A Review of Mormon Literature and Film
Volume 7, Number 3 (2005)

Film and Religion


Film and Religion


A Review of Mormon Literature and Film

Volume 7, Number 3 (2005)

Irreantum Staff
General Editor  Laraine Wilkins
Assistant Editor  Angela Hallstrom
Fiction Editor  Sam Brown
Assistant Fiction Editor  Liz Lyman
Poetry Editor  Michael R. Collings
Readers Write Editor  David Pace
Personal Essay Editor  Angela Hallstrom
Book Review Editor  Jana Bouck Remy
Copyediting Team Manager  Beth Bentley
Copyediting Staff Colin Douglas

Henry Miles
Alan Rex Mitchell
Vanessa Oler
Steven Opager
Intern  Kjerstin Evans
Design and Layout  Marny K. Parkin

Association for Mormon Letters Board
President  Linda Hunter Adams
President-elect  Eric Samuelsen
Board Members Kylie Turley

Giles Florence

Alan Rex Mitchell

Valerie Holladay

Boyd Petersen
Annual Proceedings Editor  Linda Hunter Adams
Webmaster  Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury
AML-List Moderator  R. W. Rasband
Irreantum General Editor  Laraine Wilkins
Irreantum (ISSN 1528-0594) is published three times a year by the Association for Mormon Letters
(AML), P.O. Box 1315, Salt Lake City, UT 84110-1315, Irreantum volume 7, no. 3
(2005) © 2006 by the Association for Mormon Letters. All rights reserved. Membership and subscription
information can be found at the end of this isssue; single issues cost $8.00 (postpaid). Advertising rates
begin at $50 for a full page. The AML is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, so contributions of any amount
are tax deductible and gratefully accepted.
Views expressed in Irreantum do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or of AML board
members. This publication has no official connection with or endorsement by The Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints. Irreantum is supported by a grant from the Utah Arts Council and the National
Endowment for the Arts, Washington, DC. Irreantum is indexed in the Modern Language Association
International bibliography.

From the Editor


Critical Essay
Propaganda and LDS Church Filmmaking: Gentle Persuasion or
Ham-Fisted Handling?  Randy Astle and Lee Walker11
Judgment Day  Aaron Orullian27
They Wandered in Deserts  Shawn P. Bailey35
Slowing the Song; In Ordinary Time  Heidi Hart23
Bread and Plums; St. Catherine’s Finger Sonnet  Joel T. Long 25
The Man Lehi; Bubbly  Jennifer Quist45
Rumble of the Falls;
Sycamores by the Bagel Shop on Center  Lon Young47
Curious Tree; Between the Gods  Maureen Clark68
Psalm  Colin Douglas70
Ye Shall Be As the Gods  Sharlee Mullins Glenn76
Reel Observations
HBO’s Big Love: Negotiating Polygamy  Eric Samuelsen49
The Ascension of a Saint: New York Doll  Randy Astle57
New Direction for HaleStorm: Church Ball  Eric D. Snider61
This Divided State: An Exploration in Civility?  Peter Walters66
Readers Write: Film and Religion


From the Archives: “Romance of the Celluloid Strip” by Gordon B.
Hinckley: Missionaries and Technology from The Deseret News
(Church Section), May 2, 193677
Book Reviews

Volume 7, Number 3 (2005)
ear-ee-an’-tum: 1 Nephi 17:5. And we beheld the sea, which we called

