Monday, April 20, 2015

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.

One of the benefits of Mormon literature is that it can instruct and be edifying while also being an entertaining story. For example, Douglas Thayer’s novel “Will Wonders Never Cease” is an entertaining anecdote about a young LDS teen who gets himself trapped in the snow during an avalanche. As he ponders and reminisces over his short life, readers are caught up in wondering what their last moments on earth would be like if they were caught in a life-threatening situation such as this one. 

Many issues wider than the doctrine of the LDS Church are discussed in the novel, such as relationships between parents and teens and the influence of religion. Yet this novel and others like it will probably only ever reach those readers within the LDS community. There could be many reasons for this disconnect such as the advertising of LDS companies that publish these types of novels or the explicit Mormon content of the stories. Perhaps readers outside of the LDS faith feel that they can’t fully understand the connotations and inside jokes shared between characters. For whatever reason, it seems that those Mormon authors who have branched out from the traditional Mormon novel have found greater success among non-LDS readers. While this separation isn’t necessarily a bad thing, finding a way to connect these two opposite ends of the spectrum could greatly benefit both genres of literature.

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