years down the road.
Admittedly, one motivation to go to Nauvoo
was sheer curiosity about the restored temple and
reverence for it. This journey was not just a personal pilgrimage: it was also a religious pilgrimage
to a holy place. The history of the Church tells us
how much the early Saints suffered in the city they
had hoped would finally be safe. They knew a
temple would give them eternal assurance and
peace, even if physical safety could not be guaranteed. Life in Nauvoo in the days of Joseph Smith
revolved around the temple, just as it still does
today. This sacred site rightfully draws attention as
a tribute to the sacrifice of those members and
their faithful obedience. Even though the Lofgrens
had traveled before as a large group to places like
Laguna Beach, California, and Yellowstone Park,
this trip was unique in that the destination was a

holy place. Several Lofgren family members noted

that this wasnt an ordinary trip.20 The children
who had not been endowed in the temple recognized
that temples are sacred and holy and felt privileged
to be allowed to enter. Since it was the temple that
drew them to the city, it was the temple that stands
out in their memories. Other sacred sites around
Nauvoo added to the feeling of reverence and admiration for early Church members. Visiting Carthage
Jail brought tears to more than a few Lofgren eyes.
Personally being in the place where the Prophet Joseph
was killed sobered even rowdy boys; the group at
last began to understand what the Church history
meant in terms of sacrifice. Like with many other
pilgrims, a holy destination helped them to reflect
on that which mediates holiness and so ultimately
on God himself.21 The town radiates with holiness, and a visitor is forever changed after having
been though Nauvoo.
Although the journey ended in mid-June, the
final culminating event was the dedication of
the temple on June 27, 2003. Unlike any other
temple dedication, a sense of pride and almost
possession characterizes the feelings of those who
were present at one of the dedicatory sessions.22
Their ancestors had built the first temple, and they
personally had been to the new one. They had
walked those halls and had seen the world from
inside the rose-colored windows. This temple was
visually and historically distinct, although functionally identical to every other operating temple
in the world. As Diane Lofgren Mangum noted,
It was important that it was visually unique, and
visually accurate to the original.23 Debra Lofgren
Nichols wondered why the tour guides had kept
apologizing for the bright colors and ornate designs,
when she thought it was perfect. She decided it was
exactly as it should be, as a fitting tribute to the
original builders.24 This temple is a monument to
the Prophet Joseph and those who believed his
words. This temple is for all the children who lost
their fathers to the mobs and for the families who
lost their homes. This temple is in honor of the
people who made our lives as members of the Church
possible. Diane specifically voiced the importance
of the historical accuracy:

Gathering in Nauvoo: The Lofgren Family Remembers

Its a wonderful tribute to the people who built

it the first time and had to walk away. They
dedicated it before, handed the key to a man,
walked away, and it was never used again from
that moment on. So to just build a museum
wasnt right. It needed to be built as a working
temple because that way it would stand for the
same things for which the original was built.
They had to stand for the same purpose.25

Church leaders used the finest materials known in

building the Nauvoo Temple. Even the lockers
made of walnut show the respect and honor the
Church gives to its martyred prophet and his faithful friends. A functioning temple in Nauvoo shows
that we as a Church will continue to rise above any
setbacks to perform the work of the Lord.
Approximately one hundred and fifty years
after the Mormons headed west and left their city
and temple behind, they are returning. An eastward migration of Mormons lasted for most of the
summer of 2002 as over three hundred thousand
people traveled to Nauvoo, Illinois, to see the
temple restored to its previous glory. The motives
may be different, but a shared sense of heritage and
group commitment makes the gathering monumental. Connections to personal experience and
group identityancestry and Church membership
specificallyhave made Nauvoo an important
gathering place again. For the Lofgren family, this
trip helped them to remember their family and
their God.
1. Gordon B. Hinckley, This Magnificant Structure, LDS Church News, June 29, 2002, as found on,1721,285001172,
2. Diane L. Mangum, Nauvoo for Kids: An Activity
History Book (Salt Lake City: Pinecone Publications,
2002), 71.
3. Richard O. Cowan, Temples to Dot the Earth
(Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 1997), 62.
4. Daniel Lofgren, interview by Elizabeth Mangum,
video recording, Salt Lake City, 20 October 2002.
5. Diane Mangum to Elizabeth Mangum, unpublished letter, 18 November 2002.

6. Diane Lofgren Mangum, Daniel Lofgren, and

Debra Nichols, interview by Elizabeth Mangum, video
recording, Salt Lake City, 20 October 2002.
7. David Lofgren, interview by Elizabeth Mangum,
video recording, Salt Lake City, 20 October 2002.
8. Ben Mangum and Dawn Moyes Mangum, interview by Elizabeth Mangum, video recording, Salt Lake
City, 26 October 2002.
9. Jordan Mangum, interview by Elizabeth Mangum,
video recording, Salt Lake City, 26 October 2002.
10. Denice Smith, interview by Elizabeth Mangum,
video recording, Salt Lake City, 20 October, 2002.
11. Diane Lofgren Mangum, Daniel Lofgren, and
Debra Nichols interview.
12. Heather Arrington Mangum, interview by
Elizabeth Mangum, video recording, Salt Lake City,
26 October 2002.
13. Ben Mangum and Dawn Moyes Mangum
14. Diane Lofgren Mangum, Daniel Lofgren, and
Debra Nichols interview.
15. Gerry Avant. Crowning Objective of Josephs
Life, LDS Church News, 29 June 2002, as found on
16. Dawn Moyes Mangum, interview by Elizabeth
Mangum, video recording, Salt Lake City, 26 October
17. Martin Robinson. Sacred Places, Pilgrim Paths:
An Anthology of Pilgrimage (London: HarperCollins,
1997), 116.
18. Jennie Mangum, interview by Elizabeth Mangum,
video recording, Salt Lake City, 26 October 2002.
19. Spencer Mangum to Elizabeth Mangum,
unpublished letter, 4 November 2002.
20. Diane Lofgren Mangum, Daniel Lofgren, and
Debra Nichols interview.
21. Robinson, Sacred Places, 32.
22. Diane Lofgren Mangum, Daniel Lofgren, and
Debra Nichols interview.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid.
25. Diane Mangum interview.


Sister Bean and Satans Power:

A Look at LDS Contemporary Legends
Ronda Walker

everal months ago Sister Bean (not her real

name) in my Utah LDS ward raised her hand in
response to a comment by the teacher. The instructor was talking about the struggles that children and
their parents sometimes have as their children are
being reared. This woman shared her opinions
about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints youth of today, their status in pre-earth life,
and the difficulties and temptations they encounter
in todays world because of their pre-earth life roles
or status. She then went on to validate this view by
sharing the following story:
Theres a lady in my mothers ward whose
friend has a son with Downs syndrome. These
parents often questioned why they had a son
who was disabled and why such a good boy
wasnt able to have a healthy mind and body.
This son turned sixteen and desperately wanted
to receive his patriarchal blessing. His parents
balked at the idea, but they soon relented and
the son went to the patriarchs house to receive
this blessing. The blessing was given and the
son returned home. A few days later a typed
copy of the blessing was received in the mail.
The son opened it and shared it with his parents. The blessing stated that this young man
had been a general in the army during the War
in Heaven. This boys efforts helped to thwart
Satans work and the War in Heaven was won
partly because of this boys involvement. Because
of this, Satan vowed to do everything in his
power to make this generals life on earth miserable and hard. Heavenly Father heard this and
didnt want this boy to be a victim of Satans

power. Heavenly Father decided to send this

boy down to earth with Downs syndrome
this way Satan would not be able to have any
control over him.

By the time Sister Bean was finished with her

story, my head was pounding, my hands sweating,
and it was all I could do to not laugh, cry, or leave
the room! I turned to my husband and told him
that I could not believe what I had just heard. Sister Bean was so sincere in her telling. She told her
story with fervor and an honest conviction of the
truthfulness of it. There was a moment of silence
after the telling of the story. I looked around in
disbelief as I saw several people wiping their eyes.
The teacher then thanked Sister Bean for sharing and continued on with his lesson. I left the
room and spent the remainder of the class time
pacing the halls.
Having heard Jan Brunvands presentations on
urban legends at the Fife Conference held in
Logan, Utah, in 2000, I was particularly sensitive
to the story told. Brunvands lecture, along with
several other resources, gave me some insight into
the telling and a bias toward the nature of the story.
Brunvand, in his lecture at the conference, said
urban legends are contemporary stories that are
spread orally, and they are usually told about some
issue pertinent to the culture in which they are
shared, and they are reflections of the concerns of
that culture. Legends such as the one above appeal
to the audiences and tellers emotions, are often
plausible but not possible, and they rely on continuous sharing in order to stay alive.

AML Annual 2004

Brunvand said urban and contemporary legends are told for a variety of reasons, one being to
reassure. Inspiring stories are often used to appeal
to the audiences and tellers emotions and put
order into an otherwise disorderly world or when a
life trial is questioned. The above story was used in
this particular context. One of the ways these legends reassure is by telling stories specific to a particular culture using words and phrases unique to
that group. Folklorist Elliott Oring says narratives
are performed in specific social contexts constituted by a specific group of people, a specific set
of principles governing their interrelationship, and
a specific and symbolic environment present at
the time of narration. He says the understanding
of a narrative is governed by understanding the
situation in which it is toldas in the world of
LDS parents.
Why was this story told? Sister Bean was
acknowledging the instructors message by sharing
an inspirational story of her own. In doing this she
was confirming the LDS belief, or the values of the
community, that God is aware of each of his childrens needs. She is also validating the ideologies
concerning pre-earth life, a war in heaven, and the
encouragement received from patriarchal blessings.
Using words specific to the LDS culture, only
the inside group would be able to understand the
significance of the story. An outsider might understand Downs syndrome, blessings or prayers, and
the concerns a family might have when rearing a
disabled child. But the outsider would not likely
understand the significance of a patriarchal blessing, the meaning behind a war in heaven, and why
God was protecting this boy from further pain.
Brunvand says that in choosing to tell a specific
story at a particular time certain feelings are being
acted out. William A. Wilson (Bert) calls this the
if/then quality. We are looking for the means that
justify the endsIf my child was born disabled,
and if I believe there is a loving Father in Heaven,
then there must be some amazing reason for this
child being disabled. Parents of disabled children
might find comfort in a story such as this. In this
story there are answers to questions that often go
unanswered. In a world where many aspects of life

dont make sense, Sister Beans story, and others such

as this one, give answers to circumstances otherwise
unexplainable. I believe Sister Bean told this story
to solidify the feelings and emotions within this
particular culture. It was meant to give the group a
feeling of oneness; the adult Sunday School class
could all understand the story without any further
This story is plausible, but is it possible? In Jan
Brunvands book The Vanishing Hitchhiker, Brunvand says this about believability:
In the world of modern urban legends there
is usually no geographical or generational gap
between the teller and event. The story is true;
it really occurred, and recently, and always to
someone else who is quite close to the narrator,
or at least a friend of a friend. Contemporary
legends are told both in the course of casual
conversations and in such special situations as
campfires, slumber parties, and college dormitory
bull sessions, emails [and may I add, Sunday
School classes]. The legends physical settings
are often close by, real, and sometimes even
locally renowned for other such happenings
[the patriarchs home, the familys home, the
message coming in the mail; the circumstances
surrounding the patriarchal blessing are easily
understood because most of the adults have
received their blessings]. Though the characters in the stories are usually nameless, they are
true-to-life examples of the kind of people the
narrators and their audience know firsthand.

Its possible that everyone in the class knew

someone who is a parent of a disabled child, even
some in the class were parents to special-needs children. Sister Bean is sharing, what to her, is a true
event. She believes this story to be true and has
specifics to validate this. In addition, the story
came from her mother and in turn from her
mothers friend, both reliable or believable sources.
Certain other factors make this story feasible.
Many LDS people have received their patriarchal
blessings. In these blessings the LDS culture believes
that specific information pertaining to that person is revealed. Receiving news about pre-earth life
duties is therefore believable. Perhaps the most

Sister Bean and Satans Power: A Look at Contemporary LDS Legends

specific factor to believability is where the story is

told. In this religious setting the audience would be
respectful of the storyteller and the story. The possibility of personal revelation would not be questioned. LDS Church members are taught they can
receive answers to their prayers and receive promptings from the Holy Spirit, or personal revelation.
In an adult Sunday School class, many parents can
relate to having physically or mentally challenged
children. Parents often wonder why and ask this
question, at least to themselves, occasionally. The
story appeals to this emotional understanding and
questioning by parents; it confirms and comforts
those who are asking why.
Again in The Vanishing Hitchhiker, Brunvand
writes, People still tell legends, . . . and other folk
take time to listen to them, not only because of
their inherent plot interest but because they seem
to convey true, worthwhile, and relevant information, albeit partly in a subconscious mode. In other
words, such stories are news presented to us in an
attractive way, with hints of larger meanings. The
parents of this Downs syndrome child are receiving a heavenly answer to an earthly question.
Often this searching for deeper understanding
makes the LDS culture and perhaps other religious
units more vulnerable to sensationalism. In the
past year and a half I have seen contemporary legends develop quickly (shared almost exclusively on
the internet) and die quicklyTwin Towers and
LDS missionaries, Logan Temple and the Russian
pairs figure skaters. But many others legends continue to live onstories abound regarding LDS
missionaries and their protectors (thanks to Bert
Wilson); Three Nephite tales; LDS girl who is
beaten while on a date, risks death to avoid losing
her virginity, marries in the temple with her virginity intact; and the age-old story regarding the
father, son, and the train decision. On an Internet
web page devoted to LDS legends, past LDS Church
president Harold B. Lee is quoted, The first is the
spread of rumor and gossip which, when once
started, gains momentum as each telling becomes
more fanciful, until unwittingly those who wish to
dwell on the sensational repeat them in firesides, in
classes, and gatherings without first verifying the

source before becoming a party to causing speculation and discussions that steal time away from the
things that would be profitable and beneficial and
enlightening to their souls. . . . I would earnestly
urge that no such idle gossip be spread abroad
without making certain as to whether or not it is
true. . . . As I say, it never ceases to amaze me how
gullible some of our Church members are in
broadcasting these sensational stories, or dreams,
or visions, some alleged to have been given to
Church leaders, past or present, supposedly from
some persons private diary, without first verifying
the report with proper sources. In the Ensign,
Dallin H. Oaks, an LDS General Authority, says
this about discussing miracles, Most of the miracles we experience are not to be shared. Consistent with the teachings of the scriptures, we hold
them sacred and share them only when the Spirit
prompts us to do so.
With these statements as warnings to all LDS
tellers and their audiences, why do we as LDS people
continue to share stories such as this? There is that
germ of truth as the story reflects the concerns of
parents and others within the LDS culture. It reassures the congregation about others status with
God by restating how they should react to and
accept those with disabilities. Also, Sister Bean is a
neighbor, friend, and contemporary or sister in the
gospel. The audience would not discount the feelings of someone whose sincerity is so strong and
who relays this story in a voice filled with emotion.
Eric Snider, a writer for Provos Daily Herald, calls
this, We believe all things: stuff we keep passing
around even though its not true. In addition, if
I have heard stories similar to this, even if I am
uncomfortable with the story, I can justify the
believability, Ive heard this story several times
beforeit must be true. I begin to take this story
and refer to it every time I encounter a disabled
person, Maybe everyone with Downs, Autism, etc.,
is likewise blessed. I can go from skeptic to
believer in a relatively short amount of time. Bert
Wilson suggests that stories such as these are windows to our past and also a means to understanding contemporary situations.

AML Annual 2004

Stories such as this act as a social mirrortestifying to the validity of church beliefs and doctrines. In reinforcing specific aspects of LDS belief,
those who hear and share the story are more apt to
attempt to remain worthy enough to have their
own spiritual experiencesimilar to the ones they
are aware of. Personal and private spiritual experiences will be compared to the sensationalized stories heard and worthiness will be based on the
extremeness of the story being compared. However, as long as the LDS Church teaches that God
knows each one of his children individually and
that each child of God is capable of having a personal correspondence with God, the LDS audience
will never be lacking in stories. There will always
be some sort of divine interventionwhether as a
missionary, a parent, a young person on a date, or
a convert to the Church.
Brunvand says the lack of verification does not
diminish the appeal of the story. The first time I
heard this story I too was touched by the message.
I have two hearing-impaired children and have
often wondered why me. I also have a sister who
has a child with disabilities, weve talked about the
whys. I have friends who have disabled and difficult children; they too have had questions concerning the eternal implications of rearing disabled
children. However, I do know that the spiritual
answers I have received regarding my childrens welfare are personal and private and not meant to be
shared in any setting other than one intimate and
sacred. I likewise would be embarrassed to have
their story or their patriarchal blessings shared with
people whom I do not know. I would want to
remain in control of the story and of its telling. In
addition, what does this story say to people whose
children are healthy? What about the disabled children, physically or mentally disabled, who had
nothing like this stated in their blessings? The LDS
doctrine teaches that we do not know a lot about
pre-earth life, and additionally, we dont believe in
predestination. Dont we learn, in this story, that
this childs destiny was predetermined? What about
on the days these parents, or even the child, cant
handle one more demand placed on them? Do they
feel guilty when they ask, Why me? or perhaps

cuss, scream, and stomp? What is the criterion for

going from difficult to blessed?
Legends depend on continued sharing in order
to stay alive. In Sister Beans narrative, the story
remained alive. With Sister Bean telling the
story that might seem personal to someone else,
was she claiming authority to the telling and saying
that this type of experience was all right to share
in a public place? She really wasnt that great a
storyteller. The specifics of a good story were not
evident here. She seemed intent on relaying the
message, passing it on, rather than sharing details.
As it was received, a new source for the telling was
being developed. Who will be the next teller?
There is a certain appeal to this tale. There is a message which would wow a vulnerable audience. The
story is based on LDS beliefs. The elements to keep
the story alive are there. People will listen; true
information is being passed on; there might be something worthwhile in the telling; and who knows
what I might learn that would benefit my sister.
In the transmission, the story will most likely
retain its core, but in the sharing, which aspects
will change? Will the next storyteller likewise be
focused on only the passing on of the information,
accurately or not? Will the situation have a specific
location? The story may change in form, but most
likely its function will not change. The frequent
transmission of this story may die down at some
point and then resurrect in a different form (location, time frame, characters) in a few years. But the
central issues will live on in this retelling.
On the web site,, this particular legend is cited as one to not be told or believed,
that the truthfulness of it cannot be verified. The
following statement is made by the web managers
directly after the story is told, Very suspicious
completely undocumented, no information on the
location or time of the events, and the doctrines
the story implies just dont make sense. Also, information given in Patriarchal Blessings is intended
to be personal and private, and not to be shared
with the world.
In a conversation with Darlene Hutchison, manager of Church Public Affairs, the LDS Church has
become very concerned about the telling of this

Sister Bean and Satans Power: A Look at Contemporary LDS Legends

story and other feel good stories. The Churchs

admonishment to members is that when sharing
stories in any church functions or about church- or
doctrinal-related information, General Authorities, gospel sensitive or sacred items, that members
make sure the story is verified for truthfulness or
permission is given and cited. Hutchison said the
LDS Churchs Correlation Department carefully
researches every story published in the Church
magazines and told by Church authorities in their
addresses to Church members. She told me that
members are asked to use stories that are their own
or refer to the scriptures when making a point.
I believe that because of the weight LDS people
put on personal faith-promoting experiences,
members are particularly gullible to false, stretched,
or sensationalized stories, no matter how many
tinglies or warm-fuzzies are felt when these stories
are told.
In a talk given at BYUIdaho, in April 2001,
Robert Marrot, of the schools religion department,
said, Myths are things we may or might think are
true that really are not true, or at least not verified.
Myths can be harmless and fun, whether true or
false, but when they undermine gospel truth and
testimony, they can be devastating or just plain
stupid. . . . It is essential to get information straight
from the source and to not believe everything that
others claim General Authorities [or others] have
said. . . . It is sad that often when a cherished myth
is exposed as false, a persons testimony is dashed.
Some people lose confidence in the Church or its
Understanding why stories such as this one are
told can allow insight into the culture in which
its told. Does this legend appeal to the audiences
and tellers emotions? You bet. Most LDS parents
can find something in the telling that tugs at their
heartstrings. Is it plausible but not possible? I guess.
There is truth to the story, but there are enough
open doors to not make this story tight and well
documented. Will this story rely on continuous
retelling to keep it aliveif I had not heard the
story in my Sunday School class I would not have
written this paper and not shared with many
people my experience. I myself have kept the story

alive by sharing it, but hopefully I have also put to

sleep the misconceptions which went along with
the initial telling. I have been asked by several of the
people I have shared this story with the question
that Brunvand posed to the conference audience,
But is it true? And like Brunvand, I have answered,
Be skeptical. Be very skeptical.
Brunvand, Jan. Hooked on the Urban Legend. Lecture presented at the 2000 Fife Conference, Logan,
UT, 7 June 2000.
. The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban
Legends and Their Meanings. New York: W. W.
Norton and Co., 1981.
Hutchison, Darlene. Manager, The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, Public Affairs. Interview by author, Salt Lake City, 13 March 2002.
Murdock, April. Mormon Myths Denounced at Major
.htm. 19 April 2001.
Oaks, Dallin H. Miracles. Ensign 31 (June 2001).
Oring, Elliott, ed. Folk Groups and Folk Genres: An
Introduction. Logan: Utah State University Press,
Snider, Eric. Everything I Needed to Know I Learned
at BYU Education Week. Daily [Provo] Herald,
18 August 2000, sec. C1.
Wilson, William A. Conversation with the author,
March 2002.
. Freeways, Parking Lots, and Ice Cream
Stands: The Three Nephites in Contemporary
Society. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought
21.3 (Autumn 1988): 1226. 3 March 2002.


Mormon Women Writers and

the Healing Power of Truth
Kelly Thompson

My faith in God, who is eternally loving and constant

even as my understanding grows and changes,
makes life not only worth living,
but gives me the courage to disturb the universe.
Madeleine LEngle

ince I was a young girl I have desired to write

and record stories from my familys history. As
an eleven-year-old, I produced a family newsletter
for my extended Thompson family. I remember
being frustrated that other family members did not
take up the cause. As a freshman in high school,
I wanted to pursue oratory. I believed I would do
well composing personal essays, but oratorys close
association with the more cantankerous debate
squad scared me off. In my attempts to write my
favorite family stories, however, I encountered several obstacles. I didnt know how to deal with the
petty and annoying aspects of my personality and
those of my family memberspeople I know well
and care very much about. Desiring to bring to life
my grandmother in a character sketch, I didnt know
quite how to handle those characteristics that were
not necessarily celebrated by the familyher pride,
for example. I wondered, Exactly how honest
should I be? Is there a best way to tell these stories? How do I tell a story about Grandma when
it might reveal her prideful ways? There isnt any
grave disclosure that I feel compelled to make; it is
just the lesser weaknesses, the nitpicky everyday
irritations that have interfered with my ability to
write. I desired to know how one presents them
when they seem a requisite part of a story? Such
questions kept me from telling the stories I so

wanted to inscribe. I wanted to be honest in my

writing, but I also desired to be a worthy, charitable member of my church. Virginia Woolf fittingly
identified one aspect of my dilemma. She named
this problem after a famous Victorian poem, The
Angel in the House, a woman who must charm . . .
sympathize . . . flatter . . . conciliate . . . be extremely
sensitive to the needs and moods and wishes of
others before her own . . . excel in the difficult arts
of family life (qtd. in Olsen, 34). While I didnt
want to entirely annihilate this angel part of
myself, as Virginia Woolf did when she set out to
kill her, I wanted to know about how like-minded
individuals had shared their stories.
Not only did I grapple with issues of honesty,
I also repeatedly encountered expressions of my
faith in my writing. As a member of The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have made my
faith an integral part of my life and the life of
my family. This faith literally permeates every
aspect of my existence. But my writing didnt seem
an appropriate place for outcroppings of faith. My
insecurities that my experience was not acceptable,
for whatever reason, got the better of me. Once
again, I felt stifled as a writer. Ive since come to
understand that I was coming up against what
Tillie Olsen refers to as censorship silences (9).
I wondered how I could write what I know, especially when what I know is so infiltrated with my
Mormon experience. How was I to write about a
life lived in a Utah setting? How would I create stories stemming from a life lived as a member of a
relatively unknown and complicated religious

AML Annual 2004

experience? Was there an audience for such writing? Would I betray my people or exploit my ethnicity if my writing dealt with Mormon-related
matters? I didnt recognize it fully then, but I
sensed that I had to confront my religious culture
before I could tell my stories. As Carolyn Kay
Steedman writes in her essay Stories, specificity
of place and politics has to be reckoned with in
making an account of anybodys life, and their use
of their own past (243). Little did I apprehend
then the involved questions that I would ask and
the searching I would undertake to find answers to
my questions.
Naturally, confronted with these dilemmas,
I developed a desire to find a mentorsomeone
who was like me spiritually and who had written
her stories. I wanted to learn how she recorded
accounts of life as a Mormon woman. As Adrienne
Rich suggests in much of her poetry, I desired to go
back in history in search of a healing vision
(Christ, 77). Like other women writers with a
unique background such as Alice Walker, Ive felt
consumed by the need to find [my] past, to trace
lineages that will empower [me] to live in the present. It made sense then to study Western women
writers and Mormon women writers in particular
as I pursued a masters degree in English.
When the time came for me to write my thesis,
I interviewed several Mormon women writers by
telephone, by email, or in person. The questions I
asked them focused on their self-perceptions as
artists and on the development of those perceptions. I asked about their subject matter, schedules,
and motivations as writers. I queried them about
how their affiliation with the LDS Church has
influenced them, especially in terms of censorship.
I desired to know how their art and their personal
relationships affect each other. Who were their
mentors? Consequently, my thesis is not a conventional analysis of literary works. I focus on much
more than just the final product. I also investigate
the process behind the publications of these intelligent and talented women.
The process of writing this thesis on contemporary Mormon women writers transformed me.
I examined the powers that provide orientation

in my life, especially my religion and my situation

as a woman within this culture (Christ, 2). Consequently, my thesis manuscript means a lot to me.
I desire to share with you what I consider the most
important points as well as some of my favorite
stories about these writers.
The main analysis of my work centers upon
the historians and essayists Juanita Brooks and
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, poet Emma Lou Thayne,
and fiction writers Margaret Blair Young, Louise
Plummer, Phyllis Barber, Virginia Sorensen, and
Rachel Ann Nunes. For the sake of comparison,
I also reference Minerva Teichert (the Mormon
artist), Mary Susannah Fowler (Mormon Healer
and Folk Poet), and Christian writers Madeleine
LEngle and Kathleen Norris. I also incorporate
thoughts from Elaine Cannon and Chieko Okasaki.
Admittedly, many of the dilemmas encountered by
the women in this study are typical of women writers anywhere but with specific challenges due to
their Mormon affiliation.
Through this undertaking, I have realized that
there are contemporary Mormon women writers
in all kinds of genres. Historians, fiction writers,
poets, and essayiststhese women have contributed in thoughtful ways to the Latter-day Saint
literary tradition. There are other women writers
whom I chose not to include in my investigation
simply because I had to narrow my focus. I chose
women who I thought would offer me the most
personallywomen who seemed to have strong
faith in God, who believed in the LDS Church,
and who had or desired to have children.
I discovered that like me, many Mormon
women feel the need to write, and I would agree
with E. M. Forester, who stated, How can I tell
what I think till I see what I say? (319). As Louis
Plummer expresses it, Most people who write and
keep writing just need to write, they just feel crazy
if theyre not writing (personal interview). They
write to make sense of the world around them.
Plummer reworks her life through her writing. She
says, You sort of rework your whole adolescence
by writing. And get it right this time. You can
make it worse than it was and better than it was. So
that in the end, you end up liking yourself better