Irreantum, which, being interpreted, is many waters.
Irreantum: A Review of Mormon Literature and Film is a ­refereed
journal, published three times annually (Fall, Winter, Spring/Summer) by
the Association for Mormon Letters.
We seek to define the parameters of Mormon literature broadly, acknowledging a growing body of diverse work that reflects the increasing diversity
of Mormon experience. We wish to publish the highest quality of writing,
both creative and critical. We welcome unsolicited submissions of poetry,
fiction, creative nonfiction, and plays that address the Mormon experience
either directly or by implication. We also welcome submissions of critical
essays that address such works, in addition to popular and nonprint media
(such as film, folklore, theater, juvenile fiction, science fiction, letters, diaries,
sermons). Critical essays may also address Mormon literature in more general
terms, especially in its regional, ethnic, religious, thematic, and genre-related
We welcome letters or comments. We also seek submissions of photos
that can be printed in black and white. Please send letters and submissions
to If you do not have access to email, send your
text on a floppy disk or CD to Irreantum, c/o AML, PO Box 1315, Salt Lake
City, UT 84110-1315. Submissions on paper are discouraged.
Map facing the title page is from Herman Moll, geographer, Moll’s Maps:
Thirty Two New and Accurate Maps of the Geography of the Ancients, as con­
tained in The Greek and Latin Classics (London: Tho. Bowles, 1732).


From the Editor
Some months ago I participated in a training workshop conducted by a company with its headquarters located in Provo,
Utah, home of the new “Mollywood.” The training included a
series of videos featuring vignettes designed to illustrate various
workplace scenarios. I was amused at some of the familiar faces of actors I
recognized from a few HaleStorm films (Singles Ward, The R.M., The Home
Teacher). But I was taken aback when I recognized a face from the LDS
temple film. I wasn’t sure I could believe my eyes at first, but when the actor
began to speak, my suspicions were confirmed—on screen, portraying a
difficult office situation, was Mormonism’s own Peter. I looked around the
room to see if anyone else had registered the same surprise. I was either the
only temple-initiated Mormon in the room, or others (and I think this is
entirely possible) were much more discrete than I in registering recognition.
The experience reminded me of the time I first saw an advertising flyer for
the accomplished musician Michael Ballam, who is head of the Utah Festival
Opera and featured in another role in the temple film. In both cases, I was
inclined to project the persona portrayed in the temple film onto the person portrayed in the secular context. Whether these actors were in real life
inclined to behave like the biblical characters they portray is not the point.
But I believe the inclusion of actors in the temple endowment—particularly
in the film version—intends this mixing of religious experience and mass
media, scripture and cinema, sacred and profane.
That the LDS Church uses film to facilitate one of its most sacred ordinances underscores for me the curious relationship between film and religion—and not just in Mormonism. Several scholars have begun to explore
the intersection between the two in a more general sense—the points of
commonality between religious experience and film viewing, the common themes addressed by theology and popular films, and the values that
religiously observant people bring to their film-watching activities. Major

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

research universities are beginning to offer courses in the subject (including
the University of Chicago and Church-owned Brigham Young University).
Clive Marshall points out that the scholarly discourse tends to emerge in
three major areas: 1) theological, 2) archetypal, and 3) cultural/critical.
In the first area, theological themes are explored under categories such as
the nature of sin, forgiveness, repentance, redemption, atonement, sacrament,
and communion. This type of discourse generally assumes a Judeo-­Christian
religious framework and can be applied to virtually any film, as to any piece
of literature generally. These are the themes of our greatest stories, which
may be portrayed on the screen as well as in books and plays. The notion
suggests a line of inquiry for Mormon critics as well as screenwriters, who
might expand the list of theological categories to those uniquely Mormon,
including notions such as the pre-existence, eternity, temple sealings, eternal
progression, and revelation. In the second area, archetypal patterns such as
those identified by psychoanalyst Karl Jung, critic Joseph Campbell, and
folklorist Stith Thompson, among countless others, establish questing patterns and help to explain the origins of the world, the purpose of life, the
ultimate destination after death, and other questions that religion generally
helps to answer. This has probably been a preferred mode for many Mor­mons
to appreciate film, as it allows for cross-pollination of Mormonism’s sacred
stories with those in other cultures. If Mormons believe they have answers
to these “big” questions about life, then it suggests a standard for evaluating
films and finding common ground not only with many standard Hollywood
works, but also those representing religions outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. Third, the cultural/critical mode invites analysis of films on the basis
of historical context and power struggles among various groups. A cultural/
critical mode for Mormon film might suggest an exploration in film of various political machinations that have either repressed Mormon perspectives/
voices or have been repressed by them. It might also seek to evaluate films
for the stereotypical portrayals of Mormons (the infamous Trapped by the
Mormons [1922], for example); or to identify the cultural uses of films within
Mormonism (both for missionary work, as well as anti-Mormon activities).
Although all three categories are represented in this issue of Irreantum,
this latter category receives the greatest emphasis. Randy Astle’s lead essay
explores the LDS Church’s long-standing embrace of film as a means to
spread the message of the Restoration, and investigates the tradeoffs inherent in using film as a medium to promote a pre-determined message related

