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

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