In preparing my weekly poetry for Gospel Doctrine Lessons (aka Literary BMGD) post on Times and Seasons for this week, I discovered an interesting statement in the current Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine lesson manual for lesson #42 (covering 3 Nephi 27-28 and 4 Nephi):
Note: Stories often circulate about the three Nephites who were translated. Members of the Church should be careful about accepting or retelling these stores. You should not discuss them in class.
I won’t be surprised to find that this statement has been in the various Book of Mormon manuals for some time. And I understand why. Telling Three Nephite stories could easily change the lesson from something spiritual to something like an episode of the Twilight Zone.
But, the statement makes me wonder. Have the Three Nephites appeared much outside of oral folklore? Are there short stories or novels or poems or even drama or visual art that features the Three Nephies?
Off the top of my head, two things occur to me, and both are kind of ancillary. First, if I recall correctly, Brian Evenson has a story in which a Mormon woman having car trouble thinks the three Nephites have come to help her, but they turn out to be criminals. Second, the online short video series (or whatever it should be called) Jer3miah includes a character that, again if I recall correctly, isn’t himself one of the Three Nephites but claims to be directed by them.
Beyond those two, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them appear in Mormon literature.
To be honest, I find this a little strange. Folklore is usually a fertile ground for authors. It sometimes seems like half of romance novels are veiled versions of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty or the Ugly Duckling. Mormon literature has been quite willing to take stories from Mormon history, but Mormon folklore is somehow overlooked?
Perhaps the timing is just different from that of non-Mormon folklore. Cinderella and Snow White and similar stories entered literary consciousness in the 17th Century with Charles Perrault and in the 19th Century with the work of the Brothers Grimm and others, and short stories and novels that drew on them arose soon after. In contrast, passing on Mormon folklore seems to have been in decline since the mid 20th century, perhaps because the rapid expansion of the Church has made it more difficult for these stories to be told widely and to resonate with most Mormons. But in a very real sense significant numbers of widely read and well known Mormon novels only started in the 1970s, when authors perhaps didn’t know the stories as well, or perhaps were part of a modern mindset that finds the tales bizarre.
I am, of course, guessing as to all this. I do know that for me it is rare to hear Three Nephite or other Mormon folklore these days — more rare than it was in the 1970s when I was a youth.
Am I wrong? Have many Mormon stories and novels been written based on the Three Nephites or other Mormon folklore? What stories or novels have I missed? Is Mormon Folklore disappearing?