Fannie Flagg’s Heavenly Mother


To the best of my meager knowledge (and please prove me wrong in the comments), very little Mormon literature has engaged with a Heavenly Mother character. Examples exist of course, but much like our in-church discourse, she doesn’t get to be very interesting in her occasional cameo.

On a series of roadtrips this week, my wife and I listened to Fannie Flagg’s Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven on cd. Flagg’s an engaging reader and her town of characters is an explosive, joyous mess of personalities and relationships only slightly better organized than real life.

The action follows Mrs Elner Shimfissle as she dies and goes to heaven simultaneous to her family’s and friends’ shock and sadness.

Her predeceased sister takes her to meet the goddess character who appears to Elner in the form of an old friend, Dorothy. Which confuses Elner, until Dorothy explains:

“No, the Dorothy Smith that you knew was the real Dorothy Smith. I’m just speaking to you in her likeness, sort of a look-alike. We always like to use a familiar form, one you would feel comfortable with: we certainly don’t want to scare anybody. You’re not scared, are you?” *

Elner is not, just confused; but even that can be remedied by the homebaked cake Dorothy has in the oven.

Dorothy is pleasantly domestic and kindly and good, just as the real Dorothy had been, and Elner enjoys her visit with her (and, later, her husband) immensely.

These folksy deities were unlike any other fictionalized gods or goddesses I could readily pull to mind. And I liked them immensely. Not so much because of their cheerfully universalist dogma, but because they were kind and they cared about Elner. In that respect, I thought they—and Dorothy in particular—made a useful template for Mormon depictions.

I’m curious what depictions of deity—particularly female—you have seen or would like see from Mormons artists. Looking outside literature to other arts might be helpful.

What should she (they) look like?

4 thoughts on “Fannie Flagg’s Heavenly Mother”

  1. I can’t answer the specific question, but the idea of using a known entity as a glamour for a higher being was in the film CONTACT. It seemed an expedient and efficient way to get the message across without being threatening to a “child intelligence,” so to speak.

  2. This from Linda Sillitoe’s Sideways to the Sun:

    “For another minute or two, she listened to the night and found within it the sense of a force quite different than the one she’s been trained to tug down from heaven. this force seeped up from the darkened earth like life itself and stirred quietly in the breeze, encompassing, enfolding, healing, and setting to rights. She’d felt it before in unsolicited moments of blessing” (194).

    The context here is a mother, recently abandoned by her husband, who is preparing to confront her teenage daughter’s seminary teacher, who has made advances towards her daughter and whom she suspects of being a polygamist. The sense I get is that the force described in the paragraph, which I take to be Heavenly Mother, gives her added strength as she prepares to confront the man.

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