Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What is Religious About Literature?

     Religion. It addresses questions of existence: Where did we come from? Why are we here? It is concerned with human morality: What is good? What is evil? What lies in the between, in the morally gray? Is there even such a thing? Religion seeks to “explain, to justify, to reconcile, to interpret, to [give] comfort.”[1] And all these things, are they not the same things that literature attempts to do? Therefore, the answer to the question of what is religious about literature is a fairly simple one in my own personal view. What makes literature religious is its ability to transcend us; to elevate the human mind (such as religion does) to higher places where questions of existence, of morality, of the universe, of the overall human experience, are explored.
     Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Voltaire, Austen, Hugo, Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Twain, Orwell, Wild, Faulkner, Hemingway, Steinbeck—all are authors of great literature. They are explorers of human emotions (passion, love, fear, hate), of mans’ freedom of will, of sin, of righteousness, of deliverance, of identity, of reason, of insanity—of the human experience. What can be more transcending, more religious than the exploration of these things, the things that make up life? This is what is religious about literature—the examination of life and the transcendent and elevated place our minds can reach through the truths discovered in this examination.
     If literature can be religious, it would make sense to suppose that religion can not only help us see how literature is religious, but encourage the idea that literature—good literature—is religious. Mormonism, in my own opinion, does in fact do this. As a Mormon myself, I think I can say that Mormonism not only aids us in seeing that religious dimension to literature, but actually encourages us to be enlightened, influenced for good, and elevated to higher places by wholesome literature.
     Our scriptures state, “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”[2] Wherever we can find truth and wisdom, God encourages us to seek after it. Our leaders of the church have also made it clear to us that “In the kingdom of God, the search for truth is appreciated, encouraged, and in no way repressed or feared,” and that “Church members are strongly counseled by the Lord himself to seek knowledge.”[3] With these encouragements then, I believe that Mormonism does indeed allow us to see a religious aspect to literature, and for that I’m grateful because literature is truly wonderful, inspiring, elevating, and religious through its ability to transcend and lift us to higher places by exploring life, the human experience, and all that goes with it. It imparts wisdom and truths to our minds, and for that it’s great and worthwhile of our time.    

1. “Religion and Literature.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library at Calvin College. <>.   
2.. Doctrine and Covenants 88:118
3. Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitus. “If Ye Lack Wisdom.” April 2014 General Conference.  


Monday, April 20, 2015

Inherent??? Duh???

What is religious about literature? Obviously some literature is overtly about religious belief or experience. But is there anything inherent to literature that is also inherent to religion? Does Mormonism aid us in seeing this dimension to literature?

After reviewing all the prompts I decided on this one.  The honest reason why I chose this prompt was because out of the four this was the only prompt I felt most unsure about answering. I wasn’t positive what my answer would be right away unlike the others questions provided. In honor of my last semester I wanted to turn to “soul searching” and a little bit of research to answer this deep question.
Literature and religion have one of the most important things in common. They are or should be the most apparent things in our lives daily. Every day we are constantly reading, whether it’s a news article, Facebook post, or a reading assignment given in class. More than ever I have seen and been exposed to the more modern types of literature, such as the blog post we conducted in our course. This has helped me to start seeing different connections to literature (old or modern) and religion.

Disclaimer: Now before I start babbling my own words I want to share something simple but was profound to me.

A simple Google search led me to a BYU website named Literature and Belief. Here I found SEVERAL analyses of literature and their inherent connection with religion. As I scrolled through these articles I realized that at one point of another I had read many of the original pieces of these analysis during my four years as an undergraduate in the English department. And then I was shocked. Where had MY mind been this whole time while I was reading? I had done several analyses on these pieces, and sure I probably compared them to Mormonism of some sort because I attended BYU but not in the same way these authors connected them to religion. "Rereading 'Christabel',” by Daniel K. Muhlestein is an article I found on this website. Now, I have taken a course in which I was required to read Christabel and it was one of the most interesting pieces of literature I had ever analyzed due to the many critics who had their own interpretations. In class we discussed the most prevalent religious hints in this piece however, we did not dig as deep as Professor Muhlestein. During his essay he discusses the transformation of this piece from a Christian poem to a more anti-Christian poem. When I finished reading his piece I was mind blown. I mean MIND BLOWN. He summarizes his piece by saying that this poem was neither a Christian or anti-Christian piece but rather a piece about families, and trails, because of society’s expectations. (I know this is going to be a longer blog post but I can’t stop writing) Professor Muhlestein was able to disfigure this poem that was arguably about Christianity and now all at the same time and bring it to one idea that the Mormon Church is founded on, families. Now, these were not his intentions nor did he ever mention Mormonism however, why was it he brought it back to the foundation of our gospel? Because he couldn’t help it. He didn’t even know he was doing it. We can’t help the influence that appears in our writing from the background of our childhood and beliefs. This is WHY AND HOW religion is inherent to literature. Because authors can’t help be influenced by their beliefs even if they are intentionally trying to avoid adding them within their works. They are still there. And they are apparent to those who are looking for them.

