Abandon All Hope: Mormon Lit Can’t Be ‘Great’

6.12.09 | | 32 comments

I mostly disagree with this article. Dallas Robbins disagrees even more than I do. Dallas is more excited about it too! Read his post.

I start by acknowledging a point of agreement. (I’m sure Jerry Johnston is a nice guy. I want to be charitable here.) I agree, as Johnston puts it, that “an authentic [Mormon] literary masterpiece” would make some Mormons feel “uncomfortable, exposed and betrayed.” Fair enough. As for the rest of the article … Dude! Come on!

The column presents this argument:

(1) Only a partial Mormon outsider can achieve the perspective necessary to write “great” Mormon lit.
(2) Only a Mormon insider could write lit that qualifies as “truly Mormon.”
THEREFORE:
Great Mormon lit is impossible.

*

The first premise in Johnston’s argument was supplied by Wallace Stegner. Ordinarily, I would be a sucker for this kind of appeal to authority. Stegner is top notch. Read *Angle of Repose* and *Crossing to Safety* if you haven’t already. Heck, read everything else Stegner wrote and his biographies too. However, I find Stegner’s opinion on whether (and how) Mormons might be capable of literary greatness rather suspect. It is true that Stegner liked Mormons as people. He understood them to a point, and he wrote about them in complimentary terms. However, Stegner also preserved his own precious respectability by dismissing Mormons as embarrassingly gullible mystics. “Benighted” is a term he used to describe Mormons. He underestimated our cultural riches (he had a low opinion of Joseph Smith), and he misread our potential (faithful Mormons were lightweights to him). Why should I care what Wally Stegner thought on this point? I don’t!

*

Johnston’s view of Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor also fails to persuade. Some “true Catholics” considered them heretical, irredeemably worldly, and decidedly un-Catholic. Just read O’Connor’s letters! Here’s the thing: they were serious Christians who refused to speak the language of their own flock. They told Christian stories in the terms of 20C fiction, and gained literary acceptance in the process. What stops Mormons from doing the same? Nothing. Really! Mormons that go this direction may not be loved (at first) in their own country. But what minor prophet is? Johnston’s assertion that there was no tension between Greene/O’Connor and their faith community is simply false.

*

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, Johnston makes the church sound like a monolithic, brain-washing cult! I mean, seriously, the blessing of the institutional church is required? Do I submit my novel directly to the correlation department sub-committee on literary greatness? Or is Deseret Book, the official Mormon kitsch-press, good enough? But can any good thing come out of Deseret Book? Contrary to Johnston’s grim view, I think Mormons and the church are maturing culturally in ways that will lead to not just “wonderful” art (man, that sounds condescending), but widely-appreciated “great” art.

*

Not that we should lose much sleep worrying about “greatness” anyway…

32 comments: “Abandon All Hope: Mormon Lit Can’t Be ‘Great’

  1. Dallas Robbins

    I was uncertain if I might be a lone voice in the wilderness. Good insight. I did get excited, but for some reason, such things get under my skin. When I get some distance from my own emotions, I plan to write a little more about the subject.

  2. MoJo

    You’re not the lone voice in the wilderness, but I just kind of chuckled.

    Perhaps he thinks HE couldn’t write the Great Mormon Novel, thus, no one else can.

  3. Jonathan Langford

    I’m far from persuaded by Johnston’s argument – but I think his main point is worth considering.

    In my opinion, probably the least persuasive thing Johnston said was: “being a Mormon is not like being Catholic or Jewish. There is precious little wiggle room for devout LDS writers. There aren’t a lot of gray areas to explore.”

    This reminds me of something I thought back when I was, oh, about 14 or so – back when I decided I could never be a good writer. See, good writing comes out of misery, doubt, and uncertainty. But the gospel eliminates misery, doubt, and uncertainty. Therefore…

    (Needless to say, my premises have changed since then. And while it may be true that I’ll never be a great writer, it certainly won’t be for the reasons my 14-year-old self thought were true.)

    On the other hand, I think Johnston may very well be right when he says that it simply isn’t possible to write “a grand and glorious literary novel that is heralded by both the LDS faithful and the literary world.”

    I’m not sure it’s possibly to write simultaneously as an insider and an outsider. And I’m not sure that the world will accept as great any novel about Mormonism that doesn’t take an outsider perspective. And I’m quite sure that most members of the Church won’t accept any novel about Mormonism that doesn’t take an insider perspective.

    Note, by the way, that I’m assuming that by “great Mormon novel” Johnson means a novel that is explicitly about the Mormon experience – hence disqualifying Card and anyone else who attempts to get around the “point of view” problem by veiling the subject matter. Those may be great novels, but they wouldn’t be the “great Mormon novel” – if for no other reason than that no one would recognize them as Mormon. (Note, by the way, that arguing whether there can be any such thing as a “great Mormon novel” – what Johnston did – is vastly different from arguing about whether Mormon literature can be great.)

    As for the other examples Dallas gives… I remember long discussions on AML-List that I think pretty persuasively described why most faithful Mormons are unlikely to see The Giant Joshua and Backslider as describing their own religious experience.

    So, yeah, I think Johnston may be onto something here. If you accept his definition that a “great Mormon novel” would be one that satisfies both the Mormon faithful and the non-Mormon literary world, then I’m not sure it’s likely to be any more successful than other exercises in serving two (very different) masters. Though I’d love to be proven wrong…

    And if you don’t accept his definition – if by “great Mormon novel” you mean something different from one that speaks both to Mormons and to non-Mormons – then it’s a kind of moot point anyway (as arguments about definitions tend to be).

  4. MoJo

    I think Johnston may very well be right when he says that it simply isn’t possible to write “a grand and glorious literary novel that is heralded by both the LDS faithful and the literary world.”

    The problem is he set up a false dichotomy by saying it MUST be heralded by insiders and outsiders. Why should it be?

    disqualifying Card and anyone else who attempts to get around the “point of view” problem by veiling the subject matter.

    I’ve said this privately before, but I’m going to say it publicly now. Wrapping us up in science fiction and fantasy with the purpose of exposing the world to our philosophies is, IMO, cowardly and lazy.

    If you accept his definition that a “great Mormon novel” would be one that satisfies both the Mormon faithful and the non-Mormon literary world

    I don’t. The Great Mormon Novel will serve to bring understanding to the masses who don’t understand us, our culture, our jargon, our worship. What the insider Mormon doesn’t want is that exposure because the insider Mormon doesn’t want to be mocked, thus, clutching it all secretively to their breasts.

  5. Tyler

    “wonderful” art (man, that sounds condescending)

    As do these sweeping generalizations, straight from Jerry’s condescending conclusion—

    The Great Mormon Novel is a dream held by literary types in the church.

    It is also the Great White Whale pursued by devout Mormons who can’t understand — in this day and age — just how uncomfortable, exposed and betrayed an authentic literary masterpiece would make them feel.

    I wonder if one of the “perks” (as Jerry calls them) of working for Deseret Book is that you don’t have to consider yourself literary, in that you enjoy good literature; you just “get” to comfortably enjoy the kitsch, keep yourself unexposed to the world and unbetrayed by your fellow humans, and make sweeping generalizations about those who have problems with DB, i.e. those who might believe the Great Mormon Novel a possibility.

    What a load.

  6. S. P. Bailey Post author

    Jonathan:
    I agree that Johnston defines the “Mormon” part of the phrase “Great Mormon Novel” extremely narrowly. I think my post fairly acknowledges that. (See the second and fifth paragraphs.)

    Still, it seems like a cop out to say “Johnston has a point if you accept his terms.” I don’t accept his terms! Ha!

  7. Th.

    .

    Let’s not hit DB too hard. They have published some very good novels, let’s remember, as well as massive amounts of kitsch.

    That said, I thought JJ’s points were laughably wrong.

    And I’m excited for Wm’s take on this next.