Mormon Women Writers and the Healing Power of Truth

than you did as an adolescent. At least thats been

true for me (personal interview). Rachel Ann
Nunes says, I cant not write. I must write. I am
happier when I do. It fills a need within me that
nothing else can fill (personal interview).
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich says that she writes to
make sense of the chaos around her. In fact, Ulrich
recognizes that all her work in womens history has
been a way for her to get control of the amazing
power in her own history.
Those of us born in the Church usually come
out of Primary with a picture in our heads of a
pioneer grandmother resolutely crossing the
plains. In time that image hardens into bronze,
returning to haunt us in vulnerable moments
on the delivery table, for instance, or while
driving through heavy traffic to yet another
meeting. Even converts learn early to sing the
old refrain: If the pioneers could do it, why
not we? Church periodicals reinforce our general sense of flabbiness with stories of faithful
wives dying under dripping canvas in the middle
of Iowa while reciting the Biblical Whither
though goest . . . Such things surely happened.
Yet most of us have less need for vicarious
grand moments than for an understanding of
the everyday. (qtd. in Bushman, 24142)

Her need to understand these pioneering women

has been the impetus behind her work as a historian. In several publications, she has brought to life
the daily lives of pioneering women, including
Martha Ballard, the midwife in her Pulitzer Prize
winning book A Midwives Tale: The Life of Martha
Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 17851812.
Emma Lou Thayne describes writing as a way
to explain me to myself (Ulrich and Thayne, 8).
She says, I write because nothing seems really to
have happened to me until I write about ita new
baby, a trip to Russia, a doubt or a joyclarification and catharsis by writing are built into my system as surely as faith in my Savior and Friend
(Ulrich and Thayne, 194). As noted by Regenia
Gagnier in The Literary Standard, Working-Class
Autobiography, and Gender, Autobiography is
the arena of empowerment to represent oneself in a
discursive cultural field as well as the arena of sub-

jective disempowerment by the subjecting discourses of others (266). In other words, no matter
the tradition one inherits, writing is the forum
wherein a person interprets that tradition for him
or herself.
I believe that many of these women writers are
kindred spirits. Along with deeply rooted spiritual
convictions and a love for words and language,
most of them have also struggled with issues of
self-confidence. Ulrich admits in her University
of Utah 1992 Commencement Address that there
have been times when she didnt believe in her best
gifts. In her essay Patchwork (1988), she tells
that while she may have been a high-achiever, she
was a wimp at heart (Ulrich and Thayne, 25).
A personality test she took thirty years ago as a student at the University of Utah revealed that in the
category of Autonomy her score was so low as to
be almost invisible (25). She writes, Readers of
this essay who have the mistaken impression that I
am a totally liberated, self-directed person should
know that I have never gone job hunting (26).
Her intellectual life was built from jest what happens to come (25). Part of what happened to
come involved looking back at and standing upon
the shoulders of her Mormon and literary foremothers.
In her essay Fear, I Embrace You, Louise
Plummer shares her lifelong desire to make her
mark on the world as a talented artist. She says that
as a younger person she was clear about the work
she wanted to do: drawing and writing. But she
became afraid of it. She tells how at the University
of Utah as an art major the efficient, brusque air
about [the librarian] intimidated her (77). Consequently, Plummer got a C in art. It wasnt until she
was thirty years old that she had the courage to ask
for help. Because of chronic fear, she describes herself as a classic late bloomer (78). The writers here
learned that the self can be communal, engaged,
and dialogical as well as individual, detached, and
introspective, as expressed by Virginia Woolf (qtd.
in Gagnier, 264).
Perhaps through their writing, these women
writers have arrived at a developmental point in
which they are willing to share the discoveries they

AML Annual 2004

make in the process of writing. Call it egotism or

call it humilitythese women endure and submit
to the consequences of their need, their passion, to
write. Fortunately, these women have significant
others who support and encourage them to not
only develop their writing talents but to trust
themselves. The account told by Juanita Brooks of
how her father encouraged her to listen and
respond to her inner voice inspires me. On one
occasion, her instinct regarding their horse proved
more fitting than the counsel her father had given
her. Concerning the matter, her father said:
My girl, I think you should follow your
hunchesthat is, if you have a strong feeling
you should pay attention to it, whether it goes
against my counsel or anyone elses. But be
careful. In general, it is better to do your
assigned duty. You did the best you could. That
is all any of us can do. But you must learn that
life is full of sorrow and disappointments.
When it comes, we must take it with patience.
This may teach you to follow your own inner
guide in the future. (qtd. in Brooks, 174)

This teaching of her father served Brooks well

throughout her life. She followed the truth inside
of herself, often at great social expense, as she did
when she published her famous Mountain Meadow
In her essay titled The Mormon Woman as
Writer, Phyllis Barber desires to have the strength
to serve her personal integrity. She says she hopes
to be brave enough to stand my ground when hail
as big as golf balls pelts my hide (Barber, 118).
She believes that truth is discovered in the creative
process. If any of us think we know all the answers
in our despair or in our certainty, there is nothing
left to explore (Barber, 111).
Margaret Blair Young, co-author of a trilogy
about blacks in the Church, believes that honestly
confronting the pain in Mormon history requires
more than a superficial understanding of those
events, one that avoids easy answers that can interfere with heart-felt compassion. Believing that
good fiction goes to those places where life is hard,
where the characters must rise to the occasion
of their most intimidating challenges, Young

explores difficult issues and writes stories that have

unsettling endings.
As with Anne Bradstreets writings, we can
observe in the works of these Mormon women
writers, a unique harmonizing of the divine, the
secular, and the personal, a unifying of a public
and a private consciousness (Mason, 322). I have
gleaned much from the examples of these Mormon
women in terms of their devotion to their families
and to God. I am grateful for the way they demonstrate the fact that women can develop their talents
and enjoy fulfilling relationships. Ulrich rises early
(five oclock) to write. She works until about nine
oclock. She says she is at her best in the early hours.
When her children were younger, Ulrich often left
household chores for others to do. Her son Karl
describes (in an article titled Confessions of a
Feminists Child) a morning when the blender
was screaming, the eggs were boiling over, and the
toast was cold in the toaster while [his] mom sat
five feet away at the kitchen table typing her last
paper for her masters degree. He continued,
I looked at what I thought my mother wanted out
of life and said to myself, Ill do it myself and
grabbed the nearest box of Cheerios. Cheerios led
to omelets (Karl Ulrich, 18).
During the time when she was a young mother
with five daughters under the age of ten, a parttime university teaching position, and other community responsibilities, Thaynes writing schedule
was not necessarily systematic. She wrote whenever
she could. But to ensure that she would get her
writing goals accomplished, she used to work
through the night once a week. One sleepless night
provided her enough time to achieve her literary
ambitions. She was able to do this because she
never suffered from a lack of energy, and if she just
got to sleep at her regular bedtime the next night,
shed be fine (personal interview).
Rachel Ann Nunes sets out to accomplish her
daily writing goals at the beginning of each day but
with little children still in her care, it often drags
into a whole-day project. She stays in her pajamas
until her writing is done. She admits that sometimes she picks up her children from school still
wearing her pajamas. But she streamlines her life so

Mormon Women Writers and the Healing Power of Truth

that she achieves her writing goals. She does not

answer the phone or email until it fits her schedule,
nor does she clean her house or go grocery shopping. She delegates much of that work to her husband and children. Nunes says that shes learned to
say no when it infringes with her writing time. She
believes that you must respect your time so that
others will also (personal interview).
Much of the writing of these women centers
around their relationships in respectful and yet
authentic ways. Thayne co-wrote Hope and Recovery
with her daughter. It is the account of her daughters struggle with anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and
manic depression. Thayne reveals the traumatic
nature of the ordeal and her feelings about her mistakes in dealing with the situation. In Plummers
essay Strengthening the Family, she reveals the
worst day in her life was when her angry son grasped
[her] around the throat in a headlock, pulled [her]
to the floor, and said, strangling [her], Dont tell
me what to do, or Ill kill you. Do you hear me? Ill
kill you (Plummer, 45). In spite of the serious
nature of their writing, Thayne and Plummer
modeled ways in which to write respectfully about
such topics. Thayne wrote about her daughters
difficulty only when her daughter was ready, twenty
years later. Plummer shared the experience with
her son only after he had overcome his anger and
she had asked his permission.
I also admire these women for their faith. In
the case of Juanita Brooks, she felt compelled to
tell the story of the Mountain Meadow massacre.
This telling adversely affected her relationship with
many fellow Saints, and yet she stood firm and has
affected positively how the LDS Church confronts
its history. Moreover, Brooks did not want to do
anything to endanger her standing in the Church.
She was a lifelong, committed member of the LDS
faith and believed that her ability to tell the story of
the massacre and possibly effect change was
strengthened by that position (Peterson, xxxiv).
Ulrich felt hurt when the media advertised the
fact that she had been crossed off a list of possible
speakers at BYU because of feminist hot-button
issues at the time. Even though it was a relatively
small issue in her life, Ulrich admits that certainly

this experience affected her (personal interview).

However, her response, like those of earlier women
such as Brooks, was a faithful one. Instead of taking offense, she found a way to voice her concerns.
All Gods Critters Got a Place in the Choir, the book
she wrote with Emma Lou Thayne, was a deliberate response to the bitterness of that period. She
says, I think Emma Lou and I both felt there had
to be a way to talk about womens issues in a less
polarizing way (personal interview).
Plummer demonstrates her faith when she
challenges members of her stake listening to her
talk, Strengthening the Family, to stop pretending that problems dont exist, because that isolates
us one from another. She encourages her audience
to share our stories and not hide them . . . from
each other. If we tell our stories, others will feel free
to tell theirs without fear of judgment or condescension. Sharing stories with each other gives us
the strength to move on (Plummer, 48). Its much
like the scriptures wherein we read about individuals with weaknesses and frailties who interact
with God, are forgiven, and accomplish miraculous things. Moreover, sharing our stories makes it
possible for us to know and bear one anothers burdens. Nevertheless, we must share and support
judiciously, as these women writers exemplify.
I can relate to the obstacles to writing that the
women in this examination confronted. My
desireworthy, charitable, and yes, perfecthas
stifled my development. However, in the course of
researching this thesis, I explored potential silencing obstacles, and, in the end, determined that
they are not as difficult to overcome as I originally
thought. It is just a matter of making up my own
mind about who I am and where I am going from
here and confidently fulfilling my mission as exemplified by the women in this study (Cannon, 134;
Chase, 77). Moreover, upon closer examination,
Ive come to appreciate that the tensions inherent
in being a woman writer in the Latter-day Saint
culture are healthful and help a believer to maintain balance in this world of dangerous extremes.
This thesis has forced me to do what Anne E.
Goldman in Autobiography, Ethnography, and
History: A Model for Reading observes in the

AML Annual 2004

speakers and writers she discusses. The speakers

and writers considered here maneuver between autobiographical and political-cultural texts, between
I and various forms of we (Goldman, 290).
I have come to my own conclusions about important issues in my Latter-day Saint culture.
My gratitude for writing and for the education
provided me by this thesis project is immense. I am
happy to have learned that both language and religion are like rivers, constantly flowing from the
same source, as we respond to all that is happening
in the world around us (Chase, 184). I am thankful for my writing gifts and my faith in God, who
is eternally loving and constant and who gives me
courage (qtd. in Chase, 68). I will be forever
indebted to the lives and works of the women in
my study and thank them for the enthusiasm
they ignite within me to disturb the universe
(Chase, 68).
Barber, Phyllis. The Mormon Woman as Writer.
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 23.3 (Fall
1990): 10819.
Brooks, Juanita. Quicksand and Cactus: A Memoir of the
Southern Mormon Frontier. Salt Lake City: Howe
Brothers, 1982.
Bushman, Claudia L. Mormon Sisters: Women in Early
Utah. Salt Lake City: Olympus Publishing, 1976.
Cannon, Elaine. As a Woman Thinketh. Salt Lake City:
Bookcraft, 1990.
Chase, Carol F. Suncatcher: A Study of Madeleine LEngle
and Her Writing. Philadelphia: Innisfree Press, 1998.
Christ, Carol P. Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writer
on Spiritual Quest. Boston: Beacon Press, 1980.
Forester, E. M. Aspects of the Novel. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1954.


Gagnier, Regenia. The Literary Standard, WorkingClass Autobiography, and Gender. In Women,
Autobiography, Theory: A Reader, ed. Sidonie Smith
and Julia Watson, 26475. Madison: University of
Wisconsin Press, 1998.
Goldman, Anne E. Autobiography, Ethnography, and
History: A Model for Reading. In Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader, 28898.
Lionnet, Francoise. The Politics and Aesthetics of
Mtissage. In Women, Autobiography, Theory: A
Reader, 32536.
Olsen, Tillie. Silences. New York: Delacorte Press, 1978.
Mason, Mary. The Other Voice: Autobiographies of
Women Writers. In Women, Autobiography, Theory:
A Reader, 32124.
Nunes, Rachel Ann. Email interview. 16 April 2001.
Peterson, Charles S. Introduction. In Quicksand and
Cactus: A Memoir of the Southern Mormon Frontier,
by Juanita Brooks, Salt Lake City: Howe Brothers.
Plummer, Louise. Personal interview. 27 April 2001.
. Thoughts of a Grasshopper: Essays and Oddities.
Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992.
Steedman, Carolyn Kay. Stories. In Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader, 24354.
Thayne, Emma Lou. Telephone interview. 9 April 2001.
Thayne, Emma Lou, and Becky Thayne-Markosian.
Hope and Recovery: A Mother-Daughter Story about
Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, and Manic Depression.
New York: Franklin Watts, 1992.
Ulrich, Karl. Confessions of a Feminists Child. Exponent II 6.4 (1980): 18.
Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. Telephone interview. 6 April
Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher, and Emma Lou Thayne. All
Gods Critters Got a Place in the Choir. Salt Lake
City: Aspen Books, 1995.

Wallace Stegners Gathering of Zion :

Creating a Mormon Usable Past
Jennifer Minster Asay

ost people would agree that it is less problematic to explain the existence of something
than to explain its nonexistence. Retracing steps or
events that culminate in the creation of somethingbe it an event from history, a work of art,
or a babyexplains how something came into being.
Of course, the human limitation of being able to
reflect only on time that has passed prevents us
from identifying why something has not yet happened. Such is the case with the much discussed
and awaited great Mormon novel. There have certainly been great religious novels from other faiths,
such as Hawthornes The Scarlet Letter or Chaim
Potoks My Name Is Asher Lev. Why no Mormon
novel? Mormon history is no less interesting than
that found in other religions, its theology no less
compelling and complex. Neither is Mormon culture lacking in substance.
In the preface to Tending the Garden: Essays on
Mormon Literature, Eugene England asserts that with
the combination of a dynamic history, ongoing and
personal revelation, and unique theology Mormon
writers certainly have at hand sufficient matter
with which to produce a great literature.1 Though
he has little interest in the theology, Wallace Stegner concurs with Englands assessment of historical
abundance saying, You can get a good deal of
mileage out of Mormon history.2 It becomes harder
to explain the absence of quality Mormon novels
when there certainly is a plethora of material from
which an author could draw. However, Mormon
authors face some real difficulties when writing

Perhaps the greatest obstacle preventing the

emergence of more quality Mormon novels from
being created is a lack of what Wallace Stegner calls
a usable past for Mormons, which term refers to
the creation and existence of objective, historical
material, as well as a foundational understanding
of Mormonism by a non-Mormon audience. Stegners The Gathering of Zion helps in the creation of
a Mormon usable past by providing an equitable
narrative history of the Mormon pioneer experience. In addition, Stegners book appeals to nonMormon readers in explaining Mormon culture and
history in a nondidactic manner. Therefore, Mormon
novelists would greatly benefit from broadening
their understanding of Mormon history through
exposure to more objective sources, with one of the
best sources being Stegners The Gathering of Zion.
A lack of defined, objective Mormon historical
foundation may be one of the main reasons a great
novel has not yet surfaced. The many Mormon
legends, folklore tales, and gospel analogies that
have continuously recycled themselves between
Sunday School lessons and testimony meetings
throughout the LDS Church attest to the depth of
story material available in Mormonism. However,
such material is of little use to writers if there is no
balanced perspective of Mormon history to give
the fullest possible understanding of Mormonism
past and present. Some of this historical perspective
can be created only through the passage of time,
allowing documents to surface or even simply allowing emotionally loaded beliefs and prejudices to
die with the generations who lived the history. This

AML Annual 2004

aspect of historical perspective is simply out of

human control but slowly appears to be taking positive effect in Mormon society with the passing of
most of the third- and fourth-generation pioneer
descendants and the ever-increasing number of
converts joining in the experience of Mormonism.
While part of the creation of historical perspective cannot be manipulated, a major part of
historical understanding is produced through the
art of the historian. Because Mormonism, its culture and history, is not well understood by readers
at large, Mormon novels tend to either lose the
non-Mormon audience or else lay a heavy, didactic
hand over the prose in an effort to help the nonMormon reader understand the context of the novel.
Most writers agree that didacticism is the kiss of
death for any work of fiction, because, as Stegner
noted, In fiction you cannot explain . . . the social
background and the sociological arrangements and
structures in which your peculiar people function. . . .
Give them [the reader] explanation and you become
a bad novelist. He goes on to point out that in fiction readers must be able to take the characters for
granted, but that most non-Mormon readers
perhaps even some Mormon readerswill not be
able to take them for granted because of the lack of
a widespread understanding of Mormon culture
and history.3
In her book A Room of Ones Own, Virginia
Woolf identifies this need for a usable past
a collectiveness of understanding among readers
in paving the way for works of great stature by
asserting that masterpieces are not single and solitary births; they are the outcome of years of thinking in common, of thinking by the body of the
people, so that the experience of the mass is behind
the single voice.4 To illustrate the need for a usable
past, Stegner compares the advantages of Catholic
writers to the limitations Mormon writers face in
writing fiction by pointing out that Catholicism
has the benefit of centuries of ecumenical influence
Mormonism does not enjoy. As a Catholic writer,
Flannery OConnor had the benefit of many centuries of intriguing, complex history and wellestablished religious society from which to form
her characters. Although OConnors work tends

to explore the theological aspects of Catholicism,

rather than historical interpretation of the church,
her writings have been widely read and accepted
by non-Catholics who have been able to take her
characters for granted due to a general understanding of Catholicism, its culture, traditions and rituals. Stegner points out that thus far Mormonisms
rituals dont reverberate in the same way Catholicisms do.5
While OConnor had several hundred years of
religious foundation for her writing, Stegner looks
to the example of Nathaniel Hawthorne as a religious writer who not only benefited from a historical religious foundation, albeit a shorter religious
tradition than the one OConnor enjoyed, but contributed to the establishment of a Puritan historical
understanding through his own research and writing of his Puritan history, in such works as The
American Notebook and True Stories from History
and Biography.6 Hawthorne was able to pen his
brightest works of religious fiction, including The
Scarlet Letter, Young Goodman Brown, and The House
of Seven Gables, because he had over two hundred
years of historically detailed and documented Puritan history behind him, some from his own hand.
In other words, Hawthorne had access to a usable
past. Stegner asserts the contribution historians
can make in preparing the way for great religious
fiction, particularly Mormon fiction: It may be that
having produced a usable past and having explained
Mormon society sufficiently, the historians will have
laid a basis for some later novels.7
Though a writer of fiction by training, Stegner
took his function as a historian seriously and probably did more with The Gathering of Zion to lay a
foundation for great Mormon novels than did previous Mormon fiction writers. In his essay, Huts
of Time: Wallace Stegners Historical Legacy, Rob
Williams points out that Stegners historical work
was guided by his belief in four general purposes of
1. Connectivityconcerning the relationship
of the past with the present,
2. Didacticismexploring the dilemmas and
ambiguities of the past, to question and
problem-solve in the present,

Wallace Stegners Gathering to Zion: Creating a Usable Past

3. Demythificationrevealing the historical complexities of the past by examining beyond

the myth and illusion,
4. Historicizingshowing the relationship
between communities and the land.8
Of these four purposes, Stegners greatest contribution in his book is the demythification of the
Mormon pioneer experience on the trail to the Salt
Lake Valley. In the introduction he talks of the
stylized memory of the trail, so closely guarded
by descendents of the pioneers, which memory
Stegner believes was fostered not only by the Mormon community at large but also the Church hierarchy.9 It is Stegners unique approach in chronicling
the exodus westpresenting the pioneers in their
own terms, mostly through the use of journals and
judging them in his own termsthat helps in deconstructing some of the myth and legend surrounding early LDS history, particularly in revealing the
humanness of the early Saints.
One of the most striking examples in The Gathering of Zion of revealing a traditionally lionized
pioneers humanness and frailties is that of William
Clayton. Best known as the composer of the Mormon
anthem Come, Come Ye Saints, Clayton served
as a scribe for Joseph Smith and later as a secretary
to Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders on
the trek west. Perhaps because people associate
Clayton with the composing of early hymns, he is
generally viewed and written about in only the best
light possible, which produces a rather flat, lifeless
character. Such is the case in Paul Dahls book William
Clayton: Missionary, Pioneer, and Public Servant.
Here the author presents a portrait of Clayton typical of many biographies of Mormon pioneers:
unwavering faith, unquestioning obedience, and an
uncomplaining acceptance of the trials of the trail.
The closest Dahls Clayton comes to shattering this
guise is a reference from Claytons own diary concerning the roadometer he conceived of to measure the distance between Missouri and the Salt Lake
Valley. In the passage, Clayton says that a Brother
Appleton Harmon is taking credit for the invention of the roadometer, although Clayton actually
constructed the device. Claytons reaction to the

incident is one of dismay, with his simply saying that

Harmons behavior makes me think less of him than
I formerly did.10 This is the worst side the reader
sees of Clayton in Dahls biography. Contrasted with
the journal excerpts included in Stegners work, this
Clayton appears to be indeed quite a saint.
Stegners Clayton, on the other hand, is a much
more realistic and human figure, often unintentionally humorous with his continual complaining
of the under-appreciation of all he contributes to
Zion. Clayton is constantly identifying people from
his wagon train who he felt had offended him in
some way and declaring such things as I do not
think I can ever forget him for his treatment of me,
or Thomas Cloward has manifested feelings and
conduct worse than the general run of gentiles . . .
and for my part I shall remember [him] for some
time to come. Feeling that a member of his wagon
party has withheld quality food from him, he wirtes,
Such things seem worthy of remembrance for a
time to come.11
Besides serving the Mormon community in
presenting a more truthful and realistic portrayal of
early pioneers, The Gathering of Zion also appeals
to non-Mormon readers who allow themselves to
be enlightened in the ways and history of Mormonism. One of the more apparent reasons for the
books appeal to non-Mormons, other than Stegners
solid and award-winning reputation as a fiction
writer, is his equitable, even-handed evaluation of
the early Mormon people, their persecutions and
hardships. Stegner reveals himself to be the sympathetic observer in the introduction of the book
when he acknowledges that, while he does not subscribe to the faith of the Mormons, he nonetheless
does not doubt [the Mormon pioneers] frequent
devotion and heroism in its service.12 Stegner goes
on to make what Charles Wilkinson found to be
his most telling observation13 of the Mormons in
all of The Gathering of Zion: Their women were
incredible.14 Such a statement is one way Stegner
as a historian helps alleviate the burden of explanation for the Mormon novelist seeking to reach the
broadest audience possible.
While establishing a more universal understanding of Mormonism among non-Mormon readers

AML Annual 2004

can certainly do much in paving the way for greater

Mormon literature, the study of objective historical works like Stegners can most aid the Mormon
novelist in recognizing the existence of a usable
past. Books such as Stegners fill in the gaps of the
Mormon historical picturesuch as the sometimes poor, but human, judgment of Church leaders in making critical decisionsthat few writers
recognize as being there in the first place. Mormon
objective history can explain the various causes and
dynamics of major events or situations, like the
extreme suffering of the Willie and Martin handcart companies. Since the best fiction tends to
emphasize character over plot, perhaps the most
valuable benefit derived from histories like Stegners is not only a more complete picture of the
people who contributed to the establishment of
Mormon Zion but also a greater understanding
of human nature itself.
In writing about the purpose of history Stegner
observes, In the old days, in blizzardy weather, we
used to tie a string of lariats together from house to
barn so as to make it from shelter to responsibility
and back again. With personal, family, and cultural
chores to do, he concluded, I think we had better
rig up such a line between past and present.15 In
the pursuit of greater Mormon fiction, both historians and writers have a responsibility to leave their
shelter in order to research and produce, respectively,
the same sympathetic, but objective historical assessment which Stegner bequeathed to the future builders
and beneficiaries of Mormonisms usable past.


1. Eugene England, Introduction, in Tending the
Garden: Essays on Mormon Literature, ed. Lavina Fielding Anderson and Eugene England (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), xvi.
2. Wallace Stegner and Richard Etulain, Conversations with Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983), 114.
3. Ibid., 116.
4. Virginia Woolf, Harold Blooms Shakespeare, ed.
Christy Desmet and Robert Sawyer (New York: Palgrave Publishers, 2001), vi.
5. Stegner and Etulain, 114.
6. Ibid., 116.
7. Ibid.
8. Rob Williams, Huts of Time: Wallace Stegners
Historical Legacy, in Wallace Stegner: Man and Writer,
ed. Charles E. Rankin (Albuquerque: University of
New Mexico Press, 1996), 125.
9. Wallace Stegner, The Gathering of Zion (New
York: McGraw-Hill, 1964; rpt. Lincoln, NB: Bison
BooksUniversity of Nebraska Press, 1992), 1.
10. Paul Dahl, William Clayton: Missionary, Pioneer,
and Public Servant (Cedar City, UT: Utah County
Genealogical and Historical Society, 1959), 100.
11. Stegner, 189, 188.
12. Ibid., 13.
13. Charles Wilkinson, Wallace Stegner and the
Rigor of Civility, in The Geography of Hope: A Tribute
to Wallace Stegner, ed. Page Stegner and Mary Stegner
(San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), 59.
14. Stegner, 13.
15. Williams, 119.

