Beyond Prescription, Part 3.5

Note: This is just a teaser, really, to prepare you for Part 4. (Coming next week.)

That, or it’s mid-term week and I haven’t had time to flesh out the next post.

Either way. On to Part 3.5.

Roughing Out a Theory and a Course in Mormon Lit

i. The Theory

As I was scripturing this morning in Jacob 5, I was struck (as I’ve been struck before) by verse 48: After the master of the vineyard laments over having done so much for his trees that have, nonetheless, been corrupted, “the servant said unto his master:”

Is it not the loftiness of thy vineyard–have not the branches thereof overcome the roots which are good? And because the branches have overcome the roots thereof, behold they grew faster than the strength of the roots, taking strength unto themselves. Behold, I say, is not this the cause that the trees of thy vineyard have become corrupted?

And then by verse 66:

For it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard; wherefore ye shall clear away the bad according as the good shall grow, that the root and the top may be equal in strength, until the good shall overcome the bad, and the bad be hewn down and cast into the fire, that they cumber not the ground of my vineyard; and thus will I sweep away the bad out of my vineyard.

Today’s reading of these two verses in particular brought to mind two things: 1) the nodal model of Mormon religion/culture that I sketched out in and 2) a line from my patriarchal blessing that encourages me to pursue a vocation that will parallel my mission for the Father on Earth.

In reference to the latter, I’ve been considering lately that my (increasing) professional commitment to Mormon Studies, as part of the broader academic package I’m pursuing, is at least a partial answer to that encouragement, as is my commitment to teaching. But as I worked my way through part 3 of Beyond Prescription, I started to think about the parallel relationship this posits between Mormonism as a religion and Mormonism as a culture less linearly. In an earlier draft of the post, I wrote that the religion and the culture plot parallel paths through the rhetorical field of mortality, sometimes intersecting, sometimes trailing each other, sometimes at cross purposes, etc., etc. That was too limited, though, too linear. Then I sat through my folklore seminar and the professor glossed over a model that explained culture/s, texts, and contexts in terms of nodes and networks—and my thinking on the relation between Mormon religion/Mormon culture shifted to a more complex organismic model, one that I’m still trying to work out.

And that brings me back to Jacob and my patriarchal blessing, which both led me to ask, “What if my professional/spiritual development and (more apropos to the theory I’ve been tinkering with) the Mormon religion/culture relation are like one of these trees—an interdependent system of roots and branches connected in a sprawling human (eternal?) network such that, as in a healthy, cared for tree, growth in one parallels/presupposes growth in the other?” This accounts, I think, for inextricable link between Mormonism’s dual aspects and, as a corollary, to the connection I sense between (my) discipleship and (my) scholarship.

Of course, I’ve only just begun to explore the analogy and I recognize its limitations. But I thought I’d share and see what the AMV community thinks…


ii. A Course in Mormon Lit

In response to Boyd’s recent post on Mormon Studies through Literature, Drama, and Film and in my effort to create the best possible reading experience for any interested in contemporary Mormon literature, I’m posting the reading list for the course in Mormon lit that I’ve been drafting for a program internship. I’ve decided to lay the course out based on themes I’ve noticed in my reading of late and because I think it would create an interesting reading experience. Though my list is incomplete (specially in light of the anthologies I’ve listed and the poets I still need to include) and though some of the texts obviously cross thematic boundaries, reflect my own reading tastes, and might be changed for something else at any time, this is what I’ve got at present. Feedback (on texts, themes, ambitions, etc.) is most welcome:

Reading the Mormon Experience: Contemporary LDS Literature

Main Course Texts


The Fob Bible
The Best of Mormonism
Bright Angels and Familiars

Family Hi/stories

Short Fiction:

“Ida’s Sunday” Phyllis Barber
“Bread for Gunnar” Phyllis Barber
“The Willows” Eileen Kump
“Clothing Esther” Lisa Torcasso Downing


Long Fiction:
Bound on Earth Angela Hallstrom



“Little Happy Secrets” Melissa Leilani Larson
“The Prodigal Son” James Goldberg



“When I Do Go on My Honeymoon” William C. Bishop
“Weary” Sarah E. Jenkins
Other poems from The Fob Bible
Selections from Timothy Liu, May Swenson, Lance Larsen, Philip White


Onward to Zion . . . and Beyond: The Clash of Worlds (without End)