  8. Jonathan Langford

    Replying to MoJo:

    “I’ve said this privately before, but I’m going to say it publicly now. Wrapping us up in science fiction and fantasy with the purpose of exposing the world to our philosophies is, IMO, cowardly and lazy.”

    But what if the story you want to write is science fiction and/or fantasy? Is it “cowardly and lazy” to incorporate into those stories themes and ideas that you think are true and powerful (or at least fictionally interesting)?

    For what it’s worth, I’m pretty convinced that what I’ve just written is a lot closer to what the LDS sf&f authors I know (including Card) are actually doing.

    More generally… Questions of definition in literature, like questions of definition in math, aren’t really all that interesting. What’s interesting is the arguments you make about your terms once they’re defined. So whether Johnston is “right” or not in his definition of what a “great Mormon novel” would be isn’t, in my view, a terribly interesting question. What’s more interesting is the claims he makes along the way – like his claims about whether it’s possible to write simultaneously for a faithful Mormon audience and for a non-Mormon literary audience on Mormon topics.

  9. MoJo

    Jonathan, let me think on that because, honestly, I never thought about it from that angle. I may have to eat some serious crow here.

    On the other hand, I was urged to read the Alvin Maker series and while I found it readable and saw the parallels, I was underwhelmed with it on every level: alternate reality, fantasy, Mormon, philosophy. At some point, wouldn’t an author of Card’s stature actually attempt The Great Mormon Novel without hiding behind SF/F and veiled references?

    Then there’s Twilight. The other works I can cite off the top of my head are all fantasy/SF and YA to boot.

    The Great Mormon Novel isn’t going to be something that’s not completely in-your-face.

  10. mary ann

    How very odd to conclude that these 2 demands could not be met by a single individual who had lived in both worlds. Are we not a church of converts? A church that excommunicates members as a step to bringing them back to the fold? Isn’t it true that a significant percentage of Mormons will experience at least one phase of inactivity during their life? Wouldn’t these circumstances allow a Mormon to view Mormonism from a distance (though briefly) while still being an insider?

  11. Jonathan Langford

    MoJo,

    Some people would argue that with _Saints_ (originally published as A Woman of Destiny), Card has already taken a shot at writing his “great Mormon novel.” Maybe he’ll write another one someday…

    It’s been my experience that people write the stories they feel drawn to write. Card writes sf&f in large part because that’s a literature he loves. It’s often permeated with Mormon themes and motifs, because those speak powerfully to him.

    There are a lot of good Mormon sf&f authors out there. The vast bulk of them started out wanting to write sf&f. They didn’t choose sf&f as a mask for their Mormon stuff, but rather vice versa – their Mormon stuff started manifesting itself through their sf&f.

    For me, it happened the other way around. I wanted to be an sf&f writer. I still want to be an sf&f writer. But my first published novel is going to be a novel about a gay Mormon teen. I keep asking myself, “How did that happen?” Maybe my Mormon novel is a mask for the sf&f that I really want to write…

  12. Laura Craner

    I’m a little nervous to say that I sort of agree with Johnston . . . I myself have said that Mormon writers need to quit trying to follow other religious literary models. We’re not Jews. We’re not Catholics. We’re Mormons–we are different religiously, philosophically, culturally. We can’t be Chaim Potok. There isn’t room in our culture for that.

    I don’t think that needs to be a limiting or discouraging thing, though. It doesn’t mean the Great Mormon Novel can’t be done. It just means it will have to be done differently. How will it be done? I don’t think we’ll know until after the fact. Wasn’t it Gideon Burton who pointed out that there’s a good chance our Great Mormon novel is already written and it just needs time to be embraced?

    What ever happened to all those “Mormon Studies” programs that were popping up in universities? What about the existence and persistence of presses like Zarahemla Books and Signature Books and Parables Publishing? They have A LOT of great stuff. I’m wondering how much actual Mormon/LDS fiction Johnston has read.