Telling the Truth:

Teaching Creative Writing to LDS Students
Jack Harrell

ver the past four years as a creative writing

teacher at BYUIdaho, Ive used textbooks
aimed at a general college audience, given assignments common to college-level creative writing
instruction, and presented issues and standards
that would be familiar to creative writing teachers
no matter where they teach. Most of the discussions, assignments, and much of the students writing itself has been similar to what might be found
in creative writing classrooms anywhere, but Ive
occasionally found the need for adjustments
adjustments that are worthy of discussion, not just
for creative writing teachers, but for anyone interested in the advancement of Mormon letters.
Not So Peculiar
Latter-day Saints like to think of themselves as a
peculiar people (1 Pet. 2:9), but I suspect that the
rules of aesthetics and craftsmanship are no
respecter of persons. When it comes to creative
writing studentsLDS or notthe most obvious
commonality is their shared belief in what might
be called the myth of the writer. Wendy Bishop, in
her book Released into Language, has defined some
of the elements of this myth, a myth that misrepresents both writers and the writing process. She says
students often believe that creative writing is
something done by a few geniuses; that good writing proceeds inevitably from good ideas; that good
writers compose nearly perfect drafts, often at a
single sitting; that writers pack one overriding theme
into a text to be construed later by a well-trained

reader; that writing is a rather magical, solitary

occupation; and that writers are more interesting
than other people.1
Students need to learn that the world of creative writers includes, and has always included, far
more names than those few geniuses familiar to us
after decades and centuries. They must learn that
good writing can be born out of ordinary ideas;
that good writers revise regularly, even excessively
by nonwriter standards; that good writing is not
merely a puzzle for clever English professors; that
the magic of good writing is probably no different than the magic of good quilting or running a
small business; and that sometimes just meeting
one writer is enough to disabuse a person of the
notion that writers are interesting people.
Most creative writing students know very little
about contemporary poetry, fiction, drama, or creative nonfictionat least the kind English teachers
recognize as legitimate. There is clearly a popular
literary dichotomy that is second nature to most
English professors and almost entirely unrecognized
by everyone else, including most students. A student with a great love for the writings of J. R. R.
Tolkien, Jane Austen, or even John Grisham may
be dismayed when handed the latest edition of Best
American Short Stories. Latter-day Saint students are
no different.
Telling the Truth
So what is it that makes LDS creative writing students different? The answer to that question falls

AML Annual 2004

under an interestingly ironic heading: the struggle

to tell the truth. Stephen King gives this advice to
new writers: So okaythere you are in your room
with the shade down and the door shut and the
plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. Youve
blown up your TV and committed yourself to a
thousand words a day, come hell or high water.
Now comes the big question: What are you going
to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all . . . as
long as you tell the truth.2
No matter whether the genre is fiction, poetry,
essay, or drama, people want to read the truth. Pigs
can fly, space aliens can attack the earth, and the
devil can speak to corporate executivesanything
at all can happenas long as the reader can maintain the willing suspension of disbelief.3 Anything else, for the reader, is a lie. When the reader
can no longer sustain the willing suspension of disbelief, the writer is sunk. Reality has something to
do with it, but realism doesnt account for everything. If the audience starts to suspect that they are
being lied to, the contract between the writer and
the reader is broken. But this kind of honesty
comes with a price that both the writer and reader
must pay, a price that some Latter-day Saints at
times may be unwilling to pay.
Betsy Lerner, in her book The Forest for the
Trees: An Editors Advice to Writers, talks about the
risks that come with telling the truth. Lerner, who
is a New York literary agent and a former executive
editor at Doubleday, says readers are attracted to
novels, poems, and stories because they tell the truths
that so few dare to bring to light. Our ordinary,
workaday relationships are often very superficial.
Even within families we keep hidden so much that
is deep and real, but this doesnt calm our hunger
for the truth or our thirst for genuine intimacy.
This desire for depth and truth makes us read. But
writers who bring the truth forward are often punished for their honesty. Lerner mentions specifically Phillip Roth, a Jewish writer who was openly
accused of anti-Semitism when his story Defender
of the Faith was published in 1959.4 In Mormon
culture, we might think of Maurine Whipple and
the local reaction she received for her book The

Giant Joshua, a book published by Houghton Mifflin

in 1941. Whipples book received positive national
attention but harsh criticism from Latter-day Saints.
Partially due to the local response, she never wrote
again.5 Speaking of this phenomenon, the understandable fear of telling the truth, Lerner says of
her own experience in an MFA program: I was
terrified for anyonemost of all myselfto discover what my dark heart harbored. You see, I was
a good child. And I was heavily interested in being a
good, achieving daughter. So you can imagine how
terrifying it was when I first took my teachers
advice and finally stopped writing incomprehensible poems and wrote some pieces that even my
parents could understand.6
I call what Lerner is discussing here the good
daughter syndrome, but certainly LDS sons are
just as concerned as daughters about exhibiting the
appearance of goodness. Lerner goes on to say:
Lets face it, if in your writing you lift the veil on
your family, your community, or even just yourself,
someone will take offense. . . . If you write what is
most pressing, you are revealing thoughts, secrets,
wishes, and fantasies that you (and we as readers)
would never otherwise confess to.7 Furthermore,
she says:
Most writers, like most children, need to tell.
The problem is that much of what they need to
tell will provoke the ire of parent-critics, who
are determined to tell writer-children what
they can and cannot say. Unless you have sufficient ego and feel entitled to tell your story,
you will be stymied in your effort to create.
You think you cant write, but the truth is you
cant tell. Writing is nothing if not breaking the
silence. The problem is, no one likes a snitch.8

Lets say an LDS student, a young man, has a

brother who comes home early from his mission.
The brother announces that hes gay and moves in
with another former missionary, whos also gay.
Then lets say the student is compelled to base a
short story on this experience. If hes honest, hell
write that story. Not only will he be unafraid to
face and reveal the truth of the matter in his own
soul, but hell also know when to break from what
really happened and fictionalize in places where

Telling the Truth: Teaching Creative Writing to LDS Students

doing so will make the story more pure and true to

its own purpose. At this point we say, Good for
him! Hes telling the truth. We believe in being
honest, the thirteenth Article of Faith says.
But what if, in the process of writing, he begins
to fear that the story might shed a bad light on
him, his family, and possibly even the Church. The
latter is no small thing for many LDS writers. If a
person believes that The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints is Gods church on the earth, the
question of implicating the Church in ones writing becomes very significant. A writer who believes
in telling the truth, but also believes in the divinity
of the Church, understandably will be troubled
about tainting the image of the Church with the
sins of fictional characters. Possibly, LDS writers
and writing teachers would do well to emphasis the
distinction between the Church as the members
themselvesone would be nave to think of them
as spotlessand the gospel as the divinely
revealed path of redemption.
Nonetheless, when the question arises of bringing vulgarity, sex, and violence into ones writing,
LDS students are understandably self-conscious.
The issue of vulgar language is especially problematic. Interestingly, students are not as worried about
depicting violence. A gory description of a stabbing, for example, is seen as being in poor taste, or
simply as being gross; it isnt necessarily seen as a
moral issue. Interestingly, the moral weight of killing
a fictional character goes unnoticed by most LDS
student writers in my experience. By contrast, they
brood over the decision of whether or not to let a
character say a common cuss word when he smashes
his knuckle on a bolt. The real issue here may be
how the writer views the audience and what he
believes they expect of him. If the character is a
crusty old truck driver, the student knows what the
man will probably say. The question is, does one
tell the truth and risk offending by doing so? If the
truck driver says darn, the reader may not buy it.
In that case, the writer has offended the reader by
not telling the truth. The dilemma for the writer is
a version of the Do I look fat in this dress? question. Its all about audience: what portion of the
truth do they want to hear?

Here are three short answers to a very complicated question. First, writers should tell the truth.
If they dont have the guts to tell the truth, they
should stand aside and let someone else do it; this
is nobler than softening or falsifying the truth. And
finally, if readers dont want the truth, dont tell
them. (Even Christ couched the truth in parables.)
But dont tell lies, either. Telling the truth to people
who dont want it is probably uncharitable and certainly a waste of time.
When LDS students are told to tell the truth,
they may misinterpret that as a directive to be doctrinaire instead. To put this in perspective, we
should realize that religious writers are not the only
ones who might be tempted to write propaganda
the promotion of specific doctrines or causes. A
devout feminist writing about the men in her family, a gay person writing about homophobia, a
Marxist writing about American materialism, an
ex-Mormon writing about hypocrisy in the Church,
or a loyal LDS student writing about the nobility
of the priesthoodall may run the risk of writing
in order to prove the validity of their cause, rather
than writing to explore the conflicts that move real
people with real, individual struggles. As John
Gardner says, The artist who begins with a doctrine to promulgate, instead of a rabble multitude
of ideas and emotions, is beaten before he starts.9
Most human beings are more complex, more
self-contradictory, and ultimately more interesting,
loveable, and even admirable than any political or
religious system. Good literature may use religious,
social, and political categories as setting, or it may
use them to introduce conflict, but good literature
ultimately transcends those systems. What Faulkner
calls the human heart in conflict with itself 10 is
always more complicated and compelling than
social and religious systems alone. Thats why a
novel that says all Mormons are hypocrites is just
as bad as a novel that says all Mormons are good.
Student writers must learn to move beyond
clichs, stereotypes, and propaganda. They must
learn to see more clearly, and they must learn to see
for themselves, looking past labels and categories,
past commonly held beliefs, to discover their own

AML Annual 2004

One of my colleagues at BYUIdaho, David

Ward, says that too often in the Church we engage
in what he calls the rhetoric of information. We
know Church history. We know the scriptures.
We know the doctrine. We know the facts (at least
we think we know them). All this tempts us to
believe that there is no more new knowledge; writers must simply restate, rehash, and redistribute
the information we already have. By contrast,
David Ward says, we seldom find ourselves engaged
in the rhetoric of insightrhetoric which reveals
the new discoveries that seeking souls encounter.
The rhetoric of insight can be born out through
writing and research, perceptions given by the
Spirit, or simply new knowledge as a result of
thinking for ourselves.
Opportunities for insight are all around us, but
our categories and labels are so strong that we
sometimes cant see without them. Janine Gilbert,
who wrote the screenplay adapting the popular
Mormon novel Charly to film, has told me that in
the process of writing she realized that all stories
about Mormon characters for Mormon audiences
are essentially adaptations, because Mormons already
believe they know how other Mormons should
behave. Thus they come to the story with certain
expectations. They know how the story should end
before it begins. But this attitude has a stifling
effect on the creative spirit. John Bradshaw notes
that Richard Bandler suggested that
one of the major blocks to creativity [is] the
feeling of knowing you are right. When we
think we are absolutely right, we stop seeking
new information. To be right is to be certain,
and to be certain stops us from being curious.
Curiosity and wonder are at the heart of all
learning. . . . So the feeling of absolute certainty and righteousness causes us to stop seeking and to stop learning.11

The desire to write begins in wonder, too. The

writer is struck by something within, or without,
captured by something that is beautiful, puzzling,
or profound. Whatever it is, its something that
cant be accounted for, that cant be comprehended
by familiar descriptions, systems, or experiences. It
is new, and something new must be written to

account for it. People who think they have all the
answers do not need anything new. Repetition is
fine for the church meeting until we can master
those simple principles weve been told a thousand
times. But for art, its got to be new. Even an old
story must be told in a new way if its going to capture an audience. And we wont have anything new
if we think we already have it all.
Not Afraid of Believing
So there are cautions to consider when teaching
LDS creative writing students, but to their credit,
they do have a lot to offer in the classroom. First of
all, they have a pretty good work ethic. Once they
are disabused of the notion that writing is a mystical experience in which the muses dictate what one
is to write, they are easily convinced of the need to
work hard, even if they dont do it.
Because of the way the Church reinforces connections with others through diverse activities,
LDS student writers are less likely to bury themselves in their writing to the neglect of everything
else. They are less likely to numb themselves with
substance abuse. They are less likely to believe that
exclusive immersion into the self will awaken them
to the struggles of the human condition. Writers
who sacrifice faith, family, and friends, whatever
their religion may be, risk losing their connection
with God and otherstwo sources of constant fuel
for the writers imagination. Working with people
one wouldnt always associate with (as is common
in the Church and the family) is invaluable to a
writers deepening understanding of human character. Family life especially brings out the best and
worst in people. People in their extremities are
more honest and are, therefore, better subjects for
the writers observation. Of course, one doesnt
have to be LDS for this to happen. The good news
for Latter-day Saint writers is that the connections
the Church advocates can help, as long as the
writers religion is an open and healthy interaction
with others. A religion of politeness and dutiful
conduct will never benefit the writer.
Another advantage LDS creative writing students have is that they arent afraid to believe in

Telling the Truth: Teaching Creative Writing to LDS Students

nobility, truth, beauty, and good work. Latter-day

Saints are generally a believing people. This works
to their advantage as writers, since writing is always
an act of faith. One must believe in order to undertake a writing project, because writing always takes
much more work than one thinks at the outset.
Think of the faith needed to believe that one could
ever have what it takes to write something that
others will read and love. Think again of the faith
it takes to trust language itself, to forge ahead with
an assurance that language, with all of its slippery
signifiers, will carry one past all the personal and cultural differences between oneself and ones readers,
past all the other static in your readers lives, and
actually go to the heart. And furthermore, think of
the faith it takes to write that first word, knowing
that the market is governed at least as much by the
rules of business as the rules of aesthetics.
LDS student writers know something else that
is valuable, too. They know there is something in
the universe that is greater than themselves and
their writing: they know there is a God. Writing to
a recently converted friend, Flannery OConnor
said this in response to her friends fear that becoming a Catholicbecoming a believerwould stifle
her creative power: I doubt if your interests get
less intellectual as you become more deeply involved
in the Church, but what will happen is that the
intellect will take its place in a larger context and
will cease to be tyrannical, if it has beenand when
there is nothing over the intellect it usually is
This business of putting oneself and ones writing in its place is, paradoxically, a part of elevating
the purpose and meaning of the work. Ones writing becomes greater when it is subordinated, not to
a political or institutional agenda, but to the quest
to touch something higherlike God.
Writing for Adults
Novelist Wallace Stegner once said, Young writers
should be encouraged to write, and discouraged
from thinking they are writers.13 Unlike Olympic
athletes and rock stars, the twenty-year-old writer
is rarely better than the writer at thirty, forty, or
even fifty. Zeal can be good. Youthful energy can

be good. But writers need maturity. They need the

kind of maturity that comes from surviving success
and failure, from finding sin and weakness in
themselves as well as others, from seeing that lifes
problems are always more complex than the solutions they were taught as children. I have friends
who believe that Mormon culture does very little
to engender this kind of emotional maturity.
When I go to the local LDS bookstore, I see evidence that they may be right.
On the shelves of my LDS bookstore I find
plenty of books for children and adolescents. And
thats fine. Im very grateful for the number of good
books available to my own childreneverything
from Dr. Seuss to Lemony Snicket. Non-Mormon
writers are doing an excellent job of producing literature for children and adolescents that captures
their imagination, engenders a love for reading,
and teaches them within traditional moral values.
I say, let our children read Newberry and Caldecott
Award winning books. So far, theres not an LDS
writer or publisher that can do better.
But what is there for adults at an LDS bookstore? Romance novels for women, and doctrinal
books for men. Interestingly, both of these genres
are prescriptive. Both involve writing that knows
its end before it begins. Both involve the giving of
rules. Fictional genres like romance rely on forms
that prescribe the creation of characters, conflicts,
and outcomes. Doctrinal books are didactic in their
very purpose. They rely on commonly accepted
interpretations of history, doctrine, and scripture.
I dont doubt that there is an appropriate place for
both of these genres, but I also sense that they do
very little to encourage the development of spiritual and emotional maturity in their readers. They
rely on form and authority.
Certainly some books need to cover the basics,
introducing new converts and the youth to foundational principles. It may, in fact, be the appropriate responsibility of the official Church to be
repetitive. It may be inappropriate for the official
Church to go beyond that, because, as the LDS
scripture says, it is not meet that I [God] should
command in all things; for he that is compelled
in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise
servant (D&C 58:26).

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Could it be that God has consistently seen to

the repetition of the basics through his official
church, but at the same time has been waiting for
the rest of us to spread our wings, to ask questions
and faithfully seek answers, to invite personal revelation, to explore art and expression that is new?
Could it be that God is waiting on us? Possibly the
recent upsurge of LDS writing and film are only
the beginning of the flowering that President
Spencer W. Kimball spoke of in his landmark message, A Gospel Vision of the Arts.14 If this is so,
LDS creative writing students are the ones who
need to learn the relationship between questioning
and faith, art and religion, humanity and divinity.
They need to learn to tell the whole truth, not just
the propaganda, without losing that faith in God
and goodness that can bolster them while they
grapple in the conflict with despair, corruption,
hatred, and futility. Ultimately, they need to continue to work and believe that humanityas the
children of Godare worth the effort of art, just
as they are worth the effort of salvation.
1. Wendy Bishop, Released into Langauge: Options
for Teaching Creative Writing, 2nd ed. (Portland: Calendar Island, 1998), 2.
2. Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
(New York: Pocket Books, 2000), 153.


3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biogragphia Literaria,

in Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. H. J. Jackson (1817;
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 314.
4. Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees: An Editors
Advice to Writers (New York: Riverhead Books, 2001), 49.
5. Eugene England, Whipples The Giant Joshua:
A Literary History of Mormonisms Best Historical Fiction (unpublished essay, Brigham Young University,
n.d.), 78.
6. Lerner, 62.
7. Ibid., 5051.
8. Ibid., 58.
9. John Gardner, On Moral Fiction (1978; New York:
Basic Books, 2000), 14.
10. William Faulkner, Nobel Prize Acceptance
/faulkner-speech.html, accessed 21 November 2002.
11. Richard Bandler, cited in John Bradshaw, Healing the Shame That Binds You (Deerfield Beach, FL:
Health Communications), 89.
12. Flannery OConnor, The Habit of Being, ed.
Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
1979), 134.
13. Wallace Stegner, On the Teaching of Creative
Writing: Responses to a Series of Questions, ed. E. C. Lathan
(Hanover, NH: University Press of New England,
1988), 20.
14. Spencer W. Kimball, The Gospel Vision of the
Arts, Ensign 7 (July 1977): 35.

Tradition and Cultural Shaping of

Utah Valley LDS Women
Jacqueline S. Thursby

his is an essay voiced from my personal perspective and research. The LDS women with
whom I most frequently interact represent only a
tiny demographic slice of the women of Utah, and
they are women professors, female university students, women in my ward, and women in my family. I moved here nearly seven years ago (St. Louis,
Missouri, is my original home) to accept a faculty
position in the English Department of Brigham
Young University and am a folklorist and cultural
ethnographer who teaches a variety of courses.
One of my earliest research projects here was in
response to an invitation by the American Association of Cemetery and Gravestone Studies to present research on polygamist burial sites. Material
culture is part of my academic spectrum, and that
research led to an interesting find which I considered a telling commentary on LDS women of the
last century. In the Provo Cemetery stands a monument to a wife that carries her epitaph, You are
going to miss me when Im gone.
Yes, I thought, from what Ive learned about
LDS women, Im sure you were right. The concept of polygamy has never particularly interested
me, but I have heard it mentioned so many times
in my years here that I began to realize its subtle
influence in everyday LDS culture. The woman
whose epitaph I have quoted was a second wife,
but not a plural wife.
The following discussion continues in the form
of a personal essay but also includes academic research.
I am a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints and have been a member for over

forty years. I enjoy my membership and in this essay

discussing local LDS women, I hope to be more of
an observer than a critic. I am no Pollyanna, but
being positive has served me well over time, and
that attitude seems to be in harmony with President Gordon B. Hinckley. In his book Standing for
Something, he states:
My plea is that we stop seeking out the
storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am
suggesting that as we go through life, we
accentuate the positive. I am asking that we
look a little deeper for the good, that we still
our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more
generously compliment and endorse virtue and
effort. (Hinckley, 99)
Criticism and pessimism destroy families,
undermine institutions of all kinds, defeat nearly
everyone, and spread a shroud of gloom over
entire nations. We must resist partaking of the
spirit of our times. We need rather to look for
the good all about us. There is so much that is
sweet and decent and good upon which to
build. Above and beyond the negative, the critical, the cynical, and the doubtful, we can and
must learn to look to the positive and the affirmative. (1067)

During life difficulties, which all humans obviously face at one time or another, it is reasonable to
find, or be helped to find, a positive perspective
and respond accordingly. That isnt easy, but it is
the only way to guarantee an understandable and
endurable consequence. We are required to negotiate our space and our relationships to make them

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as workable and productive as possible. By my simple

immersion in a baptismal font so many years ago,
I gained sisters socialized in a culture that I had
never known before. From the beginning of my
church membership, my direction has been to
emulate the best of what I could observe and learn.
After finding the delightful comment on the monument, I turned to a broad study of journals, histories
(both academic and nonacademic), and interviews
considering the historical context and experiences
of past Utah women. Women were generous in sharing information of their grandmothers and greatgrandmothers. Even descendants of the epitaph
lady were willing to share information with me. It
was revealing to examine the cultural and character
formation of these sincere and often well-educated
women of the Church, both past and present, who
adhered to the faith. It is important to remember,
I think, that now only about ten percent of all members of the Church reside in the Intermountain
West (Hart, 2), yet the influence of the Utah/Idaho
LDS culture seems to touch and shape members all
over the world. My questions have centered around
their cultural shaping here in Utah. What defines
them? And, of course, I have learned that there is
no simple answer to that question.
Many Utah LDS women are descendants of
nineteenth-century polygamy. They make no particular effort to hide that, nor should they. Rather,
though many LDS women, over time, have told
me that they are relieved not to be required to practice plural marriage, these same women take pride
in the stalwart fortitude of their pioneer grandmothers. These were grandmothers who abided
the covenant they made by choice and remained
steadfast in their belief in the restoration and faith
in the gospel until their deaths (Taylor, Clarke,
interviews, 13, 14 October 1997).
The reality of history impacts choices and
behaviors in the present, and the conceptual presence of polygamy in this culture, though not practiced or even frequently mentioned, is understood,
accepted, and a genuine part of the collective consciousness of many, if not most, Intermountain
LDS women. How many times have I heard the
quip about Seven Brides for Steven Brothers? No,

I am told, in Utah it is Seven Brides for one

brother! As I see it, contemporary LDS culture,
especially in the West, is bounded on one side by
the heritage of practices that were required for
many Saints before, and bounded on the other by
the veil that leads to a spiritual realm where the
practice will be in effect once again. Isaiah 4:1
states: And in that day seven women shall take
hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own
bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be
called by thy name, to take away our reproach.
I see a connection in the feminine self-presentation
and dignity some of todays LDS women of the
Intermountain West and this reflected collective
memory. There is pride in the choices made over a
hundred years ago, and part of the honor these
women demonstrate for their ancestors is reflected
in their understanding and choices of today. The
concept of the pioneer grandmother shapes, or at
least influences, many middle-aged and older LDS
women. Younger LDS women in Utah speak passionately of other types of social and cultural pressures that have shaped them, and I will include
some of those in this discussion.
What are these contemporary Mormon women
really about? I think this group is somewhat misunderstood from the outside and too often even
within itself. I have become sensitized to perceptions by outsiders in part due to recent sensational
news coverage concerning Utah polygamy cases.
For instance, stories about Tom Greene and his
wives have been in newspapers from Salt Lake City
to London to Frankfort. Though those incidents
here occurred among non-LDS people who loosely
call themselves Mormons, there is categorical confusion about us in national and international representation. Even my own non-LDS mother in
Missouri asked me for an explanation of these
reports. Those born in the Church and those who
convert to it share a rich pioneering history. This
belief system was founded and built on the legacy
of those who sacrificed much to establish a society
ready-made, a society that would not shift with
every passing breeze, as stated in Maurine
Whipples The Giant Joshua, a semihistorical novel
centered on the founding of St. George, Utah

Tradition and Cultural Shaping of Utah Valley LDS Women

(Whipple, 474). Some LDS women seem to be comfortable with that concept, but others push against
it and find it altogether stifling. For most, at least
in the valley where I live, contemporary beliefs and
actions reflect the heritage. Elaine Jack explained,
in an essay called Read . . . One to Another:
The gospel is a plan whereby we learn to
become like God. We have textbooks that are
divine and the Holy Spirit as our tutor. The
intellect, like testimony, is not worn out when
we use it. Engaged, it thrives on the stimulus of
learning new and different things, analyzing,
processing, storing, and recalling. Let the solemnities of eternity rest upon your minds (D&C
43:34) is a reminder to take seriously the
opportunity to continue to learn and grow. (9)

Certainly, our own quest for education and

information shapes and molds us into sisters,
wives, and mothers in Zion, but popular cultural
influences and tightly constructed fears and taboos
restrict some LDS womens understanding. Misconceptions strangle the hope for some of ever
coming to peace with Gospel ideals. Many of our
young, and not so young, women have been caught
up in the so-called fashionable trends and selfpresentations of the world. Confused about
healthy attitudes and blaming the LDS ideal of
striving toward perfection, it has been pointed out
to me by a young BYU instructor (female) that
many have become victims of unhealthy eating
attitudes, anorexia and bulimia, because the guys
want the girls skinny. These are tragic but treatable conditions that, in my opinion, must be
addressed on an individual basis. Both genders need
to recognize that our influential media is driven by
economics, and imaging women (as size 6 or simply
not all right) is a tool of Satan. It demeans, distorts,
and degrades women, and men, to have physical
size, hair color, and looks determine self-worth at
any age.
We are also shaped by the words of nonMormon people living in the Western states who
often hold benign, but somewhat distorted, opinions about Mormon (or LDS) women. When I
told one of my graduate school professors in
Logan, Utah, that I was a Mormon, he responded

immediately with a chuckle and then asked if I

intended to bear children through time and all
eternity. I replied that if I did, it would be my
choice. Some of my graduate students and I have
talked to contemporary Latter-day Saint women to
gather their perceptions about who they think they
are and what they think shaped them most socially
and culturally. The operative questions for the
most part were, What is a Mormon woman? What
do you think was most important in your own cultural shaping as an LDS woman in Intermountain
Utah? Two of the women I visited with about this,
both in their late forties, expressed positive responses.
Marilyn E., in personal conversation with me
(9 February 2003), said, I didnt grow up here,
but in the years Ive been here, Ive been most
influenced by the closeness, maybe because of the
close living space, of LDS neighborhoods. Ive
learned what service is; Ive served and been
served. Another sister said, I feel that there is a
lot of goodness here; I guess you would have to call
it love. I moved here when I was a child, I grew up
in this neighborhood, and Ive always felt a part of
everything (Virginia S., conversation, 9 February
I presented this paper at The Womens Studies
Colloquium Lecture Series at BYU on 13 February 2003, and Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill asked afterwards if any of the women interviewed mentioned
being shaped by their patriarchal blessings. That was
an excellent question, and in all of the interviews
my students and I have conducted, I dont remember that ever being mentioned. Professor BallifSpanvill also asked what I thought the three most
salient cultural shaping elements were. I answered
that I thought they might be having enough faith
to live in obedience to gospel principles, keeping
the covenants of baptism and the temple, and
appropriate self-presentation. It may be, though,
that those are my three most salient points.
Later that same day, I asked a class of upper
division undergraduates, women and men, what
they felt shaped them culturally (English 356: Myth,
Legend, Folktale, 13 February 2003), and asked
them to keep the comments as honest and positive
as possible. Their responses were interesting and

AML Annual 2004

provocative (but not entirely positive). The following is the list brainstormed that day:
1. Family traditions
2. Growing up in the mission field (Babylon),
where there werent many LDS, and then
moving here for school where everyone is
LDS really has an impact on people. The
culture is less accepting of difference here.
3. We are sort of shaped by the motherhood
4. Cultural perfection: baking bread, no brownie
mix, all foods from scratch and looking perfect all of the time.
5. Striving for excellence with the opposite sex
6. I think striving for perfection has made me
want to be constantly improving. I think
that is good.
7. Striving for excellence in everything including extracurricular activities. I have been
shaped into being tired.
8. The fake happy thing has shaped my outward appearance, but I feel frustrated by that.
9. Pressure to marry has made me not want to
marry yet, and that is an unusual cultural
attitude at BYU. There is even more pressure to marry when a girl returns home from
a mission. I am not sure if that is positive or
negative; that is just the way it is.
Contemporary Latter-day Saint women in the
Intermountain West are as varied as any group.
They represent all socio-economic levels; they are
of all shapes, colors, ethnic groups, and personalities; their regional, cultural, social, political, and
educational experiences are varied; and like women
of any American group, they are single, married,
divorced, or widowed. One of the commonalities
LDS women do share is a strong belief in what
is called in the church vernacular free agency
that is, the unalienable right to make choices
according to the dictates of ones own conscience.
That is a valuable prerogative and, since the founding of the Church in 1830, certainly one that the

LDS women have embraced with certainty and

The following discussion will examine my perceptions of a few historical elements that seem to
have influenced the cultural shaping of contemporary Latter-day Saint women, at least in Utah.
Sources for the work include voices from contemporary conversations and informal interviews,
journals, diaries, church records, and published personal and professionally written histories. The discussion ranges lightly over about one hundred
fifty years, and it occasionally moves backward and
forward in time to demonstrate what I perceive to
be long-lasting behavioral influences. No interpretation can possess all truth, but I have hoped to
find some illuminating threads in what Ive gathered
for this work. We are all shaped by many influences, and a narrative of any kind has multiple
meanings and speaks to different levels of thought
and knowledge. My intention has not been to gloss
over significant historical occurrences, but rather
to include them as markers in the collective memory of contemporary LDS women in Utah. The
historical events mentioned are topics I have heard
mentioned since moving here; and, as I have stated
above, my association has been limited mostly to a
circle of active LDS women.
Early converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints came from the United States and
Canada, as well as from Europe. Embracing a common belief system and the newly established
American civil union, they often syncretized their
traditions, keeping the best of what had meaning
to them, and invented new social and cultural
milieus. The Latter-day Saint people, often misunderstood and persecuted for their peculiar beliefs,
moved from place to place and state to state in
their early history and ultimately underwent a
diaspora (scattering) at the time they were forced
to vacate their Illinois settlement in Nauvoo. The
early female converts, however, were instrumental
in establishing and reestablishing standards of civilized behavior on the frontier of early America

Tradition and Cultural Shaping of Utah Valley LDS Women

whether in the early days of mosquito-infested

Nauvoo, in tents during the cruel winters of
184647, or in the newly found settlements in Salt
Lake and the surrounding region. As the following
pages unfold, readers will discover, as I did, the
iron will of these women who believed that they
had covenanted to yield their divinely appointed
free agency to the will of God and that the will of
God was to be revealed and administered through
the authority of the male priesthood leadership of
the Church.
The son of Lucy Mack and Joseph Smith Sr.,
Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints, courted and married
Emma Hale, a tall and attractive 21-year-old
(Givens, 18) in 1836. In a way, Emma became the
first female model of LDS refinement and
endurance for the many Mormon women who
followed. A young teacher and a strong, intelligent
woman in her own right, she performed as a supportive wife in roles that ranged from careful scribe
to gracious hostess to devoted mother and homemaker for Joseph and their children. In spite of
accusations, persecutions, and various incarcerations that her husband endured before his assassination, she stood firmly by his side and sustained
his decisions, except for one: Emma intensely
opposed the concept of plural marriage that Joseph
had received through divine revelation.
Like other women of her time, Emma had the
energy and desire to reach out in charity beyond
her family. In the early to mid-1800s, womens
charitable groups, often labeled benevolent movements, were popular in the United States; groups
met regularly and sought to provide various kinds
of Christian service. The Latter-day Saint women
hoped to have their own official ladies society and
sought approval from the Prophet Joseph Smith.
When permission was granted, Emma was present
as a leader at the organization of the womens
Relief Society in the upstairs room of Smiths store
on 17 March 1842:
At that meeting several women remarked that
the new institution should differ from other
benevolent societies, Eliza R. Snow declaring
that the popular Institutions of the day should

not be our guidethat as daughters of Zion,

we should set an example for all the world.
(Nauvoo Minutes, 17 March 1842, qtd. in Derr,
Cannon, and Beecher, 27)

Emma, who maintained grave concerns about the

concept of polygamy, was one of the founders and
charter members of the Relief Society in the beginning, and later Emma was credited with (or held
responsible for) breaking up that same group. Eliza
Snow revealed that her beloved sister in the gospel,
Emma, disbanded the Nauvoo Relief Society. Eliza
told a group of Relief Society sisters in Utah in
1868, Emma Smith gave it up so as not to lead the
society in erro[r] (West Jordan Ward, Salt Lake
Stake, Relief Society Minutes, 7 September 1868,
qtd. in Derr, Cannon, and Beecher, 62). This
proud, devoted wife, a woman of wisdom who was
referred to in revelation as an elect lady (D&C
25:3), remained in Nauvoo when the Latter-day
Saints escaped to the West in February 1846. In
part because of the scripture, in part because of
known history, her memory lingers in the consciousness of the women of the Church, and her
example as a noble and devoted wife of the Prophet
has assured her a continual place of respect and
honor. My impression is that women of today are
much more tolerant of Emmas choices than most
of Emmas contemporaries. Her body lies interred
next to her martyred husband in a family plot in
Nauvoo. Though her name is seldom mentioned
by Utah women, she is remembered as a woman of
dignity and long suffering, a genteel, pioneer
woman who supported her husband until his
untimely death.
Other pioneer LDS women are held in high
esteem and have been celebrated by their numerous descendants. Personal journals and records of
the Church represent these early female members
as hard-working women of sacrifice and generosity
who struggled to maintain the genteel refinements
of the East in spite of poverty and fear. Looking
back over time and space, it must be remembered
that these were women who not only faced hardships and the death of loved ones as they moved
from Kirtland, to Missouri, and then to Nauvoo,
but they subsequently crossed the plains from

AML Annual 2004

Winter Quarters, Nebraska, to the Salt Lake Valley.

These women became exiles from the United
States and, with unwavering faith, were among the
first party of pioneers to enter that valley in 1847.
Dumped from their wagons along the trail were
precious objects too heavy to keep. More precious
even than those possessions, countless children and
elderly family members were also lost and buried
along the way. Those women who survived, many
of whom had become plural wives, defended their
position and looked forward to establishing a sanctuary, a safe place, beyond the borders of the
United States.
One of the ways leaders of the young womens
programs of the Church help to transmit the memory (and reality) of these early pioneers is by taking
them for handcart trail re-enactments. The sacrifice
and hardships of the early settlers are greatly
admired, appropriately so, I think, and the young
women are given, in some stakes, a sort of rite-ofpassage to help them embrace and remember their
heritage. On the other hand, taking the youngest
young womens group, the Beehives, to bridal shops
for a day of Cinderella magic, I believe, is counterproductive. In my mind that leads to unnecessary
disappointment if Prince Charming doesnt show
up before the girls reach twenty. There are positives
and negatives to negotiate in their social and cultural shaping.
One of the legacies from this vast group of pioneer laborers is the charitable work ethic that
abounds among the sisters in the contemporary
LDS Church. Charity Never Faileth (1 Cor.
13:8) is the motto of the Relief Society, and I have
participated in and observed the humanitarian
efforts of the women on both large and small
scales. Charitable acts such as making blankets,
assembling personal care kits, and preparing meals
for the ill and needy are performed in quantities
beyond counting. Group efforts undertaken by
large assemblies of women who attend the yearly
Relief Society Womens Conference at Brigham
Young University are nothing less than phenomenal in what they organize and turn out. This charitable ethic is a cultural shaping from the past, and
it continues to impress upon generation after

generation of willing LDS women that part of

their honor and dignity comes from performing
simple, selfless acts.
The following is a brief view of two areas of settlement in early Utah: Salt Lake City and St. George.
It is important to consider what the early female
pioneers thought and passed along to their daughters and granddaughters in addition to acknowledging the heavy physical duties placed on them to
ensure survival. I believe these attitudes and commitments determined among the women then are
still present and dynamic within the sisterhood of
LDS women today.
Last summer my granddaughters and I visited
Pioneer Village in Salt Lake City. We toured
Brigham Youngs summer home and were amused
there by what the guide called the Deseret costume. The girls, both nine, giggled and asked,
Grandma, did they really dress like that? I said
that I didnt think so, but I later came across a
passage in Women of the Covenant that illuminated
the reality of that costume. The Eastern fashion at
that time was the tightly corseted look, which was
considered expensive and unhealthy. So local LDS
women designed the Deseret costume consisting of
a loose-fitting, high collared blouse, full skirt
about mid-calf in length, and full pantaloons to
the ankle (Derr, Cannon, and Beecher, 71 ). Eliza
Snow, who modeled the outfit publicly, continued
to dress (according to an early picture) in the Eastern fashion. Women of the Covenant goes on to
state: For all their spinning and weaving of homegrown fibers, the wearing of eastern goods and
styles, at least for Sunday best, was a statement of
gentility that women of the Mormon frontier
made, and would continue to make, despite the
difficulty of their wilderness lives (Beecher, 286,
in Derr, Cannon, andBeecher, 71).
Over the decades that I have been a member of
the Church, I have observed a simple dignity in the
self-presentation of most Latter-day Saint women
and their daughters. Financial resources vary, of
course, but the women and girls are encouraged by

Tradition and Cultural Shaping of Utah Valley LDS Women

tradition and training to dress modestly and maintain excellent grooming standards. As mentioned
above, some seem confused by the fashion trends
of the day, but for the most part this cultural practice of attractive self-presentation is a manifestation
of the worth and esteem the LDS women expect of
themselves. Long ago one of my childrens kindergarten teachers remarked in a general conversation
we were having about the Mormons and the
Church: I think the most beautiful women in this
country come from Utah. There is something
about those Mormon women. Collectively and
consciously, I believe, the LDS women know they
are representative spiritual daughters of a very real
God. They know, too, the sacrifice their progenitors have made to enable them to live their religion
with dignity and impunity. They continue to
honor their dead both inside the temple through
the work done there and outside of the temple by
representing their ancestors with grace and modesty.
The principle of plural marriage was fully in
effect during this twenty-six-year period (1849 to
1875). Criticism abounded, and Brigham Young and
his wives were targeted. There were tirades from
Protestant ministers, the LDS were misrepresented
in popular novels, and they were the butt of tasteless jokes and cartoons generated by outsiders who
simply did not understand the principle and design
of the Celestial Order. In marked contrast to the
kindergarten teachers remarks, Mark Twain, in a
passage well known to many LDS readers, stated:
Our stay in Salt Lake City amounted to only
two days, and therefore we had no time to
make the customary inquisition into the workings of polygamy and get up the usual statistics
and deductions preparatory to calling the
attention of the nation at large once more to
the matter. I had the will to do it. With the
gushing self-sufficiency of youth I was feverish
to plunge in headlong and achieve a great
reform hereuntil I saw the Mormon women.
Then I was touched. My heart was wiser than
my head. It warmed toward these poor, ungainly
and pathetically homely creatures, and as I
turned to hide the generous moisture in my eyes,
I said, Nothe man that marries one of them
has done an act of Christian charity which

entitles him to the kindly applause of mankind,

not their harsh censureand the man that
marries sixty of them has done a deed of openhanded generosity so sublime that the nations
should stand uncovered in his presence and
worship in silence. (Twain, 138)

Regardless of literary satire and governmental

duress (including the antipolygamist Morrill Act of
1862), Youngs home was said to be one of domestic peace, and his wives and children shared a love
for each other that cannot be explained (Carter,
11). It is noteworthy to mention that descendants
of Young and of many other polygamous unions
carry their inherited legacy with pride, not embarrassment or shame. Elizabeth Kane, in her journal,
A Gentile Account of Life in Utahs Dixie, 187273,
remarked that the Mormons do not say one of my
wives, but my wife, I still imagine there is but one
(Kane, 3). Perhaps it was this display of respect that
some husbands practiced that left a legacy of pride
in so many. There are numerous folk stories and
jokes about polygamous families in Utah, but the
reality was often a devout sense of obedience and a
serious struggle for survival. This, too, is a part of
the cultural shaping of contemporary Intermountain LDS women.
Each woman lives, grows, and is then transformed by the years and experiences. Through that
process, she carries a continuing identity, an identity that links together the baby, the matron, and
the white-haired matriarch in a oneness that continues, according to LDS belief, throughout eternity. For these women in early Salt Lake City,
among the first to enter into plural marriage after
those at Nauvoo, appreciation for and conversion
to the covenants sometimes developed slowly until
they blossomed into understanding. Eliza R. Snow,
a poet and wife of Brigham Young, wrote: As I
increased in knowledge concerning the principle
and design of Plural Marriage, I grew in love with
it, and today esteem it a precious, sacred principlenecessary in the elevation and salvation of
the human family in redeeming women from the
curse, and world from corruptions (Snow, 17, qtd.
in Derr 70). For those born descendants of these
brave women, there is quiet understanding of the

AML Annual 2004

joys and challenges their forebearers faced and a

certain sense of identity and loyalty to the dignity
of these early pioneers in Salt Lake City.
The novel The Giant Joshua, written by Maureen Whipple and published in 1941, represents
another kind of pioneer life. Comparatively, Salt
Lake City was a fairly civilized place. The Giant
Joshua was recommended to me by several people
when they learned I was interested in the early cultural experiences of Latter-day Saint women in
Utah. The harsh life described in its pages assumes
a tangible quality in its descriptions of almost
unendurable living conditions. It reflected, too,
most graphically, the hardships of crossing the
plains. When Willie, a quiet, nonassuming (and
often neglected) plural wife and important character in the book, was dying, her memories are
described as swirling about her, and the following
description of her hand-cart experience is given:
Greasing axles with bacon and even soap.
Chewing a crumb of buffalo meat until it got
white and tasteless. Rationed to less than half a
pound of flour a day. Feet festered, wrapped in
rags. Remnants of human bodies eaten by wolves.
Five hundred head of cattle stiff amid the snowbanks. Tents and wagon-tops blown away and
wagons buried up to the tops of the wheels.
Men pulling their handcarts up to the moment
they died. Wading a river and cutting shins
against the blocks of ice. Joe eating a dead horse
in the moonlight, mistaken for a wild animal,
shot. Ground too frozen to dig graves. Sixteen
die in one night, bodies piled up. Not enough
men with sufficient strength to pitch tents. Sat
on a rock until morning with dying children on
my lap. Feet frozen, bare upon the snow, I crawled
forward on hands and knees, then on elbows
and knees. Sister, the martyrdom of Joseph
and Hyrum was nothing compared to this!
(Whipple, 497)

Reading this book for the first time without

knowledge of the whirlwind of controversy that
attended its initial publication, I found that the life
Whipple described represented strength and weakness, beauty and horror, life and death, and within
it all women supporting, loving, and strengthening

each other through loss and fear, joy and celebration. They helped one another with lifewith
deaths and births and everything in between.
Whipple describes efforts of the women to
raise a generation of dignified, well-groomed and
well-behaved daughters: All the little girls in town,
starched and curled, each clutching her wilting
bouquet, formed a vanguard (230). And in another
passage, Clory twisted her hair in the new English
chignon, pinched her cheeks before the cracked
mirror above the cupboard. . . . But one must keep
ones looks as long as possible (505). The novel
tells a sad, human story, but it shapes an understanding of a generation long ago who consciously
set a standard of cleanliness and presentability for
those who would follow.
I recall a young mother from Utah in my
St. Louis ward who was there while her husband
was completing medical school. Each Sunday,
lined up, smiling, and behaving well, were her four
little girls, starched and curled, with big bows to
match the pretty dresses their mother, a woman
with an MBA, had actually made. She was the Primary president and devoted to her family and calling. To me, that shining little group of girls
remains a memory of a mother who understood
well the role she had chosen.
The young mother I have just described was
named Marian, and she was no Stepford wife, nor
was she a product of Helen B. Andelins Fascinating Womanhood, a book published in 1963 that
claimed to guarantee the strategies for winning a
mans genuine love (1). I was given the book,
apparently popular among many LDS women,
when I joined the Church in 1966, and though
some of it was common sense, a good part of it
taught women to be manipulative. Marian was a
person of integrity who brought children into the
world and fully assumed responsibility for their
care and training. She loved taking care of her
home and children and enjoyed her husband, but
she drew the line at canning. At one point, several
women who were Primary teachers called and said
they would not be there for their classes that week
because they were bottling green beans. Marian
turned to me (I was one of the Primary counselors)

Tradition and Cultural Shaping of Utah Valley LDS Women

and remarked that canning or bottling was something she would never do. She said she had seen a
lot of it in her lifetime, but making freezer jam was
as far as she would ever go in that department.
Marian was a product of her rural upbringing, yet
she was a self-examining person and enjoyed reading and studying both sacred and secular materials.
She set her own priorities concerning the way she
spent her time and sometimes remarked that a
woman could find time for everything she might
want to do if she only did some planning. The
women who were doing the bottling had made
that choice consciously as well. There was a small
window of time in which the vegetables could be
processed at their peak, and their credo was focused
on a waste-not point of view. That view represents
another dynamic and important perspective of
pioneer and contemporary Mormon women.
LDS women, even those in isolated, rural areas
of Utah during the last quarter of the 1800s,
prided themselves in being informed about literary
and political issues. This was a time of womens
suffrage movements in the United States, and the
women in Utah were just as anxious to attain voting rights as any other group of American women.
The Womens Exponent, a publication established in
1872, forged a link between the women of Utah
and other women throughout the nation. In the
non-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune, however, articles
written by women from outside Utah strongly suggested that women in Utah should vote to terminate the practice of polygamy. The LDS women
did not respond to antipolygamist crusades. Those
who had entered into plural marriage covenants,
for the most part, kept their commitments. They
had already received suffrage in 1870, long before
the rest of the nation.
Many of the women were interested in a variety of other topics, not the least of which was literature. The Womens Exponent presented book
reviews and articles with an emphasis on female
writers. Margaret K. Brady, folklorist at the University of Utah, stated, This . . . also extended to
an inclusion of poetry and essays by the finest Mormon women authors of the day: Eliza R. Snow,
Emmeline B. Wells, Emily Woodmansee, Hanna

King, and Hannah Cornaby, for example (Brady,

113). There were also literary inclusions from wellknown female writers such as George Eliot, Harriet
Beecher Stowe, Louisa M. Alcott, Elizabeth Barrett
Browning, Margaret Fuller, Elizabeth Wilcox, Anne
Bradstreet, and Phillis Wheatly. It gave to Utah
women a sense of belonging to a community of
women writing (Brady, 115). A perusal of the special collections shelves at the Brigham Young University library should convince anyone that the
LDS women of this period were serious about
writing, and that has continued as represented by
the thousands of honors and masters theses, and
books of poetry and essays, written by female students in the last hundred years.
The Womans Exponent continued to be an important link with the world outside Utah until its end
in 1914. The paper itself, and the women who
were regular readers, realized that it gave Mormon
women . . . a new medium through which to speak
for themselves and to represent their own ideas
about womans rights to national advocates (qtd.
in Wagenen, 39). Brady further tells us, The effect
such publications had on the development of Mary
[Susanna] Fowlers own sense of herself as a woman
of words cannot be overestimated (112).
Susanna Fowler (18621920) was a polygamous wife and mother who lived in Orderville and
later Huntington, Utah. Brady wrote Fowlers biography based on narrative, diary, personal life history,
and church records and emphasized the unselfish
usefulness of this womans life as a poet and folk
healer in the communities where she lived during
her youth and prime. But more than that, we can
look at what Susanna Fowler represents as a prototype of the interconnectedness among women that
was a part of the early pioneer sisterhood.
Grounded so firmly in this female community
of caring, Mary Fowler began her young adult
years already fully immersed in the interconnectedness she would find central to her conception of self. In fact, Mary Fowlers days as a

AML Annual 2004

young wife and mother in Orderville, and later

in Huntington, were often comprised of joining with other women in work activities
(braiding rugs, sewing, or taking care of the
sick, for example). These informal associations
with other women, begun first as a young girl
in the United Order, continued to be Marys
support and sustenance throughout her adult
life. And like her mother, Marys network of
friendship and work also included a sister-wife.
(Brady, 4748)

Though the United Order didnt last long, it

was truly an experiment in unselfishness. And that
selfless concept is another cultural concept that
continues to shape both the behavior and philosophy of LDS people, both men and women. An
example of these ideals of unselfish usefulness
and interconnectedness are the cultural behaviors
that emerge almost automatically as members of
wards grow older together. In my own LDS ward,
an old one where generations have grown up and
grown older while helping one another with children and challenges, there is a particularly established interconnectedness between the sisters.
Spending decades attending meetings together, celebrating together, and tending and teaching each
other has bred a familiar community that is tightly
knit and supportive, yet not exclusive. When new
people move into the ward boundaries, the sisters
shower the family with home-cooked goods and
friendly tips about the neighborhood.
Id now like to turn the discussion back to
1883 and another LDS sister. Annie Clark was
married to Joseph M. Tanner in 1883 when polygamy, or plural marriage was widely practiced and
strongly defended by the Mormon religion (Tanner, xv). Doug Thayer of the BYU English Department recommended this book about Annie. Her
parents lived the principle, Annie herself was the
second wife of Joseph M. Tanner, a teacher. After
marrying Annie, he took two more wives under the
covenant and then was forced by law to abandon
all of them. He had seventeen children, ten of
them born to him by Annie. This brave woman
scrubbed the floors and did the housework for
neighbors and relatives (xxvii) in order to feed the

children, because he could not acknowledge the

family. She also worked as a practical nurse and
sometimes, in tending the ill, had to leave the family for days or weeks at a time.
Late in her life, she wrote an autobiography for
her family called A Mormon Mother, which presents an intimate view of the life of a woman who
raised ten children alone. She wrote, My problems were only details to Mr. Tanner. I dont suppose he ever felt concerned as to how I would work
them out. I imagine that all his wives carried, more
or less, their own responsibilities (313). This stalwart woman, a school teacher and then a nurse,
kept her integrity when her highest hopes, one
after another, were irrevocably shattered. . . . Her
will was never broken (Tanner, xxi). She wrote,
The principle of obedience dominated the teachings of . . . her girlhood (Tanner, 2), and in those
times it was a mans place to create conditions,
and a womans place to accept them (Tanner, 29).
Her son Obert, in the introduction to the book,
wrote, Seldom has one individual combined such
a high degree of both intellect and compassion
(Tanner, xxxii ).
According to her son, Annie Tanner bore all of
this hardship, deprivation, and loneliness with dignity and faith in the will of her Father in Heaven.
In the closing of the book, she wrote, My children
were never a trial to me. I have always loved my
work (335). Reflecting on a story like this one and
reaching out to internalize the honor and dignified
example of a woman of such steady character is
something that one can do only by reading and
pondering the stories of these women who honestly lived the principles of celestial marriage. And
yet, in every branch and ward around the world,
there are women who, with total devotion and
little murmuring, raise their families alone with the
joy of the gospel to hold them up. This Mormon
mother, in the midst of incredible hardship,
including her own constant fatigue and occasional
poor health, raised her brood, and among them
were teachers, professors, lawyers, businessmen,
and devoted mothers.
We read of the past to shape the present.

Tradition and Cultural Shaping of Utah Valley LDS Women

After the 1890 Manifesto announced by Wilford
Woodruff, polygamy was officially forbidden by
the Church in obedience to the law of the land,
and Utah became an official state in the United
States of America. During the first twenty-five years
of the twentieth century, life in rural Utah was a
fairly constant battle between survival and death
from starvation or disease. Infant mortality was high,
which meant constantly wrestling with the reality
of death. Leonard J. Arrington wrote of his family
in Spanish Fork in September 1900:
During the winter, the entire family came down
with smallpox . . . the house was quarantined,
and they had no income. The family very
nearly starved this winter, saved only by their
dried fruit, tomatoes and whatever else Priscilla
had been able to can and by the help of ward
members and friends. . . . Elder Mueller, who
had baptized Priscilla, brought a large box of
Christmas food and clothing, including a dress
that Sister Mueller had made for Priscilla; the
family remembered it as a pretty dress and a
nice one. (Arrington, 474)

Again, families helped families, and women helped

women. In Salt Lake City during this same period,
life was safer and physically more comfortable, but
it was a period of disruptive transition. Idealized
monogamous marriage was a popular ideal, and
the twentieth century attitude was one of accentuating the similarities . . . between Zion and Babylon (Derr, Cannon, and Beecher, 153), instead of
the differences. The concept was to get along with
nonmembers and to try to be more helpful to nonmembers in Salt Lake City and in other areas of the
state. Both in Utah and in Idaho, attendance
among the young women at meetings was falling
off because they had different perceptions and
goals than the leadership, primarily comprised of
women a generation or two older.
Historically, the first twenty-five years of the
twentieth century were encompassed by a national
zeal for progress; the industrial age was in full swing,
and younger women wanted to learn new, scientific
methods for caring for their young and keeping

them alive and healthy. Training was given through

the Relief Society, and as Women of the Covenant
states, The mothers work had catapulted the Relief
Society into a program that would seem for women
of later generations its chief purpose: education
(Derr, Cannon, and Beecher, 161). Women were
being taught to manage their homes more efficiently and to participate in works of charity. These
directions were to continue even to the present day
when the latest directives of the Relief Society are
to provide the sisters with useful information that
can be applied to their daily lives, both temporally
and spiritually.
During this twenty-five-year period, significant
events occurred that shaped many cultural facets of
LDS womens experience. The twenties brought
the Relief Societys increased emphasis on childcare and outreach social programs. At the same
time, films and magazines such as Ladies Home
Journal and Good Housekeeping had shaped, almost
dictated, traditional Thanksgiving meals and
Christmas celebration procedures for the country.
The visual media provided a plethora of appealing
images of what became American material icons:
the overstuffed sofa and chair, room-sized imitation Turkish carpets, electric lamps on every table,
telephones, a shiny chrome and white kitchen, and
a pink bathroom. LDS women, along with women
in the rest of the country, hoped to create homes of
visual appeal and domestic peacefulness. The Great
Depression in the thirties did not impact the rural
areas of Utah and Idaho as severely as in the Eastern
cities, and because of the abundantly producing
farms, there were few families in the Intermountain West who went hungry. This was not as true
for the urban areas in the West, and the Relief Society worked long, hard days to provide for the needs
of the unemployed. There were continued social
welfare movements both within and without the
Church, bringing peoples attention to the needs of
the less fortunate, and of course, this was the period
in which the great welfare systems of the Church
were born.

