LDS fiction

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LDS fiction (or Mormon fiction) is an American niche market of fiction novels featuring themes related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church, see also "Mormon"). LDS fiction now accounts for more than half the sales of some Latter-day Saint book publishers.

History[edit]

Despite its relatively low profile, LDS literature has a long history that begins at the same time as the LDS Church. The history of this literature is generally divided into four periods.

Parley P. Pratt

Foundations, 1830–1880[edit]

While early written works among Mormons were generally non-fiction, including scripture, missionary tracts, and doctrinal literature, this period did see creative efforts also, especially poetry, which was often used in hymns. Notable poetry includes the works of Eliza R. Snow, Parley P. Pratt, and W. W. Phelps, along with the published volume of poetry by John Lyon, The Harp of Zion: A Collection of Poems, Etc. (1853).

This period also produced the first work of LDS fiction, Parley P. Pratt's Dialogue between Joseph Smith and the Devil[1] first published in the New York Herald in 1844.

Home literature, 1880–1930[edit]

Fiction among LDS Church members first developed in earnest once the Mormons had settled in Utah and developed a degree of prosperity. By the 1880s, Orson F. Whitney was calling for a fine and virtuous "home literature," and proceeded to participate in developing just such a literature. While LDS periodicals were filled with moralistic and faith-promoting stories, poets Josephine Spencer and Augusta Joyce Crocheron published didactic and narrative poems, Charles Walker recited his Southern Utah folk poetry, and Whitney published hymns, lyric poetry, and a book-length poem, Elias, an Epic of the Ages (1904).

Nephi Anderson

Novels were not far behind. Brigham Young's daughter, Susa Young Gates published a fairly successful novel, John Stevens' Courtship (1909), and B. H. Roberts wrote a novel, Corianton that was turned into a play performed on Broadway in New York.

This period also produced what may have been the single most successful work of LDS fiction to date, the novel Added Upon by Nephi Anderson. Following a man and woman from their pre-earth life, through life on the earth and into the afterlife, Added Upon also served as a model plot for later LDS fictional works, such as the 1970s musical Saturday's Warrior by Lex de Azevedo.

The literary development in this period then stimulated the development of the first professional LDS publishing company independent of the Church, George Q. Cannon and Sons, now part of Church-owned Deseret Book.

The "lost" generation, 1930–1970[edit]

While this "home literature" has continued to be produced ever since, a new generation of LDS writers arose in the mid century, one that was able to be published nationally and gain national recognition, but generally at the expense of close ties to the Church and in rebellion against the provinciality and moralism of "home literature," leading this generation to be called the "lost" generation. The "lost" generation included Vardis Fisher, who won the Harper Prize in 1939 for Children of God: An American Epic (1939); Maurine Whipple, who won the Houghton Mifflin Literary Prize in 1938 and published The Giant Joshua (1941); and Virginia Sorensen, best known for A Little Lower Than the Angels (1942) and what many[who?] consider the best Mormon novel to date, The Evening and the Morning (1949), and Miracles on Maple Hill (1957).

This period is also known for the humorous writing of Samuel W. Taylor (Heaven Knows Why, 1948) who is nationally known for the short story on which the film The Absent-Minded Professor was based.

Faithful realism, after 1960[edit]

Another shift in LDS fiction occurred in the 1960s, mainly spearheaded by the poet Clinton F. Larson. Larson managed to depart both from the didactic and inward-looking provinciality of the first two periods and the elitist, patronizing provinciality of his contemporaries in the "lost generation." He began in the 1950s to write a unique Mormon poetry of modernist sensibility and skill but also informed and passionate faith.

In fiction, Larson's sensibilities were followed by BYU professors Douglas Thayer and Donald R. Marshall, who began to write skillful stories that explored Mormon thought and culture in a critical but fundamentally affirmative way. Marshall was the first to publish collections, The Rummage Sale: Collections and Recollections (1972) and Frost in the Orchard (1977), while Thayer began publishing stories in Brigham Young University Studies and Dialogue in the mid-1960s, and published his collection of short stories, Under the Cottonwoods, in 1977.

