Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon

Introduction to Textual Variants
Part One

One of the more disheartening things when you’re looking through back issues of Time and Newsweek from the 1970-71 school year to find the story about the Pakistani soldiers who came into a Bangladeshi village searching for blood donors–they simply strapped the young men down and drained all their blood (it would make a great poem)–is to see how many pages have been razor bladed or torn out, even at (that trope of Mormon essay writing) a university with a strict honor code meant to remind students and faculty of what it means to be the Lord’s students.

Librarians, faced with such desecration, such danger to their collections, sometimes talk about closing the stacks, so that patrons have to fill out a request for the item like that American kid found out in 1970-71 at the University of Oulu, Finland library, whose father was teaching across the street in the English Department, which had just moved from over the sausage factory to over the cable factory.

The thought of closed stacks is at least disheartening to serious scholars, or dilletantes, or omnivorous readers, or people who enjoy browsing the stacks while looking up a book, like I was doing one night in the old section of the BYU library, probably sometime between 1981-3.  That was back when the south half was new, having opened in 1976, and the north half was the old half, when Frank Nackos’s Tree of Wisdom stood across the sidewalk from the north entrance, where the glass pyramid is now–the new new section.

(The Tree of Wisdom was moved to the quad between the Kimball Tower, Eyring Science Center, new Joseph Smith Building, and McKay Building but I doubt any editorial letter writer knew about the letter back in 1975 complaining that some farmer had left an implement in front of the library, so no one wrote that the farmer had come back to move his or her implement.)

In my freshman year I had been on the moving crew and helped move books into the new half. The fifth floor was literature.  The library was converting to the Library of Congress’s classification and all the new books were in the south half, but the book I was looking for was still one of Dewey’s decimals.

It was a pamphlet, actually, a lecture by Charlton Hinman, editor of the Norton Facsimile of Shakespeare’s First Folio.  Hinman was explaining why a facsimile was necessary instead of just making a photographic reprint of the folio in best condition, and there are a lot to choose from.  And that’s part of the problem, because printers in the Beard of Avon’s time would set a page then print a copy for the proofreader, who would read it and mark any changes, which the typesetters would promptly make.  But they wouldn’t stop the presses while the proofer was doing his work, the time was too valuable.  And paper was too valuable to throw away the uncorrected sheets, so every folio is unique, a mixture of corrected and uncorrected pages.

There are a lot of extant Shaxberd quartos and folios, more than one person could compare by looking back and forth between them, or two people with one reading and the other following along, or 300 years worth of scholars, so Hinman invented a machine to compare two folios at a time so he could collate the differences*.

The machine had two chambers, one for each folio, and a viewfinder, a mirror that could switch back and forth rapidly between the chambers. Since the contents were supposed to be identical, any blur in the mirror would indicate a difference.  I picture the collator looking like two microfilm readers side by side, but probably larger.

Collation is a good way to find variants, but it won’t necessarily tell us which variant is correct, especially since we don’t have original manuscripts to check the variants against.  Scholars and actors alike have to think about which variant is more likely in context.  I played Romeo’s (Tim Slover) servant Balthasar in a production Orson Scott Card directed at The Castle amphitheater in Provo, around 1975, and we had a long discussion about what Juliet (Becky Nibley) says to the knife as she stabs herself in V:iii:170, “This is thy sheath; there rust and let me die,” or “there rest.”

The reading I have in two copies is rust, but I think we chose rest. We don’t speak of knives rusting in the sheath, and rust seemed a bit macabre.

My historian cousin Joe Soderborg tells me printing practices hadn’t changed much in the 200 years between Shaxberd and Joseph Smith, so each copy of The Book of Mormon’s first edition is likewise unique, which means not every copy of the first edition might be blessed with my favorite typo, page 414:1 (see Hel. 3:23), though it does appear in Wilford Wood’s 1962 Joseph Smith Begins His Work, Vol.1, which was reproduced from uncut sheets, so it may never have been corrected in the first edition.


*For more background on the Hinman collator see John Lienhard’s 3:33 radio script (with audio link) for Engines of Our Ingenuity, #1020. The script has a nice example at the end of the difficulty of comparing texts. One paragraph says “five differences,” one says “four,” but if you count differences in spacing there are at least six. You could use a word processor’s document compare feature to catch the textual differences, but not necessarily the differences in spacing, and the amount of space available in a line can affect typesetting and produce some interesting variants. We’ll look at two examples in part 2 of this introduction.

