The first work of Mormon fiction was published 165 years ago today, on the front page of the New York Herald, so if Mormon fiction has a birthday, it is today.
[I hope that our readers will excuse me for posting a second time today. I thought that the anniversary deserved a post, and didn't remember the occasion until this afternoon.]
Its not the birth of Mormon literature, which has to be tied to the publication of the Book of Mormon. Other works of literature then followed, including discourses, doctrinal treatises and poetry. But it wasn’t until 1844 that a work of fiction was published.
The first work published was also probably not the first written, because Parley P. Pratt apparently read a work he wrote, The Angel of the Praries, to Joseph Smith and others in Nauvoo in the winter or early spring of 1844, but that work was not published until 1880. He then wrote A Dialogue Between Joseph Smith and the Devil in the Spring of 1844, while in Boston, and it was published in the New York Herald on Sunday morning, August 25, 1844.
The dialogue is very clever and entertaining, as well as giving an interesting view of how Pratt perceived public perceptions of Mormonism. The final toast that Pratt has Joseph Smith give is alone worth reading the dialogue, if you haven’t yet. And while the dialogue is as didactic or propagandistic as you might expect from a work like this, it is, nonetheless, not a bad beginning for Mormon fictional works. Much worse has been published.
While I think that A Dialogue Between Joseph Smith and the Devil was Pratt’s most successful work of fiction, he also wrote at least three other works of fiction, including The Angel of the Prairies, and another dialogue and a play, but the latter two remain unpublished. (I am preparing them for publication now).
In celebration of this anniversary, give A Dialogue Between Joseph Smith and the Devil another read, or read it for the first time if you haven’t already.
Or just give a look at this snippet of the front page of the New York Herald from Sunday morning, August 25, 1844: