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Friday, December 09, 2005 

Out of the worst books...

On my mission, if someone knew something about Mormonism (before they met the missionaries) it was because they read one book: A Study in Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is a Sherlock Holmes mystery that relies upon the literary trope of the vile Mormon, who tricks or abducts innocent British women into polygamous Western slavery. This book did more to poison general public opinion toward the Church than anything else (and this was in a country that was generally pretty intolerant to outsiders).

Of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had likely never met a Mormon and didn't actually know anything about them that wasn't based on hearsay. The way the community is described in the book isn't meant to reflect reality; it is meant to provide an appropriately morally repugnant adversary for Holmes to overcome to the delight of his Victorian readers. The Evil Mormon as a stock character.

In Robert Heinlein's sci-fi novel, The Sixth Column (aka The Day After Tomorrow), Heinlein comments favorably on Mormons. He basically says that they are good practical people who are religious, but who are also kind of opportunistic (religiously speaking) and, therefore, perfect for the heroes plan (I'll track down the exact quote later today). So, Heinlein believes that Mormons are basically good, but rather mercenary in how they come about their religious beliefs.

Far be it from me to malign either Heinlein or Doyle, but have you noticed how Mormons are often portrayed in mainstream media. Does it strike you that anyone ever does a good job? This post is an attempt to solicit the best and the worst examples of the portrayal of Mormons by non-Mormons. What comes to mind?

Posted by John C.

I remember reading A Study in Scarlett and thinking how uninformed Doyle was. It was a good book other than that.

One thing that struck me as weird when I was reading The Stand was there was mention of a Mormon chapel and how they cleaned out the dead bodies and used the building for something.

Not sure what he was saying there.

On a side note, I don't don't encourage anyone to read Stephen King or anything, and have not touched one of his books in years. :-)

Ian...

come on... some Stephen King stuff is really good ("Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" anyone?).

The most common place I hear/see Mormons referred to is stand-up comedy. I think we all know how we're portrayed there, "What? You think I want 2 wives? What do you think I am? A Mormon?"

I don't know if any of you have been forced to sit through The Singles Ward, but the single unfunniest moment in the litany of unfunny moments in that film is when the "comedian" goes to Missouri and jokes about the Mormon persecutions there, making the audience laugh. Because in Missouri, they focus on the history of a religion that half of the populace has only barely heard of. It made me want to slap the movie and the ego-centric filmmakers behind it.

Watch the movie Millions and there is a nice bit of Latter-day Saints humor in there (missionaries). I guess you could say it could be realistic in some cases, but not in most. Either way, it's a fun little part of a beautiful movie.

"garmie-boy" on cold case.

great new template, btw

In John Le Carre's spy novel "The Russia House" one of the American CIA officers is a smug, self-righteous Mormon. Not our finest hour, I guess.

Tom Clancy used to have at least one Mormon character in each of his books. Of course his writing since the end of the cold war got bad enough I stopped reading. So I don't know about his last three books.

Robert Heinlein mentioned an LDS space ship complete with temple in one of his books.

In his adult stage (rather than his sf for juveniles) REH usually mentions Mormons once a book, in a modestly positive light.

I know what you mean, John. If you look at the experience of British converts that were confronted with polygamy only after they had arived in Utah, then Doyle's description is much less outlandish.

Another mention of the Mormons by Heinlein is in the short story/novella "If This Goes On --" wherein the country has been taken over by a theocracy, and the Mormons have managed to stay out of it while still helping the rebellion, sort of.

When I read it for the first time, I was particularly creeped out by the Prophet and his Handmaidens, but then the Mormons turned up later and I realized it wasn't THAT prophet.

I mostly remember the off-hand remarks; that's what Tom Clancy's stuff was like. In the film version of "Starship Troopers" (Heinlein), they have "Fort Joe Smith," populated by idiot Mormons who defy the government's orders and establish a colony on a planet in the bugs' path.

When I was a teenager, I read some book or another that had a mildly offensive remark about Mormons, and swore never to read anything by that author again. Unfortunately, I've totally forgotten which author that was, now. ^_^

My favorite portrayal of a Mormon in recent weeks, nay, years has been that of Arthur "Killer" Kane as himself in the documentary "New York Doll". Someone who also just recently saw the film remarked, "Now THAT'S how I want my religion represented in the mainstream." Great movie. A teaser: the part where Arthur is reunited with the band to play at a HUGE festival in London, and before they go on he says the prayer..."...and please, Heavenly Father, let the New York Dolls play well and please let the audience have a good time." Can it get any better than that?

P.S. As a missionary in Scotland, occasionally people would make a snide remark about the tunnel we Mormons dug under the Atlantic ocean to kidnap young ladies and take them back to Utah...now I get it.

I just saw a movie recently, but for the life of me, can't remember which one. Anyway, someone comes to the door, the wife answers, husband yells "who is it?" wife doesn't want husband to know who is really at he door, so she yells back, "oh, it's just the Mormons", husband yells back, "you tell them we have our own religion". Or something really close to that, I see that all the time in moves, and shows, if you want to lie about who is really at the door, just say it is the Mormons... geez.

The quote you are talking about comes from the show, "My Name is Earl"
Mormons were also recently mentioned on Desperate Housewives. They were looking for workers with kids to start a day care and said "Once the Mormon secretary signs up we will have enough to start our daycare program" or something like that.

I found Piers Anthony's portrayal of a Mormon in the "Tarot" books pretty nauseating...and I'm a Swedenborgian. (I suppose I should be thankful Anthony doesn't seem to have heard of us.)

Characters in Rotsler's TO THE LAND OF THE ELECTRIC ANGEL run up against the LDSAF... but a passing mention later revewal that the Saints (and the "Lutheran League", which I guess is Missouri) are playing along with the bastard-corporate-theocractic regime to keep control of their own territory while waiting for a chance to support the revolution. (A priceless line is set up when the protagonist is hastily elected Pope so he can lead the revolt... and then when reporters ask "Is the Pope Catholic?" he has to say "No.")

I have to object to the comment that Britain was "generally pretty intolerant to outsiders". That is quite wrong. Nineteenth century Britain was more tolerant and open-minded than any other country at that time.

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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