And This is What I Believe Our Class Did This Semester. We were those eyes in search of those perfect little secrets.

One other thing I would like to mention is "Born Square: On Being Mormon, Western, and Human,” by Eugene England. In the first few pages he explains his own connection he has with landscape and his faith Mormonism. But I don’t have any more words for my blogpost . . . so I’ll have to skip this. But I did FIND this SO interesting.

Back to me babbling and I promise I will keep it to 4-6 sentences because I know I am well over my words for this post. (please don’t doc me for going over I just couldn’t stop typing) Back to discussing how we READ everyday regardless the genre. This is when I would like to say that being Mormon has aided me in seeing religious context in my everyday reading. Whether it is a religious or not I find myself finding connections to my religion. And I like it. I think that is how it is meant to be. And how I would like it to stay

Mormonism: In Pursuit of Meaning

Essay Option #1: How is Mormonism literary?

The characteristic of literature that I feel is most relevant to my life is how it attempts to understand and find meaning within specific areas of the human experience and the cultures that surround it. I think this is a powerful and vital role that literature plays in our society and in our individual lives. Literature is a tool for learning. As a Mormon, I've felt my religion compel me to learn and understand my place in this world and in eternity. There are so many literary aspects to life in the LDS church.

Every Mormon congregation is full of people trying to understand the events that surround their lives. Trying to understand why things happen and what they mean for each of us is an integral part of being LDS. This mirrors the way that literature explores ideas and looks for meaning through stories, characters, poetry, fiction, and non fiction. My favorite reading this semester was our study of Fire in the Pasture, a collection of poetry written by Mormons. Through their poetry, these people attempted to come to terms with difficult and complex ideas: Christ's sacrifice, motherhood, the death of loved ones, ancestors, family life...the list goes on and on. Even though I believe we have the blessing of a true gospel that helps us understand the answers to difficult questions, we still feel compelled to look deeper and gain a more thorough understanding of our experience as human beings and children of God. This effort to search, to learn, to discover patterns, to see beyond the trivial events of life and find true and real meaning is what studying literature and being Mormon is all about. This is what makes Mormonism literary.

Mormonism places a huge emphasis on scripture. Both the Book of Mormon and the Bible are considered by many, inside and outside our faith, to be works of literature. When I made the decision to make English my major, I did so partially because I knew that the strategies and skills I would learn would help me to better understand the scriptures. Studying great writing as a full-time college student has exceeded my expectation in this regard and I've come to realize that the very foundation of our faith is based on a strong literary experience with the scriptures. Only after Joseph Smith studied and pondered a verse in the Bible did he realize he needed to pray about which church to join, leading him to the revelation that would initiate the formation of the LDS church. This same process is key to each member's journey in the faith. We place heavy influence on the sincere and diligent study of the scriptures, and we believe in the power it has to lead us to act and do God's will. I've felt my study of literature enhance this principle and I've had similarly powerful experiences from secular books as well. Studying, learning, and acting is a process that Mormons  try extend to every part of our lives.

As mormons our history, theology, and everyday lives lead us in a literary path. I truly believe that the mormon experience is a literary experience.

The Future of the "Mormon Novel"

Nephi Anderson forged the path of the Mormon Novel with Added Upon. While the work was revolutionary in it's own right, it soon gave way to works of more palpable aesthetic and further creativity such as Mountains Between Us and Will Wonders Never Cease.

I certainly hope the pioneering will not end with these works. Instead, I hope we will continue to improving and expanding the tradition, particularly in the following areas:

Mormon-inspired National Market Novels:
Should LDS literature only be for LDS people? 
Maybe not.
Can people outside our culture still appreciate and understand the experiences and feelings of Mormons? 
I think yes. Mormons have a lot to offer. 

I appreciated, in words of Luisa Perkins, novels that are "profoundly LDS, but not overtly LDS." Since authors in general are (obviously) inspired by what they personally see and experience, it makes perfect sense for LDS authors take the peculiar aspects of their rebellion, lives, and cultures ro inspire novels. Orson Scott Card used our LDS heritage to inspire Seventh Son. Our beliefs in Joseph Smith and restoration are intriguing and spectacular--what else goes in a novel-writing formula?
Going along the same vein, Luisa Perkins explored the possibilities tied with our beliefs in body and spirits and took creative libertiesto complicate and push ideas of spirit and body further. Perkins published her novel with a LDS Publishing company, but like Card, she wrote a Mormon-inspired story that didn't require a Mormon reader.

Mormon Characters for General Audiences
Even better, I recently read LDS author Emily Wing Smith's Back When You Were Easier to Love published by Penguin Group. This book feature an LDS girl, struggling to fit in with Mormon culture in Utah, but it was written to a wider audience (as obvious by the publisher). This book was more masterfully written than many of the other Mormon novels I've read this semester, and I have no doubt a non-LDS reader would enjoy it just as much as an LDS one.

Along the same lines, A.E. Cannon wrote a successful historical fiction novel featuring a newly-converted LDS girl traveling from England to Utah to join the saints. Though I've yet to read it, I know the novel focuses her experiences on her voyage, caring for a baby who's mother died on board. Doesn't that sound appealing to more audiences than the LDS one? I'd hope for more of this kind of novel. If there's books about Jews and Catholics and Muslims enjoyed by people of all faiths, why not Mormons too?

National Market Worthy Novels for LDS Audiences:
Now, it does make sense that some explorations would be bogged down with Mormon culture explanations and are therefore best written for a specifically LDS audience. I don't think there's anything wrong with this genre, and it some cases it might be prefered. However, I can't stress enough that wish the stylistic crafting will continue to reach higher standards. As someone interested in publishing YA, I've taken classes severally creative writing classes from nationally published authors and read as much as I can to become a better YA writer.

Of course, I've still got a long way to go (hoping to find an agent for my first novel by December), but even with my small experience, I can recognize the major writing flaws in many of the books we have read (see my Jenny Proctor post for more specifics). While I liked each book, I couldn't fully enjoy the majority of them because of the rookie mistakes that I've trained to see and correct.And even though other people not as interesting in publishing may not be able to name the problems coming up in these novels, they still affect the how they feel about the novel.

It's not that these authors are bad writers, but in my maybe-not-humble-enough opinion, they are not ready to publish. They need to hone their craft further: mastering show don't tell, developing character, trimming wordiness, correcting unnatural dialogue, etc.

Why wouldn't we want future Mormon authors can write to skill level of nationally-published authors?

Truth, Beauty, and The Good

This semester I have spent a lot of time learning about the curriculum of the Truth, Beauty, and The Good, in relation to literature, religious pursuit, and life in general. Truth is also known as the meaningful life and primarily deals with epistemology or how we know what we think we know. Beauty, which is the rich life and stands out to us in form and aesthetics, and can act as an access point to Truth. Both of these correlate with The Good, which is known as the life of authentic happiness and is primarily seen through ethics. When combined, Truth, Beauty, and The Good for our ontology, or who we are and what it means for us to be and not just exist

The reason I give you this quick introduction to Truth, Beauty, and The Good is to better articulate what I believe is the authentic and innate connection between religion and literature. 

One of the first concepts that struck me while studying Mormon literature, was that in the early stages of LDS Literature, specifically Added Upon, the work and author seemed to be more concerned about portraying Truth than they were interested in portraying Beauty. Although I think this tactic accurately accomplishes its goal (yes, I can definitely see Truth in the book) it made it difficult for me to want to read the book because it was not first beautiful. This example highlights on of the main differences but also similarities between literature and religion. It seems to me, that in general, religion is most often primarily worried about Truth and The Good. Wishing for its devotees to live ethically and understand why they believe what they believe, is religions primary goal. On the whole, this approach works. It gives its followers a sense of the meaningful life of authentic happiness; at least, that is what I have felt from my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Similarly, literature also deals with Truth, Beauty, and The Good. But, its priorities are slightly different. Usually primarily focused on Beauty, literature uses Beauty, via aesthetics and form, to enlighten us to principles of Truth and The Good. All good literature leaves me feeling expanded in regards to questions about what I know and how I think I know it and what I believe to be ethical. In this way, literature often accomplishes all three aspects (Truth, Beauty, and The Good), whereas, religion often goes straight to the heart of the matter of Truth and The Good, hoping that it appears beautiful to the members. 

Both religion and literature seem to want to enhance our lives, although they often go about that goal in different ways. The only time that their different tactics present a problem, though, is when religion and literature try to join forces while still tugging their own directions.   

A perfect example of this tug-of-war is Mormonism and its efforts to create inherently religious literature. In many of the books we read this semester, I found myself always coming back to the same problem. The lessons and experiences of the book could be so impactful if they were portrayed with Beauty instead of just Truth. Religion doesn't necessarily need to present its information beautifully because easily-comprehended information ensures that everyone understands the doctrines taught. But literature, in order to be effective, must be beautiful. Obviously Beauty can be manifested in a number of ways. This doesn't require a prescribed style, but rather the qualities that will strike the reader because of the inevitability of what is written. Literature is less forceful than religion. The beauty of literature is that it embeds Truth and The Good subtly; it takes external reality and filters it through the internal workings of the human mind and soul. This is beautiful. Because of this Beauty becomes the access point to infinite amounts of Truth and The Good. Because literature is subtle, we can discover the truths that affect us, not just the truths that are prescribed and explained. 

Mormonism has a great potential to create literature that embeds immense possibilities for Truth and The Good. But in order to succeed, Mormon literature must not ignore Beauty. We must be prioritize Beauty and then, without doubt, the Truth, The Good, and the authentic happiness in our meaningful lives will be embedded into the pages of what we write. Others will find it through Beauty, and they will believe in the treasure they found.   

The Evolution of the Mormon Novel

Since the early beginnings of the LDS Church, Mormon literature has come a long way. I’m sure that the early members of the Church never expected to see such a huge growth in Mormon literature. In the beginning, it seems that members of the Church wanted to advocate Mormon theology. Novels such as Nephi Anderson’s “Added Upon” were written to explain Mormon doctrine in a new way. Anderson and other early Mormon authors wrote with the larger intent to instruct rather than to simply entertain.

As the years passed though, LDS authors began to realize that their audience wasn’t necessarily looking for another instructional story. Although religious literature can be very beneficial to society, that is only one genre of literature. Many people are looking for good, well-written literature, not just didactic tales but entertaining stories that they can talk about. Mormon authors can greatly enhance any genre by adding good, clean stories that provide more than just an explanation of Mormon doctrine.

There seems to be a difference however between Mormon literature and literature written by Mormons. Mormon literature seems to encompass literature that only members of the Church would come across and read. Stories such as Douglas Thayer’s or Jenny Proctor’s seem to fall into this category. The writing of Mormon literature itself has greatly improved over the years, but there seems to still be a disconnect between author and a wider audience. On the other hand, literature written by Mormons, which is literature not explicitly connected to the LDS faith, has had great success in recent years. Orson Scott Card, Stephanie Meyer, and Obert Skye, to name only a few, have all found a wide readership outside of the Mormon world.

really, really good at literature.

Literature is religious by virtue of how it is approached by those who, simply put, are really, really good at it. We do not start out understanding the complexities of Oedipus or the subtleties of Hamlet. Nor do we start out understanding the eternities or what the Atonement of Christ truly is. But once we get to the point of being experienced in looking at literature and looking at religion, then we can better understand it and see deeper meanings than we ever could have if we would have stayed reading Go, Dog, Go or just watching bible videos.

To begin this comparison, we can look at how we as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints begin to be ‘religious’. We start in nursery, being more or less babysat by people in our ward. They teach us lessons of Christ that

The Sublime Spirituality of Literature

While writing to her eight-year correspondent T.W. Higginson, Emily Dickinson wrote "If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?

Recently, I have extensively studied eighteenth-century aesthetic theory. Theorists such as Edmund Burke and Joseph Addison explored multiple aesthetic concepts such as beauty, sublime, taste, imagination among others. Specifically analyzing the sublime, Joseph Addison argued that a sublime experience was a type of elevation, heightening or intensification. Shawn Irlam describes the sublime as an "encounter with infinity or what mimics it; that which exceeds the capacities of the senses, massive or minute" (Irlam 515). As I studied the descriptions of sublime encounters of poets and theorists, I realized that this concept is not new to me.
Courtesy of Wikipedia
Growing up as a Latter-Day Saint, I am quite familiar with the belief that one can be connected with "the infinite" or God, in more religious terms. I have had these moments of elevation as I attempt to grasp something larger and grander than myself. As I think of eternity or the Plan of Salvation, my mind can barely comprehend the meaning. Enlightenment theorists described such experiences as sublime; I describe them as a witness from God. To be honest, I don't find my description and the theorists description much different. 

The Religion of Literature

This weekend I've been in Cincinnati with Teach for America. On Thursday, I went with one of the current TFA teachers to visit his fourth grade class, observe his teaching technique, and teach a math lesson to his kids. During the lesson, I noticed that while many of the students sped through the math problems in their worksheets, they were uniformly stumped when they reached the word problems, either flinging their hands in the air for me to help them, or sitting back in their chairs, arms crossed, defeated. This was strange, I thought, since the word problems were just like the math problems before them—the only difference was that they used words instead of numbers.
          “Are the kids big readers?” I asked Nick later. Most of them seemed to like it, he said. They even read Harry Potter together as a class. “But to be honest,” he said, “I hate reading. I can’t remember the last time I read a book for myself.”
          This didn’t faze me; I’ve heard the same thing from many people in my generation, and from many in the generation before mine. Movies and television are more popular in our day, and I don’t condemn anyone for not enjoying literature, because that would be like if someone condemned me for not liking peanut butter. Moreover, reading is not easy. It demands energy; you have to sit still, usually without distraction, and put millions of letters into your eyes, and somehow get your brain to process them into words, and then into an aesthetic experience. Really good reading requires reading practice—every day—and if you don’t like the experience, it can be hard to find the motivation to have that practice. Word problems are harder than number problems if you have never read a book.

          Reading is hard, yes, and reading well is harder. Millions of Americans are literate, and I would bet that a smaller number of millions honestly read for fun. They read books that give them stories they want, with the excitement that they want, in language that they expect. But if you want to read for wisdom—the truth of the ages passed down by the conscious—that requires work. And more than work, it requires humility. You have to put yourself aside; you have to ignore your own thoughts and feelings and seriously consider the ideas of another. You have to have discipline, you have to have reverence, you have to have meditation, you have to have solitude.

          Such is the religion of literature. And such is so much religion—Hinduism, Christianity, Mormonism, Judaism. This is the religion of selflessness: put yourself last. Do difficult things. Ponder wisdom continually. Learn to love others.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Seeking the Best Books

What is religious about literature? Obviously some literature is overtly about religious belief or experience. But is there anything inherent to literature that is also inherent to religion? Does Mormonism aid us in seeing this dimension to literature?

Good literature is more than story telling. A friend of mine once approached me about my choice to study English during my undergraduate studies. Perplexed, he asked, “Why would I read a book when all they do is teach you about how to interact with people? I would rather just go to the source and spend my time building relationships than indulging in fantasy worlds and imaginary people.” Although I fundamentally disagree with my friend, I couldn’t find the words to explain why. The question had a root that perplexed me. What is the true value of literature? Are there elements of literature that build something inside of us like nothing else can? And, finally, is there something spiritual about even secular literature?

Some elements of literature are inherent to religion as well. Socrates once stated, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This principle is consistent within all great literature and theology. Speaking about literature, CS Lewis once said, “Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” A good book amplifies our understanding of the world and ourselves instead of merely portraying it. If the latter were the case, my friend would have been right, and living and interacting with others would be enough for us to live a fulfilling, meaningful life. But great literature makes us seek truth in places that unreachable without it. The scriptures likewise admonish us, stating, “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith.” Both great books and the scriptures look beyond the surface of life, to the very marrow of our existence. True happiness is not found in diversions, hobbies, or activities. It is found in true principles that are consistent through all faiths and beliefs.

In this sense, literature penetrates to the core of human existence, even unintentionally at times. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I have often found truths reflected in the secular literature I have studied that amplify and sharpen my understanding of a doctrine or belief. I believe that the Light of Christ shines through all great literature, relating true principles to people who may even claim to not believe in Christ. There are inherent similarities between the purpose of literature and the purpose of religious introspection. But Mormonism adds to the literary experience by providing a scope for truth to be filtered through. Instead of accepting every possible view at face value, Mormonism has helped me to know which ideas to explore further and which to abandon.

But truth is truth no matter the source. And for the exploring minds of the church, that is good news.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Uniqueness of the Mormon Novel

