Here’s my crazy theory about the problem with Mormon Literature:
It’s not that most Mormons want to read something “clean” and uplifting. It’s that the folks who want only clean and uplifting reading are so worried about the possibility of reading or supporting something potentially “anti-Mormon” that they’ll avoid LDS-interest publishers or retailers that sell anything with the slightest whiff of crossing that line. Those readers who are a little more daring — who might be interested in works that are positive, critical, neutral, or ambiguous towards Mormonism — are perfectly happy to buy from Deseret Book, but the ultraconservative part will buy their LDS-interest materials exclusively from (church-approved) Deseret Book. So Deseret Book sops up all of what market exists for Mormon-interest materials, and no one else can get a foothold.
It’s hard for a vibrant artistic tradition to thrive under a production monopoly. Ironically, the lesson-manual standard may hinder a great Mormon work — even a great inspiring, faith-promoting work — from being produced and/or finding an audience.
The serious Mormon Lit folks are aware of the challenge and are ready to try every trick in the book to build up a viable market and distribution network. Ergo, this interesting brainstorming post. Naturally, when discussing a grand Mormon-interest book portal, there’s disagreement over what to do about the “anti-Mormon” stuff. MoJo and Katya propose including everything and then using a rating/filtering system to avoid offending the conservative end. Kent Larsen disagrees, suggesting that at least “anything that is clearly meant to lead members away from the Church” should be excluded.
Naturally, I agree with MoJo and Katya about throwing everything into one pot and then rating it. This is not just out of base self-interest. Rather, as somebody who reads a lot of borderland works, I’ll tell you from experience that it’s really, really, really, really hard to pin down precisely where to draw the line between “anti-Mormon” and “questionable-but-not-anti.” Especially since a work can be kind of “anti” in a lot of different ways. Even with Kent’s definition — which seems so simple! — I contend that it’s not simple at all. It may well be easier to draw a dividing line between Sunday-School-approved and questionable than to draw a line between questionable and “anti”.
However, I’m willing to grant that I may be wrong on this. For fun, I’ve compiled a little list of recent maybe-anti-maybe-not works, and I’d like to know which ones you think truly deserve the title “Anti-Mormon.” I hope I can get responses from some faithful Mormons in addition to getting responses from non-believers. I am absolutely not out to trick or mock believers with this — I’m genuinely curious as to which ones of these you’d say are beyond the pale and which ones you’d grant are Mormon works (but perhaps with a warning flag). And please, everyone, write your own answers before comparing with others. We’ll start with the easy ones and it will get harder:
1. The usual suspects: The Proviso (and other works by Moriah Jovan), Angel Falling Softly, Brother Brigham, and Kindred Spirits. These are all written by faithful Mormons from a pro-Mormon viewpoint, but all have been accused of containing too much sex and of teaching wrong, wrong, wrong lessons about the gospel. Kent’s definition technically excludes these works, however, many members would honestly view these as wolves in sheep’s clothing — more threatening than simple unbelief. (see my reviews here, here, and here)
2. Latter-day Cipher: A friend of the bloggers at Mormon Coffee has a novel that was inspired by The Jungle. Only instead of being about the meat-packing industry, it’s about Mormonism. (OK, I may be exaggerating a bit — have a look at the trailer on the author’s site.)
3. Torn by God: The protagonists are (mainstream) Mormons, the villains are polygamists. However, the doctrinal and social connections between the two groups are spelled out explicitly enough that modern P.R.-conscious Mormons won’t like it. Plus, the portrait of Mormon Fundamentalists is not at all balanced — it is entirely negative. A Mormon Fundamentalist reading this work would likely see it as no different than a modern-day “Study in Scarlet.” (see my review here.)
4. The works of Natalie R. Collins, such as Behind Closed Doors and Wives and Sisters. Natalie writes murder mysteries with Mormons as villains. Although she debates Mormons on her blog Trapped by the Mormons, and although her portrait of Mormonism is extremely negative, it’s not clear that the point to her books is to lead members away from the church. It looks more like she’s out to write scary, suspense-filled stories, and — as a born-n-bred Utah Mormon — she works with familiar cultural details. (see my reviews here, here, and here.)