Perhaps the most important work to date from this period is Levi S. Peterson's redemptive novel, considered by some[who?] the best yet by a Mormon, The Backslider (1986).[2][3] All of Peterson's work explores in some form the conflicts in Mormon experience and popular thought between the Old Testament Jehovah of rewards and punishments and the New Testament Christ of unconditional acceptance and redemptive love.

The development of this new movement was aided by the development of the first academic and literary periodicals, including BYU Studies (1959) and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (1966).

This period also saw the development of popular LDS fiction, starting as early as the late 1970s, when the leading LDS publisher, Church-owned Deseret Book, began publishing fiction, in response to the success of self-published and small-press fiction and the development of independent LDS bookstores. Authors in this wave of popular fiction, including Shirley Sealy, Randy Jernigan, Susan Evans McCloud, Jack Weyland, Brenton G. Yorgason and Blaine M. Yorgason, and Carroll Hofeling Morris, produce new "home literature," following the example set by authors nearly a century earlier.[citation needed]

Current trends[edit]

While current efforts may not mark a new period of LDS literature, an increasing number of LDS writers are publishing nationally from a Mormon perspective, either becoming a new "lost" generation that is estranged from the Church and popular culture (writers such as Judith Freeman, Walter Kirn, Brian Evenson, and Linda Sillitoe) or continuing the traditions of the faithful realist movement (including writers like Neal Chandler, Phyllis Barber and Margaret Blair Young).

Popular LDS fiction has also seen significant increases, especially after the 1990 publication of the first volume of Gerald Lund's successful The Work and the Glory historical fiction series. Additional LDS historical fiction series were written, but new trends and sub-genres have also emerged. Chris Heimerdinger produced a popular youth series, Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites set in the world of the Book of Mormon, later expanding to include Old and New Testament biblical settings. LDS-oriented humor, such as Robison Wells' Wake Me When It's Over and Robert Farrell Smith's Baptists at Our Barbecue, thrives as it gives church members an opportunity to laugh at themselves. Romance novels from writers like Rachel Ann Nunes and Anita Stansfield have been very popular, and mysteries, westerns and even science fiction now complement novels like Lund's. Some, such as the "Deb Ralston Mystery" series by Anne Wingate, feature LDS main characters and are published in the mainstream market. Newer LDS fiction tends to be lighter and less likely to contain overtly religious morals in their plots. Instead, stories aimed at entertainment are woven on an LDS backdrop. Since 2000, LDS fiction sales have risen dramatically. At least one LDS publisher, Covenant Communications, claims fiction now accounts for more than half of their sales.

Recently, LDS fiction has cross-pollinated into another new LDS cultural trend, Mormon cinema. Charly, released in 2002, is based on a novel by LDS fiction author Jack Weyland. Gerald Lund's Work and the Glory. The first three books of the series have been adapted to movies, each released near Thanksgiving Day in the years 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Another recent trend is toward popular authors who can write non-LDS fiction that sells well nationally, and whose commitment to religion leads them to write openly Mormon works. Authors such as Randy Jernigan, Dean Hughes and Anne Perry have been very successful nationally and internationally, but have then been persuaded by the growth of LDS fiction to write Mormon works.[citation needed]

Perhaps the most prolific and innovative among these (certainly the most widely read and honored) is Orson Scott Card, who began as a Mormon playwright in the 1970s but then wrote science fiction and fantasy with few Mormon references and reached the very top of his field with Hugo and Nebula Awards two years running in 1986 and 1987 for his books Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead. However he turned back to openly Mormon works, beginning with A Woman of Destiny (also known as Saints) (1984) and continuing with a fantasy series, The Tales of Alvin Maker based on the life of Joseph Smith; straightforward Mormon science fiction stories in The Folk of the Fringe (1989); a science fiction series, Homecoming, based on the Book of Mormon; and a novel of contemporary Mormon domestic (and spiritual) realism, Lost Boys (1992). Card is also the first of the most recent generation of LDS writers to have a book written about his work, Michael R. Collings's In the Image of God: Theme, Characterization, and Landscape in the Fiction of Orson Scott Card (1990).

