Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unraveling the Unmaker

Understanding the prevailing prejudice against Joseph Smith during the course of his life is a study of context, and a dangerous one at that. Growing up in the church, I found that an impartial depiction of the life of the prophet was hard to come by, either aided by fervent adoration or equally intense resentment. (Ironically, the most impartial account I found as a child toward the remarkable story was Smith's own, recorded in the Canon.) But reading Seventh Son challenged me in a new way.

I should preface that I have a particular distaste for fantasy as a genre. My mind struggles to appreciate fictitious worlds that seemingly operate however the author sees best fit to aid the protagonist. But this perspective was enlightening in relation to Joseph Smith. The elements of magic and supernatural occurrences that drive the plot of the novel made the skepticism of characters like Reverand Thrower, thought to be driven by the forces of good instead of the "Unmaker," seem believable and reasonable. Reviewing the novel thematically, BYU scholar W. Bryan Stout stated, "One of the benefits of a fantasy world is that magic can give a tangible, objective reality to the psychological and spiritual side of life" (117). The same is true of a restored religious world, where miracles were once again believed in and revelation from God himself governed the actions of men. The novel complicates the distinction of heavenly and evil influences, contorting their interpretation, but like all moral tales, truth is not painted in black and white. In this fictitious rendition of Joseph Smith's plight amidst a war of words and conflicting beliefs, Taleswapper speaks a great truth, claiming, "Everything possible to be believed is an image of truth." The implications of that statement are hard for resolute Christians and others to accept, but the principle is infallible.

Card maintains that in his analogous tale, one must be wary not to read into "the images and not the substance of Mormonism" (120). The "Mormon borrowings" that help create Alvin's reality borrow Mormon themes that run deep into the questions of all major religions and ideologies. Stout states, "One of the themes borrowed from the temple that he develops is the way satan operates" (120). Taleswapper elaborates on the character and methodology of the "Unmaker," stating that when one is surrounded by light, it is hard to tell whether that light is from the beams of heaven or the fires of hell. The complexity of Satan is that his true nature distorts the lines that separate righteousness and evil. This novel masterfully brings to life the working of heaven and hell in a way that shines light on the trials of a gifted fourteen year old boy, called to do more than he ever desired upon himself.

Stout, W. (1989). Seventh Son. BYU Studies, 29(3), 113-120.


  1. I think Stout rightly states the role the magic plays in this novel. In my post, I wrote that the magic added a degree of realism to the story but I couldn't exactly explain why. The idea that the magic brings to life the psychological, emotional and spiritual side of life and its events adds much validity to the use of magic, setting Card's novel aside from being simply a fantasy tale.

  2. I like how you bring up Taleswapper's quotes about anything that can be believed is an image of truth. I found the dynamics of truth, as explored in this novel, to be very interesting. Truth is found in some unexpected places and I like how it points out that there's truth to found in most stories and situations as long as you take the time to look for it.

  3. I like how to make those connections between magic and religion. I usually find myself uncomfortable with those types of connections, but while reading your post and this book, I found it to be completely comfortable and not the least bit unnerving (whatever that might imply). I appreciate that you point out the fact that the things Thrower believes and sees are just as believable/reasonable as the things Alvin or any other character believes and sees.

  4. I like that you brought up how the arguments based in the novel don't just apply to Mormon beliefs but the beliefs of many religions and cultures. The problems that the characters face are problems that many people have always faced, not just Joseph Smith.