AML Annual 2004

The LDS women were taught practicalities of

shoestring survival for their families during this time,
and the stories grandmothers and great-grandmothers
tell of the deprivations and hardships for some during this time are sobering. Again, I ask, how does
this impact the cultural shaping of todays LDS
woman? Having female students who seem to
think that ground beef is born in those little white
plastic trays with shrink wrap and that bread will
always be abundant in every variety imaginable is
also sobering. Most of the wards I have attended in
the last fifteen years or so seem to have dropped the
genuine emphasis on food storage, and it has been
a long time since I have heard, Store what you use;
use what you store.
During this period of time I lived in St. Louis, Missouri. Our Relief Society president was a member
of Phyllis Schaffleys Eagle Forum, a conservative
group founded largely to fight the passing of the
Equal Rights Amendment. I can remember being
shuffled off on a bus sponsored by the Relief Society, with a baby on each hip, to hear Ms. Schaffley
speak. I was busy with my children but trying to
stay informed, so I took part in spite of the inconvenience. It was difficult. This, of course, was a period
of unrest for the entire country. Voices seemed to
speak out of nowhere helping to devalue womens
roles as wives, mothers, and homemakers, and I will
admit that I stopped reading newspapers and magazines for a while during this time because I wearied of being told that I must be unhappy. I had been
blessed with a nice husband, a safe little home, a
bunch of kids, a row of cookbooks, fine health, and
genuine happiness. Gloria Steinham, Betty Friedan,
and a host of others convinced American women
that they were missing something very important
by staying home and taking care of their families.
There is no question that the feminist movement opened myriad doors for women and all
minority groups in positive ways, that is, socially,
intellectually, and financially. But it also created
the era of the Super-Mom, the woman who
thinks she should, and can, do it all, that is, be a

wife, mother, cook, homemaker, Gospel Doctrine

teacher; earn an advanced degree; do arts and crafts,
gardening, reading, jogging, travel, and everything
elseand still look like a Barbie doll. The truth is,
as reported by the National Womens Health
Resource Center (
content.cfm?L1=3), heart attacks are topping the
charts as a cause of early female death. Further,
younger women tended to have heart attacks that
were more severe and were accompanied by more
complications than their male peers did (Science
News Online: www.sciencenews.ort/sn_arc99/7_
24_99/fob8.htm). That wasnt, and isnt, the kind
of cultural shaping we need.
Many women, particularly LDS women, still
seem to feel that pursuing professional interests
outside of the family can only be bought by failure
in the home (Hurd, 141). That really isnt true.
Each individual sister has undefined abilities and
capacities, and it is the responsibility of each individual to learn, through serious self-examination
and prayer, what hers is. Many womens physical and
intellectual capacity is full serving the family
and the Church and working in the home. That
is great if it works for her. Ive heard repeated conversations about mental depression in Utah LDS
women. These reports may or may not be true, and
as the general reading public now knows, depression can have many causes from chemistry to circumstance. Medications are readily available to help
victims of this incapacitating disorder. If it is true,
if the incidence is genuinely higher here, the question to ask is why. I have yet to see statistics that
supply that evidence. Is it a misunderstanding, as
my friend suggested, of the striving for perfection,
or is it possibly simply mental or physical fatigue?
The financial reality of todays world makes
being a full-time homemaker a genuine privilege.
If a homebound sister feels the need for intellectual
stimulation, an adult education or university class
can be added to the weeks schedule. Or, of course,
some sisters have enough strength and organization to pull off a full-blown career of law, medicine, or academics, provided they have operative
support systems. The most challenging situations,
of course, are the single mothers who must work to

Tradition and Cultural Shaping of Utah Valley LDS Women

take care of their families. I believe that they should

be at the top of the list for care and assistance from
the priesthood, Relief Society, and ward members.
If they arent, as one of my male students reminded
me recently, they sometimes become embittered
and leave the Church. It is simply too hard without
support, and that is what happened to his mother
who raised him alone.
One of the great teachings of the Church is
that the Lord, knowing the financial, psychological, and emotional chaos of the world, has allowed
women to be recognized on an individual basis.
What a woman does with her time is between God
and her conscience, and she has both the Church and
the law to back up her choices. Reflect a minute on
those good pioneer women. They surrendered most
of their pleasures and agency to provide these
choices for us. It is our responsibility to honor that
legacy and consciously construct our lives in a way
that honors their sacrifice. I think that is how
we thank them for what they did for us, and I
think that is one of the concepts we need to teach
our daughters and granddaughters.
During the last twenty-five or thirty years, the Church
has grown into a world organization. There are
over one hundred temples. What does that mean
in terms of the cultural shaping of LDS women
over time and space? In the LDS view, that means
LDS women all over the world are learning to live
under the protection and guidance of the Holy
Ghost. It means women all over the world are
receiving blessings through the authority of the
Priesthood. It means all over the world, women,
encouraged to maintain those elements of their
ancient cultural traditions that will not detract
from gospel principles, are learning to temper their
views and embrace the charity that is Christ.
In these last years, the United States has enjoyed
unprecedented economic gain as well as startling
recessions. The stock market has gone up, up, up,
and down, down, down. There are wars and rumors
of wars. There has been high employment and high
unemployment; crime rates have gone up and down,

and we all know that public school teachers should

be paid more and taxes should be lowered. Again,
how do LDS women fit into all of this? Returning
to the question posed in the beginning of the paper,
What is a Mormon woman, thoughtful Mormon
women wonder this, and they give us food for our
own pondering. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, writing
for a special issue of Dialogue called The Pink Dialogue and Beyond in the winter of 1981, stated:
Lehis story has particular relevance for
Mormon feminists. As the wrenching struggles
of the past five years have forced us to reach for
the eternal and enduring amid the transient
and temporary, we have felt and grasped the Iron
Rodsometimes to our own amazement. For
so many years I have been a questioner, a protester, a letter writer; I had begun to think that
words like faith and testimony belonged to other
women, the ones who sat quietly in the congregation, meekly acknowledging the authority of the brethren. Gradually as I have found
myself in front of a class or down on my knees
or back at my typewriter after each new crisis,
I have begun to realize that those words belong
to me. (38)

In an interview conducted by graduate student

Kristina Kugler, her subject, Ashley Rayback,
responded to the question, What defines an LDS
woman? by saying, I think that technically, all women
who are LDS would be defined as LDS women.
I dont think that in order to be LDS you actually
have to live it. There is a difference between being
part of a religion and actually living it, but I guess
Im rather literal in assuming that if you are LDS,
you are, regardless of how you live it. Pretty simple,
but I take definitions pretty literally, I guess (Ashley
Rayback, personal interview, 15 November 2002).
Graduate student Lauren Gillespie asked the
same question of Kimber Nielson and paraphrased
Kimbers response:
Kimber addressed this question in terms of
qualities of womanhood that reflect the teachings of Jesus Christ. She specifically mentioned
unconditional love, motherhood, and kindness.
She discussed the differences between what
she calls the reality of LDS women versus the

AML Annual 2004

ideal. By this she meant that LDS women

often flounder to meet a standard of LDS
womanhood that includes everything from
looks and clean homes to service and education. Kimber feels that the reality of LDS
womanhood can be daunting and virtually
unobtainable. The ideal of LDS womanhood,
on the other hand, encourages women to
define themselves by pursuing their personal
talents and striving to fulfill their own life
dreams, rather than trying to live each day
according to a uniform prescription of happiness. (Kimber Nielson, personal interview,
8 November 2002)

One of the women I interviewed, Elizabeth R.,

said she felt an LDS woman is defined by the love
she gives others. She suggested that the gospel is
like a cocoon of love, a security. It is positive and
even more encompassing than a safety net, and an
LDS woman committed to the love and charity of
Christ learns, over time, to give that love to
others. I know Liza well enough to know that she
believes and practices what she says (Elizabeth R.,
personal interview, 26 September 2002).
We are all so different. We are individuals with
mosaics of experience that construct our own carefully fitted cultural perceptions and practices. Elder
Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve said
in his October 1996 conference address:
Of course, our genes, circumstances, and
environments matter very much, and they shape
us significantly. Yet there remains an inner
zone in which we are sovereign, unless we abdicate. In this zone lies the essence of our individuality and our personal accountability. . . .
Like it or not, therefore, reality requires that we
acknowledge our responsibility for our desires.
(Maxwell, 21)

As we LDS women are shaped by our heritage

and life experiences, we need to try to remember
that we are responsible for our agency, or inner
zone, and what we choose to do with it. My discussion began with a discovery of a monument to a
probably strong LDS woman who lived and served
in Utah. To me, I perceive most of these women,
past and present, as women of the covenant who

are devoted to good. Our legacy from the past is

rich, and I believe that both the present and the
future can be aglow with promise if we choose to
believe that they can be. Our spiritual and cultural
heritage was created by design, not by accident,
and our response to it is our choice.
Arrington, Leonard J. In Quest of Betterment: The
Lee Roy and Priscilla Arrington Family. In Nearly
Everything Imaginable: The Everyday Life of Utahs
Mormon Pioneers, ed. Ronald W. Walker and
Doris R. Dant. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1999.
Andelin, Helen B. Fascinating Womanhood. Clovis, CA:
Pacific Press, 1963.
Beecher, Maureen Ursenbach. Womens Work on the
Mormon Frontier. Utah Historical Quarterly 49
(Summer 1981): 27690.
Brady, Margaret K. Mormon Healer and Folk Poet: Mary
Susanna Fowlers Life of Unselfish Usefulness.
Logan: Utah State University Press, 2000.
Clarke, Sheryl. Personal interview. 14 October 1997.
Provo, UT.
Carter, Kate, and Daughters of Utah Pioneers. Brigham
Young: His Wives and Family. Bountiful: Carr
Printing Company, 2000.
Derr, Jill Mulvay. The Lion and the Lioness: Brigham
Young and Eliza R. Snow. BYU Studies 40:2
(2001): 55101.
Derr, Jill Mulvay, Gwyneth Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher. Women of Covenant: The
Story of Relief Society. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,
E., Marilyn. Personal conversation. 9 February 2003.
Provo, UT.
Givens, Terry L. By the Hand of Mormon: The American
Scripture That Launched a New World Religion.
Oxford/ New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Hart, John L. Ten Million Members Worldwide.
LDS Church News, 1 November 2001, 3, 5.
Hinckley, Gordon B. Standing for Something: 10 Neglected
Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes. New
York: Times Books/Random House, 2000.
Hurd, Kerrie W. The New Reliable Me. In Mormon
Women Speak: A Collection of Essays, ed. Mary
Lithgow Bradford. Salt Lake City: Olympus Publishing, 1986.

Tradition and Cultural Shaping of Utah Valley LDS Women

Jack, Elaine L. Read . . . One to Another. In The Doctrine and Covenants: A Book of Answers. Salt Lake
City: Deseret Book, 1996.
Kane, Elizabeth. A Gentile Account of Life in Utahs
Dixie, 187273: Elizabeth Kanes St. George Journal.
Salt Lake City: Tanner Trust Fund, University of
Utah Library, 1995.
Maxwell, Neal A. According to the Desire of [Our]
Hearts. Ensign 26 (November 1996): 21.
Nielson, Kimber. Personal interview. 8 November 2002.
R., Elizabeth. Interview. 26 September 2002. Provo, UT.
Rayvack, Ashley. Personal interview. 15 November 2002.
S., Virginia. Personal conversation. 9 February 2003.
Provo, UT.
Snow, Eliza R. Sketch of My Life. This sketch is dated
13 April 1885. Holograph, Bancroft Library.
Tanner, Annie Clark. A Mormon Mother: An Autobiography by Annie Clark Tanner. Salt Lake City: Tanner
Trust Fund/University of Utah Library, 1991.

Taylor, Sally. Personal interview. 13 October 1997.

Provo, UT.
Twain, Mark. Roughing It. 1872. New York: Penguin
Books, 1985.
Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. The Pink Dialogue and
Beyond. Dialogue 14.4 (Winter 1981): 2839.
Wagenen, Lola Van. Sister-Wives and Suffragists: Polygamy and the Politics of Woman Suffrage 18701896.
Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Studies, 2003.
Whipple, Maurine. The Giant Joshua. Salt Lake City:
Western Epics, 1976.
Womens Heart Attacks. National Womens Health
Resource Center: 7 February 2003. http://www, and Science News Online: 24 July1999: Womens heart
attacks kill more often.


Questing I, Altogether Other, or Both?

Three Poems and a Prose Bit on Nature
Patricia Gunter Karamesines

s a writer of poems and stories about nature,

I must ask what purpose such writing serves in
a culture concerned with the salvation of human souls.
Two views present themselves for consideration.
In his essay Keepers of Stories, Dan Wotherspoon writes that Latter-day Saints have many clues
that God . . . honors as intrinsically valuable every
entity in the universe (51). He poses further that
each entity desires joining in deeper, more complex relations with other entities (49). One implication of this view is that the purpose of nature
writing would be to advocate such relations.
But what if, as Alex Shoumatoff puts it in Legends of the American Desert, Other exists only as a
projection of the self, positive or negative, into cultural or natural environment? (490). In this case, pilgrimages into wilderness engage the psyche in an
archetypal adventure, tapping into reservoirs of the
sacred each of us carries within. Thus the natural
world becomes a cathedral of mirrors wherein we
see ourselves unfold. Writing about such pilgrimages
would amount to keeping sacred records, and the
quality of the records would depend upon a writers
ability to imagine him- or herself in a landscape.
Nature: a cathedral of mirrors, an interface region
wherein we engage Other, or both? This question
designates what might be considered a gospel frontier, an only lightly mapped area of our beliefs. Yet
it is fully worthy of deeper exploration by LDS writers, especially in context of our doctrines of free
agency, eternal progression, and redemption. Personally, I find irresistible the urge to wander such territory. When I do, I turn in my writing to elements

of the creation that God looked upon after he made

them, saying they were very good (Moses 2:31).
Dead Horse Point

The weedy clouds of spring

Grow on the peaks, break off, then drift
In tall gardens over sandstone blue
With the bruise of squalls. I stand
Two thousand feet above the coils
Of a river that has burnt its way,
Leaving behind this red stubble
Of canyons. Buds of lightning burst
And wither at once;
The air is rutted with breezes;
Stones lie where they fell cracking
At the roots of cliffs. The land
Twists through bands of light,
Like a juniper through soils, at the sun,
And if my blood did not burn, like the river,
The clays of its country, I would see
The horizon ripple with growth.
Here I am only slightly longer-lived
Than the lightning; I may not last
The next stones throwing.
Now is May, and winter hangs ripe
And white on peaks just east
Of these cliffs. On canyon floors,
Thin blossoms growing through drifts
Of sunlight freckle the sand;
Yucca sends up its stalk.
I myself am midsummer, sun is liege,
Fruit halfway down-branch
To the ground. The moon on her tether
Keeps large on the horizon; unwashed stars
Spread thick and flagrant across meadows
Of crescent and dwindling times.

AML Annual 2004

It seems to me in my half-summer,
Two thousand feet above the river,
Years below the stars, and all
But one sense out of the range of snow,
There have been mistakes: the cut seasons
Of childhood and time drawn from the pulse
Marking wilderness with one worn path
Of mortality. Some effect of desert
Makes it seem a range of times
Inhabits distance, much as light
Skidding through water sets down tracks
Of fast and slow color. Or if time
Is relative, it is irrelevant,
Or all the same, or a figure men use
In the garden marketplace,
Like inch or ounce. Or confluence
Then longevity is not measure of things
Outlived, but how deeply the soul
Winds in the braid, like,
Two thousand feet below, the river.
Through intervals between storms
Light sweeps peregrine upon sandstones
Navajo, Windgate, Kayenta
Old eras made flesh and dwelt among
By generations of four tribes of wind.
Lightning crumples as its born,
Wearing white paths
Through rain-bearing clouds. Two ravens
Rise bickering on a draft. Beside me,
An unbloomed cliffrose whistles
As a gust out of the tempests tangles
On a black branch. The wet tick of rain
Flecks my skin; shadow falls;
The river bears down; the stones ascend.

Stone Mirrors
A light in sound, and sound-like power in
light. . . .
Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
The Eolian Harp
Some earth sings, having in inclinations
Of droplet, gust, grain, and glint
Brilliant proclivities to voice:
Leaves crinkling in a clench of breeze; arias
Of rockfall; echo-heaped woodnotes.
But some earth chants.
Raw, wild whoops of light
That stone mirrors fling back

And back, jazzing blue

Stars on rimrock,
Silences bottomless glissando:
These wind through navel and nerve
To tune on the very grain of the blood.
The first, casual ears may hear
Without reflection, but the other
Worse than sirenia,
Songs that send the hearer
Screaming to the mirror
For solace of self.
Back at the fire, bold adventurers say,
Had I not heard it,
Would it have been so ravishing?
Oh, please.
Let us not be tempted by conundrums.
If the song sings remote,
Entangling no ear,
It still sings.
We must not think a place faceless
If we do not see
Ourselves in its rock,
Nor beautiful if we think we do.
Yet we who are caught
In prayer-loud places
As though by deluge,
Try to make something out
As we are ourselves unmade.
It is an old dance.
Between our broken footsteps,
Around and through,
Leaves separate from trees
Scales of silence falling
Falling here, and flashing
In star-garnered canyons
Across whose walls Scorpio
And Lacerta scuttle.

The title of this next poem is Desert Gramarye.

Gramarye here means magic, but also I chose the
word for its sense of a grammar book or primer.
This poem rose out of a trip I took last September
when I went to a place in the desert I have visited
many times over the last twenty years. On this visit,
I found it heavily enchanted, one might say,
by Park Service signs. Some think this poem
antiU.S. Park Service. It is not, but I did feel it

Questing I, Altogether Other, or Both? Three Poems and a Prose Bit

necessary to respond to language fencing off what

for me is one of the sacred places of the earth.
Desert Gramarye

It is like the old Tarzan movies:

White hunters find their way barred
By skulls on sticks.
The Park Service has erected
A pavilion on the rim.
Beware, it says.
Quicksand. Flash floods.
How to Resuscitate Lightning Strike Victims
One warning tells.
It pretends helpful information,
But it is another white skull.
On a sideboard, the complete caveat
A man pierced all through with sticks.
We are loath to look on it, but do:
It alone rates five full skulls.
Thirty-five-year-old male, it says.
Not enough water.
Disoriented. Delirious.
Collapsed. Convulsions.
Core body temperature one-hundred-and-eight
In an air-conditioned ambulance.
Expected to recover, but
Suffered liver and brain damage.
I dont understand.
Did he recover, or didnt he?
Ahthat is not the point of the skulls.
In the old Tarzan movies
The skulls, the shrunken heads,
The bad juju, Bwana,
They mean, this could happen.
To you.
We hope.
The tribe that inhabits these parts
The fierce Park Service
They maintain all hearts of darkness
Beating in these wilderness.
No doubt they know already
We are here. Bwana,
They have much bad juju.
Yes. I can see that,
And I wonder what I have brought with me

To ward off potent spells flung at the feet

In the first few steps of a journey.
I breathe:
Flash Flood. Come.
We have met many times and parted
Always on good terms.
I would like to see you again,
Old friend, Flash Flood.
Quicksand. Come.
We are no strangers.
You caught me by my ankles,
Then retracted your claws;
I remember
Your tongues rasp.
Perhaps we shall wrestle again,
Mud panther,
You I am not so sure about.
When your gray matter thunders
And your synapses
Fire between heaven and earth,
Let me not be found in those corridors.
Fall elsewhere, flash elsewhere, Lightning,
And I will tell all
Of blue quarrels bolting cloud to cloud,
Of electrokenetic harpoons
Havocking lone jumpers.
Thus I shoulder my pack
And pass by all skulls,
Speaking soft words
Of relation.

My husband Mark describes my novel First

Angry as a story about a girl and her dog. That is
about right, except I might say that the novel
is about a girl, her dog, and a landscape, and there is
also scripture and a little murder and mayhem
thrown in, along with some original folktale-like
storiesI call them faux folktalesset into the
In this scene the main character, Alexandra
McKelvey, takes herself off into the desert with
her dog, Kit. She is trying to gain perspective on
trouble afflicting the BYU archaeological field
camp she has been attendingand perspective is
what she gets.

AML Annual 2004

Excerpt from First Angry

The wash broadened suddenly into a fan of moist
sand. The walls, too, widened to form a rounded,
chamber capped by an azure disc of sky. Just a few
yards away lay a shallow plunge pool. Kit waded in
and drank noisily. Set into the talus slope just beyond
the pool were small, centuries-old grottos playing
music that in this natural amphitheater found complete and pleasurable expression. Water clittered
around three moss-framed, stone-keyed seeps. Their
wiry and crooked little streams stepped and ruffled
down-slope to empty into the pool.
Alex sighed. All that existed in the world were
the seeps, tinkling like shaken jewelry or liquid
chimes, a sound silvery and variegated, and Alex,
their audience, taken in by them, her sympathetic
chords thrumming in response. Water in the desert
sunlights perfect foil, a colorless manna. Here were
veins of itcapillaries, reallywetting and weaving their way, singing, Take, take-only enough, and
no more.
In faith that the seeps would be running, Alex
had brought very little water with herone bottle,
mostly gone now, and one more empty. The seep
on the far left dripped slightly faster than the other
two. Each time it was differentwhich seep seeped
fastest. Choosing her steps so as not to damage a
garden of summer-blown columbines, she climbed
to that far seep.
Once, she had arrived so early in the spring
that a platter of ice, threaded with hairline cracks
so that it looked like the colorless iris of an eye,
floated on the pools surface. The slow, circular
movement of the platter and the rounded bank of
sand fleshing out the pool gave the impression of a
heavy-lidded eye gazing slowly around and up. The
sky returned the gaze from its own pond of depths.
Alex propped one bottle under the fastest seep
and set a second in the next. Compared to the faucet
blasts of modern plumbing and the surge of flushing toilets, these beads dropped ever so slowly. This
was not a place for the dehydrated. If you depended
on a place like this to sustain you, you planned
your thirsts. You waited for the water to step to you;
you could not force it. If she wanted, she could

count how many drops fell as they plunked like pearls

down broken green strings of moss. All around her,
soft echoes played off stone wallswhispers reciting tonal charms.
Surely this was a deliberate place. Alex got the
impression it had shaped itself here by notion or
choiceperhaps even by inspiration. Geologically,
it could be considered a happenstance of nature. As
some said, in any realm of the great kingdom of
Serendipity, elements and natural forces happily
and unexpectedly discover each other in glorious
cosmic accidents.
But there are no accidents, Alex thought. Things
came to where they were or to where they met
through choice. Choice shone as a facet of probability, and probability a facet ofwhat? Creation?
And creation shone in long, illumined and illuminating rays, shafting and fanning fromwhere?
Some said they didnt come from anywhere, they
just were: beauty is its own excuse for being.
But as Alex gazed around the Water Temple,
she thought, beauty is not its own excuse for being.
Perhaps the gorgeous acted as a weathervane indicating wind direction, but of course a weathervane
reveals only those aspects of a breeze relevant to the
task at hand. Objects or confluences of event that
human beings respond to for their beauty, however,
seize upon the soul, provoking that desire Alex
thought a harbinger of Other. Alex was irresistibly
attracted to Other, even though, in her experience,
encounters with it required heaping dearly held
worldviews upon flame-licked altars. In return, the
conflagration yielded generous pay-off. Eye opening
and song inspiring, Other enfolded the soul into a
boundless, native economy, a multiplicity and replenishment leading to both satiety and desire all at once.
No, she thought, theres a good chance beauty
directs the gaze beyond itself.
She heard wordsshe wasnt sure whether she
thought them or spoke them. Maybe another voice
uttered them. When she was in this state of mind,
it was hard to tell. Speaking her mind or speaking
to her mind, the voice said, That which strikes as
beautiful raises consciousness with balms distilled
from herbs grown elsewhere than the half-undeveloped
plot of the human soul.

Questing I, Altogether Other, or Both? Three Poems and a Prose Bit

Alex had read or listened to readings from others

like herself who adored Nature. Some pilgrims,
stricken by such visions as Earth and its skies conjure, seemed to try to make of it a lover, a parent, a
goddess. Alex suspected that at least a few who
sought to defend their beloved from ravages of
humankind in turn exploited it on other levels by
forcing imagery and intentions upon it that were
foreign, shaped wholly upon fixed self-images, sorrows suffered, innocence lost. Then in such cases,
and to varying degrees, perhaps it was themselves
they were hastening to defend, salvage, or preserve.
On the other hand, maybe it was exactly right
these voices from the earth speaking loss. Parts
of the earth mourning over exploitation suffered,
struggling to survive. Yes, Alex musedit was possible: people, being of the earth, sharing the earths
fate, perhaps down to the cellular level, and all that
trouble concerted, crying out.
Yet as Alex crouched at a seep at the rim of one
eye looking up at another, it occurred to her that
the earth did not flourish alone, but garnered its
living elements from vast fields of voluptuous
lights and life that traded across eternities of being.
If this was so, then at least in some respects, Nature
could take care of itself. Perhaps beautythe kind
that shakes mortal understanding by the scruff of its
neckwas inviolable. Capable of cataclysms of
renewal, it could return and reclaim its ground
maybe even improving it in the process.
More to the point, what of me? Alex asked.
Am I capable of renewal like that?

Shed made changes in her life, butlike she

imagined it might be done, on a grand scale, elements a-swirl, crossing corridors in an augenblick,
taking on new names?
Not just at this moment.
She gazed around the chamber like a fledgling
seeing the edge of the nest with an eye suddenly
wide to the peril in her own wings. Below her, the
plunge pool lay flat, its silvered surface bending
back pale images of cliff and sky
Water in the desertboth mirror and window.
And the sky overheada blue-backed mirror by
day hemming in our consciousness and our image
of the present, and an open glassless eternity at
night filled with rippling and eddying times and
events of light and firethe pyrotechnics of worlds
without end.
Water and skyour torment and our relief as
they intimate we are not self-sustaining, nor is now
an end unto itself or all that ever could be.
Shoumatoff, Alex. Legends of the American Desert. New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. New York: HarperPerennial, 1999.
Wotherspoon, Dan. Keepers of Stories. Irreantum 4.2
(Summer 2002): 4651.


My Big Fat Greek Wedding :

A Model for LDS Filmmaking?
Eric Samuelsen

here are some compelling reasons why LDS

filmmakers might be attracted to My Big Fat
Greek Wedding as a model for theirourown
efforts. The film cost $5 million to make. As of
9 February of this year, the latest figures Ive seen,
the film has a domestic gross of just a shade under
$240 million dollars. Despite a critical response
that was by no means universally positive, it remains
the most lucrative romantic comedy ever made.
And its a film based on, rooted in an insular and
generally unknown culture, without movie stars of
any kind, written by and starring Nia Vardalos,
a woman who is part of and who in her own life
represents positively the culture in which the film
is set. Simply put, thars gold in them thar hills.
And thats not a negative thing. One presumes that
$240 million does not represent multi-multiple
viewings by Greek Americans. Its a crossover hit.
I dont think Im alone in thinking that a Mormon
crossover hit would be nice.
In my recent work with LDS screenwriters, it
has become increasingly clear that Im not the only
writer to have these thoughts. I have read numerous scripts lately for romantic comedies set in Mormon culture. None of them have particularly
grabbed me, and I thought it might make sense to
look carefully at Big Fat Greek Wedding itself. What
might be at the heart of this films popularity? How
well does it serve as a model for our own efforts?
What can we learn from it? And how do our current crop of LDS films compare?
My Big Fat Greek Wedding tells the story of
Tuola, a Greek-American woman just turned thirty,

whose culture demands of her four things. She must

obey her father in such matters as romance and
career, she must marry a Greek man, be a virgin on
her wedding night, and bear and raise a large GreekAmerican family. Tuola meets and falls in love with
Ian, a high school teacher from a WASP family of
undetermined ethnicity, and she and Ian decide to
marry, culminating in the wedding of the films
title. The film, in short, is a romantic comedy.
The first thing that struck me, however, is how
comparatively conflictless it was. The all but obligatory structure of romantic comedy, in which two
people meet, initially dislike each other, fall in love,
enjoy each others company, are then parted, usually due to a misunderstanding, and are reconciled
at the last minute, is almost completely absent. Ian
and Tuola are mature and responsible adults. They
meet, fall in love, decide to marry, and marry. Early
in the film, Ian invites Tuola to dinner at his
favorite Greek restaurant, Dancing Zorbas. Tuolas
parents run that restaurant. Typically in such films,
she would offer some excuse why they should eat
somewhere else, and her unwillingness to admit
her association with the restaurant would become
the cause of the misunderstanding which fractures the relationship, leading to the obligatory last
minute reconciliation. I remember anticipating
some similarly contrived overplotting. But no, Tuola
simply tells him the truth, and the moment passes.
Later, when Tuolas father discovers theyve been
dating, he refuses permission for the two to continue the relationship. But no conflict results; Ian
simply tells Tuola, Ill see you tomorrow, and she

AML Annual 2004

nods. Theyre past thirty years old. They want to

marry. Her fathers objections are, properly enough,
treated as irrelevant.
Throughout the film, any relationship obstacles
are treated with this same mature common sense.
At one point, Tuola tells Ian that she would like to
simply elope, leave her family and culture behind.
Ian, though, is wise enough to know that she
doesnt mean it. Her Greekness is an essential part
of who she is; her cultural identity is Greek. Hell
adjust, as needed, to her culture. At one point he
even agrees to baptism in the Greek Orthodox
Church. I anticipated, perhaps, some crisis of faith
for Ian, some scenes involving his discomfort over
this essentially forced conversion. But no, Ian sees
her church affiliation in almost entirely cultural
terms, as indeed do the other characters. And so
hes baptized without fuss or bother, beyond a wry
nod to the embarrassment of it.
This unwillingness to force a conflict into situations where no conflict, properly, should arise is,
I think, part of the charm of this film. It does, however, suggest a film in which theres actually no real
problem to be solved, a film in which the stakes are
reasonably low. Id like to suggest, however, that
the central conflict of this film has nothing much
to do with Tuolas relationship with Ian at all. The
major dramatic question of this film is not, as
would be the case in conventional romantic comedy, will Ian and Tuola marry? The central issue
of this film is better phrased will Tuola carve out
a space for herself within her culture? Greek culture, in this film, is portrayed as vital and vibrant
and earthy. And also confining, smothering, and
insular. Tuolas love/hate relationship with her culture is at the heart of the conflict in this film.
Again, look at the list Tuola, in a voice-over,
provides for us early in the film. She is expected to
obey her father in such matters as romance and
career, she must marry a Greek man, be a virgin on
her wedding night, and bear and raise a large GreekAmerican family. But Tuola, against her fathers
wishes, takes courses in a nearby college. She leaves
the family restaurant for a more congenial job at a
travel agency. She dates and marries outside Greek
culture. And she is not a virgin on her wedding

night. Ian provides the impetus for part of her

gentle rebellion against cultural expectations. But
shes begun a process of self-liberation before Ian
enters the picture.
Its precisely this central dynamic of the film,
this series of cultural negotiations and compromises,
small acts of subversion, followed by cultural reexaminations, thats at the heart of the film. Id also
like to suggest that cultural negotiation is the key
to the films extraordinary success. Greek culture,
as portrayed in this film, seems loud and boisterous
and earthy, but we can also see how confining it is.
And yet, in the films finest moments, the film
reveals a culture confident enough to open itself up
to redefinition.
Cultural negotiations occur throughout the
film. Tuolas aunt is momentarily nonplussed when
her offer to cook for Ian leads to the revelation
that hes a vegetarian. But she recovers quickly and
announces, Thats all right, then. Well serve lamb!
Tuola s desire to work at the travel agency leads to
a conspiracy in which her aunt and mother trick
her father into giving permission. And, at the films
climax, the wedding, Tuolas father offers a toast
to the happy couple, in which he announces that
the family name, which means Orange in Greek,
is nicely complemented by Ians family name, which
means Apple in Greek. So, he concludes, were
all just apples and oranges. Both fruit. And Ians
uptight WASP parents drink ouzu and dance with
their new Greek in-laws, and the film ends with images
of reconciliation and extended family togetherness.
It is precisely this openness to change, this
sense of an inclusive vitality in Greek culture transcending our initial impression of insularity, that,
I think, makes the film so joyful. My Big Fat Greek
Wedding ultimately reveals itself as a film that celebrates cultural difference, without in any way
suggesting a violation of cultural essences and
identities. It could only have been created by someone like Nia Vardalos, a woman comfortable in her
own culture precisely because shes carved out a
place for herself within it. In the films final scene,
Tuolas own child is sent to Greek school, which we
perceive as far more than a mere nod to her Greekness. But, Tuola tells her daughter, you can marry

My Big Fat Greek Wedding: A Model for LDS Filmmakers

anyone you want to. To paraphrase: Remember

that youre Greek, but also dont forget that youre
you. Find your own identity, your own unique
space in the world. But remember the culture that
formed that identity, that space. Surely even the
title, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, with its overtones
of exasperated affection, suggests the films central
Its precisely this sense of cultural negotiation
that is, I reiterate, at the heart of this remarkable
film. The fact that its a romantic comedy is essentially irrelevant. When LDS filmmakers trying to
copy the films success do so by setting romantic
comedies in LDS culture, theyre fundamentally
misunderstanding the appeal of My Big Fat Greek
Wedding. And I am concerned that too many of the
LDS films that are in current release provide us
with precisely the opposite sense of LDS culture.
So far, too many of our most popular films have
portrayed our interaction with LDS culture in precisely opposite terms than those used by Vardalos
and the Big Fat Greek Wedding team. Rather than
suggest the possibility of negotiating with the culture, finding a space for ourselves within it, too
many of our films have suggested that LDS culture
requires that we cram ourselves into a specific cultural identity, inescapable and nonnegotiable.
Id like to show how this dynamic functions in
three LDS films: Charly, Singles Ward, and the first
half of The RM. I say first half, because thats all I
saw. The film hasnt been in release for very long,
and my first chance to see it was last night, when
the projector broke approximately half-way through.
I fully acknowledge the inappropriateness of
responding to a film I havent seen completely, and
I understand that my impressions of it may well
alter if and when I see the rest of the film.
To begin with Charly, then. Charly is not, of
course, a romantic comedy, though much of the
first two-thirds of the film feel like one. But along
with the romance of the film is a conversion story,
and culture becomes a very large part of the
story. Charly is initially presented to us as an artist,
politically liberal, living in New York with her
boyfriend. She describes herself as an intellectual,
and were clearly meant to see her as a free spirit.