Wilkins  S  From the Editor

to an ironically antithetical gospel principle, that of agency. Eric Samuelsen’s
review of HBO’s television series Big Love addresses the representation of the
“alternative” Mormon lifestyle found in polygamy. Eric Snider’s observations
on the film Church Ball explore the possibility for Mormon culture to be
represented as a generic religion. “From the Archives” includes a 1936 article
written by Gordon B. Hinckley shortly after returning from his mission to
England and describing the high-demand slide projector then in use for
missionary work. Even Aaron Orullian’s short story “Judgment Day,” the
first-place winner in the 2005 Irreantum fiction contest, explores the personal
drama faced by most Mormons in deciding whether the portrayal of evil in
film can be part of a higher moral message. Randy Astle’s review of the film
New York Doll also looks at the archetypal hero, and our “Readers Write” section involves theological themes in film.
I wanted this issue to address film and religion because I would like to
see discussions around Mormon film open up in new directions. Much of
what sees press seems to be a debate between the “father” of Mormon film
Richard Dutcher and profit-happy Halestorm movers and shakers Kurt Hale
and John Moyer over whether making films that cater to popular tastes is a
good thing. We can argue ad nauseum over whether the owners of Halestorm
are ruining the reputation of the New Mormon Cinema, Richard Dutcher
is capable of portraying a realistic non-Mormon character, or Jared Hess or
Neil LaBute are making films that could be called “Mormon.” The truth is,
movies are an inherent part of Mormon life. The LDS Church embraced
movies from the very beginning as a new technology with its capacity to
spread the gospel throughout the world and (particularly in the silent era)
to overcome language barriers and cross national borders. The Church has
always embraced technology for its capacity to spread the word—even from
the first printing of the Book of Mormon, and, as Randy Astle and Lee
Walker point out, to the publication of newspapers such as Times and Seasons,
Millennial Star, and Woman’s Exponent.
In a journal published by the Association for Mormon Letters, one might
expect to explore the relationship between film and literature. Indeed, such
exploration is valuable. Film is the new narrative form of the modern age,
and we cannot afford to ignore its capacity to educate, persuade, and move,
on the one hand, or to desensitize, damage, and corrupt, on the other. These
same questions might be asked of literature, as much as of film. Yet there is
something different about film. It is more pervasive and thus more powerful.

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Church leaders have known this from the beginning. The Church in the last
half century has cautioned strongly against indulgence in forms of entertainment that present immoral behavior. I believe that every Mormon in the
Western world has an “R-rated movie” story that illustrates a major decision
with regard to commitment to Church standards. And while I believe it is of
vital importance that individuals follow their own conscience in this matter,
I also believe that increasing our capacity to evaluate film is of equally vital
importance. A forthcoming issue of BYU Studies is devoted to Mormon cinema; alternative-culture magazines are beginning to cover Mormon cinema;
Mormon-made movies are getting screenings at art-house theaters around
the country; the annual LDS film festival held in Orem, Utah, is growing
each year; and the Church will probably continue to make high-­production
70-mm films for viewing at Temple Square and temple visitors’ centers
around the world, not to mention on KSL television during conference
weekend. Irreantum wants to contribute to the understanding of this symbiotic relationship between religion and film in Mormon culture. Whether we
view ourselves on the sacred silver screen of the temple endowment ceremony
or in the profane halls of Slamdance, we as Mormons can always profit by
finding new mirrors and new ways to see.
Laraine Wilkins


