The first time I read Ender’s Game I loved it, of course, but I hated one very specific thing: Ender’s mom was Mormon. It bothered me, as a child, that Mormons could exist in a universe where Mormonism, as I understood it at the time, was not true. I believe my specific reasoning was that the insectile aliens were obviously not created in the image of God, which said to me that God didn’t create life, which meant that God either wasn’t real or I was wrong about Him, but that’s beside the point. The existence of non-humanoid sentience in Mormon theology is an awesome topic, but it’s not the one I’m here to discuss today. I want to talk about Mormons, and a belief system I believe to be “real” inhabiting a world where much of the metaphysical underpinnings are completely imaginary.
Let’s look at another book, Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia. This is a series about a group of paramilitary monster hunters who basically run around, find vampires and werewolves and ancient, spooky, tentacle monsters, and shoot them. The books are great if you haven’t read them, and one of the characters–the kind of redneck Q who makes and maintains their weapons–is Mormon. That’s all well and good and more or less incidental to the story, until all of a sudden something big and insane and world-changing occurs, and the Mormon guy heads off to tell/consult with the leaders of the Mormon church. It’s basically a throw-away line in the book, but it stopped me cold because I was fascinated by the idea. First of all, yes: if an ancient spooky tentacle monster showed up with a plan to end the world, I firmly believe that the LDS prophet would have some interesting insights, and it would be very prudent to give him a call. but beyond that, how would the Mormon church, as a whole, react to a world full of monsters?
The Monster Hunter series, and in fact a majority of urban fantasy series, are based on the foundational premise that most people don’t know about all the magic and monsters in the world, and that the elite who do don’t share that with the rest of us. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a group of friends who knew what was going on, but they spent a huge amount of time trying to keep it secret. Even Harry Dresden, who actually advertised himself publically as a wizard for hire, existed in a world where most people simply didn’t know or believe that any of this magic nonsense actually worked. One of the urban fantasy RPGs I used to play, a d20 game called Urban Arcana, posited that most people don’t see the magic and monsters and weirdness all around them because it’s simply too weird to acknowledge, and so our brain edits the weirdness out by subconsciously finding rational explanations for things–that big burly mob enforcer isn’t an orc, he’s just big and burly and the lighting is making him look kind of odd. I find that completely ridiculous: it is literally easier for me to believe in orcish mob enforcers than to believe that my brain is too stupid to recognize what’s in front of it. The human species would not have survived more than a couple of years at the most if our brain was designed to pretend scary things didn’t exist, and most of us (particularly children) (and genre fiction writers) actually seek out the weirdness in life, looking for reasons why things are more magical than they seem, not less. If something’s weird, we’re going to know it. And Mormons are going to talk about it.
Think about all the things Mormons believe–and not just metaphorically, but in a very real, physical way. We believe that God lives on a planet in space. We believe that devils are real, and that properly ordained priesthood holders can cast them out. And while we’re on the subject of the priesthood: holy cow, the priesthood. A magic power that lets us heal people, control nature, and perform miracles–we don’t actually call it “magic,” because we’ve defined the word “magic” as evil, but you know what I’m saying. Just because we get our power from God instead of from peeping sorcerers doesn’t make it any less amazing. Which brings me back around to the Monster Hunter series, and the tantalizing premise that the LDS church would be directly involved with the existence of magic and monsters on the Earth: would the church make any effort to conceal monsters if they were real? We talk about EVERYTHING in this religion, why not that? If werewolves were real, every young man in the church would grow up learning about how to defend yourself from them while on a mission–or at the very least, they’d grow up telling stories about their cousin’s friend’s uncle who had to fight one in Venezuela. If vampires were real, there would be a section in the General Handbook of Instructions telling Bishops exactly how to deal with someone who confesses to being one in a Temple Recommend interview: it’s not exactly their fault they were bitten, so it’s not a sin, and yet now they have all these urges they don’t know how to control, and so on and so on. That General Handbook has a section for just about every possible situation, so you know it would have one for that. We’re a church of delegation and lay leadership–that’s not the kind of organization that keeps a lot of big flashy secrets about the nature of the universe.
The new fiction anthology Mormons and Monsters (in which, full disclosure, I have a story) deals with this question a lot. We’ve seen hundreds of years of fiction regarding the crossover between other religions and genre fiction: “Catholic priests who fight possessing spirits” is a thriving subgenre of mainstream horror; zealous protestants decrying sin and corruption is a mainstay of zombie stories; modern vampire mythology is quite literally an Anglican parable. These stories are valuable for a lot of reasons: first, because they put religion into historical perspective. The scriptures are littered with monsters and magic and crazy crap going on, and telling similar stories in the modern day or even in the future allows us to interpret them–to apply them to ourselves, as we’ve always been taught to do.
Second, crossing religion with genre fiction helps put that religion to the test, burning it and smashing it and twisting it and stretching it so we can see how it–and ourselves, reading it–reacts. What did it feel like for Noah to build an ark in the middle of a desert while everyone laughed at him? What was it like for the early apostles to go on missions and preach the gospel, only to be interrupted by a sorcerer demonstrating similar miraculous powers? How did the Mormon saints justify the huge sacrifices they made to follow a distant prophet most people didn’t even believe in, who told them to do crazy things most people openly disagreed with? Genre fiction allows us to explore those stories, the extreme situations of our own belief system, and see what happens. Want to try a fun experiment? Write a speculative story in which the prophet brings back polygamy. How do your characters react? How easy or hard is it for them to follow a commandment they’ve always been taught was wrong?
Third, crossing religion with genre fiction helps us take control of our own narrative. These are the things we believe, so why not write about them? If our religion ostensibly pervades every other aspect of our lives, why try to keep it out of our fiction? Storytelling is a powerful tool, one of the most powerful our species has ever discovered, and we have not only the opportunity but the responsibility to carve our place into it, whether that means stories about a Mormon lawyer or a Mormon archeologist or a Mormon monster hunter. Write what interests you, and make it as intrinsically “you” as possible.