Throughout much of the film, Charly is understandably unwilling to even consider the offer of
the Mormon boy, Sam, to teach her about the
Church. When she does begin investigating, her
conversion process is described in the film in a very
truncated version. But a turning point in that process is clearly a moment when she tells Sams mother
that she has developed a sudden urge to . . . can.
I think this is a moment fraught with significance. Conversion for Charly clearly involves a
good deal more than repentance and baptism. At
no time does the film suggest that marriage to Sam
could involve his moving to New York. Shes a
painter; she has to live in New York. Sams a computer guy, vaguely defined; he could easily find
work in her town. And her apartment, what we
see of it, is clearly large enough for both of them.
But no, the film clearly argues for the necessity
that Mormons live in Utah. Indeed, Charly commits that most extraordinary of sacrifices for her
new culture; she gives up a rent-controlled Manhattan apartment. Her art changes. She stops painting reasonably interesting still lifes and begins
painting in a style that I can describe only as early
Liz Swindle.
Charly, the film, suggests very little possibility
of cultural negotiation. We all know, of course,
that it is perfectly possible for someone to be politically liberal, an intellectual, an artist living in
Greenwich Village, and an active Latter-day Saint.
I knew a man in Norway who was both an LDS
bishop and an abstract impressionist. But those
choices, or others like them, are never even offered
to us by this film as possibilities.
Now, one could argue that Charlys decision to
paint sentimentally is the sin for which God punishes her with death. More seriously, one could point
to evidence in the film that Charly, after marrying
Sam, finds Utah Mormon culture congenial. She
obviously enjoys shocking the sisters in Relief Society with her openness about sexuality, for example.
Still, this depiction of Mormon insularity is discomfiting. Charlys negotiations with Mormon culture, in this film, feel more like surrender to cultural
imperatives than any actual give and take. When
Charly reveals an interest in canning, for example,

AML Annual 2004

Sams mother (an otherwise agreeable and strongwilled woman) could easily have laughingly told
her, honey, thats great. But you sure dont have to
can to be Mormon. That is, after all, true.
The Singles Ward is a film about which I am
somewhat reluctant to speak. I have, after all, been
quite outspoken on the subject of this film on
AML-List. It does seem, however, far and away the
closest match to Big Fat Greek Wedding of all
the recent LDS film releases. It is, after all, a film
about a protagonist, once comfortably ensconced
within a culture, who has become alienated from
it, who then forms a romantic attachment that
enables him to reconcile with his cultural past.
Structurally, there are at least superficial similarities
between the two films.
When we examine this film in terms of this
theme of cultural negotiation, however, these similarities between Singles Ward and My Big Fat Greek
Wedding become less significant. It is quite true that
both films show their respective cultures in fairly
broad and comical terms. But Singles Ward is a
depiction of characters who are outcast from their
culture. Theyre comically inept losers, poor dancers
in unfashionable clothes and ugly haircuts. My Big
Fat Greek Wedding, on the other hand, depicts characters who are perfectly comfortable in their culture. Jon, the protagonist of Singles Ward, is troubled
primarily by his inability to fit into Mormon culture, which is conceived in terms more monolithic
than insular. Tuola, on the hand, initially is perceived by her family as fitting nicely in Greek culture. But shes not happy. And she wont be happy
until she learns how she can be herself first.
Singles Ward relies throughout on a kind of
cultural short hand, in which images of cigarettes
and beer become signifiers for unrighteousness and
worldliness. This is not done, I think, in satirical
terms, mocking those Mormons so narrowminded
that they really think theyre better than anyone
else because we dont smoke or drink beer. On the
contrary, in this film, were made to think that Jon
is in spiritual peril because hes alone in a room
with a girl who drinks beer.
This leads to the key scene in the film, Jon, a
professional comedian, performs for his love interest,

Cammie, who has just received her mission call.

Jon begins his act by telling jokes about cigarette
smoking and the dangers thereof. His tone is
aggressively self-righteous, reflecting the films own
shorthand towards its own typology, and Cammi
is the only person in the room laughing. His act
bombing, Jon then turns to material were led to
believe is his stock in trade, innocuous jokes about
Mormonism. Example: hed acted in a production
of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, but in Utah,
it became Seven Brides for One Brother. Its mild
enough stuff, but Cammie takes offense and leaves
the nightclub. In the parking lot afterwards, she
tells him off and even suggests that his stand-up act
is an attack on the Church itself. And this leads
to the couples obligatoryin conventional plot
Let alone the fact that, in this scene, the stock
in trade of the entire film, gags about Mormons, is
here condemned. Let alone the fact that nothing
else in the film suggests that were to regard Cammie as mistaken. What interests me is the cultural
fallout from this scene. Jon, in order to marry, quits
his stand-up act. He marries Cammie and thus
reconciles himself to her views, specifically, we presume, as regards to the role of comedy in Mormonism. Theres no process of negotiation, of Jon,
as a comedian, carving out his own unique identity
within his culture. On the contrary, Cammie, who
emerges as the films raisoneur, represents a cultural
stance that can be described only as take it or leave
it. If Jon wants to be a comedian, he can go right
ahead. But theres no room for you in Mormonism.
Its precisely this sense of Mormonism as cultural monolith, this inability to accommodate even
the most trivial cultural difference that makes
this film ultimately, for me, so despairing. Its a
funny film; the audience on the night I saw it
laughed a lot. But its not much fun. In fact, I
found watching it to be a singularly joyless experience. My Big Fat Greek Wedding ultimately celebrates the vibrant, life-filled, earthy vitality of Greek
culture, suggesting that that culture can indeed
embrace the Other and accept the possibility of
individual autonomy within its own boundaries.
Singles Ward portrays Mormon culture as not just

My Big Fat Greek Wedding: A Model for LDS Filmmakers

insular, but oppressively rigid. My Big Fat Greek

Wedding is a marvelous, huge, circus tent of a movie;
Singles Ward depicts Mormonism as the tiniest of
pup tents.
I hesitate to say much about The RM, the second release from Halestorm Entertainments, Kurt
Hale and David Hunters production company. As
I said, I saw only the first half of the film. I can
comment on what I saw, however, and this time,
the issue of cultural negotiation becomes even
more problemitized than in Singles Ward. In this
film, the protagonist, Jared, has just returned from
his LDS mission, where weve been led to believe
that hes been an exemplary missionary. His postmission life is similarly squared away; his girlfriend
has waited for him, and they plan to marry immediately, he has a good job lined up, and hes heading to BYU. He is, in other words, a man perfectly
adapted to his culture. Hes an insider, suggesting
that well be given an insiders perspective.
The outsider in this film, Jareds best friend
KoriKori spelled so that the name is obviously
intended to invoke that Book of Mormon arch villain Korihorhas, in Jareds absence, become
involved in some sort of shady business dealings.
Jared must therefore choose between his own sense
of personal integrity and his friendship with Kori.
I did not see how the film resolves. I presume
that Jared chooses to turn Kori in. But its in the
supposedly comic details that make up the first half
of the film that this films peculiar take on Mormon
culture emerges.
Jared arrives home, and no one is waiting for
him. His parents have misplaced his itinerary. Theyve
also moved, without telling him. After sorting that
out, he learns theyve sold his car. His girlfriend,
meanwhile, has become engaged to someone else
and dumps him.
Kirby Heyborne, who plays Jared, treats none
of these disasters as anything but minor irritations.
Were clearly meant to each successive indignity as
comical, and there are a few sight gags that manage
to be funny. But its an inhuman sort of fun. A
family who cannot remember the day their missionary will be returning, and who move without
informing him of it, is beyond dysfunctional. A

mother whose reaction to the news that her oldest

childs fiance has broken off their engagement
is thats too bad, honey, is hardly credible as a
loving parent. And if Mormon romance is so
superficial that a two-year engagement can be shattered without so much as the courtesy of a letter,
then the solemnity of temple marriage must be
accounted something more farcical than genuine.
I do not discount the possibility that all this is
intended as the savagest sort of satire. Perhaps Kurt
Hale, the writer and director of this film, has made
a film hoping to open our eyes to an almost sociopathic emotional shallowness at the heart of Mormonism. The world of The RM, where adult
friendship is reduced to an opportunity for multilevel marketing schemes, and romantic love is
utterly without gravity, pain or consequence, could
well serve as the setting for a Swiftean succession of
Modest Proposals. But I saw nothing in the tone
of the film, the weight of it, that suggests that
sort of comic anger or satirical rigor.
And again, the rigidity of Mormon culture, as
it emerges in The RM, is even suggested in the promotional materials provided by Halestorm. The
purpose of the film, suggests a press release, is to
cause Mormons to think deeply about what it
means to choose the right and hold to the rod.
It would be consistent with the construction of
Mormonism found in Singles Ward to suggest that
Koris outsider status is essentially criminal. He
cannot be depicted as someone in the process of
cultural negotiation, a process Jared either helps
or impedes. No, he has to be a crook. He has to be
Its an inhuman film, a joyless film. And it suggests an essential joylessness and inhumanity
within Mormonism. But in tone, in style and substance, it seems to celebrate moral rigidity and joyless convention. Im glad the projector broke.
I dont think I could have taken much more of it.
Conventional wisdom currently holds that
Mormon films must be budgeted at $1.2 million
or less. The market for them tops out at around
$2 million. Certainly we have yet to see a Mormon
crossover hit. Id like to suggest that the relative
inclusiveness of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the

AML Annual 2004

were apples and oranges, all still fruit conclusion

to the films process of cultural negotiation is the
reason for its success. The comparative joyfulness
of that film, as compared with the despairing joylessness and inhumanity of our Mormon counterexamples, are reason enough to celebrate their
comparative failures.
Is a Mormon Big Fat Greek Wedding possible?
I must cling to the hope that it is. I am a Mormon.
And, frankly, when I look at our culture, I see far
more joy and openness and room for cultural negotiation than any of our films have suggested that


we have. I dont see myself as in any way a mainstream cultural Mormon, but I do see myself as an
active and faithful Latter-day Saint. I have carved
out my own space in the culture, as, I surmise, has
every person in this room. Within my own ward I
see as much vitality and energy and boisterous good
humor as Tuola eventually finds in her own Greek
world. We neednt deal with Mormon weddings, or
make romantic comedies about Mormons, to joyfully celebrate our own sense of difference and otherness and humanity. We know, in our hearts, were
as big, and as fat, as any Greek.

Dangerous Questions Affecting Closer Interests:1

Subversion and Containment in
The Senator From Utah
Kylie Nielson Turley

odern Latter-day Saint (Mormon) literature

rarely addresses expressly political topics.
Perhaps the assumption that good Mormons are
conservatives prevents writers and readers from
remembering Utahs checkered political past with
the accompanying interesting tidbits such as the
support socialism once enjoyed. Even before
Latter-day Saint prophet Joseph F. Smith claimed
to see no harm in the wise and intelligent study
of socialistic principles,2 Josephine Spencer published three distinctly socialist stories in the
Church-sponsored Contributor, including The
Senator from Utah.3 With class struggle as its
plot, The Senator from Utah lends itself to
Marxist criticism, presenting a unique opportunity
to use Stephen Greenblatts theories about how
subversive ideas are contained and Terry Eagletons theories to speculate on why LDS readers
at different moments in time reacted with every
emotion from ambivalence to literary violence
when responding to this story. These reactions
highlight issues facing contemporary LDS fiction
in modern times.
Plot Summary

At a political convention, a mysterious speaker

warns that violent class warfare is a real possibility
in Utah. The Senator from Utah and his aides in
Washington, D.C., are also concerned, recognizing
that Salt Lake City has a Labortown whose population is pledged to wage incessant and deadly
warfare against capital and its class.4 A telegram

indicates that the feared labor crisis is about to

erupt, and they all rush home to Salt Lake.
The violence will apparently occur the evening
of the Senators Ball in Salt Lake City. When the
labor union leaders daughter, Arden Rath, comes
to the ball to warn her boyfriend/Senators son,
Hugh, of the rumors, she overhears the Senator
and his son planning to murder the laborers at
their Factory Hall meeting by opening the secret
passageway to the Great Salt Lake, locking the only
entrance to the building, and thus allowing the elevated springtime waters of the Great Salt Lake to
flow into Factory Hall and drown the laborers.
Though she rushes to get help, the deed has
already been done and water is seeping into Factory Hall. Luckily, a young middle-class laborsympathizer, Allan Glenfaun, volunteers to wade
through the passageway and shut the door. Allan
heroically fights the breaking waves and manages
to shut the heavy metal door. An hour later, Arden
Rath and Howard Whitely (a journalist) arrive
with the police and unlock the outside door. Arden
Rath marries Allan Glenfaun, and June Glenfaun
(Allans sister) marries Howard Whitely.
Basic Examples of
Subversion and Containment
Stephen Greenblatts first method of subversion is
testing.5 The mysterious speaker in The Senator
from Utah tests the subversive idea that change
towards socialism is inescapable. He argues that the
history of dispensation is a record of new ideals,

AML Annual 2004

or revolution and substitution. Change is inevitable

whether its coming be by slow and peaceful steps,
or with the fierce rush and tumult of revolution.6
Containment occurs when the test is effectively
disarmed. As Greenblatt argues, the crucial circumstance is what has licensed the testing in the first
place.7 The mysterious speaker soon clarifies that
it is the responsibility of the nations chief representatives to decide whether change will come by
peaceful steps or by revolution.8 Since the chief
representatives are part of the government, the
Repressive State Apparatus, the inevitable change
will be organized and established by the members
of the dominant ideology, and thus there will be no
real change. Moreover, the mysterious speakers
plea for the representatives to choose well9
contains the subversion notion of change because
there is actually a choice that chief representatives decide.
Greenblatts second method of subversion and
containment, the recording of alien voices,10 is
also evident in Spencers story when the logic of
socialism is voiced. Capitalism has ignor[ed] the
lessons taught by the experience of other communities, and [is working] through the same old selfish principles and methods of monopoly, plac[ing]
its hand upon the materials of production, at each
new accession of power, riveting new restrictions
upon the rights of labor.11 This alien voice is
blatantly recorded and clearly argues against capitalism. As Greenblatt notes, this is subversive
because the voice might be believed or might make
people recognize the dominant ideology as ideology. However, the subversive insights are contained
because they are recorded only as an example of
incorrect thinking; they are brought into the light
for study, discipline, correction, transformation.12
In The Senator from Utah, the alien socialist
voice is contained with a four-page capitalist rebuttal explaining that the laborers are just as immoral
as the laborers believe the capitalists are. The laborers are capable of radical violence; the Senator says
he is fearful for his life and expects that any day
may bring me news of the destruction of my home
and the assassination of my family.13 Significantly, the Senator and his aides are the voices of

both ideologies. The labor ideas that could potentially subvert the system speak only through a (misguided) capitalist aide to the Senator. Though
recorded, the alien voice is recorded only in the
language of the dominant ideology, and thus it is
only as convincing as the dominant ideology
allows it to be.
Greenblatts third method of subversion,
explaining, is evident in this same instance. As
Greenblatt notes, it is potentially subversive for the
capitalists to explain in unusual circumstances
certain parts of the ideology that at most times are
merely assumed.14 One of the Senators aides justifies the use of premeditated violence against the
laborers: I claim that it is not enough to have
power merely to punish violence already committed. We should have the right to use measures to
prevent the deed. The Senator continues this line
of reasoning: It is my settled conviction that there
is but one way in which to meet this question,
and that is to face terrorism with its own mask and
weapons. Certainly all other methods have failed;
and we have either to meet this problem with some
such effort, or submit our lives to the ceaseless anxiety and fear occasioned through their threats and
attempts at violence.15 These statements are
potentially subversive because they are not wholly
convincing. The Senator must explain why force is
justified, and, as Greenblatt suggests, this process
of explaining is intense and unsettling because
there is the nasty sense that [the explanations] are
at once irrefutable ethical propositions and pious
humbug designed to conceal from . . . [the speakers] the rapacity and aggression that is implicit in
their propositions.16 The subversive moment is
contained when the Senator receives a terse telegram
reading, A crisis is at handcome at once.17 The
telegram proves that the laborers are plotting
injury and that the Senator and his aides were correct: terrorism may be necessary to deal with such
vicious persons.
More Subversion
Though the signs of containment are evident in
these three small examples, the subversive insights

Subversion and Containment in The Senator from Utah

are not wholly contained. The alien voices

recorded (the prolabor arguments presented by the
Senators aide) are persuasive enough to convince
some of the other aides. At one point in the discussion, the Senator actually interrupts his aide
because he is annoyed by the look of interest
which had gathered upon the faces of the others at
the pale mans remarks.18 The Senators explanation is less than satisfactory; rather than directly
addressing claims that the laborers have justifiable
concerns, he retorts with comments about fighting
terrorism with terrorism. The arrival of the
telegram appears to prove that the Senator is correct is his assessment of immediate class warfare
and thus the rest of his arguments are brushed over,
despite their silly and circular reasoning.
The subversive labor rhetoric especially does
not seem fully contained in light of the characterizations and plot developments. The Senator is harsh
and offensive; he interrupts and argues hotly
while his aide, voicing the laborers cause, is much
more restrained, though obviously emotional.
While the aide continually appeals to fair means
and to justice, the Senator argues ad hominem,
calling the laborers rabble. As the story continues, the Senator and his son turn from being disagreeable to being immoral and criminal.
Juxtaposed with their personalities are Allan
Glenfaun and Howard Whitely, the good characters
who defect to the laborers side. Spencers descriptions of the two characters demonstrate their
inherent goodness, a goodness that is (subversively)
transferred to the labor movement when they join
it. Howard Whitely is blonde and makes a fitting, though contrasting, companion to the somewhat impulsive June Glenfaun (Allans sister).19
Allan Glenfauns angelic looks are even more
explicit: he has a slight, youthful figure and his
delicate face [is] surrounded by short blonde
curls, making him look boyish. When he speaks,
his white lids with their girlish droop wideopened, his soft gray eyes . . . [flash] with the
warmth of enthusiasm. Despite his childlike
appearance, Allan can [set] forth with words
clear-cut and forcible, the facts of the existent evils
of capitalism.20

That the two ideal male characters would move

to the laborers side is a subversive plot development that effectively tests the hypothesis that the
laboring class is not only justified but also right.
In a decisive moment of change, both characters
leave the Senators Ball, the scenic metaphor for
capitalism, to attend a secret laborers union meeting in Factory Hall, the physical metaphor for the
labor movement. Though Howard Whitely promises to return to the Senators party and dance the
last waltz with June Glenfaun, Allan is never explicitly present and does not return, demonstrating his
whole-hearted allegiance to the laborers cause.
Because of Allans dedication to the laborers
cause and his influence, he essentially becomes
the leader of the group. Some laborers claim that
Allan has rose-hued ideals of humanity and peace,
yet Otto Rath (the original leader) comes to the
Factory Hall platform and places his arm around
Allans shoulder. Vocally continuing his physical
gesture, Otto vigorously argues that Allan has the
fortitude and courage to carry him through both
doubt and danger for the sake of aiding [the laborers] cause. Allans poem is well received, and
Allan remains with the leaders of the movement for
some important business.21 With Allans ascension to the leadership of the labor movement, his
innocence and angelic qualities are transferred to
the laborers and their goals, a subversive plot development that tests capitalist ideology.
In opposition to the (subversive) cleansing of
the labor movement is the (subversive) decay in the
capitalist movement. This hypothesis of capitalist
depravity is tested when the Senator and his friends
carry out their plans for violence. They originally
aim to overhear the [laborers] plans, but the
Great Salt Lake water level has nearly covered
the secret passageway that leads to Factory Hall.22
Determined to stop the laborers at any cost, the
capitalists, led by the Senator and Hugh, conclude
that the same obstacle which defeated our purpose
of surprising the plotters at their meeting tonight
presented us with a means for accomplishing their
destruction.23 At this point, the Senator casually
describes how they can lock the one entrance to Factory Hall, open the secret passageway from the Great

AML Annual 2004

Salt Lake, and let the Hall fill with water, drowning
everyone inside. Not one listener rejects the idea or
even voices disapproval of the Senators plot.
The Senator proposes that terrorism justifies
terrorism, but the mere rumor of labor violence
contrasts with the casual and inhumane capitalist
violence. The only definite reference comes from
the wife of one of . . . the workmen living further
up the canyon. The woman, who couldnt hear
all that was said, believes she heard something
about dynamite and a ball at the Senators house
tonightand of getting rid of the whole crew of
millionaires and robbers at a blow. Despite the
capitalists reiteration of these claims, the story
unequivocally notes that this woman has a garrulous and indiscreet tongue and repeats her gossip
with thorough enjoyment.24 Moreover Allan
clarifies by the end of the story that rumors of labor
violence were merely rumors, though he does condemn the laborers for determin[ing] in your
hearts to think of a violent plan.25 In essence, the
laborers never enacted physical violence nor even
planned violence, though they had convinced
themselves that violence was necessary.
Allans angelic characterization, the laborers
lack of real violence, and the capitalist murder
attempt work together to justify the laborers at the
expense of the capitalists. Simplistically, the laborers seem good while the capitalists are evil. The
linguistic elements, literary characterizations, and
the plot itself challenge Spencers capitalist audience and culture. As expected, these extensive
subversive elements are skillfully and subtly
though perhaps not whollycontained by the
storys conclusion.
More Containment
As already noted, Allan Glenfaun becomes a leader
of the labor movement despite being born into the
capitalist class. Even with his supposed support of
the labor movement, he cannot allow a labor insurrection. This is most evident in Allans repeated
condemnations of violence during his speech at
Factory Hall. Though he apparently speaks for some
time of the certain and indefensible injustices and

evils of capitalism, this alien voice is not explicitly recorded. Instead the speech takes a new tone
and Allan [pleads] in forceful words for the
laborers to [denounce] the policy of violence and
claims that violence results in worse bondage. He
calls on the laborers to use the one way alone
by which . . . redress can happen: the ballot. He
declares, In your right to the ballot alone lies your
power to control conditions.26 Demonstrating his
complete belief in the system, Allan argues that they
placed themselves in their repressed situation. He
claims that they have sold their votes for promises
of place or pecuniary reward, and in so doing
they have voluntarily given into the hands of a
selfish class, power to fasten upon you the conditions at which you repine; and your only escape is
to take from them by peaceful force of your franchise.27 With Allan as labor leader, violence and
class warfarethe means of change based outside
the systemwill be halted. He does not seem to
recognize the government as a tool of the dominant class nor to recognize that laborer votes will
not change the system as a whole.
His arguments are framed largely in terms of
Christian ethics. This is potentially subversive
because religion, in Marxist theory, is also a tool of
the State; if the laborers cause is religiously right,
then perhaps the dominant classs hold over religion is not solid. The mysterious speakers comments seem to validate the subversive Christian
support for laborers; he claims that when mists of
selfish strife are cleared away from periods of present action, [Gods] hand may be seen, writing in
characters of new social systems and methods,
truths which shall be for the regeneration of the
world.28 Containment occurs when Allan uses
the same ethical rhetoric to pacify the laborers. The
Christian ideology of brotherhood and peace
ensures the repression of the lower class by acting
as a placebo, causing the laborers to desert their
radical methods and accept the vote, a capitalist
tool that will never bring about fundamental
change. The leaders of the new peaceful (capitalist)
society will be characters such as Allan who
have won the respect of the laborers and yet have
placated them so subtly that the laborers do not

Subversion and Containment in The Senator from Utah

realize they are being pacified. Christianity works

to return laborers to their class without violence
or insurrection.
Greenblatts Fourth Method and
Impact: 1895, 1935, Present Day
Even if the subversive plot developments, the testing of socialist ideals, the recording of socialist
thought and the accompanying explanations necessary to respond to socialism were not contained,
Greenblatt has a fourth method of containment.
He explains that we identify as the principle of
order and authority in [texts] things that we
would, if we took them seriously, find subversive
for ourselves.29 Modern interpreters of literature
subvert and contain by (mis)labeling anything
which is subversive as containment and vice
versa. Although Greenblatt does not rank his four
techniques, the fourth method seems strongest
since it comes into play when the first three methods apparently do completely contain the subversive insights.
Contemporary 1895 reviews of The Senator
from Utah demonstrate Greenblatts theory in
action, as they consistently (mis)label Josephine
Spencers story. A review in the Young Womans
Journal says that our poetess has again found her
way into romance. The book review vaguely and
somewhat inaccurately reports that the story is
of the class of novels written with a purpose, that
purpose being to point the way to peace, and
prosperity, by legislating for the rights of the
working-man. The Journal then returns to its
original premise, noting the two interesting love
tales and the stirring adventures.30 Rather than
mislabeling elements of the story, this review
simply mislabels the story as a wholecalling it a
romantic adventure story.
The Deseret Evening News decides that The
Senator from Utah is a contribution to home literature. This review erroneously claims that the
orator in the first chapter addresses his audience
on the qualities required in the Senator from Utah
and then summarizes ambiguously that the story
follows a future view of Utah as it might be, were

contention and strife to divide the state. The

review concludes with the misleading assessment
that the senator from Utah is one of the principal
characters,31 suggesting that the Senator is the
principal hero in the story rather than villain.
Both reviews are somewhat accurate: the story
ends romantically, and nearly all Utah Mormon
authors contributed to the Home Literature movement; yet overlooking the socialist themes requires
some blindness. Daily these reviewers were living
with the drastic effects of the Depression of 1893.
The other stories in Josephine Spencers book
address the Depression explicitly. Perhaps the very
real rumblings of labor dissension made labor violence an altogether too realistic threat. Greenblatts
theory of mislabeling seems to explain why these
reviewers contained the subversive idea of labor violence by mislabeling the story, calling it a romance
and a contribution to home literature.
Unlike the previous reviews, the 1895 review
of The Senator from Utah in the Womans Exponent labels the story political yet the baffled tone
suggests reviewer (likely Emmeline B. Wells) cannot
comprehend why Josephine Spencer wrote the story:
The author seems to see in the political
horizon storms brewing that might perhaps be
averted were wise methods adopted in the new
State. Evidently she feels strongly upon the vital
questions of labor and capital and sympathizes
deeply with the laboring classes. It is quite a
new departure for a young Utah woman, and
every one who believes in encouraging the talents of home writers should buy the book and
read it.32