    The other thing that Johnston seems to be ignoring is that a lot of mainstream Catholics and Jews hate the literary fiction associated with their culture. I mean, yeah, those authors are landmarks, but I’m not sure they were at the top of the bestseller list. Plenty of mainstream, everyday readers hate literary fiction. That’s sort of what separates lit. fiction from popular fiction. Plenty of people have read _Moby Dick_ but that doesn’t mean they liked it. On a smaller scale, it’s the same story for _The Giant Joshua_. (Also worth noting: plenty of people have actively *not* read _Moby Dick_ but still know enough about it to contribute to the chatter. I’d say a lot of Mormons relate to Sunstone in a similar manner *wink*)

    Like I said, Mormons are going to have to do it differently and accept that great art is nebulous and, often, a stroke of luck and fortuitous timing. It takes a lot of hard work and time too. But luck is still a big factor.

    But then again, maybe truly Great Mormon Writers don’t believe in luck? (Hmm . . . where’s that darn sarcasm emoticon . . .)

  13. Laura Craner

    p.s. Mary Ann made a really great point. Think Coke Newell’s _On the Road to Heaven_. I want to see where that book is in twenty years.

  14. MoJo

    The vast bulk of them started out wanting to write sf&f. They didn’t choose sf&f as a mask for their Mormon stuff, but rather vice versa – their Mormon stuff started manifesting itself through their sf&f.

    Then I must apologize for the blanket statement I made. I haven’t seen it that way and I wonder if that’s because I’m coming to the work AS a Mormon, able to see its manifestation easily.

    I wanted to be an sf&f writer. I still want to be an sf&f writer. But my first published novel is going to be a novel about a gay Mormon teen. I keep asking myself, “How did that happen?” Maybe my Mormon novel is a mask for the sf&f that I really want to write…

    Touche. :)

  15. Jonathan Langford

    MoJo,

    You wrote: “I wonder if that’s because I’m coming to the work AS a Mormon, able to see its manifestation easily.”

    That’s certainly possible, especially if sf&f doesn’t fall within your regular literary tastes.

    I think there are some Mormon themes that sf&f provides particularly nice opportunities to explore. For example, I think Card does an interesting job of playing the Mormon idea of humans becoming Gods in _The Worthing Chronicle_, especially in connection with the idea of whether and why it’s justified for God to let humans suffering if he has the means to remove that suffering. But if you don’t care for science fiction to start with, I doubt that you’d like that story either.

    I suppose it’s also possible that knowing about Card’s Mormonism might decrease one’s enjoyment of the stories, even if one likes sf&f – though for most of the Mormon readers I know, it hasn’t had that effect. I do remember, though, being in a Hanson Planetarium starshow (in Salt Lake City) written by Card where the audience all groaned in unison when the interstellar explorers entered the Centauri system on July 24 of whatever-year-it-was…

  16. Lee Allred

    If I could expand a bit on Jonathan’s posts. . .

    Let me preface by saying I didn’t take offense at MoJo’s post. I just think there’s a bit of misunderstanding the science fiction field on MoJo’s part.

    One of the centralities of science fiction is that it is a genre where the allegorizing of difficult issues, wrapping them up in science fictional settings with the purpose of exposing them to the world, is expected. Most if not all of SF’s greatest works are some form of allegory, running the gambit from “Nightfall” to A WRINKLE IN TIME to LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS to STARSHIP TROOPERS. Indeed, it is all but impossible to write SF and not do so in some fashion. Some time this is done surperbly. A WRINKLE IN TIME and C.S. Lewis’ Naria series come to mind. (Unfortunately, like other human endeavours, it usually is not done so superbly. Pick just about any of the 1960s STAR TREK episodes for some real howlers.)

    It is not cowardly or lazy to write an English sonnet in iambic pentameter; that is simply the rules to the game. It is no more cowardly and lazy to allegorize in science fiction than it is for an opera to sing all its dialogue or for a ballet to mime a story with tippytoe dancing. The basic ground rules of an art form should be taken as a given. I could very well be talked into accepting the position that Card’s Alvin Maker series didn’t work. I don’t think i could be talked into the position that he should never have attempted it.

