AMV Mo-Lit Guide: Agency

The AMV Mo-Lit guide continues with an exploration of why agency is an important concept to Mormon literature and a list of key texts that explore the concept.

NOTE: this is an entry in the AMV Guide to Mormon Literature series. Click here for more details on the series.

In Mormon thought, agency (also called moral agency or free agency) is a crucial concept to solve two key issues:

A) why do bad things happen to good people if God is our loving, all-powerful Heavenly Father?

B) what is our purpose living in a fallen world?

The agency of mankind is a gift from God, but it also flows from the fact that Mormons believe that human beings existed as individual intelligences prior to receiving spirit bodies from our heavenly parents. The exercise of agency can lead to progression, that is the acquisition of the attributes of God, or to sin and pain (and without repentance, the stopping of progression e.g. damnation).

Although the Mormon concept of agency solves some issues of theodicy (why God allows bad things to happen to good people) it also raises others, especially how genetics, culture, material circumstances, history, the natural environment and coincidence affect an individual’s ability to freely act in the world. Another issue is the foreknowledge of God as well as his intervention in the world (miracles) and how those can constrain/impact the free exercise of agency.

For the Mormon artist, freedom from the basic dilemma of theodicy and original sin, the concept of agency presents a fruitful area for exploration of and experimentation with the various constraints and contradictions that remain.

KEY TEXTS:

1. The Worthing Chronicle by Orson Scott Card is about a civilization that doesn’t allow people to experience pain and what happens when that changes.

2. The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, which the author herself has explained is about choices, especially the way beings with great power (vampires) use (or abstain from using) their power to affect normal humans

3. The Matched Trilogy by Ally Condie is about a society where the government limits choices and also chooses (theoretically based on complex algorithms) major life decisions for its citizens, including marriage and occupation.

I welcome feedback on this entry. Anyone who provides it will be included in a list of co-conspirators which will be published in the final version of the guide. In particular, I’m interested in hearing a) what I get wrong or am missing from my brief discussion of why agency is an important concept to Mormon literature (keeping in mind, of course, that these entries are supposed to be brief) and b) what key texts I’m missing (note that I want these to be if not canonical at least fairly widely known texts that deal fairly explicitly with the concept). Overall comments about the format are also fine.

Mormons and Popular Culture: The Global Influence of an American Phenomenon edited by J.Michael Hunter– coming soon to a university (but probably not a personal) library near you

praeger.

On December 12, I received my copy of the two-volume Mormons and Popular Culture in the mail.  know it’s not out until the 31st, but Praeger‘s the sort of classy joint that hooks the contributor up before the general population. I think this is the first time in my career I’ve received a copy of my work before the general public. . . .

Anyway, the two-volume work covers the gamut from film to football, with surveys on everything from comics to historical sites and closeups on folks from Stephenie Meyer to Glenn Beck. Some of the essays are versions of ones we know like Randy Astle’s work on cinema and some are utterly new. I mean—did you know about Rose Marie Reid? Continue reading “Mormons and Popular Culture: The Global Influence of an American Phenomenon edited by J.Michael Hunter– coming soon to a university (but probably not a personal) library near you”

A high-school English teacher reviews How to Analyze the Works of Stephenie Meyer

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Ran into this book in the New! section of my local library a couple weeks ago and decided to bring it home for a looksee. It’s part of ABDO Publishing’s “” series which include books on how to write about everyone from Stephen King to Paul McCartney to Sylvia Plath to George Lucas to C.S. Lewis to Toni Morrison to Quentin Tarantino to Virginia Woolf to Andy Warhol to Georgia O’Keeffe—it’s an eclectic group of subjects, to be sure. Continue reading “A high-school English teacher reviews How to Analyze the Works of Stephenie Meyer

Andrew Hall’s 2010 Mormon Literature Year in Review: National Market

2010 Mormon Literature Year in Review:

By Andrew Hall

Part 1: National Market, 2010

(Note: I am now posting at Dawning of a Brighter Day, the blog of the Association for Mormon Letters, a weekly column covering the world of Mormon literature.  The focus is on published fiction, but I also cover theater and film.  I also link to recently published literary works, news, and reviews. I hope to make the brief column a convenient gathering place for authors and readers to announce and follow news about the field each week.)

Mormon authors continue to enlarge their presence in the fields of nationally-published young adult and middle grade novels. Brandon Sanderson is becoming a leading light in the epic fantasy genre. Stephanie Meyer published another bestselling book. Glenn Beck sold nearly as many novels as he did non-fiction. I appreciate the width and depth of the work that Mormon authors are producing, and feel tribal pride in their success. But only a small percentage of the nationally published novels Mormons are producing what can be called adult literature. And only a miniscule amount of these novels specifically address Mormon doctrine, culture, or history. Brady Udall is a nationally recognized literary craftsman of the highest order. The fact that he has taken his skill and used it to explore a subject fundamental to the history of Mormonism, and did it with such skill, humor, and charity, thrills me to the core. For these reasons, without a doubt the 2010 Mormon novel of the year was Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist. Continue reading “Andrew Hall’s 2010 Mormon Literature Year in Review: National Market”

In the footsteps of Stephenie Meyer?

aaaaaCondie-Matched This past week’s Publishers Weekly has an article about the national market “debut” of LDS YA novelist Ally Condie, whose sixth novel, Matched, was released by Dutton on November 30th. Released is an understatement.

Continue reading “In the footsteps of Stephenie Meyer?”

Andrew’s Mormon Literature Year in Review: National Market 2009

Wm writes: Once again AMV is proud to bring you Andrew Hall’s Year in Review in Mormon letters.

The story of the year in nationally published literature by Mormons was the memoir.  Two Mormon women, Elna Baker and Kathryn Lynard Soper produced honest and interesting life stories, to excellent reviews. While other Mormon authors sold more books, few other nationally published author made their Mormonism so central to their story.  Other big stories for the year include Stephanie Meyer’s continued dominance of the fiction landscape, Brandon Sanderson’s rise to the top of best seller’s lists, and the continuing flood of young adult speculative fiction. Continue reading “Andrew’s Mormon Literature Year in Review: National Market 2009”

A brief report on the LDS-themed chapter in Twilight and Philosophy

My local library system just happens to have acquired Twilight and Philosophy: Vampires, Vegetarians, and the Pursuit of Immortality (Amazon). Based on the table of contents, it would appear the all the Mormonism-related content is found in Marc E. Shaw’s contribution “For the Strength of Bella? Meyer, Vampires and Mormonsim” (pages 227-236). Here is  my brief report on that chapter (please note that I haven’t read any of the other chapters and that I’m well aware that these pop culture meets philosophy anthologies are quite popular and are intended for a specific audience to serve a specific purpose [and, of course, to profit from and fan the flames of fandom]):

Establishing of credentials (Shaw went to BYU too!). For the Strength of the Youth pamphlet reference. Eternal marriage. Meyer “plays Heavenly Mother to her fictional daughter, Bella”. Agency. Nod at Augustine. Edward-as-savior. Edward “means what he says” ~~ binds himself to Bella with his words. Utterance — words mean action. Nod at Austin. Sealing/union of body and spirit. Plato and love. Way liberal — LDS still man and woman, BUT! :: Meyer’s The Host. Somehow leads to a Big Love reference. Erotics of abstinence. Chastity. Deseret Book controversy ~~ sexy too sexy; shelves to special order. “Vampire family values!” Feminist film theory and the gaze :: Bella returns the gaze (Edward)! Is Twilight Mormon? All the before shows that “nice Mormon girls” can write about “sexy vampires.”

Well, I’m convinced.