Michael R. Collings graciously sent me a copy of his epic poem The Nephiad ( Amazon ) shortly after it was published last spring by Borgo Press, and I ungraciously read it but then didn’t post a review and then decided that a better format would be to do a Q&A informed by the text, which Michael graciously agreed to and then I ungraciously neglected to post for several months. The Q&A is very interesting and I will post it later in the week, but fickle man that I am, I have reversed course and decided to write a review. But since I’m bored with typical reviews and am too lazy to write a proper one, I’m instead going to attempt to describe the psycho-social or religio-cultural experience of reading The Nephiad:
Reading The Nephiad is like travelling backward in time in order to travel forward in time in order to triangulate a reading of the Book of Mormon that in fictionalizing also realizes, perhaps even historicizes. It’s like an Orson F. Whitney poem in a post-Tolkien world crossed with the experimental fiction of the past 20-30 years that rewrites the classics (Leguin’s Lavinia, Gardner’s Grendel , Wolf’s Kassandra, etc.) interspersed with anti-anachronisms, that is prophecies now fulfilled but then only seen in vision. It’s a shadow of Milton that nevertheless does something new by being something old and rewards the reader who is willing to enter in to the spirit of the experiment. It is one heck of a laborious (in terms of effort of writing — not reading, unless, of course, you are a reader unaccustomed to epic poetry) and ambitious effort to essentially provide a gloss on the first several chapters of the first book (you’ll see some specific examples in the Q&A) of the Book of Mormon. It is a work of Renaissancean art that doesn’t fully convince (how could it? the time for the epic is past), but still provides a rewarding reading experience if you can fully dive in to it. It is also an epic that is aware that it is an epic in a way that isn’t satire nor homage but rather something that approaches the fresh in the way good vintage art and design does.
None of this means that you will like it. It’s almost 200 pages of lines of poetry. But I guarantee this: read it and you’ll learn something new about the Book of Mormon. And for someone like me, it’s much more interesting and effective than a scriptural commentary. They have their place, but they’re not going to have the imagery and narrative flow and play of words that The Nephiad has.