Monday, September 6, 2010

The Mormon and the Mythical.


It has recently come to my attention, that a number of writers who share a faith with myself ( I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or a Mormon, for short) are emerging as very popular, very successful writers of fantasy fiction. This has led to much discussion and debate between PoseySessions and myself as to what it is about the faith that may lend to the emergence of a “Mormon Fantasy” trend. It must first be noted that upon reading a non-religious fantasy story by any of these authors it will not be apparent that they A.) are Mormon or B.) Share a common faith. I read the first 2 books of the Runelords series by David Farland years ago, and was just recently informed that he was a member of the Church. There are no common themes, no singular way of dealing with religion, and no obvious influences of the faith upon the fantasy works of its member authors.

With all that being said, a growing number of LDS writers are gaining widespread followings in arena of “speculative fiction” (a term I do not really like applying to the Fantasy genre) Although authors like Orson Scott Card, Tracy Hickman and David Farland have been on the scene for a while, more recent writers to gain popularity include the likes of Stephanie Meyer, James Dashner, Brandon Mull and Brandon Sanderson.

I have read numerous speculations about Mormon fantasy writing recently, specifically some statements that LDS writers, especially female authors, write weak women characters. It seemed like an arbitrary statement to apply, so I began considering Fantasy by Mormon authors, I have turned contemplative in search of a single unifying theme among their works. The biggest thing that stood out to me was the fact that there was nothing that stood out. I have read hundreds of fantasy novels by dozens of authors, some much better than others, and the only thing that seems to group together LDS writers is the fact that of those that I have read, they are usually very good at what they do.

I have some personal feelings regarding the prevalence of Mormon fantasy writers, which I will gladly share, but I must first preface these statements by saying I mean no offense, and all of these statements are meant to be taken in the most benign way. It is important to remember that I am a member of the church, I identify with and trust its teachings, its leaders, and its doctrine.

1. The Scriptures - Along with the King James version of the Bible, the LDS Scriptures include The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. I feel the scriptures play a large role in fostering a love of speculative fiction in the LDS community. The Book of Mormon tells another story, the story of Christ ministering to the peoples on the American continents. From the beginning of our religious education we are taught to accept what others believe, but also understand that there exists a story that goes beyond it. What is generally accepted in houses of worship around us is not the entire story. I feel this fosters in church members an ability to accept that just because something is prevalent that it should be considered the end all and be all of what can be said on a subject. This pushes Book of MormonMormons to think outside the box. Also, The Book of Mormon is an action packed affair. The stories are often so intriguing that they themselves could be the inspiration for a multitude of Fantasy stories. The Army of Helaman always comes to mind.

2. Teachings - I also feel that Mormons have a deeper understanding of their own cosmology; an intricate education in the order of their universe and the way in which they fit into it. The Mormon universe is highly regimented and detailed. No detail is spared when teaching young church members in primary, Sunday school and seminary. This education gets Mormons thinking at a young age of other worlds, other planes of existence, and the spiritual hierarchy. Nothing seems far fetched to an LDS child who has just been told of the multitude of other worlds, and the beings that exist before, after and around them.

3. Education – Education is a central focus in the Church. Young men and women are encouraged to take charge of their studies and find their own answers. Doctrine and Covenants states: “And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come" (D&C 130:18-19). In general the LDS population prides itself on education. It seems readily apparent that a focus on education would increase the number authors and readers in a population.

4. Support System – This is one that was brought to my attention by a good friend of mine, and was something I had not considered. It is like education, a general descriptor for success, not an explanation of why LDS writers often choose to write Fantasy. The Mormon family is more often than not a strong unit. In the LDS family there tends to be a “can do” attitude, this is an attitude that extends to the community itself. Writing is a non-traditional occupation, it is definitely a job which many parents my tell their children to give up, to focus on something more practical. It is more likely in the LDS community that a few more young writers may be supported in their decisions to pursue writing, hence leading to a larger number of writers in the population. (I think back to my cousin who is pursuing a graduate degree in music who plans to earn money by “composing really far out experimental music.” His parents did not agree with his career path, but they are supporting him 100% nonetheless.) Also, I am NOT saying this does not happen outside the LDS culture, I am merely contending it is slightly more prominent.

5. Depression – I will not attempt to dissect this, however, in recent studies the state of Utah has led the country in rates of depression among its citizens. I have no guess as to why it might be, and how, if at all it is related to the Church (but I am personally skeptical). But, as a person who went through a period of depression that lasted about 2 years I can say one thing for certain; I read more fantasy books in those 2 years than during any other period of my life. Fantasy is almost synonymous with escapism. The genre serves as a distraction from our problems, a way to escape to a mystical world where anything can happen, a freedom from earthly shackles. Fantasy novels were the unguent that allowed me to face the day. It only makes sense in an area with higher depression rates that fantasy fiction would be more prominent.

These are by no means hard and fast facts. These 5 factors merely make up my observations as a member of the Church, and a little bit of deliberation with a few other people who have insight; some of whom have studied under some of the listed writers at Brigham Young University. Take this for what it is, not a deep statement about Mormon superiority, but a musing of a barely active Mormon, and fairly active fantasy reader.


House of Hendricks said...

Well thought out, my friend.

Post a Comment

page image stolen from Aykanozener @ Deviant Art show some love, check it out.