There’s much to admire about Nephi Anderson and his work, but I have always been troubled by his (mis)treatment of other religious faiths—“sectarians” as he called them—in his novels. On the one hand, I understand that his unflattering representations of Protestants and Catholics in Marcus King, Mormon (1900), The Story of Chester Lawrence (1913), and The Romance of a Missionary (1919) were responses not only to the opposition he encountered during his three missions for the Church, but also to the anti-Mormonism that was rampant in the presses of his day. On the other hand, though, I find myself wishing that he extended more charity to those who disagreed with him theologically. So much of his work, after all, seeks to redeem and ennoble characters who have been either marginalized by cultural maladies—sexism, poverty, class prejudice—or oppressed by sin and guilt. Why couldn’t he do the same for the “sectarians”?
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Recently in a discussion about writing and revising over at the AML blog, William Morris (someone I greatly respect and often agree with) talked about being frustrated by his first drafts because “the language seems so mundane.” Which resulted in one of those sinking feelings on my part — you know, like the one you get when the speaker in sacrament meeting talks about how bad things were when they missed their daily family scripture study, just when you were feeling good about reading scriptures together once last week. Or maybe like how you feel — at least, the way I feel — when I turn on the radio to one of those money management programs that keeps talking about how much I should already have saved for my retirement. But that’s another (though not entirely unrelated) topic.
The point is that I don’t really feel like much of a stylist. Sure, I revise — but it’s not to achieve any kind of lyrical prose effects. Really, I have only 2 main goals: to make my writing quick, clear, and easy to read, and achieve some kind of consistency in my characters’ voices. Those are hard enough.
Part III: Poetry, Style and Literary Craft in the Book of Mormon
Often in Family Home Evening we would read from different translations of the Bible. Someone would have the KJV, someone else The Jerusalem Bible, another The Revised Standard or New English Version. We would take turns reading and the others would follow along in their translations, and sometimes comment on what we read. Shortly after my brother Kevin returned from his mission he read The Book of Mormon in Finnish and we followed along in English.
When we read Nephi’s lament at the death of Lehi in 2 Nephi 4 my father told us this was a psalm, and the only psalm in The Book of Mormon. I had begun noticing a lot of poetry in the Bible, partly because The Jerusalem Bible and others format the poetry as poetry, but thought there was not much in The Book of Mormon, except Alma’s “Oh, that I were an angel.” I know now there is a great deal more poetry in the Book of Mormon than Nephi’s psalm. Indeed, every time a writer says “Oh,” it is likely the start of a poem. Even without looking at chiasmus there is a lot of lyric poetry, including the Zoramites’ prayer on the Rameumptom and Nephi’s prayer on the garden tower. more
Part II: Joseph as Translator & Writer
In the First Part I mentioned the Book of Mormon’s strong oral rhythm. Thinking about the oral rhythm has influenced several of my conclusions, my overview. I may add other topics, and make digressions and side trips from time to time, but the oral rhythm is not the first thing I plan to write about. Dennis Clark’s suggestion that we think about Joseph Smith as a translator is well taken.
Like any good translator Joseph chose a diction and style, and the changes he made in the 2nd and 3rd editions tell us something about his choices. The most common changes he made in the 2nd and 3rd editions were saith to said, which to who/whom, and hath to has. Though he didn’t convert other -th endings to -s, he did drop instances of “it came to pass.” more