10 thoughts on “Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon”

  1. In my facsimile first edition, Helaman 3:23 at page 414 reads, “… the secret combinations which Gadianton the nobler had established …”

  2. I went through the University of Washington’s MFA program with a Japanese woman named Norie Suzuki (anyone heard of her? or of Pamela Seltzer?). Norie wrote a story called “Crossmind Puzzle” and when we discussed it in Lois Hudson’s workshop several of us said that the crossword puzzle in the story didn’t work. Norie said that it didn’t matter, it’s just a prop. We replied that when you include a puzzle in a story people are going to try and work the puzzle.

    Lois called me into her office one day and told me about a student she had had whose writing was allusive and subtle and she told the student, “I want you to take this story and rewrite it so it’s so obvious it makes you want to puke. Then I want you to rewrite the story again halfway between the two versions.” The student came back with the new version and Lois asked if it had been hard to do. “Yes.” “Was it worth doing?” “Yes.”

    She said, “I’m going to give you the same assignment.”

    About a dozen years later Benson Parkinson told me the same thing. I was writing an appreciation of Cathy Wilson’s poetry for Irreantum 2:1, Spring 2000, and Benson told me the piece I was writing was nearly as subtle and compact as the poetry I was writing about, which defeats the purpose of writing an appreciation designed to invite people into a group of poems to browse around rather than puzzling over every syllable and iamb.

    I rewrote the piece fairly quickly and it is much better, but I still prefer being a little playful.

    Last summer I came across Tom Hollander’s narration of A Clockwork Orange. I have avoided reading it because all I have is the censored (or mutilated) American orange paperback. 30-odd years ago when I was building up a collection of the original run of Short Story International my brother asked me to look out for one number which had a story by Anthony Burgess. “It’s a new ending for A Clockwork Orange. Actually, it’s the original ending that was left out of the American edition.”

    I found that number and sent it off to him in Seattle so I still don’t have the original ending, but I figured I’d listen to Hollander’s reading then make my way over to the BYU library some day and search through Short Story International for the ending. Well, the recording starts with an essay called “A Clockwork Orange Resucked,” wherein Burgess explains why the American edition was published without its last chapter, and why this new edition includes it.

    He wrote the novel in 3 sections of 7 chapters each, or 21 chapters, but the American publisher didn’t like the 21st chapter because Alex grows up and we Americans prefer our dystopias to remain dystopic. We aren’t always comfortable with the idea that the world may not stay as bad as it is now, that people may change and grow.

    “21 is the symbol of human maturity, or used to be, since at 21 you got the vote and assumed adult responsibility. Whatever its symbology, the number 21 was the number I started out with. Novelists of my stamp are interested in what is called arithmology, meaning that number has to mean something in human terms when they handle it.” (A Clockwork Orange, New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1086, p. vi)

    I have always been interested in arithmology, numbers or names in my work always mean something in human terms, which may be why it is still difficult for me to just be very plain–I always want to include more that I lay out, but I’m not trying to be difficult. I’m just playful.

  3. And my proofreader’s eye doesn’t always catch every mistake. The publication year should have been 1986, not 20 years after the French stepped off their ships and said, “What do you know about the Normans? Would you like to know more?”

  4. Thanks, Theric. Unfortunately I can’t take credit for it. I read it years ago in the Daily Universe, I think in an ad for Semester Abroad.

  5. Maybe you can’t take credit for originating the joke, Harlow, but you certainly deserve kudos for waiting (and planning?) all those years for the perfect chance to work it in.

  6. Yes, patience in Joke telling is a Cardinal virtue. Comic timing is everything. As for the Normans, I once had a History professor who referred to the Normans as Frenchified Vikings, which at the time I thought was really odd. Why would anyone want to to slice up a bunch of Vikings into thin strips and deep-fry them in Greece?

  7. I wish it was planning and waiting instead of fumble fingers and serendipity (what you get when you combine nerve gas and hair gel). When I saw that I had typed 1086 I thought of that wonderful book about English history as heard in locker rooms and lunch lines and hallways and walking down the streets, _1066 and All That_, and that reminded me of the ad about the Frenchified Vikings in Greece, not Olive Oyl. (I fights to the finich when I eats my spinach, I’m pie-pie the sailorman)

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