    The Godfather of science fiction, Rudyard Kipling (allegorizing about the art of writing no less) wrote: “There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays./And every single one of them is right!” While it may be that there is no “right” way of writing, there is at least one universal constant: a writer has to be honest. Honest with himself. Honest with his audience.

    There is no way for me to write honestly without writing as a Mormon. Flat out impossible. There are certain core beliefs I hold that I simply can’t pretend not to have. No matter how hard I’d try to hide or eliminate them, they’ll show up on my writing anyway.

    I’m working in a field where allegory is the norm. I’m writing in a field where my Mormon core beliefs (ones I cannot hide as a writer, not and remain honest) are … let’s just say they’re out of sync with the majority of SF editors and readers.

    Am I really expected to forego allegory?

    Ask any military historian about the BEF generalship and the full-throated frontal assualts at the battles of the Marne and Ypres. Sometimes the antithesis of straightforwardness isn’t “cowardly and lazy,” it’s “suicidal.

    I’m writing to the national market. I can’t have Elder Wally Kessler tap dance his way onto the page and break out in a chorus of “Humble Way” and start giving the first dicussion. My job is to tell a story that a national market science fiction reader will enjoy enough to pay money for. Some things I can do. Some things I can’t. I can do broad themes. I can do allegory. I can’t do specifics. At least not the specifics I think MoJo is asking for.

    What I can do is keep to my core Mormon beliefs, keep to three broad themes central to my work: 1) there is more to existence than the physical reality we can reach out and touch and taste and see and hear; 2) something (or someone) exists greater than us all that directs the fates and affairs of men; 3) and because this power exists, the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail (to borrow from Hank Longfellow). These are things common to a multitude of tradiitions. These are things I can speak to. Milk before meat. Line upon line. Precept upon precept. All that kind of jazz.

    This doesn’t mean I’ve scrubbed all overt traces of Mormonism from my stories.

    In all honestly I’ve pushed the Mormon boundary, probably farther than I should have. I’ve won an award for an alternate history story about the 1857 Utah War and Johnston’s Army. I’ve retold Paradise Lost with the Mormon version of what happened in the Garden of Eden being a good thing, not a bad…albeit with Robert E. Lee as Adam and Lincoln as Christ, with Mycroft Holmes as the D&C quoting serpent. I’ve quoted Lorenzo Snow’s couplet as direct refutation to the Nietzschean ubermensch dystopian shared world fictive universe anthology I was commissioned to write in. I’ve recast Lundwall’s hoary THE FATE OF THE PERSECUTORS OF THE PROPHET JOSEPH SMITH as a Holocaust story. I’ve put a somewhat transmorgified Jonny Lingo and his multi-cow wife into a comic book story, complete with lava-lava and the immortal phrase “Mahona, you ugly thing! Get down from that tree!”. I’ve delved into personal revelation and the workings of prophecy with Abraham Lincoln and the Battle of Gettysburg. And I’ve reoganized matter and (re)created the universe along the lines of Mormon cosmology through the Hosanna Shout and the singing of “The Spirit of God Like A Fire Is Burning” from the old 1950 LDS hymnal.

    I’ve been able to do what I’ve done because I’ve wrapped things up in fantasy and SF tropes. I’ve allegorized. I’ve feinted, I’ve flanked, I’ve danced around the ring more times than Muhammed Ali.

    I attempt to tell a complete whole story that a non-Mormon can read and enjoy throuroughly. The overt Mormon aspects are historical or flavor details that are self-explanatory in the story. For a Mormon reader, however, they’re a bonus, an Easter Egg, an “oh, cool!” added feature. A bonus. An additional layer. They give added depth, but the story itself doesn’t depend on them.

    Indirection allows me to be more straightforward, not less. It allows me to be bolder, not less. And it certainly causes me to be more ambitious (Robert E. Lee as Adam and Mycroft Holmes as the serpent?!?!).

