Mormon Tragedy Revisited

Last November, in the wake of Mark Oppenheimer’s New York Times article on Mormon literature, Mahonri wrote a post on Mormon tragedy that sought to make a case for Mormonism’s capacity for tragedy. His argument, if I followed it correctly, was that Mormons can write tragic Mormon stories because Mormons, like everyone else, are not immune to experiences that cause suffering and negative emotions. As he rightly noted:

The amount of tragedy that I have seen Mormons endure has been no more, but certainly no less, than other people of comparable stations in other parts of the world. There are Mormons I know, or who I know of, who have endured homelessness, death of loved ones (including by suicide and murder), racism, sexism, poverty, self-mutilation, mental illness, kidnapping, abuse, depression, betrayal, failure, disfigurement, etc.  Thus, if you can find it out in the world, you can find it also among Mormons, to a lesser or greater degree.

Based on this statement, “tragedy” is largely something that happens to someone—either because of someone else’s choices or psychological factors beyond an individual’s control. For Mahonri, the fact that Mormons are just as susceptible to the conditions of the Fall as anybody else creates a “recipe” for tragedy that, while present in everyday Mormon life, is not being used in the kitchen of Mormon literature. His conclusion was that “we as a culture” must nurture our tragedians—and, according to his count, we have many—by “hav[ing] the bravery to look at the shadows in our souls and purge them through catharsis.”

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In Tents #41 He is Risen, and Other Texts That Don’t Behave as Textual Critics Think They Do, part II

At the end of #40 I suggested that both Stephen Mitchell and Reza Aslan dismiss the Resurrection on the grounds that there’s no Resurrection appearance in Mark. In looking for the passage where Aslan dismisses the Resurrection I found that he does mention the lack of a Resurrection appearance in Mark, but he also acknowledges that Christian belief in the Resurrection likely predates Mark by 30 years. But then he says, “Nevertheless, the fact remains that the resurrection is not a historical event. It may have had historical ripples, but the event itself falls outside the scope of history and into the realm of faith” (176).
That’s a jarring statement and I had to think about it for awhile to figure out why. Continue reading

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The Business Side of Writing: Conventions

Apologies for being late this month. On my usual deadline I was on my way to the Romantic Times Convention in New Orleans. This was my first romance convention, and my first glimpse into that whole scene. I’ve been going to science fiction conventions since I graduated from Clarion West, thirteen years ago, and used to go to every WorldCon. So what do conventions have to do with the business side of writing? Well, first off, they cost money, and can sometimes cost a lot of money, so if you go to them, you need to consider whether or not they’re cost effective. How could they possibly pay back? Conventions are a good place to: 1) Network, 2) Gain new insights into publishing trends, 3) Attend and participate in panels, 4) Do some self promotion and marketing, and 5) Have fun and make good memories. So lets go over those one by one.

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Dedications and the Real Narnian

Right before the first chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, one finds this short letter that C.S. Lewis as the volume’s dedication:

My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too dear to hear and too old to understand, a word you say, but I shall still be
your affectionate Godfather,


Lucy Barfield

Little did C.S. “Jack” Lewis know that his Goddaughter, Lucy Barfield (1935-2003), hardly saw herself as “too old” for fairy tales. Much to the contrary, this simple and elegant dedication (as well as having the main character in the book, Lucy Pevensie , named after her) would impact Lucy for the rest of her life. She cherished being Lucy of Narnia.

Lucy was the adopted daughter of Owen Barfield, one of C.S. Lewis’ closest friends, and Maud Barfield. Owen had been vital in his spiritual development from an avowed atheist to one of the most influential and greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century. Lucy was four years old when Lewis began the book, 13 years old when the manuscript arrived to her and her family, and 15 when it was published.

According to Walter Hooper, Lewis’s secretary at the end of his life, Owen Barfield had this to say about his daughter:

Lucy was a very lively and happy child – apt for instance to be seen turning somersault wheels in the garden immediately after a meal. From an early age she showed marked musical taste and ability. After a short-lived ambition to become a ballet dancer, she eventually qualified as a professional teacher of music and was employed for a year or two as such by a well-known Kentish school for girls (C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide,  p.758).

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True Friendship in a Facebook World—Children’s Lit Corner

My son has been playing a texting game with his girlfriend called “Would you rather . . .” This is how it goes: they take turns asking each other hard philosophical questions, or silly questions, or questions involving difficult moral conundrums, all beginning with those words “Would you rather . . .” The other day I was driving with my son up in the mountains and his little text notification kept chiming at him. Because he and I were having some wonderful conversations together, I felt a little sad that the texting would probably prevent us from going as deeply into philosophy as we had been delving. But then he turned to me and involved me in his game. “Mom,” he asked, “would you rather live in a little house with a big garden or live in a big house with a very little garden?” Continue reading

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YA Corner: Books About Couples

The blush pink roses and white anemones are hanging upside down. No longer intoxicatingly fragrant, yet they retain their perfect form. Tempting packages of Lemon Crinkles, Old Fashioned Molasses Snaps and Dark Chocolate Truffles snuggle side by side — a happy surplus! Gracious exclamations and looping words of love are pinned to the wall. Towers of towels on the piano, piles of Pyrex and pillows, a small mountain of measuring cups, spoons, kitchenware and appliances sit, sorted in splendor. The vintage lace-covered gown hangs from a stair railing, looking nearly animated. Bright with hope and promise, the newly formed family of two sit together laughing, telling stories of just-made memories. We, the older family, bask in their warmth and laugh with them.

It took a gargantuan effort to pull everything together, but the wedding was everything we dreamed of, wildly chaotic and punctuated with unexpected pleasures. Thankful, we are oh-so-thankful for family and friends who gave their best to help us. The forward momentum of wedding focus is still ingrained in my mind, though I know it’s over and finished. I continue to have little relapses, like hearing a great jazz tune and thinking to myself “Wow, that would be perfect for the background music playlist. Wait, I don’t have to do that anymore.” The energy will return, I think, for everyday sorts of living and I will feel sad.

In honor of the first wedding to take place among my children, and in honor of that happy couple, here is a short list of recently read, notable Young Adult books about couples. Continue reading

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In Tents #40 He is Risen, and Other Texts That Don’t Behave as Textual Critics Think They Do

First a story, then a question.

He was born David King, Jr., the son of David King in Jerusalem’s Lot, a small town in Maine that had known vampire troubles a century or so earlier in the time of the Romanian vampire troubles, and some said the vampires had come to town after their expulsion from Romania, and others that they were Roma vampires and their descendants had been responsible for an outbreak of thinness, people getting thinner and thinner who hardly wanted to lose the flesh that tied their bones to solid earth.

He wondered what an anorexic vampire would be like. Would they spit back the blood they had sucked? And what if the one they bit were on a blood thinner? Would it deprive the vampires of needed nourishment from thickened blood? And would the thinner blood prove incapable of holding the vampire virus and letting it bond? Did Coumadin have the same salutary effects as garlic?

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Random Bits: Hugo Nominations, The Expanse TV Series, “Whaliens”

Hugo Nominations

The Hugo Award nominations came out a couple of weeks ago, and Andrew Hall has already listed the LDS nominees.  But I’d like to give a bit more context to some of the controversies.

The Hugos are nominated and voted upon by members of WorldCon, and anybody who’s willing to pay for a supporting membership (currently £25, around $42) can do so.  Larry Correia encouraged his fans to buy memberships and recommended several potential nominees, most of which made it onto the ballot, including several by LDS authors: Larry Correia’s Warbound (the third book in his Grimnoir Chronicles, which I reviewed here), Dan Wells’s The Butcher of Khardov, Brad Torgerson’s “The Chaplain’s Legacy” and “The Exchange Officers”, and Steve Diamond’s Elitist Book Reviews.

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This Week in Mormon Literature, April 28, 2014

A busy two weeks, with a new anthology to benefit Robison Wells, the LDStorymakers Writing Conference and the announcement of the Whitney Awards, and Hugo nominations. Also, I spoke with The Good Word podcast about Mormon literature, so take a listen! Please send any news or corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Awards, blogs posts, and other news

Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells have organized a science fiction/fantasy anthology called Altered Perceptions, to benefit author Robison Wells, one of the main creators of the Whitney Awards, who is facing high medical bills because of his mental illnesses. Continue reading

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in verse #40 : owed to Keats

Have you ever wanted to correct a classic of literature? One that makes an egregious error, but that can be easily corrected? Like, say, this:

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like Balboa when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Where is the error? Well, as most of you well know, Continue reading

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