Why Mormon writers are the luckiest

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Guest blogger Stephen Carter

Guest blogger Stephen Carter

A guest post by Stephen Carter

Every writer’s dream is to find an inexhaustible source of storytelling material: an unexplored mine of myth and metaphor that you can dig in to forever, unearthing fascinating nuggets to refine and mold.

The problem is finding that source. The first place you might think to look is to the old standards: the Bible, Grimm’s fairy tales, Norse mythology. It’s all good stuff, but, let’s face it, it’s also been done to death. Is there no new narrative trove for the contemporary writer to plunder?

Listen up, folks. I’m about to give away a trade secret.

You need to try the Book of Mormon.

I know what you’re thinking. “The book those kids in crew cuts and ties try to push on me at bus stops? The book that heads up a religion heavy on accountants, lawyers, and multi-level marketers? The book that absolutely no one has made a Hallmark Christmas Special about?”

Yes, that one.

I understand your incredulity, but let me pitch it to you this way:

  1. How many members does the Mormon Church have? (Answer: 15 million.)
  2. If you are not a member of the LDS Church, how many stories do you know from the Book of Mormon?

If you answered zero, you are representative of 99.9 percent of non-Mormons (about 99.8 percent of earth’s population).

The stories in the Book of Mormon have the kind of mythic resonance that can inspire millions of people to read it every day, but it is also almost entirely unread outside of the LDS Church.

In other words, you could beg, borrow, and even steal stories, archetypes, and characters from the Book of Mormon and almost no one would know. They’d just chalk your amazing stories up to your natural genius.

Let me give you a few examples of what you can find in that little blue book.

Ammon walks into the land of his people’s enemies hoping they will let him live long enough to teach them the gospel. He will have to kill many of their rivals and refuse a king’s daughter before he can realize his goal.

The inhabitants of a city Ammon converts take an oath to renounce violence. They repent of the many acts of murder they had committed over the years by burying their weapons. But soon afterward, an army descends on their city, forcing them to face the prospect of certain death for themselves and their families.

A few years later, a group of mothers from this city, mostly widows, must decide whether they should send their sons (who had been too young to take the oath) into battle. Will they lose them as they lost their husbands? Will they be breaking their oath by supporting war with the bodies of their sons?

iPlatesAnd then there’s the story I just finished adapting into a graphic novel.

Alma sits shivering in the wilderness outside the city of Shilom. That morning he had been one of the king’s priests, living a sumptuous lifestyle and wielding great power. But then a lone prophet named Abinadi had preached to the king’s court and changed Alma’s heart. When the king decreed Abinadi’s execution, Alma tried to defend the prophet, but barely escaped with his life. He knows the city is dying, and he knows he is responsible. He must find a way to undo the damage he has done.

The Book of Mormon is absolutely teeming with stories like these. What I’ve presented isn’t even one percent of the narrative riches you can find in there. And practically no one knows about them. (Except Orson Scott Card, who turned the first book in the Book of Mormon into a five-book science fiction series: The Homecoming Saga. But I promise he won’t tell.)

As LeVar Burton is famous for saying, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Go grab a copy for yourself. The Book of Mormon is free, after all. Avail yourself of the latest in stealth narrative weaponry.

If you’re interested in seeing the kinds of stories that can be harvested from the Book of Mormon, check out my Kickstarter, where I helped create a kick-butt 128-page comic book out of a mere two chapters in Mosiah.

In gratitude for this guest post, a donation has been made to the iPlates Kickstarter campaign.

  • pangwitch

    The same could be said of the Bible. The archetypal stories in the Bible have been adapted into many stories and saying. David vs Goliath for example.

    But you forget, the Stripling warrior story you mentioned was actually from a Book called Late War, that featured a captin who commanded an army of “2000 stripling warriors.” If that sounds familiar to you, its because it was familiar to Joseph Smith, who read Late War after it was published in the early 1800’s.

  • I greatly enjoyed the witty and deep narrative in iPlates volume one. It is great to see these stories getting a new treatment. There is an audience that a graphic novel can access where traditional books are unsuccessful. I love having the visual element mixed with the story. iPlates volume two has me excited. I want more!

  • Joan Merrell

    Fully expected a reference to Orson Scott Card’s Memory of Earth series, my seminary class got a kick out of a few almost straight Book of Mormon quotes. I guess I don’t know how popular the series was.

  • Pangwitch

    Besides View of the Hebrews, which is about a group of israelites that sail to America and diverge into two warring factions… Take a look at these quotes from the Book of Mormon, I mean Late War.

    1 – Now the Promised Land is a most plentiful land, yielding gold and silver, and brass and iron abundantly. Likewise, all manner of creatures which are used for food, and herbs and fruits of the earth

    2 – And it came to pass that they cut down the tall trees of the forest, and hewed them, and built many more strong vessels and they put windows in them, and they pitched them within and without with pitch; after the fashion of the Ark of the Covenant.

    3 – Now these boats were cunningly contrived, and had abundance of curious workmanship therein, such as surpassed all the comprehension of all the wise men of the east, from the beginning to this day. Howbeit, they were fashioned like unto the first vessel that floated upon the waters, which was the ark of Noah, the ninth descendent from Adam.

    4 – For the Robbers put forth the burning brand to the houses, from which they could not flee, and burnt them to death therein, And the flames and the smoke arose; and their cries and their groans reached the high chancery of heaven, Where they will stand recorded, until the coming of that day for which all other days were made. Then will we rule them with a rod of iron; and they shall be, unto us, hewers of wood and drawers of water. For, lo ! are not the fighting men in multitude as the sand on the sea shore ? and shall we prevail against them ?