The Mormon novel had a bit of a rocky start. Nephi Anderson's book, Added Upon, one of the first novels in this genre, is far from a literary masterpiece. The characters are underdeveloped and there's a lot in the novel that would confuse non-LDS readers; however, it was a start and from that beginning the Mormon novel has grown in interesting, unique ways that have broadened its audience and increased its impact as a genre.
The LDS genre contains a wide variety of novels from Jenny Proctor's overtly Mormon, contemporary novel, Mountains Between Us, to Luisa M. Perkins' paranormal, young adult novel, Dispirited. These two books are as different in content and approach as two books could possibly be. Proctor's novel tells the story of Eliza Reading and Henry Jacobson, two employees at a rehabilitative boarding school for youth, that are facing a lot of serious problems in their lives ranging from divorce to alcoholism to identity struggles. Perkins' novel, on the other hand, tells the story of Cathy, a young girl who gets sucked into a world of spirits where she has to help her step-brother's soul return to his body from which he's been displaced by a terrible creature. These books sound nothing alike and yet they share a common thread, they are both Mormon novels written by Mormon authors which means they both contain Mormon doctrines and beliefs exhibited in their themes.
For Mountains Between Us this is a lot more obvious. The main characters are both Mormon and base their actions on their beliefs. For Dispirited the connection isn't as obvious but it's still there. The book carries a strong theme of family history and the connection between ancestors and descendants, something that plays a huge part in LDS doctrine.
These two novels are just the tip of the ice burg when it comes to the variety found in the LDS genre. The genre also includes Orson Scott Card's fantastical worlds and Kenny Kemp's personifications of Christ's really life. This variety is one of the best traits of these novels, that they come in such a variety of forms. This enables them to reach a wide selection of people, LDS and non-LDS alike, who can learn and grow from the LDS perspectives included in these novels.
Given this trait of variety, the Mormon novel potentially has a bright future. Mormon novelists don't allow themselves to be limited by convention or a set definition, allowing them to write in order to appeal to all audiences. With this variety, the Mormon novel will continue to grow and impact a wide range of people, making it the literary genre that Orson Whitney once called for when he said "Make books yourselves that shall not only be a credit to you and to the land and people that produced you, but likewise a boon and benefaction to mankind." These books, that once started with a strictly LDS audience, have grown and will to continue to grow to encompass more and more people from all walks of life, enabling them to connect as Mormon beliefs are shared in writing.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Added Upon in a Different Light

The scriptures admonish us to "Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith" (D&C 88:118). I’m not exactly sure what God meant when he instructed us to seek out of the “best books,” but I believe His criteria is different from that of modern literary scholars. Orson Whitney had his own ideas about that scripture as it pertains to Mormon literature. He stated, “Above all things, we must be original. The Holy Ghost is the genius of "Mormon" literature. Not Jupiter, nor Mars, Minerva, nor Mercury. No fabled gods and goddesses…Our literature must live and breathe for itself. Our mission is diverse from all others; our literature must also be.” I believe that to be an enlightened statement. 

By this divine standard, I believe Nephi Anderson’s novel “Added Upon” falls under the umbrella of these “best books.” The story of various people journeying through pre-mortal, mortal, and post-mortal life, this novel focuses more on effectively teaching the Plan of Salvation than building its characters. In a way, it feels like a well-constructed Sunday school lesson, using allegories and stories form real people to strengthen the lessons about mortality and immortality. Although the book is far from eloquent by most worldly standards and relies more heavily on scriptural references than characters to deliver its points, I believe it still accomplishes something significant. 

The point of the novel is not to connect us with the happenings of the characters’ lives. Rather, we are meant to connect with the Plan of Salvation. I believe this is the case with the Book of Mormon. While Mormon Scholars have long interpreted the character and personality of characters off the pages, the Book of Mormon remains largely vague as to the personal lives of its characters (maybe with the exception of Nephi). Even the life of Christ is very sparsely covered relative to his 30+ years of life. I believe the reason is that these books take for their subject matter something bigger than personality. Nephi Anderson, in his own way, is trying to “add upon” the knowledge of the scriptures. While his style is not something I would be likely to emulate when trying to reach a non-LDS audience, I believe his efforts are commendable. At the very least, “Added Upon” understands its mission as being diverse from all others. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


Make Up Days
February 25, 2015

            The first half of the class we discussed the Book of Mormon. The class went around and shared their experiences during their reading of the Book of Mormon. One of my favorite comments made during this particular class discussion was Nicks. He first started talking about Ether’s prayer, and comparing her prayer to other in The Book of Mormon. First he compared Ether chapter 3, then to the brother of Jared’s prayer and then ultimately to the Lords prayer with Enos. He noticed several similarities and how the prayers are have positive responses. I thought it was funny when he said he was looking for the “how” so he could use them… Clever. Finding the different genres of prayer in the BOM is a really interesting idea to me. Rhetorical prayer is something Professor discussed and this is the most interesting. I never thought that there might be a deeper analysis to the more open heard prayers we read about in the BOM.  I think the more out loud/untended to be heard prayers are the most important to remember. They might seem like they weren’t meant to be heard but in fact it is like inception, where that’s what they are trying to make the people think. I never thought of it in this perspective.
            The second half of the last period we had a guest speaker come and discuss his book with the class. Doug Thayer had made a point to our class that stood out to me. He first told us about how he thought the beginning of his book was going to be overlooked by the reader. He said that he thought his readers might not believe his story because the kid lives through this giant avalanche ant that just wasn’t the believable. However, he said he had to do some of his own research to see if that is even possible. And it was! I think is great aspect to point out to the class. That doing a little bit of research on your story can make it seem believable even if the story itself didn’t happen. He stated how once he was passed convincing the reader that he wasn’t going to die and that it was plausible the rest of his story set off. This was interesting to me because he started his story off with such a BAM that it actually helped him ease into his story rather than a building climax.

