“The Enoch Letters” by Neal A. Maxwell

The Deseret Book Conference Sale circular arrived earlier this week. I was intrigued by the description of a book by Elder Neal A. Maxwell. It’s called The Enoch Letters. It turns out that it is a reprint — the original work was published in 1975 and republished in 1981 as Of One Heart: The Glory of the City of Enoch.
Here is the description:

“In the tradition of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis comes this fascination work of historical fiction from the mind of Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Letters from a man named Mahijah to a friend outside the city of Enoch vividly portray life inside a Zion society.”

The Deseret Book Web site has a lengthier description:

” In the tradition of The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis comes this fascinating work of historical fiction from the mind of Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Readers of the scriptures have long marveled at the account of the city of Enoch and its translation. What was their society like? Suppose ancient records had been kept and were made available to us today. What lessons might they contain? Elder Neal A. Maxwell tells the story of Enoch’s ministry and the glory of his Christ-centered society through the eyes of a man called Mahijah, who urges his friend Omner to move to Zion before it’s too late. Mahijah’s imaginary letters provide a vivid portrayal of life in the city of Enoch, whose inhabitants the Lord called Zion, “because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness” (Moses 7:18). (Previously published under the title Of One Heart.)”

DB has also posted an excerpt from the book.

I did some checking around and it turns out (as some of you may know) that this is actually a reprint. It was originally published by Deseret Book in 1975 under the title Of One Heart: The Glory of the City of Enoch. I believe that it was also reprinted in 1981.

Even more (brief) excerpts from the book can be found in this transcript of an interview with Chris Schoebinger, product director at Deseret Book.

I did a quick search of Sunstone, Dialogue and the Association for Mormon Letters and haven’t found anything on the reception of the book when it was first published/republished. Had anyone heard of this work before its 2006 republications? Does anyone remember how it was received back in the 1970s/80s? I was a bit surprised that I hadn’t heard of it before now, but then again there are a lot of works (fiction, poetry, drama) that were published back in the ’70s that didn’t quite filter down in Mormon cultural consciousness.

I find it interesting that Deseret Book is marketing it as historical fiction. Judging from the excerpt, that’s technically correct (or as correct as any historical fiction based on scripture can be) and it is also technically an epistolary novel. But it also seems to solidly be devotional literature — rather sermon-like. And, indeed, if you click through to the interview, it is discussed more in devotional terms. For example, Schoebinger says: “Well more than anything I hope that when people read a book like The Enoch Letters that they can come to understand basic, simple truths of the gospel. The plan of salvation, which again here in the book and the teachings of Enoch are very clear and feel very clear and feel very real, and no one does it better in terms of making things sound clear than Elder Maxwell.”

This is by no means a surprise, of course. The work seems to be totally in keeping with the body of sermons that he amassed as an apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. But I’m highly intriqued by what literary value may be found in the work. I’ll see if I can get ahold of a copy.

7 thoughts on ““The Enoch Letters” by Neal A. Maxwell”

  1. Intriguing–I had never heard of this, and I thought my dad owned every Neal Maxwell book. I wonder if it appears in the collected works of Elder Maxwell? Comparing it to Screwtape is high praise (with which Elder Maxwell, I’m almost certain, would have felt uncomfortable). Devotional or not, I, with you, am interested to see if it merits the laudatory comments.

  2. I remember reading this back in the 1970’s. You can’t really call it historical fiction. There’s no story or characters as such. As I recall, it’s Elder Maxwell recapitulating the scriptural events as if he were a contemporary participant. It’s interesting (as usual with Elder Maxwell) but it’s not very literary; it’s certainly a stretch to compare it to the fiction of C.S. Lewis.

  3. R.W.,

    I read the book about 15 years ago and my recollection is much the same as yours: interesting and enjoyable but not very literary.

  4. My parents had a copy when I was growing up, which I have since acquired, although it has been quite a while since I’ve read it. I remember being very impressed with it when I read it when I was aroun 17. It was a short book, stapled at the spine, not bound. I remember being fascinated with Maxwell’s description of a community of (essentially) Christians, imperfect individually, striving put their ideals into practice. The only character of any depth is the author who is writing the letters. He describes the changes in his life in a fairly realistic manner.

    Maxwell did another epistolary book in 1975, titled Look Back at Sodom. It makes sense, the opposite of the perfect community. I have never seen it.
    Also, remember Maxwell won an AML prize for devotional literature in 1999 for One More Strain of Praise.

  5. Thanks for the comments. I figured there had to be some people out there who had seen it.

    Andrew: Quite correct. He also was awarded a special commendation for sustained excellence in the sermons category in 1983.

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