    — Lee Allred

  17. MoJo

    I am agnostic on Card as a person/writer, but I’ll admit SF/F as a genre doesn’t attract me. (Erm, but speculative fiction and steampunk do. Go figure.)

    After thinking about it quite a bit, I think my discomfort with SF/F being the most common manifestation of Mormonism in mainstream literature is that, unless you are at least passingly familiar with Mormonism, you’re not going to get it.

    Earlier today, it was pointed out to me that my definition of what the Great Mormon Novel is as arrogant (possibly more) as Johnston’s.

    This is my definition of the Great Mormon Novel: That which is explicitly Mormon, identifies as Mormon, and serves to demystify us and humanize us to the mainstream. It would put our jargon and our culture and our traditions and our worship out there to be as familiar to the American vocabulary as Catholicism and Judaism is.

    No one would have to be told what “Sacrament Meeting” is, much as we don’t have to be told what “Mass” is. Likewise, one would understand “temple marriage” the way one understands “quinciañera” and “bar/bat mitzvah” (albeit the rites themselves aren’t analogous).

    This novel may or may not find favor in both LDS circles and mainstream circles, but it would not be aimed at LDS. We’ve got enough literature aimed at us.

    So after thinking about it, I’d have to agree I’m very arrogant about my own definition as it appears Johnston is about his. But what I’d also say is that to do what *I* envision, it’ll take several novels by several writers to do it.

    Do I think there is or will be such a thing as THE Great Mormon Novel? No, but I think there will be a COLLECTION of them.

  18. MoJo

    I just think there’s a bit of misunderstanding the science fiction field on MoJo’s part.

    Thank you, Lee. Your explanation is appreciated.

    Considering how often people bash my genre (romance) because they don’t know/understand/or read in an effort to understand, I should’ve known better and I apologize.

  19. MoJo

    I can’t do specifics. At least not the specifics I think MoJo is asking for.

    Yes. I’m asking for specifics. I think they have a place in the American literary landscape somewhere.

    The book I currently have out there is not that book, although I have apparently hit a chord with many people who are Mormons.

    The book that is in editing and (I hope) makes it out in time for Christmas is also not that book.

    The one after that, though… I hope to have set the national market stage with books 1 and 2 to prepare readers for book 3. I hope (fingers crossed) that this will be the one that puts our vocabulary on the map. None of my books will find favor with members across the board. I don’t expect them to.

    What I expect is that voracious fiction readers will find some value in characters who are Mormons in whatever stage of their spirituality, and who find my characters sympathetic and/or have empathy with their struggles.

  20. MoJo

    The book I currently have out there is not that book, although I have apparently hit a chord with many people who are Mormons.

    I mean, who are NOT Mormons.

  21. john f.

    Maybe we need to give it about 1,000 years, though that’s not much comfort to those who hope to be able to write it in this century.

  22. Wm Morris

    I’m hoping that the Millennium hits when I’m in my 50s and that I get called as the Stake Novelist of the Stake Cultural Affairs Committee.

  23. Theric Jepson

    .

    Seriously. Have you read Added Upon? Stake Novelist sounds like Best Job Even. Feed the swans all day and people call it work….. Awesome.

  24. Mahonri

    I’m glad Jonathan pointed up _Saints_ as OSC’s contribution to the “literary” genre. I think it’s one of his finest and a personal favorite. And it doesn’t separate itself with the curtain of SF&F… a genre I love, by the way, so see no issue with it. But isn’t that what ANY fiction does? It creates a world where we can explore hard and scary things in safety. To just pin that on SF&F isn’t fair. SF&F just adds another layer, but it is not different in its purpose.

  25. MoJo

    To just pin that on SF&F isn’t fair.

    Well, now wait a minute. When SF&F is nearly *always* used as a vehicle for metaphor, instead of characters coming right out and saying, “We’re Mormon, this is what we think, this is how we live, and this is how we’re supposed to live, but we’re struggling with that,” how is that not fair?