Make Up Day ##### 2

            So the other class period I missed, is actually not up on the LINK to listen to so for a make up blog post I am going to do a little bit of everything.
            I first want to discuss the one-on-one interviews we had with the different authors we read in class. This was something I had never done in a class before and it was extremely helpful/interesting to get inside the authors’ heads. One thing I realized that surprised me is there wasn’t a whole lot of planning on the author’s part during the writing process. One in particular I remember was Luisa Perkins, Dispirited. She mentioned that she wasn’t originally going there with that book but that’s where her mind and writing took her. It was important for me to understand that when writing more creative writing because being an English Major I had always been taught to plan out your next move and have evidence to back it up in my papers. Her plot was complicated enough that it made sense to me that her writing took her in that direction more than her first initial plan. However, she did say even though it was different when she first starting writing the novel she used many of her original idea through the entirety of her novel. Interviewing the authors was a reliable way to know the intentions of the novels, which I personally really enjoyed.
One last thing I want to blog about is the blogged style writing. This has open another vision of writing I have never tried and I am OBSESSED. I think it has really broadened my writing style to a more modern type of writing. I actually was inspired to start my own blog. I have written blog post but I am yet to publish the blog due to the learning curve of developing the actually page. But I can now write important aspect in life that EVERYDAY people will read which is something I have never figured out. I used to have to beg my friends to read my “boring” analytical readings. Well now I have learned to analyze important information and rely it in a more modern way that people enjoy reading. YES!!! Well I don’t know if this counted for a make up blog but I wanted to write about it anyway. Thanks everyone for a great semester!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jer3miah vs Sherlock

"The Book of Jer3miah" did what I thought was all but impossible: create a murder mystery intertwined with BYU culture.

The story of a college freshman who's life comes crashing down after receiving a bizarre, supernatural calling to protect a box, "The Book of Jer3miah" delivers a suspenseful plot with the short segments of the wen series. After reading the reviews of some of my classmates and more critical commentary, it became evident that the choppiness of the web series did not appeal to the broad audience. There were also complaints that the story lacked character development and that the dialogue was scattered and inconsequential. While all of these comments hold water, there is still something to be said of the series when the genre is taken into consideration.

Over the course of my life, I have gone through many TV show binges. Normally, I side with medical or comedic series, but I have tried on a few occasions to get into more mystery and crime based productions. My issue has always been the lack of depth, especially in shows where the plot is unrelated between episodes and the audience is left to enjoy the story just for the twists and turns of the day. As an avid reader, I personally tend to crave character development more than the average person, but this has not diminished my appreciation for the brilliance of the genre when executed well. Then, six months ago, I was turned on to BBC's rendition of Sherlock Holmes. Where other mysteries lacked in character development and meaning, Sherlock Holmes excelled. I believe the reason is the show's focus on portraying Holmes's personality as its primary hook. As opposed to other mysteries, it feels as though the plot is just the vehicle that the directors use to develop Holmes as a character, and not the end all be all of the show.

While "The Book of Jer3miah" is not Sherlock Holmes, I do appreciate it for what it is. Jeremiah remains a somewhat flat character, but I believe that the main focus of this show was the suspenseful plot and not the development or journey of Jeremiah as a person. However, there are attempts at this development. For instance, Jeremiah's intuition and sensitivity to the Spirit makes him and interesting character to follow.

While I do agree that some elements of BYU culture being portrayed in the series make me cringe (such as the scene from a ward prayer in which Jeremiah's love interest asks him to stay just after returning home from his parent's funeral because "Everyone needs to pray"), I think overall, this is a successful and engaging series.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Jer3miah: A Good Watch

I remember seeing Star Wars Episode 3 in theaters as a 17 year old on the night it appeared in theaters. When it was over, I felt like it would be so cool to be a character in a storyline so epic and grandiose. Then, while on my mission, I finally realized that I was involved in an epic story, and I think Jer3miah captures that feeling. It parallels the eternal struggle that we are all in and makes it relatable and entertaining.