The reviewer undercuts the text by using words

such as evidently and seems to see. She explicitly
clarifies that the author is a young Utah woman
and concludes with the backhanded suggestion
that people should buy the book to encourag[e]
the talents of home writersas if the story has no
merit beyond supporting the Mormon Home Literature industry. Though the story is labeled correctly, the reviewer is obviously uncomfortable
with the subject matter.
Gean Clarks 1935 thesis presents an intriguing
opportunity to further evaluate Greenblatts fourth

AML Annual 2004

method of subversion and containment. Clark must

have found socialism very threatening because,
after singling Josephine Spencer out of all Mormon
writers for specific adulation and then praising most
of Spencers stories, Clark denigrates The Senator
from Utah. With uncharacteristic superficiality,
Clark writes that The Senator from Utah is less
convincing that most of Miss Spencers stories.
Clark claims the story is sometimes amusing rather
than serious because Spencers futuristic story has
nineteenth-century busy streets, where one sees
the trailing dresses of the ladies and heavy traffic of
horse-drawn vehicles, which obviously do not
belong to Clarks modern twentieth century!
Claiming that the story is unbelievable fantasy,
Clark dismisses The Senator from Utah because
Spencer did not foresee the dress styles and innovations of the 1930s. The only mention of socialism
glibly summarizes that trouble breaks out between
the capitalists and the labor party.33 Though
living with the effects of the Red Scare as well as
the Great Depression, Clark nearly ignores the
socialist plot, focusing instead on menial setting
details, a move which allows her to contain the
story and label it as less convincing than most of
Miss Spencers stories.
As far as Greenblatts theories are concerned,
the most fascinating aspect of Clarks short analysis
of The Senator from Utah is Clarks incorrect
reading of the text: Clark states that it is the Senators son, through his bravery and heroism who
saves everything.34 This statement is obviously
inaccurate. The Senators son, Hugh, bribes a man
for information about the secret passageway, bribes
another for the key to Factory Hall, helps his father
plan to lock in and drown the workers, and pretends
to love Arden Rath so he can get information out
of her. The real hero is Allan Glenfaun, who heroically fights the water in the secret passageway in
order to shut the door and save the lives of all the
laborers. That Clark could mislabel the Senators son
as hero is a frightening commentary on our ability to contain with ease truly subversive elements.
The entire previous critique of The Senator
from Utah has involved my personal assumptions about the story. Greenblatt would argue that I,

too, have been involved in containment because I

locate[d] as subversive in the past precisely those
things that are not subversive to [me], that pose no
threat to me. According to Greenblatt, I likely
(mis)labeled the labor movement as subversive
and the Senators terrorist campaign as containment. Re-labeling capitalist terrorism as subversive shows Greenblatts insight. The idea of planned
governmental terrorism in a postSeptember 11th,
twenty-first century America is realistic and terrifying. Conversely the socialist labor movement is
perhaps not subversive at all. In a postCold War
world, I find the idea of socialism as little threat
and perhaps even enlightening; planned labor warfare seems fairly remote while state-sponsored
terrorism is realistic. As Greenblatt notes, my easy
mislabeling demonstrates that our own values are
sufficiently strong for us to contain almost effortlessly alien forces.35
Greenblatt might suggest that I took mislabeling elements even furtherbecause I hold to
Josephine Spencers ideals of Christian brotherhood, I mislabeled the political as subversive and
the religious as containment. To switch these labels
suggests that what I found truly subversive is the
apparent inability of religion to fully solve the pressing political problems. Terry Eagletons theories help
analyze this prospect. He explains that a text can
interrogate an authors personal ideology because
the application of aesthetic form to revolutionary
raw material causes dissonance in the text. In The
Senator from Utah, Josephine Spencer was textualizing the revolutionary ideology of capitalist /
labor revolt in aesthetically didactic and romantic
language. As an artist, she gave her socialist raw
material the most persuasive voice possible in the
intense, action-focused plot, yet romanticism and
didacticism require a flowery language and theme
of love at odds with the violence. The aesthetic
requirements of Mormon Home Literature cause
internal dissonance as they interact with a capitalist ideology.
The most obvious dissonance created by the
application of aesthetic form is the happily-everafter romantic double wedding after the intense
plot with its multiple turns of subversion and

Subversion and Containment in The Senator from Utah

containment. Although there is precedent of vivid

description earlier in the story, the mountains gleaming in pearl and turquoise tints and the plains in
amber and coral colors conflict with the passionate energy of the previous pages. This break forced
by the didactic-aesthetic form is a literal break:
there are four blank lines before the two concluding paragraphs. The empty space sets off the conclusion from the rest of the text, graphically
emphasizing its incompatibility.
With this incompatibility, the conclusion itself
seems doubtful. Josephine Spencers text produces
the ideology of capitalism and socialism by placing
these two ideologies in mortal conflict. The author
tries to solve the conflict by implementing her own
ideology of Christian brotherhood, concluding
that the better thought and action developed by
past events show[ed] that the right way had been
chosen at last; that men were dealing with men as
brothers.36 The authors (romantic) aesthetic form
as well as her own Latter-day Saint theology dictates a conclusion synonymous with brotherhood,
but the glorified wedding, which will supposedly
draw all sides of the class conflict together, seems
idealized, trivial, and unrealistic. The Senator from
Utah produces an ideology of brotherhood, yet
the text illuminates significant problems in that
ideology. Christianity is silent concerning practical aspects of the class conflictsuch as whether
voters actually have power to change the system
and why Howard Whitely believes it is necessary to
rescue the laborers with a number of the citizens
[sic] private police.37 As Eagleton describes, when
the ideology of Christianity is put to work, certain gaps and limitations become evident.38
These gaps suggest why I unconsciously used
Greenblatts fourth method of containment. Because
of the way in which a text can interrogate an
authors ideology, the flaws of capitalism, religious
brotherhood, and the didactic literary style are
shown. The incompatible and unrealistic end to
the story seems to demonstrate a failure in Josephine
Spencers notion of Mormon Christianity, a subversive notion that evokes considerable tension.
What Josephine Spencer likely tried to write
was her personal Christian philosophies, but the

Romantic-didactic notions of what constitutes a

good story, her historical-cultural situation, and
the revolutionary raw material in her plot created
a complex story. The interplay of these ideologies
produced a text that seems to point out flaws in
Christianitys inability to adequately answer labor
concernsthings the author probably never
intended to support and things that create dissonance and disharmony for her readers.
Thus reactions to the story become a muddle
of mislabeling depending on historical-cultural situation. Unfortunately, with that less-than-admiring
reception of her story, Josephine Spencer turned
from her political inquiries toward plots that better
fit the Home Literature style. Her turn towards
romantic, didactic sentimentalism highlights a
problem that seems to plague LDS literature to the
present day: LDS authors can produce works with
shallow plots and shallow characters in which our
religion superficially resolves those situations.
Another option is the path of The Senator from
Utah: to allow our religion to encounter revolutionary plots and hard, realistic situations. The
predicament is the same as Josephine Spencer faced
with her 1895 story: this method may end up producing radical texts; we may end up with stories
posing dangerous questions affecting closer interests, texts that make us question who we are and
why we believe in ways the author never intended.
1. This quotation comes from Josephine Spencer,
The Senator from Utah, in The Senator from Utah and
Other Tales of the Wasatch (Salt Lake City: George Q.
Cannon and Sons, 1895), 11.
2. Joseph F. Smith, qtd. in Thomas G. Alexander,
Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day
Saints, 18901930 (Urbana and Chicago: University of
Illinois Press, 1986), 184.
3. See Maridons Experiment, Contributor 15 (May
1895): 42125; Municipal Sensation, Contributor 16
(December 1894): 10213; and The Senator from
Utah, Contributor 13 (March 1892): 21629. All three
stories were later published in a collection of stories titled
The Senator from Utah and Other Tales of the Wasatch.
Quotes from the story are taken from the book version.

AML Annual 2004

4. Spencer, 26.
5. Stephen Greenblatt, Invisible Bullets: Renaissance
Authority and Its Subversion, Glyph 8 (1981): 47.
6. Spencer, 15, 16.
7. Greenblatt, 47.
8. Spencer, 16.
9. Ibid., 18.
10. Greenblatt, 49.
11. Spencer, 2425.
12. Greenblatt, 51.
13. Spencer, 26.
14. Greenblatt, 51.
15. Spencer, 27, 29.
16. Greenblatt, 52.
17. Spencer, 30.
18. Ibid., 29.
19. Ibid., 42.
20. Ibid., 4950.
21. Ibid., 52.
22. Ibid., 6162.
23. Ibid., 64.
24. Ibid., 5657.


25. Ibid., 83, my emphasis.

26. Ibid., 50.
27. Ibid., 5152, my emphasis.
28. Ibid., 15.
29. Greenblatt, 52.
30. Book Reviews, Young Womans Journal 7
(December 1895): 93.
31. The Senator from Utah, Journal History of the
Church (23 December 1895): 3; taken from the Deseret
Evening News, 23 December 1895.
32. Editorial Notes, Womans Exponent 24 (December 1895): 93.
33. Gean Clark, A Survey of Early Mormon Fiction (masters thesis, Brigham Young University, 1935),
68, 69.
34. Ibid., my emphasis.
35. Ibid., 5253.
36. Spencer, Senator, 85.
37. Ibid., 83.
38. Terry Eagleton, Criticism and Ideology (London: NLB, 1977), 90.

Three Against One:

The True Antagonist in The Giant Joshua
Michelle Ernst

ormon Pioneers were driven out of Nauvoo

under threats of extermination, and they
came to Utah for freedom and for peace. Utah was
a difficult country to settle, but through their hard
work and faith in God, the harsh territory bloomed
like a rose in the desert. Determined that the membership would be self-reliant, the Mormon leaders
sent out a call to settle the outlying, more remote
areas of the territory. The ensuing struggles, heartache, and sacrifice involved in settling the untamed
land are now the often-told stories of Mormon history and legend. It is, however, the untold story of
the internal struggle and sacrifice that characterizes
Maureen Whipples The Giant Joshua (Salt Lake
City: Western Epics, 1976). Clory MacIntyre is the
seventeen-year-old adopted daughter/third wife
of Abijah MacIntyre. Arriving in St. George with
the other Church members called to establish the
St. George Dixie Mission, the beautiful, spirited
protagonist is unable to find freedom or peace. Not
only is she locked in an ongoing battle with an
unpredictable land, she is entangled in various
emotional conflicts with the other members of the
MacIntyre family. Hated by her step-mother/
sister-wife and lusted after (but not respected) by
her step-father/husband, Clory has a married life
filled with turmoil and loneliness. Furthermore, the
demands of her most peculiar religion (i.e., conformity and community obedience), coupled with
her ambivalence about her own testimony, do not
allow for any rest, even in her own mind. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, Clory is constantly in conflict. Therefore, not polygamy alone,

but the three powerful forces of religion, raw land,

and polygamy make up the novels true antagonist,
which ultimately overwhelms Clory to the point of
her death.
From the beginning, the land appears to be
unwilling to welcome the Saints: White and crimson, or black and yellow and bluebehind her and
ahead and around herspewed in fantastic violence,
in every shade and nuance, the colors of this unreal
landscape (3). This is not a lush, green promised
land, beckoning, soft and flowing with milk and
honey; it is a hostile, violent land that invades
and overwhelms the senses. Like Clory, it appears
to resist being under mans control, wanting instead
to remain wild and free. Throughout the novel, the
community members settle into a false sense of security, only to have their hard work and effort destroyed
in repeated violent, heaving storms. The slippery
hardness of the volcanic rock makes entry into
St. George both dangerous and costly. The unbearably hot summers sometimes lead the Saints to
believe they are inside an oven (194). The decimating storms repeatedly claim both the lives and livelihood of the Mormons. The land seems to have a
will of its own, and that will appears to be bent on
beating these invading people into despair and disillusionment rather than being civilized by them.
This continuous battle with the land for food,
water, and shelter eventually defeats Clorys physical body. Hard work, little food, and poor medical
care make her and her children susceptible to illness. Her childrens lives are lost to black canker
(399404), and her own weakened constitution

AML Annual 2004

eventually leads to multiple miscarriages (585).

Externally, the effort devoted to meeting her survival needs consumes Clory until she is no longer
able to endure it.
Furthermore, there is also the secondary internal struggle the land represents for Clory. Certainly, she is physically tied to its constant demands
for attention in order to produce food, but it also
weakens her spirit. Clory loves beauty, culture, and
refinement and longs for these things for herself
and for her children. In a place where a paisley
shawl, a rosewood desk, and a perfume bottle are
of no use to anyone, Clory keeps them as reminders
of civilization and her dream for something better.
In all of her years in the Dixie Cotton Mission, she
never loses her hunger for beauty, music, and laughter. St. George, then, becomes a prison for her
because she is cut off from the things that would
feed her soul. Subsequently, she is kept in a perpetual state of turmoil by both the unmet needs of her
body and the unmet desires of her heart.
Clory is also denied the security of warm, loving
relationships in her family life. Instead of acceptance
and love, she was trapped in confusing, painful triangles with two important people in her life,
Abijah and Sheba McIntyre. At President Brigham
Youngs counsel, Clory marries Abijah, the man
whom Clory knows as her father; he is not her biological father, but he is a formidable father-figure,
nonetheless. This is Freuds Electra complex gone
wrong, with Clory literally replacing her stepmother
and becoming her fathers wife. Unfortunately for
the characters, Abijah is unable to recognize Clory
as a wife because he knows her too well as a child.
Not quite a wife and not quite a daughter, he
instead comes to regard Clory as an enchantress or
seductress, thereby allowing himself to satiate his
physical desires without the shame of feeling incestuous. Clorys role as his paramour, however, is not
the equivalent of being his wife and partner. Abijah
rarely extends her the support and respect he gives
to Sheba. After her marriage, Clorys place in the
family unit is in limbo, and she is well aware of
that. When discussing her status in the family compared to Shebas, Clory says to Pal, But see, thats
it; Im neither his child nor his wife (156). Abijah

is not completely at fault for his continued perspective that Clory is a child. To some degree, his
feelings are probably beyond his control. Even
when children are adults, parents can still see the
young boy or girl in the man or woman their children have become; Abijah is certainly no exception
to this.
Over the years, there is little change in Abijahs
relationship with Clory. Even after they have children
together, he continues to treat her like a woman/
child, alternating his passion with his tendency to
parent her with reprimands and behaving punitively towards her. The only letter he ever addresses
to Clory when he is on his mission has only one
line for her alone, and he says, This trouble is
Gods judgment on you, Clorinda Agatha (436).
Interestingly, Sheba has lost a child too, and Abijah
does not dare make such a statement to her. There
is much that he does not dare to try with Sheba
because Sheba is his equal, if not his superior. Clory,
on the other hand, he considers to be his inferior.
His indifference to her needs and desires culminates
in his taking young Julia Hansen as his fourth wife
and leaving for Logan without so much as discussing
it with Clory until the deal had already been made.
Sadly, Clory does not experience a satisfying love
with her husband, not so much because his other
wife stands in their way, but because her husband
never really gives a part of himself to her.
Although Abijah could have done more to mitigate the strain between his wives, this certainly
does not mean Sheba does not contribute more
than her fair share to the hostile marital relationship. Angry and hurt, Sheba arms herself with bitterness, jealousy, and manipulation. Reflecting on
her step-daughters marriage to her husband, Sheba
thinks to herself, What kind of God was it who
could betray such long generous mothering with
that scene at the Endowment House? . . . And blind
with suffering, she had placed that childs hand in
his and waited for his second kiss (105). With this
thought, the reader glimpses the depth of Shebas
suffering and vulnerability. She feels deeply betrayed
by both Abijah and Clory. Although Sheba is brusque
and demanding, she loves them both; to be replaced
by a girl she raised and nutured (and to have her

Three Against One: The True Antagonist in The Giant Joshua

husband be so eager about it) was no doubt devastating. Clory is vivacious and young and beautiful.
She is all of the things Sheba used to be, but is not
anymore. Clory is the kind of girl Sheba is proud
to call her daughter, but resentful and jealous of as
a sister-wife. The comparison between Clory and
herself is painful. Interestingly, Sheba is arguably
more angry at Abijah for his third marriage than
she is at Clory. It was all very well for Abijah to . . .
remind her that polygamy was holy . . . the light in
Abijahs eyes was sometimes far from holy . . . there
just wasnt much he could fool her about (5). Sheba
never suggests it, but Abijah probably could have
made a convincing argument against marrying Clory
on the grounds that he was her father, adopted,
yes, but still her father, and therefore not an appropriate choice for a husband. He did not make such
an argument against the marriage because he simply
did not want to, and Sheba knows it all too well.
She does not make Abijah the primary target of her
bitterness, thoughpartly because she loves him
so much, thinks of him in complete surrender
(148) and does not want to lose any more of him
than she already has, and partly because Clory is
an easier target. Repressing her anger and sadness
towards Abijah, Sheba allows her emotions to leak
out and wash over everyone else around her.
Subsequently, after her marriage to Abijah, it is
almost impossible for Clory to find any sanctuary
with her adopted family (except with Willie). Her
polygamous marriage does not bring glory and
holy honor, but loneliness and regret.
Clory also is caught between the rigid expectations of the Mormon community and her own
individual nature. The St. George Saints adhered
to strict standards that regulated their manner of
work, leisure, dress, worship, and behavior. Religion permeated every aspect and nuance of their
lives. Clory loved pretty clothes and bright colors,
but Abijah believed they were unseemly for a proper
Mormon wife. Clory expressed herself in song and
laughter, laughter that was too loud, according to
Abijah, and singing that was too merry for a good
Latter-day Saint. She is not even allowed to complain about her circumstances without violating
Mormon expectations of humility and faith. When

Clory comes to Shebas home, hoping for some flour

because she and her daughter, Kissy, are hungry,
Abijah brushes her aside with a casual remark about
the Lord not letting them starve. Sick with deprivation and want, Clory snaps, Oh, darn Apostle
Snow . . . I want breadmilk for my baby! (378).
She is promptly scolded for speaking against the
authorities and must return to her own home without any flour. Clory is not permitted to express her
anger, frustration, loneliness, fear, or even her hunger,
because the Saints are not supposed to grumble.
They should constantly be focused on humbling
themselves and trusting more in God. Unfortunately for Clory, this translates into not just tempering her appetites, but denying them altogether.
In doing so, she denies a vital part of herselfthe
thinking, feeling, wondering, yearning, searching,
hoping, truthful part of herself.
Clory is forced to share her husband with two
other women, one of whom hates her, engaged in a
never-ending battle with the land for her survival,
and constantly repressing her emotions. The reader
cannot help but ask, Why is Clory doing all of this?
Why does she stay? What is she hoping to gain?
Whipple never answers these questions. Clory is
ambivalent about her feelings regarding the Church.
Throughout the novel, no one asks her if she believes
the gospel is true. She never bears testimony (and
neither does anyone else for that matter, not even
Pal or Willie or Apostle Snow) that she knows the
Lord is mindful of her and loves her and that she is
willing to bear all things for Him. If her decisions
had been based on a deep and abiding faith in God,
at the very least the sacrifices would be personally
meaningful. But Clory has doubts; she does not
know what she believes or even if she believes that
the gospel is true. The sacrifices, then, are unnecessary at best, absurd at worst, because there is no
plausible reasoning behind them. It is a long tragic
waste of a life as Clory is broken down, bit by bit
and piece by piece, for nothing.
In order to be a most effective antagonist against
Clorys strength of character, all three elements of
polygamy, raw land, and religion were needed. Clorys
spirit, her vitality, and her optimism would have
sustained her against just the harshness of the land or

AML Annual 2004

just the difficulties of living in a plural marriage

or just her uncertainty about her religion. If, for
example, she was called to be Abijahs plural wife
and the family stayed in the Salt Lake Valley, not
only would Clory have been able to avoid the constant fight with the land for food and shelter, she
would have had the beauty and the culture of the
city as an outlet for her creative needs. This creative
expression would not have eradicated her need for
a loving husband and family, but it would have
eased her suffering because it would have fulfilled
her longing for beauty and refinement. On the
other hand, if she had come to St. George with an
unshakable faith in the Lord, she could have turned
to Father in Heaven for comfort and inspiration in
the face of her loneliness and discouragement as a
plural wife in a hostile land. There is strength in
ones convictions, and Clory never has this strength
because God is a nebulous Great Smile to her,
not a person she can depend on because He knows


her and loves her. If God had been real to her, her
situation still would have been difficult, but bearable because she would have believed it was meaningful. Finally, if Abijah had been more willing to
think of her instead of only himself, and/or if
Sheba had been able to discipline herself to be just
a little softer with Clory, the security of a family
working together and loving each other would have
offset her depressing circumstances of little food,
isolation, and ambivalence regarding religion.
There is safety and peace in being loved as part of a
family, and Clory had little of either one.
Sadly, there was no relief for Clory as she was
assaulted on all three levels of her person; the mind,
the body, and the spirit. The three commanding and
demanding forces of polygamy, religion, and land
join hands and circle Clory MacIntyre, picking up
where one left off, filling in all the white space of
her life that might have been overlooked, until they
overwhelmed and consumed her, and she finally dies.

Holiness Emerging from My Mouth

Jacqueline Osherow

robably the most valuable thing that ever happened to me as a poet was that when I was fifteen
years old at Jewish summer camp and complaining
that I, as a girl, wasnt permitted to chant Torah
someone said to me: What difference does it make?
Even if we let you, you wouldnt know how. Needless to say, I learned how. And I eventually moved
to Utah, where there just werent that many people
who had this particular skill. So I found myself
chanting from the Torah quite a bit, as well as from
the Prophets, not to mention yearly gigs doing
Jonah, Lamentations, Song of Songs, Ruth, and
Ecclesiastes. As you might imagine, when you go
over these texts again and again, they seep into
your consciousness. And the more closely I attended
to the Hebrew Bible, the more I realized what I
should already have known: there was a reason
people thought these were holy words. This was
my great good fortune in life. Here was the best
writing Id ever encountered. And it wasnt someone elses. It was mine.
One thing we poets can dooblivious as we
often are to the world around usis to concentrate
on our poems. Indeed, sometimes I think thats all
writing poetry isridiculously intense concentration. This is alsoat its bestwhat chanting is.
There you are, uttering aloud for the entire congregation these unbelievably affecting words. Even
if you dont believe in God, even if seventy-five percent of the people in the synagogue arent paying
attention, babies are crying, kids are running up
and down the aislesthere you are, with a silver
pointer in your hand and holiness emerging from

your mouth. Of course you get distracted: you notice

somebodys purple silk outfit or catch sight of someone you have to remember to talk to before you
leave. But there are times when the words coming
out of my mouth so fiercely claim my attention
that Im absolutely astonished to look up and be
where I am. Ill chant with no consciousness whatever that Im chanting. Im too busy listening. Or
reading. Or Im not there at all. There are only the
This of course is analogous to the kind of experience in poetry writing that gave rise to the notion
of a muse, of being so absorbed in words that you
simply wont be able to recover how they arrived on
the page or screen in front of you, an experience
of listening rather than producing. What I want to
explain is that, for me, this experience becomes
confused with chanting from the Bible. I find myself
constantly having to reckon with the texts intervention in so much of what I have to say.
I never think of myself as appropriating these
texts. How could I appropriate what was already
mine? Besides, by the time I get through with them,
few real believers in Torah would even recognize
them. But whatever I do, the Bibles part in it never
strikes me as optional. Its phrases and emblems and
stories are too intimately tangled up in what it means
for me to utter anything.
What has changed lately is that Ive decided,
self-consciously, to leave these biblical appearances
a little less to chance, to see what happens when I
take on the Bible directly instead of just waiting for
it to show up. The other effect all this chanting has

AML Annual 2004

had on me was that it made me decide to start

teaching a course in the Hebrew Bible as literature.
I came up with what I thought were some pretty
ingenious readings when I was going over and over
all those texts. And who was going to listen to them?
Wellas I said to my first crop of students, a
bunch of Mormon kids whod been on missions,
where they could read nothing but the Bible and
the Book of Mormon for two years and definitely
knew the letter of the text better than I didYou
are. Theyd laughnot an easy thing to get a room
full of Mormons to dobut they had no idea what
they were in for.
Neither, as it turned out, did I. Id never really
read the Bible in English. Of course Id looked at
translations because I was too lazy to work out a
complicated syntax or the vocabulary was too hard
or I didnt trust the meaning I came up with, but I
always tried to read the text in Hebrew. When
I taught my course, I read the King James for the
first time. You cant imagine my astonishment. I
do, after all, write poetry in the English language.
I am not impervious to its charms. And while I
obviously knew on some abstract level that many


of these poets I adored were influenced by the Psalms,

I was utterly amazed to discover, upon reading the
King James Psalms, how much some of these poets
had incorporated what, for them at least, was the
Psalms actual language. My psalmsthe things Id
sung as a child in synagoguewere actually the
stuff of Herbert, Donne, Hopkins and, of course,
my beloved Dickinson. They were the place where
the two traditions out of which I was writing actually came together.
The thing to do, to become a real-life English
language Jewish poet, was to take on these psalms
in my own poems. Of course the project did give
me pause. Who was I to take on the Psalms? But,
what can I say? I was nearing forty. You either tried
to write poetry or you didnt. And who knew? Maybe
I would rise to the Psalms occasion. And if I didnt,
well, I would at least get to spend a lot of time poring over the Psalms. The experience, if nothing
else, made me dizzily fearless. Now Im taking on
all kinds of people: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea. Call it
Midrash if you want. Call it self-indulgence. Im
having a terrific time.

