Review: Beauty and the Beast

Following on Disney’s 2015 live-action Cinderella, we now have a live-action version of Beauty and the Beast, which opened on March 17, 2017.

For those who are not familiar with Disney’s treatment of the story, it is worthwhile seeing the animated version before seeing the live-action film. While the live-action film is not slavishly faithful to the earlier animated film, it is fun to see how certain iconic scenes were rendered with real people. Alternately, one can review the details of the original story, though this could lead to dissatisfaction with the way the story has changed for our modern time. [spoilers] Continue reading

Review: Worth the Wrestle by Sheri Dew

Sheri Dew is an inspiration to many, particularly we ladies who wonder how to navigate a Church whose culture seems to value achievements other than the ones we have attained.

In this new book, Worth the Wrestle, Sheri Dew speaks of the need we so often have to truly wrestle to know God and His will for us. Sheri Dew is often asked questions as a prominent Mormon woman, one whose unmarried and childless status invites questions married mothers might not be asked:

  • How do I know if I’m receiving revelation?
  • Will the Lord forgive me after what I’ve done?
  • Why can’t we seem to get ahead financially even though we faithfully pay our tithing?
  • What if the Church’s position on gay marriage bothers me?
  • Will I be able to provide for my family?
  • Why can’t I find ‘the one’?

Sheri writes, “May I answer these questions, and any questions you may have, by posing a different question: Are you willing to engage in the wrestle? In an ongoing spiritual wrestle?” Continue reading

The Witnesses of the Book of Mormon

By June 1829 Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer had verbalized a desire to be the special three witnesses alluded to in the Book of Mormon.

D&C 17 records a revelation affirming their roles as witnesses and was given to Joseph Smith through a seer stone he apparently found while digging a well in 1822.

As witnesses, the three were very different. Martin Harris was zealous, impetuous, and even a bit eccentric. Oliver Cowdery was an intellectual. And David Whitmer was regarded as clear-thinking, down-to-earth, and honest.

David Whitmer was, perhaps, the strongest witness because he lived so long, never wavered in his testimony of the vision, and gave several newspaper interviews that give us additional details regarding the experience. David reported seeing several plates, the sword of Laban, the Liahona, and the Urim and Thummim.

Joseph Smith was understandably relieved to have others to testify of the existence of the plates. Larry Morris concludes that the experience of the Three Witnesses was both an empirical and spiritual experience.

Join Nick Galieti of LDS Perspectives Podcast as he interviews Larry Morris as part of the Revelations in Context podcast series.

Book Review: Dime Novel Mormons

Book Review: The Mormon Image in Literature, Dime Mormon Novels, edited and introduced by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall.

Dime Novel Mormons

In the Harry Potter books and films, Harry and Dumbledore go from being heroes to evil villains, due to the continuous assault by the Daily Prophet, the major newspaper around. For most witches, Harry and Dumbledore are insane cranks, claiming Voldemort had returned. One can see the frustration in Harry’s face as many friends doubt him, even hating him. Imagine the uphill battle he fought against the wrong perceptions while trying to fight the Dark Lord.

So it was in the late 1800s and early 1900s for Mormon missionaries.Stories flourished about the evil Mormons living in seclusion in Salt Lake City. Mormons were known for lustful polygamy, murderous Danites, and general evilness. As noted in their introduction about early Mormon novels, Austin and Parshall note: “each featuring handsome heroes, villainous Mormon elders, and chaste young women who are kidnapped and taken to Salt Lake City as polygamous brides.” In these novels, “the lecherous Mormons are defeated, the chaste young women are rescued, and the hero gets the girl.”

Perhaps the most famous novel regarding early Mormons was Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage. A few years ago, I’d heard about how this book ran roughshod over Mormonism, and so read it out of curiosity. My review of it is here. This was written in 1912, long after many other novels had been written in the Dime Novel genre.

Before Riders of the Purple Sage,dime novels were in their heyday. These were very inexpensive novels of about 50,000 words, printed on cheap newsprint, with no cover. They literally cost about a dime, making such novels very affordable to the average person. Writers worked feverishly to publish one or two a week, and some novels could sell half a million copies. Being made of such cheap materials, these novels were not designed to survive more than a few years, much less a century or more. Fortunately, Michael Austin and Ardis Parshall have worked hard to find surviving copies that deal heavily with Mormon themes and preserved the texts. Many of the novels were so brittle and fragile that to save the texts meant destroying the cheap paper they were printed on. With some novels damaged, Austin and Parshall had to determine words that may have been lost on the ragged edges of some dime novels. The results are excellent.

In this volume that continues the Greg Kofford Books’ series, The Mormon Image in Literature, we find four gems among dime novels that focus on how late 19th century Americans viewed Mormons. The four novels are:

Eagle Plume, the White Avenger, A Tale of the Mormon Trail
The Doomed Dozen, or Dolores, the Danite’s Daughter. A Romance of Border Trails and Mormon Mysteries.
Frank Merriwell Among the Mormons; or, the Lost Tribe of Israel
The Bradys Among the Mormons; or, Secret Work in Salt Lake City

The tropes are familiar to those who’ve read Zane Grey’s anti-Mormon novel: evil Mormons, even more evil Danites, and a girl needing rescued from the evil Mormons. Still, the stories are engaging and interesting, always with a twist in the plot. For example, in Dolores, the Danite’s Daughter, her wagon train is wiped out by Danites dressed like Indians. However, she is rescued by two white men (one being Buffalo Bill Cody), dressed like Indians.

While many of today’s films have good and bad guys that float in the gray area of good and bad, these novels are clearly black and white. Good guys wear white hats. They are handsome and rugged, while the evil Mormons are described quite the opposite.

In Eagle Plume, Indians are seen as the noble savages of early writings:

“By the river’s bank, gazing upon the turbid and swollen waters, stood two chiefs. One, by the richness of his attire, the wolf tails attached to his leggins, a mark of distinction only allowed to great braves, it was evident was a chief of note; and the eagle plumes thickly braided in his long, dark locks, as well as the look of dignity and pride upon his thoroughly Indian face, confirmed this supposition.”

Meanwhile, Mormon Danites are described thus:

“The emigrants were busy preparing supper. Apart from the rest, and seated by themselves, were some seven men, all fully armed with rifles, knives and revolvers. Seven stout, muscular men were they, and of the seven, all but one bore the stamp of ruffian visibly imprinted on their faces.”

So, why would today’s Mormons want to preserve writings that show us to be just a shade nicer than Stalin? First, it helps us understand the perceptions of the average American towards Mormons a century ago. Imagine being a missionary in New York, trying to share the gospel with people who were convinced you only wanted to carry off pretty young girls to be the wives of the Prophet, or worse, one of the Danites. Second, it helps us understand the tensions between Salt Lake City and the rest of America. The Smoot hearings were big news in the early 20th century, with the Mormon Prophet, Joseph F. Smith, testifying. Americans were so concerned about Mormons, even 14 years after the Manifesto ending polygamy, that Reed Smoot went through three years of hearings prior to being seated in the Senate.

Because of Mormon inspired fiction, like that found in these four dime novels, we have a better understanding of the struggles and strains in the collision of the two worlds of Mormons and Gentiles We have Michael Austin, Ardis E. Parshall, and Greg Kofford Books to thank for this great gift to our Mormon heritage.  A great treasure is preserved for us to read and ponder.

Available March 21, 2017 from Greg Kofford Books and Amazon