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.]

Continue reading “Parsing the “Mormon” in Mormon Literature”

#MormonLit: Halloween reading

.

I read at least one scary book per October. I think the best one I tried this time around was Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon. It fell apart a bit at the end, but I was on codeine at the time so my opinion is suspect.

I’ll let someone else defend horror today, but if you’re just now getting the jones for a scare, some successful Mormons in the field to check out include Michaelbrent Collings, Dan Wells, and Ben Hopkin.

Zarahemla has put out a few frighteners: Dispirirted, Brother Brigham (out of print), Angel Falling Softly (out of print).

And hey!

Most importantly, as always, Monsters & Mormons. You can’t do better than that on Halloween.

A question for LDS who have read The Hollow City

I can’t really talk about this without getting into major spoilers so I just want to ask this question of any active LDS who has read Dan Wells latest novel The Hollow City: were you getting any Mormon thematic vibes from the ending?

I don’t think that there’s anything in there that requires a Mormon reading, but I can kind of see how Mormon theology/worldview may have served as starting point for some of the ideas there even though they become heavily transmuted in the process. But it’s subtle enough that if you weren’t Mormon or even if you were Mormon and didn’t know Dan was Mormon, you wouldn’t even notice it. And you may not notice it anyway. But did anyone else pick up that vibe?

Whitney Speculative Finalists 2011

This is the fourth and last segment of my Whitney finalist reviews, following earlier installments on general fiction, general youth fiction, and speculative youth fiction. I would have liked to do the other categories as well, but these are the genres that lie closest to my heart — and as many as I could get to by the voting deadline, which is this coming Monday.

All the regular warning: Story spoilers. My own opinions. Thanks to publishers of No Angel and A Night of Blacker Darkness for making electronic copies available. Please chime in with your opinions.

A final comment: Opinions about specific finalists and categories notwithstanding, I think the Whitney Awards fill an invaluable role within the community of Mormon letters, and very much appreciate the work that goes into them, including those who administer the awards and particularly the committees of judges. Thanks to all of you for your hard work.

Continue reading “Whitney Speculative Finalists 2011”

Destiny, Demons, and Freewill in Dan Wells’s John Wayne Cleaver Books

Title: I Am Not a Serial Killer
Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Tor
Genre: YA suspense/horror
Year Published: 2010 [My copy of the book has a copyright date of 2010, with a listing of “First Edition: April 2010.” Yet I know this book was actually published originally in 2009, and it won a 2009 Whitney Award for best first novel by an LDS author. I think what happened is that it was released in the UK in 2009, but was not released in the U.S. until 2010.]
Number of Pages: 271
Binding: Trade Paperback (also available in hardback and as an ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2782-6
Price: $9.99

Title: Mr. Monster
Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Tor
Genre: YA suspense/horror
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 287
Binding: Trade Paperback (also available in hardback and as an ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2790-1
Price: $11.99

Title: I Don’t Want to Kill You
Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Tor
Genre: YA suspense/horror
Year Published: 2011
Number of Pages: 320
Binding: Trade Paperback (also available in hardback and as an ebook)
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2844-1
Price: $11.99

Reviewed by Jonathan Langford.

Includes spoilers for Book 3 in a very general sense, but no specifics.

John Wayne Cleaver, the main character of I Am Not a Serial Killer, is kind of a weird kid. 15 years old. Helps out in his family mortuary. Obsessed with serial killers.

Continue reading “Destiny, Demons, and Freewill in Dan Wells’s John Wayne Cleaver Books”

Dan Wells & Serial Killers & Thematically Related Stuff

.

When Dan Wells showed up a couple years ago with a sociopathic teenager named John Cleaver, I wasn’t sure what to make of him. Everywhere I looked he was being treated as an established property, yet this Utahn’s book wasn’t even available in America yet. And before it’s U.S. release it was nominated for a Whitney. Then I read book one. Then I read book two. And you know what? I’m glad he’s getting all this praise. These are good books.

danwellsbiblio Continue reading “Dan Wells & Serial Killers & Thematically Related Stuff”

More Monsters & Mormons admits

I’m pleased to report that Theric and I are making progress with our reading and decision making for Monsters & Mormons. And we are proud to announce another round of admits. As with our early admit class, these aren’t the four that are the most awesome to the exclusion of all other stories (they are pretty awesome, though), and they don’t necessarily bump any other, similar submissions out of the pile, etc. etc. They simply are the next four that we want to announce and thus give you another glimpse of the range and depth of this anthology as it begins to come together.

The next four admits are:

  • The novella The Mountain of the Lord by Dan Wells — an action-packed, western/horror/superpowers hybrid set in pioneer times. Some of you may already know quite a bit about this story from Dan’s blogging about it. Well we got to read it. And it’s in.
  • The short story/historical Mormon mash-up “George Washington Hill and the Cybernetic Bear” by George Washington Hill and EC Buck — a fascinating retelling of an actual pioneer journal account with a Monsters & Mormons twist to it. And semi-inspired by Kent’s AMV post.
  • The short story “Recompense of Sorrow” by Wilum Pugmire — we have graciously been granted permission to reprint this finely-crafted story that brings a bit of Joseph Smith’s more mystical side in to a classic tale of horror that is firmly situated in the Lovecraftian tradition that Wilum so successfully inhabits as a writer (see comment 11 at that link).
  • Two poems by Will Bishop — a pair of poems that deploy the language and imagery of genre to explore aspects of modern Mormon life. You may recognize Will’s name from his participation in the FOB Bible.

Congratulations and many thanks to our next class of admits.

And to report: we are very much enjoying reading though the submissions. We’re not even close to being done with the admits yet. Sit tight everybody. Theric and I are working as fast as we can.

And I know I’ve said this before, but you all have so totally validated the concept and then some. It has been an intense few weeks (with more to go), but very, very gratifying.