    5 – About this time, a stripling from the south, with his weapon of war in his hand. And to a certain chief captain was given in trust a band of more than two thousand chosen men, to go forth to battle in the north.

    6 – And it came to pass that the army went into winter quarters ; for the earth was covered with snow, and the waters of the great lakes, on the borders of which they had pitched their tents, were congealed. And it came to pass, that a great multitude flocked to the banners of the great Captain.

    7 – And he marched with his army through the wilderness more than an hundred miles, to a town built upon a place called by the savages, where three of the Indian Apostles dwelt. And so they pushed forward to the strong hold, and drove the men of Britain before them like sheep, and smote them hip and thigh with great slaughter; and their chief captain, was among the slain.

    8 – And the Captain spake, and said unto his captains of fifties, and his captains of hundreds, Fear not; we defend our lives and our liberty, and in that thing the Lord will not forsake us.

    But if, peradventure, we should be overcome, even then shall not the sacred cause of LIBERTY perish, neither shall the people of this land be disheartened. Nevertheless, it was so that the freemen came to the defence of the city, built strong holds and forts and raised up fortifications in abundance

  • Don’t forget — the successful TV series Battlestar Galactica (1978) and Battlestar Galactica Reimagining (2004) were inspired from the Book of Mormon. In particular, it is the story of Lehi and his family fleeing Jerusalem to find the promised land.

    In the series, the twelve planets (tribes) are attacked and destroyed
    (as Jerusalem was destroyed at the time of Lehi). President Roslin
    (Sariah?), Captain Adamah (Lehi), and his son Lee (Nephi) lead a
    fleet of ships trying to find the promised land (earth), but their
    journey rife with conflict with cylons (Lamanites). The Sacred Scroll
    (plates of Brass?) tell of a woman leading a tribe to the promised
    land earlier (Mulekites or Jaradites) and prophesies of the
    twelve tribes being reunited with this lost thirteenth tribe.

    On their journey to the promised land, they return to the planet Kobol
    (“Kolob”), the birth place of humanity with a city called “Eden” (Jackson County). Humans lived on Kobol with their gods (“The Lords of
    Kobol”). A conflict between the gods and “one jealous god” cause a
    “fall” to occur causing the humans to flee Kobol/Eden. A return to
    Eden can only be accomplished by a blood sacrifice. Adamah
    (Lehi) sends a contingent that retrieves a Liahona-like device from
    Kobol which points the way to the promised land/earth.

  • AZatheist

    Oh dear. Poor Lamanites. They go from being dark-skinned and loathsome to being not even human (cylons).

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  • Joseph M

    Actualy not so much


    “One more parallel that stood out as being interesting involved the term “strippling warriors.” As with “curious workmanship,” it’s a phrase we just don’t use today unless we are quoting the Book of Mormon. So when critics pointed to a stripling parallel in The Late War, that got my attention. It gets especially interesting when some critics point out that The Late War mentions both strippling warriors and 2,000 soldiers, just like the 2,000 stripling warriors in the Book of Alma. Whoa, that sounds pretty compelling. So are these 2,000 soldiers associated with stripling warriors by chance? Young Indians who have joined the Americans as the youth of converted Lamanites joined the Nephites? And are these courageous striplings only able to fight because they were too young to be part of a covenant their converted parents made to bury their blood-stained weapons and never take up weapons weapons? In a word, no. That is the context that those who know the Book of Mormon think of when they hear “stripling warriors.” That is the content, the meat of an interesting story. The smoking gun of plagiarism gives us one word, “stripling”–not even the phrase “stripling warrior”–and there’s just one, not 2,000. In some other part of the text there is a reference to 2,000 soldiers, and many other numbers, including nice round ones that are found through war stories everywhere, no plagiarism required. This is not the sort of smoke that real smoking guns emit, in my opinion, especially when we realize that “stripling” was a much more common part of the vocabulary in Joseph’s day and is a reasonable way to convey the notion of a young person. Many examples can be offered, but here’s one: “stripling warrior” (both words, not just one) occurs in Jerusalem Delivered: An Heroic Poem, by Torquato Tasso, John Hoole, Samuel Johnson, 1764, vol. 1, p. 102. A quick glance reveals that several other Book of Mormon themes can be found there with, perhaps, more relevance (by chance) than typically occurs in The Late War.

  • “As LeVar Burton is famous for saying, “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Go grab a copy for yourself. The Book of Mormon is free, after all. Avail yourself of the latest in stealth narrative weaponry.”

    Avail yourself also to the deception of Mormonism. It will lead you away from the grace of God and lead you to destruction.

  • Chris

    Yea, but it is hard not to see God sure has blessed that church,, if it was all made up,,, it would not be growing so fast today,,, just a thought,,you would think they would have died out long ago,,, like the shakers,, would be kinda like the Amush

  • Happy the Man

    @Chris, saying that the LDS church’s growth rate is proof that it isn’t made up doesn’t make sense. Culture is full of made up concepts that grow very fast, including religion, politics, myths, and stories. I think the point of the article is that we resonate with narratives. The bible stories and other narratives have been reproduced so widely that they lose novelty. The Book of Mormon is largely unknown which makes it a gold mine for narratives that are not overused.

  • Larry

    On the upside they went from metallic robots to horndog androids =)

  • Larry

    9/11 trufers, holocaust denial, bigfoot, the loch ness monster, creationism, killing witches, and the belief the the “close door” button works on an elevator are all ridiculous, without a shred of factual support.

    But they have a remarkable longevity.

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