5. Exmormon: The author’s intention is to write stories of the folks who are raised Mormon and stop believing — being human, they have stories too. The novel is also intended to help faithful Mormons understand the experiences of their friends and relatives who no longer believe. Author intentions aside, however, the title is a bit of a red flag for most members (and was deliberately chosen to be one in order to avoid misleading the faithful about the contents since — if it weren’t for the title — you could probably get halfway through the book without guessing that it won’t be faith-promoting). Note that although all of the protagonists leave the church, there’s not much danger of making disbelief seem “cool” since most of the atheist characters are nerds.
6. Always Listen to the Ravings of a Madwoman: This novel is written from an exmo POV and is full of graphic sex. And yet the take home message couldn’t be more orthodox Mormon! It’s all about the family-destroying dangers of porn-addiction. Mormonism is a big part of the setting, but it isn’t the key problem, and, in fact, some of the Mormon characters are easily more sympathetic than the non-Mormons. (see my review here.)
7. My Ex Is Having Sex with Rex: This is a memoir by a lady who married, raised a family with, and eventually divorced a gay man. The couple was Mormon (and eventually left the church), but Mormonism is hardly mentioned in the book because the author didn’t feel that the specific religion was the key point. Still, the church’s former habit of telling gay guys to marry straight women doesn’t exactly come out smelling like a rose. (see my review here.)
8. The Mormon Cult: This one is an interesting case because the missionary memoir at the heart of it is quite complex and nuanced. An opening section exposing Mormonism’s cultish ways (plus the title) were added at the request of the publisher. Why? Because there are two types of stories about Mormons: “with us” or “against us.” You can sell a faith-promoting mission memoir or you can sell an expose of Mormonism — nothing in-between. If I’d been in the editor’s chair (and if we were living in a magical fantasy world where we didn’t have to worry about marketing), the end product wouldn’t have been quite so “anti.” As it is, the story may still be of interest to the open-minded among the faithful who are willing to skip past the background/expose section. (see my review here.)
9. Twilight: Written by a Mormon and superficially “clean,” this novel promotes highly questionable ideas about relationships for impressionable young Mormon girls. It has been called “porn for women” by more people than I can count. (see the discussion here.)
10. In Our Lovely Deseret: Mormon Fictions. This is a collection of short stories “not for or against, but about” Mormonism. It contains some truly excellent work. It seems like a no-brainer that it’s not in the “anti” category, but (to do a little name-dropping) don’t forget that it was publicly denounced by Eugene England himself in Dialogue. (see my review here.)
11. Suddenly Strangers: This one is a personal account of being shunned by family upon leaving the LDS Church. Some Mormons could easily see it as self-serving anti-Mormon propaganda (being as the virtuous, innocent exmos were so tragically mistreated by their faithful Mormon relatives); other Mormons could see it as a helpful cautionary tale of what not to do when your siblings leave the church.
12. Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. I haven’t read this one, but maybe you guys have heard of it.
13. Leaving the Fold: Candid Conversations with Inactive Mormons: This is a collection of essays/memoirs by lots of famous names in Mormonism, including that Mormon Lit sweetheart Levi Peterson. All of them explaining why they have left the fold.
14. Real-life gay exmo memoirs such as Falling Into Life, Desert Love, and the other stories at Gay Mormon Stories site: These gay folks describe leaving the church as a process of finally finding their true, authentic selves.
15. Caroline Jessop’s memoir Escape, detailing the horrors of life as a plural wife. Like Torn by God, this one is more anti-FLDS than anti-LDS (and we know Deseret Book doesn’t care about offending the FLDS), yet from reading some conversations around the Bloggernacle, I’d say a non-trivial number of Mormons consider this work unfair, one-sided, and anti-Mormon.
Your responses…? (If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could try Katya’s ranking system, linked above.)