In 2000, the Marilyn Brown Novel Award, beginning at AML but now administered by the UVU English Department,[4] began presenting $1000 to the best unpublished novel manuscript of the regional culture. Winners have been Jack Harrell (2000), Jeff Call (2002), Janean Justham (2004), Arianne Cope (2006), Todd Robert Petersen (2008) and John Bennion, (2009). Marilyn McMeen Brown is the author of The Earthkeepers, the first novel to win the AML best novel award in 1981, Wine-Dark Sea of Grass, about the Mountain Meadows Massacre, House on the Sound, a Utah Fine Arts Council award winner, and Ghosts of the Oquirrhs among many other titles.

Controversies about LDS fiction[edit]

In 2002 The Last Promise, a novel by LDS fiction writer Richard Paul Evans and published by Dutton, was rejected by an LDS Church-owned book retailer, Deseret Book. The retailer explained that a scene of extramarital affection in the book implied adultery. Evans denied this. Lampooned by some non-Mormons who supposed that the rejection reflected excessive church puritanism, defenders argue that it shows how seriously LDS book retailers take their self-imposed mission to sell "uplifting" narratives.

This brings up more lingering criticisms of LDS fiction: that real life cannot realistically be portrayed without straying into gritty details that often aren't uplifting or necessarily flattering to the LDS Church. Some critics doubt that LDS fiction can adequately tackle prominent modern issues like drug abuse, depression, sexual abuse, criticism of Mormonism, or human failings in local LDS Church leaders. Despite these concerns, some efforts have been made to bring more stark human elements to the LDS niche market, such as LDS psychologist Heath Sommer's dark contemporary mystery The Manufactured Identity.[5]

Some Latter-day Saints criticize LDS fiction for an entirely different reason: that it distracts from more serious religious study. For example, some have decried The Work and the Glory series, which features many prominent figures in LDS history, as displacing the primary texts of these historical figures. Proponents of LDS fiction deny this and instead argue that expressions of the Mormon culture strengthen Latter-day Saint ties to the church and therefore promote active faith.

Notable LDS fiction writers[edit]

