Parsing the “Mormon” in Mormon Literature

Ever since Scott Hales announced his plans to edit a new anthology of Mormon literary criticism, I’ve been thinking off and on about my own past grapplings with Mormon literature and where I’d want to take them — had I world enough, time, money, and the requisite academic chops. What follows isn’t that essay, but comes about as close as I can manage at present. Consider this my submission!

Why do or should we — as readers, writers, and/or literary critics — care about whether a text is Mormon? Potential reasons are legion, as varied as readers themselves. Among the most typical and (it seems to me) important are the following:

  • To understand Mormonism better — as a culture, religion, historical movement, or what have you
  • To investigate specific elements of Mormon experience, thought, and culture through literary works
  • To explore the purpose(s) and role(s) of literature in Mormon experience and worldview
  • To articulate ways that literature has influenced Mormonism
  • As a test case to investigate the interrelationships of literature and religion, literature and identity, literature and culture, and a host of other potential intersections
  • To understand better particular literary works that incorporate manifestly Mormon elements
  • To assert our own membership (or non-membership) in the Mormon community
  • To explore what it means to be Mormon and a reader, Mormon and a writer, or Mormon and a critic
  • To seek out and encourage literature we think is worthwhile, in whatever particular relationship to Mormonism we endorse: celebratory, investigatory, critical, or other[1. The purposes listed here include many I have seen explicitly or (mostly) implicitly pursued via published essays, blog posts, discussions on the email discussion list once sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters, and a variety of other venues — plus a few I’ve not seen much of (such as the influence of literature on Mormonism) but that seem like logical and potentially interesting possibilities.]

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Questions and Answers: Dave Farland’s In the Company of Angels

Earlier this summer, I helped start a book club among some of the more mature couples in our ward. (Yes, I’m aware that I don’t necessarily qualify. On more than one count. Don’t even go there.)

For our second meeting, I proposed three Mormon lit titles: In the Company of Angels, Dave Farland’s (aka Wolverton’s) historical novel about the Willie handcart company; Bound on Earth, by Angela Hallstrom; and The Tree House, by Doug Thayer. The consensus went to Farland’s novel. So that was the one we read and discussed.

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Things Rich and Strange: Mormonism through the Lens of Steve Peck, a Sympathetic Alien

Title: Wandering Realities: The Mormonish Short Fiction of Steven L. Peck
Author: Steven L. Peck
Publisher: Zarahemla Books
Genre: Short Story Collection
Year Published: 2015
Number of Pages: 219
Binding: Trade Paperback
ISBN13: 9780988323346
Price: $14.95
Also available as an ebook

Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

Steve Peck is an alien. A kind of geeky-looking one (wholly appropriate for a professor of evolutionary biology), friendly, congenial, but an alien nonetheless. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for how, in this set of 16 stories, he so consistently manages to provide such startlingly different, yet at the same time deeply insightful, perspectives on the culture and religion he has adopted for his own.

Which is about the only thing these stories — which range from short to long, humor to pathos, realism to postmodernly zany, contemporary to historical to science fiction — have in common. Eight of them have been previously published, in venues ranging from Irreantum to Covenant to the Everyday Mormon Writer contest. Yet the effect is not incoherent. Rather, it provides a sense of the range of Peck’s work, which includes something that will, I guarantee, appeal to pretty much everyone with the slightest interest in reading fiction about the Mormon experience: highbrow or lowbrow, literary or popular, funny or serious, light or thought-provoking. It’s pretty much all here. And while not every story is equally polished, each provides something interesting and (here’s that word again) different.

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The Writing Rookie Season 2, #6: Stocking the Pantry

For the complete list of columns in this series, click .

While a single point of data eliminates any line that doesn’t pass through the point, sadly it does nothing to narrow down the infinity of possible lines from every point of the compass-rose that do, in fact, pass through that point. And so it is with one-of-a-kind experiences. Such as, say, writing a novel.

You’d think that having written one with which I was more or less happy (though I’d hope to do better next time), I would know at least how to go about the writing part. Sadly, this turns out not to be the case. From a creative writing perspective, the last several years have been spent trying out one method after another. In the absence of any noteworthy success, I’ve felt that I didn’t really have much to share in this forum. Hence the two-plus years since my last Writing Rookie report.

I still don’t have any solid evidence that this has changed. However, I’ve been trying something the last several months that (a) has not yet proven that it won’t work, and (b) has the virtue of being quite different from what I’d tried before. So I thought, why not share? Even if this doesn’t work out, at least it may have the social utility of any publicly failed experiment…

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AML Website Down

Hi folks,

The AML website is unexpectedly down (unexpected by me, at any rate), with a message that the account has been suspended. I’m not able to do anything about it (and don’t know the cause), but am attempting to draw it to the attention of those who (hopefully) can do something about it.

In the meantime, I thought it would be polite to let people know what’s going on — at least, to the degree that I know anything…

A Rambling Review of Assembled Allred

Allred, Lee. Assembled Allred: 7 Tales by the Master Sergeant of Alternate History. Lincoln City, OR: Rookhouse Books, 2012. 171 pages. $14.99 in trade paperback, $8.99 Kindle. Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

Much of science fiction is written in the spirit of What if? What if humans could fly? What if there were aliens among us? What if you could go back in time and marry your own grandmother? (Thanks for that one, Heinlein!)

The best of these questions are never just about science or technology. They invite us, instead, to consider what is real and constant — and what changes — in human hearts and minds and spirits, and societies. They prod us to reflect on our values and challenge our own easy answers about what is right and wrong. For all the conflict many readers and writers see between science fiction and religion, there’s a surprisingly large shared space (in my opinion, and that of many Mormon sf&f readers) between the kind of imagination needed to explore the stars, if only mentally, and a cosmology that sees the bounds of current mortality as merely a proscenium on eternity. Or maybe it’s mortality that’s the strictly bounded stage, and religion — and imaginative fiction — a mental transition space between where we are and the boundless limits of possibility?

Allred’s stories explore that space. They ask not only what if history had been a little bit different, what if the Mormons had repeating rifles during the Utah War, but also what if (for example) a magical implement could remove the signs of cowardice, at the price of blood? Or T. H. Huxley wound up after death in a Hell he didn’t believe in during life? The answers tickle the imagination; at their best, they engage the heart as well.

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Book of Mormon Tropes

Wikipedia is a big time waster. (Not, I suspect, news to anyone here.) One thing leads to another, each article hyperlinking to another half-dozen, until before you know it, you’ve squandered another precious hour (to borrow a phrase from Tom and Ray Magliozzi) tracking down details of Urdu phonology, or something similarly abstruse. (Actually, I have no idea whether Wikipedia includes anything on Urdo phonology… wait… there is is.)

Ahem.

So, yeah, pretty much everyone who spends time surfing the Web knows how addictive Wikipedia can be, or YouTube. But I think I’ve now stumbled onto the mother lode, the heroin-mainlining of Internet addictions, at least for us devotees of the various literary/narrative media. I speak, of course, of TV Tropes, described on Wikipedia as

a wiki that collects and expands on various conventions and devices (tropes) found within creative works. Since its establishment in 2004, the site has gone from covering only television and film tropes to also covering those in a number of other media such as literature, comics, video games, and even things such as advertisements and toys.

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