    Point me to one or two mainstream books besides Saints (which is an historical, no?) with modern LDS characters doing what they do, living what they believe (or trying to or having reasons why they’re not), and explaining those beliefs in a somewhat understandable manner to the masses.

    I have ordered Shannon Hale’s The Actor and the Housewife to see if it does what *I* want done.

    Now, I’ll admit I stuck my foot down my throat by saying it was cowardly to use SF&F to explore our philosophies and, possibly, lifestyle, but you can’t also say “But isn’t that what ANY fiction does? It creates a world where we can explore hard and scary things in safety” because there are a lot of church members who will not find putting us explicitly on display in mainstream fiction to be doing it in safety. SF&F provides the cover of safety from the mockery that we fear.

  26. Th.

    .

    MoJo—

    Although it’s YA, we also have this. (Which I own but haven’t read. Must like Card’s Lost Boys which I understand will also qualify.)

  27. Th.

    .

    I probably should have mentioned it’s YA. I know how you can get about YA. :)

  28. ET

    As far as veiled and unveiled philosophy and metaphor, I think there is value in examining the life of our savior. Certainly, there were times when he clearly stated his mission and identity. And yet, he was not above veiled meaning and metaphor as we discern from his many touching parables. For some, Christ’s clear and compassionate words are enough to understand the basics of the atonement. For others, it takes a fictional story about a prodigal son. And perhaps above all, it takes both. But the point is that it wasn’t done to avoid mockery, but to achieve and perhaps even enhance understanding. Our canon contains trees of life, olive gardens, refiner’s fires, feet upon the mountains and stones cut out of them, brides and bridegrooms, lambs and Lambs and myriad more metaphors, none of which are given or embraced in the spirit of fear.

    By way of comparison, I believe that sf&f resonates not only with Mormons but many religious people because more than any other genre, it deals in archetypes. There is ultimate good and ultimate evil, and I believe that even in metaphor, we’re drawn to this because we believe it. In sf&f, weak things confound the wise and conquer the invincible (Lord of the Rings), the truth sets one and all free (The Sword of Shannara), foreordained destinies are realized (Harry Potter), hidden talents are embraced (The Last Starfighter), charity never fails (A Wrinkle in Time), wickedness turns out to not be happiness after all (Star Wars) and redemption is always available even to the most sickened soul (Star Wars again). To some degree, it could be argued that this is less veiled than a drama which, for all its praise-worthy honesty, fails to recognize so many eternal and archetypal truths. Stories that feature Mormon characters in Mormon settings, etc., may give a reader more knowledge about our religion, but not necessarily more understanding. There may be more facts, but not necessarily more truth.

    I agree with the statement that one generally arrives at sf&f first and imbues it with the qualities of one’s own personal, moral code. I have always appreciated the Runelords series by David Farland, who incorporated many LDS themes into his world, many of which deal with the temple and personal perfection. I found myself learning about my own religion through these veiled metaphors and it motivated me to ponder on clear doctrines and be grateful for that which had always been right in front of me. Truly, if anything is virtuous, lovely, of good report or praise-worthy, we seek after these things! (Even romance novels)

    Finally, I do believe that great American literature (and beyond) has often tended toward demystifying and humanizing its subjects (Grapes of Wrath, Scarlet Letter, Invisible Man, The Great Gatsby, etc.). But great American literature has also demonized its subjects (1984, Lord of the Flies, Heart of Darkness), cloaked its subjects (Animal Farm, Moby Dick, East of Eden), and more. I think what unites works like these in the pantheon of great literature is that whatever the subject, however it was treated, they created understanding, and many of them did so in a revolutionary way. The folly of war understood in “Catch-22;” The power of perseverance understood in “The Old Man and the Sea;” The injustice of prejudice understood in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” They treat the universal by way of the specific. I agree with you that a Great Mormon Novel does not have to be liked by Mormons or non-Mormons at all. However, whether it does so by humanizing us, demonizing us, or deifying us perhaps doesn’t matter so much as whether or not it simply creates a better understanding of us. To that end, I will accept the best of any and all genres.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>