  • Glenn Beck, a popular political commentator, has written a bestselling fiction book based on his childhood, The Christmas Sweater and a political thriller, The Overton Window (2010).
  • Orson Scott Card, the popular mainstream science fiction author of the Ender's Game series, is sometimes called an LDS fiction writer. Card wrote the Women of Genesis series, based on people in the Old Testament. These books, not uniquely Mormon are also popular in the Jewish community. Another Book, Saints (also known as A Woman of Destiny) deals with Mormon pioneers. Additionally, Card's Homecoming Saga series of books is patterned on the Book of Mormon.
  • Brandon Sanderson is the author of fantasy novel Elantris, the Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive series, as well as the final books of the Wheel of Time series originally penned by Robert Jordan.
  • Richard Paul Evans, an author most famous for his story The Christmas Box which has crossover appeal, also wrote a book The Last Promise which was rejected by Deseret Book for possibly questionable content.
  • Jerry Borrowman, writes co-authored biography and historical fiction. Three Against Hitler with Rudi Wobbe is an award winning autobiography of three LDS youth in Nazi Germany,and earned the authors the National Medal of Honor from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. His four-part series, 'Til the Boys Come Home features World War I and World War II military fiction. His first non-military book One Last Chance is set in the Great Depression. Life and Death at Hoover Dam is historical fiction meticulously researched to convey the drama of building the dam from 1931-1935.[citation needed]
  • Betsy Brannon Green writes mystery and love stories set in a fictional Georgia community.
  • Shannon Hale writes young adult fiction. She won the Newbery Honor award for Princess Academy in 2006, and the Utah State Book Award for Goose Girl in 2003.
  • Jennie Hansen was the 1997 third place winner of the URWA Heart of the West Writers Contest for Some Sweet Day.
  • Tracy Hickman is a best-selling fantasy author, best known for his work on Dragonlance as a game designer and co-author with Margaret Weis, while he worked for TSR. They also wrote the Darksword trilogy, the Death Gate Cycle, and the Sovereign Stone trilogy. Tracy Hickman was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. He married Laura Curtis in 1977, and together they have four children.
  • Chris Heimerdinger has authored over a dozen books, most of which are considered young adult novels. The most successful of these are the Tennis Shoes Adventure Series where youth are transported back to the times of the Nephites, an ancient American Hebrew civilization according to the Book of Mormon. The original Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites was published in 1989, and nearly one million Heimerdinger titles have been sold through 2004.[citation needed] One of his stories, Passage to Zarahemla, was released as a film in 2007.
  • Joni Hilton is the author of fifteen books, holds a master of fine arts degree in writing from USC, is an award-winning playwright, and is frequently published in major magazines.[citation needed]
  • Dean Hughes is a BYU professor and author of nearly one hundred LDS and national-audience books. In 1979 he published his first LDS novel, Under the Same Stars. Hughes is noted for LDS historical fiction. His Children of Promise and Hearts of the Children series take place during World War II and the 1960s forward, respectively.
  • Gerald Lund, author of the nine-book The Work and the Glory series, is one of the most prominent LDS fiction authors. Since his first book in 1990, over two million copies from the series have been sold. The lengthy historical fiction narratives about a family struggling through early anti-Mormon persecution sell especially well as books on tape. The first book in the series has been made into a movie, released in 2004. It was the most anticipated and expensive Mormon cinema film to date, with a budget of over $7.4 million.
  • Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, belongs to the LDS Church. The Twilight Series is written for a general audience, though Mormon beliefs are apparent in the work.[6] For example, the main character desires to practice abstinence before marriage (although this is common to many Christian denominations, and in no way is unique to Mormonism).
  • Brandon Mull authored the book Fablehaven and its four sequels Rise of the Evening Star; The Grip of the Shadow Plague; Keys to the Dragon Sanctuary; and Keys to the Demon Prison. He has also written The Candy Shop War.
  • Lee Nelson was a public relations and advertising copywriter before his first book was published in 1979. Lee is best known for his Storm Testament series of historical novels (nine volumes), and his Beyond the Veil series (four volumes). Lee is well known for his authentic research, which includes killing a buffalo from the back of a galloping horse with a bow and arrow, crossing the Green River many times on horseback, and riding with Mongolian nomads while gathering research for an upcoming book.[7]
  • Rachel Ann Nunes writes LDS fiction novels, focusing mainly on clean romances. She has published about 25 books.
  • Clair M. Poulson is an LDS writer of mystery suspense novels.
  • Anita Stansfield is a relatively edgy LDS fiction writer who concentrates on chaste LDS romance novels. Her work is popular with many LDS and non-LDS readers. In some of her 25 books published since 1994 are themes like coping with cancer, domestic violence, rape, and adoption. Indeed, one historical fiction novel, though not explicitly LDS-themed, was rejected from Covenant Communications, an LDS publisher, for reference to an out-of-wedlock baby.
  • Brady Udall published a novel with a Mormon fundamentalist protagonist, The Lonely Polygamist, in 2010.
  • Rick Walton writes picture books, with many books focused on fun with the English language. He has been writing since 1987 and teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University as part-time faculty.[citation needed]
  • Robison Wells is a LDS humorist whose novels have met with great critical praise. His most recent works combine suspense and humor.
  • Linda Paulson Adams writes novels set in a futuristic world nearing the Second Coming. She won an AML Award in 2002 for her short story, "First," Cornerstone Publishing's Fiction Book of the Year 2000,[8] and several honorable mentions for her poetry.
  • Jack Weyland authored Charly, an early LDS fiction published in 1980. The story is romance between a BYU student and a non-Mormon from New York. Weyland now has a trilogy of books based on the characters and has written other novels in his lighthearted humorous style. Charly was made into a movie released in 2002.
  • Blaine M. Yorgason has written over seventy published works.[9]
  • Lance Richardson is an LDS author who wrote several stories based mostly on his own experience with his family, and struggling with his health. The most notable of which is The Message.[citation needed]
  • Jack Lyon is an LDS author who wrote "The Moroni Code" and several other LDS fiction stories.[citation needed]
  • Hiram Bertoch is an LDS author who wrote the regional bestseller "The Mountain Christians" an LDS novel that follows the conversion of an obscure group of Christians, known as the Waldensians, to Mormonism. [10]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]