Writing Religion from a Christian Perspective

David McGlynn

hen I was in college, I earned money by

teaching swimming to the children of the
university professors. I was on the university swim
team, the work was easy, and I liked the kids. By
the end of the summer, I had begun to visualize a
story. The story was autobiographical, with a twist.
The protagonist was a young swimming instructor
much like me, at a Southern California university
much like my own. The storys pupil, however, was
nothing like the ridilin-dazed children who populated my classes and private lessons; this student
was a nine-year-old genius, the son of two professors. I worked on the story for most of the fall and
in the spring of my senior year; I entered it in a
university fiction contest. To my surprise, it won.
I was invited to read the story at a reception for the
winners. Proud of myself and eager for praise,
I called my father and stepmother, told them the
good news, and invited them to the reception. Light
refreshments will be served, I told my father.
Plenty of cookies.
Great! my father said. I love cookies. Well
be there.
The story contained a small scene in which the
swimming instructor and his friends drive past
the San Onofre nuclear power station. The narrator sees the two domed reactor towers and cannot
resist the urge to describe them as tits. (At that
point in my life, nothing thrilled me more than
being mildly profane in front of a crowd.) When I
read the line I did not look up. Even still, I could
feel my stepmother wince. That weekend, over

dinner, my stepmother admonished me. No one

could tell that you were a Christian when you read
that, she said.
I didnt write a story about Christians, I said.
The story is about swimming with a genius.
So you sold out to win a contest, she fired
My stepmother wasand isthe most passionate Christian I have ever met. Each morning
she wakes up before dawn to read the Bible and to
pray. Professionally, she is a childrens pastor and
her two primary goals in life are to lead children
to Christ and to teach them to lead others to Christ.
She has always been a strong presence in my life,
and while my own Christian faith does not exactly
mirror hers, I have never been able to simply disregard her challenges.
After dinner, I went home and thought over
what she had said. Before long I began to worry.
I did not want to disavow or hide my faith, but did
that mean that as a Christian, I was obligated to
write exclusively about Christian subjects? Say I
did write about religious faith, did that mean my
stories should avoid direct references and indirect
innuendoes to those desires or activities that fell
outside the circle of Christian propriety? Should all
my stories end in a kind of religious redemption?
This problem is not easily solved and has plagued
me now for some time. How could I write about
the religious world that I had grown up in and around
from an insiders perspective, while simultaneously
accounting for the sordidly beautiful activities that

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my Christian people reject as sinful? I was dissatisfied with the ways that many novels or stories or
films worked this problem out, portraying Christians as sexist, racist, backwoods hypocrites, or else
strange mystics removed from the ins and outs of
daily living. Such works always end up seeming
to me like late-night episodes of Inside Edition,
trafficking in conspiracies, exposs, and spectacles,
and hardly ever providing honest representations
of religion in the lives of modern people searching
for happiness.
Fortunately, the same laws that apply to secular
folks apply to the faithful, and no new literature
needs to be forged to describe or explore contemporary religious faith. Anyone honest with him- or
herselfreligious or notwould admit that he
or she is, in fact, hypocritical, as well as flawed and
fallen, a creature of desire and habit and choice. All
humans attempt to live by certain principles and
then spend much of their lives navigating their
consistent failure to be as principled as they would
like. Religion names the failure to adhere to our
principles as sin, thus structuring in a second
layer of moral responsibility to humankind and to
God. Nonetheless, it is a very human thing we are
talking about, this process of sin and the need for
Writing about redemption is difficult, especially
in contemporary society, because so much of the
world denies religion as a viable means of redemption. Flannery OConnor writes in Mystery and
Manners, The supernatural is an embarrassment
today even to many churches. The naturalistic bias
has so well saturated our society that the reader
doesnt realize that he has to shift his sights to read
fiction which treats of an encounter with God
(163). I know what OConner means. In my own
experience as a writer and as a Christian, I have
observed that many peoplemany Christians in
factdo not believe that sins can be atoned for
vicariously. Thus any movement toward God in a
piece of fiction is often looked at as sentimental,
cheap, or a deus ex machina. And in religious writing it becomes precisely those things, so long as we
let our characters off too easy or judge them too

quickly. In order to write about a characters relationship to the supernatural, to God, we have to
understand their intimate relationship to their personal shortcomings, to their failures. It is not enough
for me to say, Joe is a drunk or Susie is an adulterer; I have to understand why they did what
they did, what need their sin promised to fulfill and
the extent to which that sin fulfilled or failed to fulfill them.
In Burning Down the House, Charles Baxter
expresses a similar sentiment:
Sometimesif we are writerswe have to
talk to our characters. We have to try to persuade them to do what theyve only imagined
doing. We have to nudge but not force them
toward situations where they will get into interesting trouble, where they will make interesting mistakes that they may take responsibility
for. When we allow our characters to make mistakes, we release them from the grip of our
own authorial narcissism. Thats wonderful for
them, its wonderful for us, but its best of all
for the story. (Baxter, 15)

The same applies to Christian writing, I think.

But let me emphasize Baxters point a little more
strongly. We cannot simply talk to our characters
in a distanced conversationas we would a student
or a telemarketer. We have to talk to them like were
in bed with them, and even more than that, we
have to talk to them as though we are them. Only
when I begin to understand the humanness behind
a characters sin will I begin to visualize the circumstances of his or her redemption. And because religion and the supernatural is so difficult a subject,
the target of much skepticism, I am obligated to
penetrate the characters that much more deeply,
to make their motivations that much more real. If
the nonreligious reader disagrees with my characters movement toward God, thats fine; if she
doesnt believe the character could have felt that
way, I have a problem.
My stepmother used to tell me that Jesus did
not die for Sin, with a capital S, but for each of our
individual sins; that as he suffered on the cross, he
understood each of our individual sins, what it was

Writing Religion from a Christian Perspective

like to be us. She cries sometimes when she thinks

of it, and that is beautiful. It turns out that writing
is redemptive in exactly the same way. Writers, religious or not, must push past generalities and symbols and metaphors and instead delve purely into
the inner-lives of their characters to understand
their particular temptations and their particular sins,
and from their Godlike perches above their halfcomposed pages, writers must find the strength to
sympathize with each person they breathe life into,
learn from them, and, in the end, give them peace.


The Power of Parables

Sarah Read

would like to begin with a quotation from a

Utah Mormon visual artist, Brian Kershisnik,
which succinctly states how my faith informs my
purposes as a writer: It [art] is a rip in the sea of
the other world, where a purer reality leaks out,
intentionally or not. An artist is someone who can
give that leak a shape. That is, first and foremost,
a writer, a poet, a painter, any artist can choose by
faith to be present and awake to these rips or ruptures in the fabric of this world in order to give
shape, through his or her medium, to this purer
reality from the other world.
This other world is what theologian John
Dominic Crossan, in his short book The Dark
Interval: Towards a Theology of Story (Niles, IL:
Argus Communications, 1975; rpt., Sonoma, CA:
Polebridge Press, 1988), refers to as the transcendent and, explicitly, as God. He discusses a theology of story which allows for the transcendent to
be made present and experienced through language. Imagine that all we can know is language. If
this is the case, then as people of faith we can
believe that God is either created by our language,
and thus an idol of our own creation, or that God
is outside of language, and thus transcendent.
Consider, then, that language is an imagined raft
upon which we travel across the open sea. If the
raft which keeps us dry is language, then that
which is outside of the raft, the sea, is the transcendent. In the up-and-down movement of the raft on
the sea we can know and experience the transcendent. Most simply, in the movement of language
we can experience the transcendent.

Crossan develops his theory around the story

form of the parable. Parables, remember, as story, are
part of our raft of language. Parables, in a literary
sense, Crossan claims, function oppositely from
myth. While myths build up and create the world
for our understanding (think of the creation
myth, for example), parables challenge and break
down our expected views of the world (for example,
think of Jesus parable of the good Samaritan
when, unexpectedly, the first person to give aid to
the traveler is a Samaritan, a socio-religious outcast,
an outsider, someone least likely to be helpful).
Crossan says that parables give God room. . . .
They are stories which shatter the deep structure of
our accepted world. . . . They remove our defenses
and make us vulnerable to God. It is only in such
experiences that God can touch us, and only in
such moments does the Kingdom of God arrive.
My own term for this is transcendence (100).
Yes, transcendence. Through language and story
we can experience transcendence, the movement of
the raft, and, as poets and writers and artists, in the
words of Kershisnik, we can give shape to this leak
of the other world.
I would like to conclude my remarks by reading an excerpt from a short story that I have written, Witness: a story about rupture, a story, in a
certain sense, about parable:
Terry opens the front door, which isnt
locked, and turns into the living room where
her husband, Richard, stands facing away
from her with his boot on the cats spine. She
freezes in place. She knows that she must not

AML Annual 2004

impose on the scene in front of her. The surprise of her presence will either force Richards
boot down harder on the cat or release it and
off-balance Richard and send him toppling over
backwards to crack his head open on the sharp
corner of the coffee table. She sees the reckoning in the scene before her, mans boot on cats
spine. Richard is alive, she imagines, as she felt
alive as she gave birth to the boys. Life passed
through her then as it passes under Richard here.
Nausea rises again in Terrys throat. It was
she who brought Spice home from the shelter
on Lennys first birthday, a ginger fur ball for
the baby to chase and pet. Terry thinks of the
minutes which preceded this one, the ones before
her unexpected early arrival: Richard coming
into the living room on the way to his workshop, seeing the cat asleep on the floor, the cats
spine long and elegantly arced, exposed against
the thick carpet. Something moving in him or
occurring to Richard; the ordinary domestic
scene of Richard passing through their living
room, a room strewn with the toys of their
three boys, rupturing, tearing for an instant long
enough to turn the otherwise wholly expected
scene into an extraordinary one; a new way of
seeing, doing, taking hold, shifting in the other
Richard that Terry knows from this morning:
Now, rather than stepping over the sleeping cat
on his way to his workshop, he can step on the
cat; not walk over the cat as if the cat were a
stepping stone on the path to his workshop,
but to step on the cat for the purpose of stepping on the cat. To step on the cat as if the cat,
stretched out in its perfect catlike way, is meant
to be stepped on. Today, unlike any other day,
Richard entered the living room not to pass
through on his way to his shop of woodworking tools, but to stay, and to put his boot on
the spine of the cat which now lies, ready, at
his feet.
Richard sets his boot over the cats back. At
first his boot hangs there, lightly caressing the
fur of the sleeping cat. He dares himself to lean
his weight forward onto the cat, to think of
the cat as a piece of the floor. He eggs himself
on. He leans. The cat wakes up and rises underneath his boot. It wants to get away from what
woke it up. It wants to go into the kitchen for
some food but it cant move more than a slight

and uncomfortable lurch forward. Richard leans

some more. The cat cant even lurch. It is pinned.
It yowls, moans like an unhappy cat. Richard
will have to pass through this stage quickly
before it gets to him. He will have to silence
the cat quickly or he will stop leaning. He
presses on his boot on the cat and the cat stops
moaning and is still, its eyes wide open. It is
alive and so is he. He has broken out of the
dead world into one where he is totally alive.
Where only decisions that matter are made. . . .
From the doorway, Terry wants to say
Richard. She wants, now, to announce her
presence. To make herself witness to the event.
Just Richard she will say. I am witness to this
rupture. You cannot do what I cannot see. She
presses her face against the scene, as if she presses
her face against the bars of a cell. Her eyes widen
and water, they move across the bars. Waves of
compassion rise and swell across her face.
Everything is possible. I am here. She projects
herself, empties herself into the living room, as
if she could envelop Richard and bring him to
her. And as if she also lies prostrate before the
scene, she moans, inwardly, at her own humbling. I cannot name even my own life. When
I do, as I did moments ago, when I am satisfied
with my life, that is when I beg for change, for
this rupture. That I should come home and
find my sons cat close to death on the floor.
Terry remains in the doorway and Richards
boot remains on the cat. Richard has a choice
to make. He alone can decide which is the right
one. If he removes his boot he is cruel. He has
inflicted pain and suffering for no purpose. He
has inflicted pain and suffering only to remove
it again. If he lowers the boot he is a coward,
too cowardly to take his cruelty away, to give
away his sense of entitlement to finishing what
he has put in motion, however horrible; this
sense of entitlement which grew as he endured
the cats suffering, the deep throated moans; the
sense of entitlement which grew from the enduring of his own torture during the last few
moments. He wants clear choices, but not like
these. It is he who needs to be saved from the
wretched cat.

The Threat of Mormon Cinema

Gideon O. Burton

ormon films are arriving, and Mormon readers had better pay attention. Mormon literature has taken the last thirty years to achieve its
now respectable stride, but in the last three years
Mormon celluloid has come careening into the
culture as fast as a car chase sequence and perhaps
as recklessly. Whatever we may think of its beginnings, we have not seen its end.
Perhaps we must face the fact that in the cultural economy of today, the motion picture has
more capital than literature. I know I did not want
to face that fact as I sat on the lawn of the Doheny
library of the University of Southern California in
the spring of 1994. In cap and gown, ready to
receive my Ph.D. in literature, I was upstaged by
George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg, who were
receiving honorary doctoral degrees. In his speech,
University President Stephen Sample rhapsodized
that film had become more significant than Shakespeare. Having just finished five years of studies in
Renaissance literature, I found myself a bit ruffled
by this remark. And now, as an academic in an
English departmentone of the guardians of the
literary traditionI twinge each time a student
rents the video instead of reading the book. I think
there is an entire generation that has grown up
believing that Moses and Nefretiri are one of the
greatest love stories inscribed in holy writ.
Popular media have a way of shaking established traditions by changing the terms of cultural
commerce, establishing new patterns for how
stories are conceived, retold, and understood. It
happened, for example, in Europe following the

invention of the printing press. Victor Hugo documented the threat of the printed word to the establishment in his Notre Dame de Paris. In a revealing
moment, the archdeacon Dom Claude points to
one of these newly printed books with one hand
and with the other, to the magnificent Notre
Dame cathedral in Paris, and says ominously,
This will kill that (190).
Printing did not kill religion but it completely
reshaped it. Indeed, as Eisenstein and others have
pointed out, printing was a cultural revolution. No
longer could authority be centered in the literal
church or in the narratives told by priests or by
stained glass windows. Protestantism and democracy were made possible not just by ideas, but by
the new form in which religious and political
notions were replicated and distributed.
While I do not believe that this [the medium
of film] will destroy that [literature], I do believe
that we who take literature seriously must take film
seriously as well. As the book once was to the
cathedral, the film has become to the book. It is
more popular and may prove more broadly influential. Indeed, when I teach Shakespeare I must
come prepared to talk with the students about
Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo or Mel Gibson as
Hamlet, because that is what they know. We must
be prepared to deal with the cinematic realization
of Mormon stories, for that is what both LDS and
non-Mormon audiences will increasingly know
and believe. The last quarter century has seen a
great rise in the publication of Mormon imaginative literature, but with so many Mormon films

AML Annual 2004

recently out or in development, the day is not far

off when Mormon cinema may be the front door
to Mormon literature, and not an interesting
Of course, Mormon movies have been around
almost since the inception of the mediumif one
counts institutional films produced and distributed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints. Institutional Mormon film is an important
tradition not to be ignored. It has influenced millions of viewersfrom those who witnessed Mans
Search for Happiness at the 1964 Worlds Fair in
New York, to those who have cried (and laughed)
at filmstrip presentations of Johnny Lingo, to the
most recent Temple Square visitors who see Testaments. This is a rich cinematic legacy. Though
fraught with many imperfections and aesthetic
embarrassments, institutional Mormon film has
progressed in breadth and sophistication and is an
intimate part of our cultural history stretching
back a half century.1
Mormon films made independently from the
institutional church have already been well established in the direct to video market. Of particular
note is the success of Mormon Anime, scores of
animated films by LDS filmmakers, many of which
are explicitly LDS in subject matter. Living Scriptures, founded in 1974 by former Disney animator
Richard Rich and Jared Brown, has now produced
at least thirty-five half-hour animated films, half of
which are based on the Book of Mormon or LDS
Church history or leaders.
Mormon cinema might justly include the work
of LDS filmmakers with little or no explicit Mormon content. Literally hundreds of Mormons have
been directing, writing, and producing films
(many quite famous or award-winning) since the
dawn of film. Mormons are no strangers to the cinematic arts.
However, the benchmark of achieving an ethnic cinema in our own right seems to be the extent
to which those within Mormon culture produce
and sustain theatrically released feature films. This
has been the great innovation of Mormon cinema
at the opening of the new millennium. Consider
how much has been done in just the last three

years, and how many such films are now in the

In March 2000 Richard Dutchers Gods Army
ushered in the era of the independent, commercially released Mormon feature film. Dutchers
story of Mormon mission life was the first successful commercially released Mormon feature; it was
not the first. That honor goes to Lester Card,
grandfather to Orson Scott Card. At the dawn of
the talkies (1931), Card produced Corianton, a
Book of Mormonbased film that tried, Hollywoodstyle, to leverage the sensationalism of scriptural
adultery into commercial success, but it only
succeeded in offending its Mormon audience and
failing its investors.2 Dutchers success was a commercial one: he proved that Mormon audiences
were ready to pay to see Mormon stories at their
local theater. In April 2001 Dutchers next film
appeared, a small-town murder mystery called
Brigham City. This movie has earned less money
but more critical acclaim than Dutchers inaugural
effort. Perhaps more importantly, with Brigham
City Dutcher pushed further into the frontiers of
LDS theatrical distribution. His production company, Zion Films, promoted the film partly through
volunteer street teams that help in promoting the
movie within their local areas.3
The Dutcher franchise will continue with a
biopic of Joseph Smith. In the meantime, however,
more and more audiences will have the chance to
view additional LDS film offerings. In December
2001 The Other Side of Heaven opened, an adaptation of Elder John H. Grobergs missionary memoir,
In the Eye of the Storm (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft,
1993). Produced by Jerry Molen (a line producer
for Schindlers List and a member of Stephen Spielbergs team for other pictures), this missionary
story is largely blanched of its specifically Mormon
content in order to accommodate a larger national
distribution. Its production value and look fits the
Hollywood adventure movie with its exotic location in Tonga and its dramatic special effects, while
its inspirational subject matter largely shies away
from tensions and content customary to mainstream films. A $7 million budget and word of
much more than this for marketing suggests that

The Threat of Mormon Cinema

serious money is now behind Mormon cinematic

The Singles Ward, the first Mormon romantic
comedy to hit the big screen, appeared in January
2001. Unlike its predecessors, The Singles Ward is
so overtly Mormon in its language, mores, and
celebrity cameos that it is doubtful of any success
beyond Mormon audiences. However, it has so
thoroughly pleased its Mormon audience that this
relatively inexpensive film ($400,000) is likely to
ensure that its producer, Halestorm Entertainment, will go ahead with its two follow-up films
that appear to have similar parameters, The R.M.
and Church Ball. Also of note with this film is its
close tie-ins to Mormon culture.
coproduced the film, providing a lighthearted fantasy version on the big screen of the real-life social
service they offer by subscription on a smaller
screen. The Singles Ward also hit the mark with a
soundtrack updating Church hymns and Primary
songs in a variety of lively pop formats that is
bound to help sell the movie and to resell the idea
that Mormons relish the familiar repackaged in
popular trappings.
Four more Mormon films are due for commercial release in 2002. Out of Step, a story about a
Mormon girl from Utah becoming a dancer in
New York City, is directed by Ryan Little. Little
(who did cinematography for The Singles Ward) is
one of the best recent graduates of BYUs film program, having directed The Last Good War, which
earned a college Emmy as best dramatic film in
1999. Out of Step lacked the marketing savvy of
Excel Entertainment (distributor for Dutchers
films and for The Other Side of Heaven) or the
street-marketing of Zion Films and has apparently
come and gone from theaters without much
notice. Here is strong evidence that Mormon feature films will not automatically succeed commercially because their predecessors have done so
unless there are adequate resources for marketing,
distribution, and exhibition.
More BYU film graduates are responsible for
the second Mormon romantic comedy/drama
appearing in 2002, Charly. Micah Merrill and Adam
Anderegg have worked with Jack Weyland to

update one of the earliest and most popular works

of Mormon literature (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book,
1980). Currently in post-production, this film was
announced for release in spring 2002 but may be
jockeying for position behind the successful Singles
Ward and The Other Side of Heaven. Also announced
for theatrical release in 2002 is Handcart, due to
appear, significantly, on July 24th. Produced by
Ampersand Films and directed by Kels Goodman,
Handcart builds upon Goodmans experience documenting the Mormon pioneer crossing during its
sesquicentennial celebration in 1997.4
The first in a series of Mormon-themed IMAX
films is projected for release in 2002 as well. Mormons have been heavily involved for years in making films for the large format theater, but Safe
Passage will be the first overtly Mormon IMAX
production.5 A heavyweight team of successful
LDS filmmakers are bringing the epic story of
Lehis journey to the promised land to an epicsized exhibition venue (Steven DeVore, Scott
Swofford, Quinn Coleman, Peter Johnson, and
Reed Smoot).
In addition to these films, dozens of other films
are announced or in development. Stone Forest
Pictures has announced its intention to film Black
Stars over Mexico, an adaptation of the book by
Susan Evans McCloud about children growing up
in the Mormon colonies of Mexico. It is intended
for release as a TV movie of the week. Halestorm
Entertainment (The Singles Ward) has slated The
R.M. for production, about a missionary who
returns to find his job and his girlfriend are gone.
Their Church Ball is also announced and sounds
promising (provided the content does not require a
rating that would restrict most LDS viewers!).
Tony Kushners controversial play about AIDS and
Mormons, Angels in America, has been slated for
production by HBO with famed director Mike
Nichols (The Graduate) and starring Al Pacino,
Meryl Streep, and Emma Thompson.6
Some films in the works are by LDS authors
whose literary works have earned them national
attention, though the properties in development
are not explicitly Mormon. These include adaptations of plays and novels by Orson Scott Card

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(Enders Game, recently courted but ultimately

passed over by Miramax), Kenny Kemp (I Hated
Heaven), Neil LaBute (The Shape of Things), Walter
Kirn (Thumbsucker), and Brady Udall (The Miracle
Life of Edgar Mint). Curtis Taylor, who co-authored
Embraced by the Light with Betty Eadie, is working
on a sort of Mormon American Graffiti, titled
American Grace, to feature Richard Dutcher acting
in a coming-of-age story set in Modesto California
in 1973.7 Author Dean Hughes (Children of the
Promise and Hearts of the Children LDS historical
fiction series) and playwright Doug Stewart (Saturdays Warrior) are both working on adaptations of
their writings to film, also.8
There are almost weekly announcements of
new film projects by or about Mormons, many
of which are now intended to be commercial feature releases. Thomas C. Baggaleys filmographies
at are an invaluable resource for all
those wishing to stay abreast of every aspect of
Mormons in film.
Not all of the films listed here will be widely
distributed and commercially profitable, but Mormon cinema is increasingly targeting that achievement. As filmmakers gradually reach and sustain a
viable market for Mormon-oriented productions,
this will put Mormon movie-making on the map
in a different way than it has been to date. Institutional LDS film and the niche marketing of LDS
videotapes reach many audiences, but for Mormon
films to show up in the multiplexes of the malls of
America carves out a place for LDS culture within
the larger culture that it has not yet enjoyed (or
perhaps endured). This will increasingly cause
some eerie juxtapositions, to be sure. The week
that I saw The Other Side of Heaven at a theater in
Provo, The Singles Ward was showing a few doors
down, and between them, the new Britney Spears
movie and a vampire flick. In making company
with the entire range of popular movie fare, Mormon stories and Mormon culture will be read (for
better and for worse) against whatever else has
been popularized on film in the larger culture. This
is already proving to be the case as Mormon cinema is showing up not just at hundreds of screens
across the country, but on the radar of national

film critics. An L.A. Times critic applauded Gods

Army; a Chicago film critic argued that Dutchers
Brigham City deserved broader distribution;
renowned national film critic Michael Medved
gave a glowing review of Gods Army and strong
praise for The Other Side of Heaven.9 Mormonism
is coming out of obscurity as a culture with its own
stories and storytelling due to independent Mormon film. It is creating a new, larger audience for
Mormon stories than has been possible through
official channels or through direct-to-video productions. Rather than destroying Mormon literature, Mormon film may in fact be creating a larger
and more legitimate space for Mormon storytelling
in general, and this will benefit Mormon authors
whose works are not intended for the screen. The
content or quality of independent Mormon cinematic fare is not wholly satisfactory, of course; but
vital trailblazing is being done in terms of distribution, exhibition, and the creation of a broader
The film industry is always hungry for material, and Mormon authors are already supplying
their works for screenplays. Many of the current or
projected Mormon films are adaptations of Mormon literature (In the Eye of the Storm, Charly,
Black Stars over Mexico, The Miracle Life of Edgar
Mint, I Hated Heaven, Hearts of the Children, and
the Book of Mormon). Maurine Whipples Giant
Joshua, one of the first and greatest Mormon novels,
has been optioned and pitched around Hollywood
for years.
Mormons are also busy writing screenplays.
There is a long history of Mormon-authored Hollywood productions going back to Waldemar Young,
Brigham Youngs grandson, whose screenplay for
The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) was nominated
for an Oscar. Mormon screenwriters are responsible for such well-known films as The Absent
Minded Professor (Samuel Taylor, 1961), Where the
Red Fern Grows (Doug Stewart, 1974), and more
recently Galaxy Quest (David Howard, 1999). It
may surprise some, but Mormons have written
screenplays for films with stronger material unlikely
to find approval among most Latter-day Saints,
including Natural Born Killers (David Veloz,

The Threat of Mormon Cinema

1994); Neil Labutes In the Company of Men (1997)

and Nurse Betty (2000, recipient of the Cannes
Film Festival Best Screenplay award). In 1997
another Mormon screenwriter was nominated for
a screenwriting Oscar, Mark Andrus (for As Good
As It Gets; see also his Life as a House, 2001).
We have yet to see a flowering of successful
Mormon screenwriting of overtly Mormon material, although there are those working towards this
besides filmmakers. A new series has been announced
by Dennis Packard at BYU called Novels for the
Next Great Films, of which My People, by Gordon
Laws, is the first book. These are short, visually oriented novels that purposefully read like screenplays
and, based on the strength of Laws story about a
gang member Latter-day Saint, may yet prove
worth filming.
Further evidence that Mormon film will complement, not undermine, Mormon literature comes
in the form of novelizations. Richard Dutchers
Gods Army has spawned the first of at least three
novelizations of the film, each to be written from
the point of view of a different character from the
film. The first, by Orson Scott Cards son Geoffrey
Card, appeared in 2001. Dutcher has asked wellknown Mormon author Marilyn Brown to author
the novelization of Brigham City, and this is a positive sign that there is a cooperative spirit between
filmmakers and established Mormon authors. The
energy and resources being applied to Mormon
cinema are not being matched with comparable
energy in terms of the criticism of LDS motion
pictures. I am not speaking of movie reviews,
which proliferate in newspapers and on websites
when films appear. I am speaking of theoretical discussion about cinema itself. I recently argued that
Mormon cinema seems to be taking two directions. The first of these is a very distinctive and
familiar institutional church style of filmmaking.
The second (not always so distinct from the first) is
a Hollywood mainstream sort of cinema. Most of
the films I have mentioned fall in this latter category. Each of these two style has merits; both have
severe limitations artistically and perhaps spiritually. Essentially, both styles are highly conservative,
keeping within tight generic bounds that have

proven satisfactory in the past. Unlike Mormonism

itself, Mormon cinema (either institutionally or
commercially) is not attempting a radical revision
of the world. Another way to put this is that Mormon cinemaboth institutional and independent
varietiesdoes not live up to the liberalism of our
own theology. We have yet for there to be any substantive discussion of religion and film relative to
the Mormon faith, but we should, and this should
guide film production and reception. If literary
critics do not come forward to meet the coming of
Mormon cinema, applying meaningful theoretical
frameworks that respect Mormon history and
theology, then the shaping of Mormon cinema will
be left to informal journalistic reviews and to the
untrustworthy currents of commercial forces.
I hope we will be up to the task of adding Mormon
film criticism to Mormon literary criticism. The
health of the growing Mormon presence in popular culture may depend upon it.
This paper was presented at the 2002 AML conference.
1. See my Making Mormon Cinema: Hype and
Hope, in Art Belief and Meaning: The Visual Arts and
the Restored Gospel, Brigham Young University Museum
of Art, 30 November 2001 (
/Education/documents/Art_Belief.pdf; also at http:// );
Peter N. Johnson, Motion Pictures, LDS Productions,
in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow et al., vol. 2 (New York: Macmillan, 1992),
96466; and Daniel Lund Hess, The Evolution of
Media in the Church Educational System of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (masters
thesis, Brigham Young University, 2002).
2. Orson Scott Card, Towards a Mormon Aesthetic, keynote address given at the Mormon Arts Festival, 1995.,
accessed 12 March 2002.
3. Brigham City Street Team, http://www.brigham, accessed 12 March
4. See
5. In September 2002 Safe Passage was retitled as
Journey to the Promised Land and changed from an

AML Annual 2004

IMAX to a regular-sized feature film. See details at,
FromTheDust.html and at the movies website, http://
6. See
7. See
8. See details at
SaturdaysWarrior.html and the movies website, http://
9. Jacqueline Bendy, A Mormon Mission to L.A.
in Gods Army (Review), Los Angeles Times, 25 May
2000; John Petrakis, Serial-killer Saga Brigham City
More Than Just Another Mormon Vanity Project,
Chicago Tribune, 13 April 2001, 7; Michael Medved,


Gods Army Movie Review http://www.michaelmedved

+HTML. accessed 12 March 2002. Michael Medved,
qtd. in The Other Side of Heaven Press Kit, Advance
Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Revolution in
Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
Hugo, Victor. Notre Dame de Paris. Trans. Alban Krailsheimer. New York: Oxford, 1993.

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