Propaganda and
LDS Church Filmmaking:
Gentle Persuasion or
Ham-Fisted Handling?
Randy Astle and Lee Walker
Karl Konnry, a German filmmaker living in Canada, went to the
Canadian National Exposition in Toronto in November 1965 and
ended up waiting all morning for his documentary film crew to
arrive. To help pass the time, he walked into the Mormon Pavilion
to see how bad the new picture Man’s Search for Happiness was. He was
surprised, however, that both its cinematic quality and especially its message impressed him enough that he wrote his name down as a visitor. LDS
missionaries arrived at his door soon afterward, and before long he was a
baptized Latter-day Saint who, in turn, used his filmmaking abilities to influence others to accept the Church and its teachings. More importantly for
him personally, Man’s Search for Happiness helped change him from “an atheist, a complete atheist,” to a devoted disciple of Christ and active member
of the LDS Church (Wirsing 14). Although most Church members would
agree that the Spirit ultimately is the means of conversion, the experience of
Karl Konnry at the Canadian National Exposition proves how powerful the
medium of film can be in spreading the message of the restored gospel.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has always embraced
mass media for their potential to spread the gospel message. Indeed, given
the Church’s attention to newspapers and printing from its earliest days, it
should not be surprising that Mormonism has been a strong proponent
of mass media as a means for communicating as widely as possible. Since
1910 the Church has constantly pursued filmmaking as a chief component
of its proselytizing and curriculum efforts, often, as with Man’s Search for
Happiness, at great expense. It has done so, obviously, not for profit, art, or

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entertainment but because of a belief in the persuasive powers of the medium.
While Konnry’s case and thousands like it demonstrate that such faith is well
founded, the use of film to promote any agenda, particularly a religious one,
is a complicated endeavor. We wish to explore briefly some of the factors that
inform religious—particularly institutional LDS—filmmaking, with attention to its similarities to other forms of ideological propaganda.

Church, Religion, and Film
The films shown at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building on Temple Square
in the last decade are merely the highest-profile examples of the Church’s
commitment to teaching through cinema. Legacy, The Testaments of One Fold
and One Shepherd, and the recent Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration
spared no expense in production, with huge casts and sets and larger-thanlife images shot on 70 or Super-35mm film and presented in an atmosphere
of wonder and awe that has become an integral part of the Temple Square
visitor’s experience. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. For decades the
Church has produced films and videos for roughly three purposes: to instruct
and assist Church members, to introduce others to the LDS faith, and to
convey general moral principles in nondenominational “educational” films—
didactic purposes all. This is, of course, true of virtually all LDS films. A
survey of the Church’s current Family Resources catalog of available videos
lists, for example, titles “designed to inspire youth to prepare themselves for
missions and to strengthen the families of missionaries” (Called to Serve),
that “provid[e] insights on activation based on interviews that bear powerful testimony that those who are less active can be reached” (Continue to
Minister), and that help “members learn how to introduce nonmembers to
the gospel” (Inviting with the Spirit). In recent years the Church’s missionary
department—with its half-hour videos (e.g. Together Forever, What Is Real?,
On the Way Home) or its missionary satellite broadcast open houses (e.g., We
Believe in Christ with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, The Plan of Happiness with
Elder Henry B. Eyring)—has obviously found film an important medium
in its efforts for more direct outreach to those outside the faith as well. And
in the spirit of strengthening its members the Church also creates instructional films to strengthen testimonies and help members work out their own
salvation. Anything produced by the Church Educational System operates in
this vein, from the classic Tom Trails filmstrip series of the 1970s through the