The story is full of mystery and I think it’s executed well. Mystery surrounds the box, Jeremiah’s mission, and even Jeremiah’s very identity. It definitely kept me interested and wondering what each episode would reveal. I think the plot develops well and moves forward at a good pace. I like the emphasis on lineage and Mesoamerica. It has a lot of potential for rich eternal identity and purpose, while having a constant appeal to the Book of Mormon.

I was very impressed with the way that the series was able to create an emotional impact on the viewer. I seemed like I could understand what Jeremiah was feeling during the intense moments in the story. This adds to the story's epic feeling and helps create a more authentic response in the viewer. The drama was interesting and well executed: It ranged from car accidents to cave adventures to interrogations. I was impressed with how far they were able to push the narrative while maintaining a sensible plot.

My only negative response is that the story is set in Provo and surrounds BYU campus and activities. Not that I don’t find that interesting! I just feel like the story has the potential to reach a larger Mormon audience than the specific audience it seems to initially appeals to. But I could be totally wrong there. It does makes sense that the students who made the movie were attending BYU at the time.

Overall I liked it and would recommend it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Jer3miah: It Has Potential

The video series The Book of Jer3miah tells the story of Jeremiah Whitney, a freshman in college whose world is turned upside down when he becomes involved in a conspiracy theory and learns of his religious/supernatural purpose in life. The series consists of multiple video clips, each about five minutes long, that tell Jeremiah's story in short segments. The video series is filmed from a hand-held video camera, giving the impression that the video is being "told" from the perspective of which ever character is holding the camera. It's a unique idea with a lot of potential; however, it still has a lot of bugs to work out.
I've never watched a web series before so I was not prepared for or used to the short clips and segments Jeremiah's story was told in. It made the story feel choppy and disconnected as each segment ended. This caused jumps in the plot line and there were times when I felt I'd missed something when in reality it was just the end of one episode and the beginning of another.
A big problem with the series for me was its lack of character development. From the beginning of the series bad things start happening to the main character and yet, I don't know why I should care. Within the first ten minutes of the show Jeremiah has found out his birthday is actually in April as opposed to December and his parents are both killed. While these are shocking events, I don't know enough about Jeremiah to care about the fact that his world is no longer what it seemed. I want to know the characters better so I can understand what is going on and its impact on the characters.
One thing that did, to some degree, help with character development was the the shifting of the camera from one character to another. Seeing what different characters focused on as they recorded showed me their personality which helped me get to know them and start to connect with them. However, this base is not strong enough to carry an entire web series.
Overall, I think the web series had a few issues, but it was unique and attention grabbing at its attempt to do something new. It's laid the foundation for similar efforts in the future that will potentially have less bugs and carry the concept of an LDS sci-fi web series even farther.

Image from

Jer3miah: The Mormon Web Series

The Book of Jer3miah is a web series filmed right in the heart of Provo, Utah. The short three to five minute clips follow the unique, mystical story of Jeremiah, a college freshman. Jeremiah's story is not that of your usual college student though as he becomes involved in a strange and puzzling conspiracy theory.

I have never been an avid watcher of web series, so the way in which this story was told was very different for me. As each episode was very short, it took incredible talent to cram a lot of information in for viewers in just minutes. For example, in the episode where Jeremiah flies to New York and attends his parent's funeral, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the producers handled it. I thought that a funeral scene could easily take the whole three minutes but then that would have been the entire episode and no one wants to watch a whole episode of just a funeral. There would be no drive to watch the next episode. They, however, handled it well, in a way that is was both artistically pleasing and story-driving.

For me, even though The Book of Jer3miah was interesting and compelling to watch, it wasn't exactly my cup of tea. I had a hard time connecting to this strange mix of mystery and conspiracy theory all bundled up in Mormon doctrine and traditions. I don't know if I was reading too much into it, but as I watched I had flashbacks to reading Orson Scott Card's novel, The Seventh Son, which deals heavily with magic and the mystic and alludes to the story of Joseph Smith. The story of young teenage Jeremiah receiving an object from ancient America and then traveling to NY was just a little confusing and misleading for me.

In general, web series can be an effective method for sharing stories. People these days are looking for instant gratification when it comes to entertainment. If you only have a few minutes for some down time, a web series is a great choice because you get enough of a story to entertain you, but it doesn't require you to sit through an entire movie or a whole book all at once.