Short Fiction:

“The Fringe” Orson Scott Card
“Spirit Babies” Phyllis Barber
“Wild Sage” Phyllis Barber
“Tales of Teancum Singh Rosenberg” James Goldberg
“The Christianizing of Coburn Heights” Levi S. Peterson
“Where Nothing is Long Ago” Virginia Sorensen
“They Did Go Forth” Maureen Whipple


Long Fiction:

Angel of the Danube Alan Rex Mitchell OR
Rift Todd Robert Petersen OR
Lost Boys Orson Scott Card



Selections from Michael Collings



“Confessions of a Secular Mormon” Ryan McIlvain


Peculiar (Re)Visions: Variations on an Open Canon

Short Fiction:

“Abraham’s Purgatory” B. G. Christensen
“The Changing of the God” B. G. Christensen
“The Faith of the Ocean” A. Arwen Taylor
“The Book of Job’s Wife” Danny Nelson
“Scattered” Kate Woodbury



“Adam and Eve” Davey Morrison



Excerpts from Psalm & Selah Mark Bennion


Voices from the Wilderness

Short Fiction:

“Opening Day” Douglas Thayer



Selections from Kim Johnson, Susan Elizabeth Howe (Stone Spirits)



Excerpts from Refuge Terry Tempest Williams


16 thoughts on “Beyond Prescription, Part 3.5”

  1. Incidentally, what level of student is this course for?

    It would most likely be taken by mid- to upper-level undergrads trying to fill a general literature requirement.

  2. First impression: that looks like one theme too many to me.

    I agree, Wm. I added the fourth (“Voices from the Wilderness”) to make space for discussion of Mormons and the environment, but those texts will fit just as well, I think, in “Onward to Zion. . .and Beyond.”

    Thanks for pointing that out.

  3. .

    I just read “Scattered” and it is brilliant. I love it so much. I think I may print it off and rub it on my face I love it so much. Why had no one insisted I read it before?

  4. Why had no one insisted I read it before?

    Well, short-fiction-readin’-n-writin’-Irreantum-ite that you are, I just thought you were up to speed. Shame on me for assuming…

    Seriously, though, “Scattered” has stuck with me since I read it. And not many stories really do that to me.

    (Oh, and don’t give yourself a papercut…)

  5. I personally don’t find _Lost Boys_ to be on the same literary level as _Angel of the Danube_ or _Rift_.

    And it does seem like one theme too many.

    And if you’re going to do Voices in the Wilderness, how could you not include Patricia?

    I would also suggest adding (not subbing because I LOVE _Bound On Earth_) Marilyn Brown’s _The Earthkeepers_ in your Family Hi/stories. It’s a great example of a generational Mormon Epic and Brown has made vast contributions to Mormon letters and helped shaped the direction it takes. You could just do selections from _Bound on Earth_ since it is a short story collection. Wouldn’t do the book justice, but it would make room for _The Earthkeepers_.

    Love the idea of culture and whatnot being a tree. . .

    p.s. Could I audit your course online? It sounds like fun! *wink*

  6. Thanks for the suggestions, Laura. And I don’t know how I forgot to put Patricia on the list. She’s on an earlier draft, but somehow got slighted when I started designing the thematic option. Color me ashamed…

  7. Well, if my glowing review of “Scattered” didn’t inspire you to rush out and read it, then I’m afraid there’s not much hope for you, Theric.



    It’s not a shoe-in to replace any of your novels, but Jack Harrell’s Vernal Promises deserves a look. And Margaret Young’s Salvador brings in quite a few issues that would be interesting to discuss/write a paper about. In fact, Salvador fits your Onward to Zion theme better than any of the novels you list.

  8. So not so much *rushing*


    I’d be happy to make “Speculations: Trees” available to you, Tyler, for your variations on an open canon section.

  9. Jack Harrell’s Vernal Promises deserves a look. And Margaret Young’s Salvador brings in quite a few issues that would be interesting to discuss/write a paper about

    Coincidentally, I was thinking about both of those yesterday. I haven’t read either yet, but Salvador‘s been staring at me from the bookshelf I keep my school books on for some months now. Time to dig in.

    I was also thinking about “Speculations,” wondering how I hadn’t transferred that from my earlier draft of this list. It would fit wonderfully in the “Variations” section and I’ll take you up on the offer.

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