Thanks to the recent mention of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in the last conference I pulled out my old script. See, I got to play in Emily in our high school’s production and it was a transformative experience for me. When I first read the script I was blown away by Wilder’s wisdom, especially in those last moments between George and Emily in the graveyard. Being the dramatic teenager that I was, I read Emily’s last sentence over and over. After the other dead admonish George for his emotional display at Emily’s tombstone, Emily looks at George and says, “They don’t–understand–do they?” As I rolled the words around in my mind I thought about forever families and how George and Emily could eventually be together forever and I knew, I knew, that Wilder knew–or at least guessed– it too. Why else would he have Emily admonish the dead for the flippant way they treated George’s emotions?
It wasn’t until one particularly difficult rehearsal near the opening of the show that my director told me my interpretation was wrong. Emily was saying George didn’t understand. When you consider her earlier monologue with the line, “Do human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?” her comment about “they” failing to understand was obviously geared at the humans. I privately decided my reading was better and stuck to it, but I realized for the first time that I had “Mormon-ed” a book.
In my first college English course, Intro to Lit. Theory, we briefly touched on Queer Theory and again in my May Swenson class. I never really understood how to apply it, though. It always felt a little random to me. Like a group of people was taking a particular paradigm and its values and randomly applying it to literature. Looking at the way I read now I have to wonder if I sometimes do the same thing with books I read. However, instead of applying the values and paradigms of Queer Theory I am applying the values and paradigms of “Mormon” Theory. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis is a recent example for me. (Perhaps this is what Gideon Burton was driving at when he wrote “Toward a Mormon Criticism“? I read that while I was in college too but never really got to delve into it.)
I think this happens a lot. When I was a kid my favorite movie was Labyrinth starring David Bowie (!) and, I gotta say, one of the most interesting family reunions I have ever attended was when my uncle took me aside and deconstructed the film to show how it was really all about the plan of salvation, the Book of Mormon, and agency. My husband tells me that he and other missionaries had similar feelings about Star Wars (for the funniest tribute ever to Star Wars and John Williams click here); you know, the force, the priesthood, it’s all in the mix, right?
What books have you “Mormon-ed”? And, um, is there a technical name for this kind of reading?