Astle and Walker  S  Propaganda and LDS Church Filmmaking

introduction of scripturally based works in the 1980s to more recent doctrinally sophisticated pieces such as The Works and Designs of God (1999).
In spite of the Church’s phenomenal commitment to the medium of
film, it does not have a corner on inspirational or religious motion pictures. Movies based on the Bible date back to the infancy of filmmaking
in the 1890s (examples include a 1903 production of Samson and Delilah
by the French production company Pathé, a 1910 Gaumont film Esther
and Mordecai directed by Louis Feuillade, and D. W. Griffith’s apocryphabased Judith of Bethulia [1914], among many others). As Tyler F. Williams
notes, from the early days of filmmaking “to its zenith in Cecil B. DeMille’s
The Ten Commandments (1956), the biblical epic has been a staple of the
movie industry.” Biblical films continue to the present: note Mel Gibson’s
2004 The Passion of the Christ or the 2003 The Gospel of John. And whether
Bible-inspired films are designed to entertain or preach, there are numerous
accounts of ostensibly secular films engendering a powerful conversion experience with concomitant repentance (i.e., commitment to a higher purpose
in Rocky [1976] or understanding of Christ’s passion through Mean Streets
Film theorists, scholars, and theologians have in recent years begun to
analyze how such films function. For example, Paul Schrader’s 1972 work
Transcendental Style in Film, one of the first of these investigations, identifies
a notion of “‘spiritual universality’ of transcendental style” which “strives
toward the ineffable and invisible” (3). Other film critics strive to identify
various methods used by Christians in approaching film from a religious
perspective. Often such films, like Mean Streets, are not overtly religious,
but take on a role within a religious culture. John C. Lyden, for example,
in adapting a schema defining the various types of relationships between
religion and culture, classifies two approaches to understanding theology
and film. The first is a “Protestant-dialogical approach,” which “assumes the
independence of religion and culture and seeks to bring them into dialogue
in order to gain from that interchange” (18). The second he calls “Roman
Catholic-Synthetic Approaches,” where religious devotees and leaders “have
not always been open to seeing a harmony between the values of movies and
those of Christianity” (22). While there might have been some animosity
among Catholic thinkers toward the role of film for religious purposes, a new
attitude began to develop after the Second Vatican Council whereby popular
cinema could convey a general sense of humanistic values, which religious

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values could then complete (see 23). While LDS Church leaders have also
cautioned strongly against excessive indulgence in popular films, Churchproduced films have always been supported through a firm belief that this
new technology could be used to “spread the gospel” (see Levi Edgar Young).
In posing the question of how film is able to move or convert, it is important to acknowledge that not all Church-produced films inspire viewers in
the same way, a point we shall return to later. In fact, many might leave
a theater on Temple Square with a sense of having been manipulated and
deceived by filmmakers who have a predetermined agenda in presenting their
message. It is, however, undeniable that Church-made films also inspire, as
Karl Konnry’s experience demonstrates. While more lives have been affected
by The Passion than by The Testaments, one cannot dismiss the capacity of
a subsidized industry to produce film that, even without the blockbuster
appeal of a Mel Gibson, can inspire.

The LDS Church as Propagandist
A promising line of scholarly inquiry into the power of film to move its
­viewers is in the notion of the propaganda film. Poor, manipulative, and
deceptive propaganda, mostly political, has, especially since the Nazis, given
the term an entirely negative connotation, but in the beginning it wasn’t so.
The term comes from the Latin propagare and was first used by the Roman
Catholic Church in 1622 when Pope Gregory XV established the Sacred
Congregation for Propagating the Faith (Congregato de propaganda fide)
(Rather 28). In this original context, it merely meant any methods or means
used to extend the Christian cause, especially in regions where the Church
was not fully established—in other words, to borrow from Mormon rhetoric,
in “the mission field.”
Seen in this light, the word is a perfect descriptor of the modern proselytizing activities of the LDS Church, and though the Church might not
generally use the term to describe the nature of its work with film, there is
no question that much in LDS movies, tracts, sermons, books, exhibits, visitors’ centers, monuments, art, music, and literature fall under that rubric.
Occasionally Church leaders have expressly articulated their goal, as when
the Church produced its first large-scale feature film, One Hundred Years
of Mormonism, in 1913. On this project, Elder Levi Edgar Young of the
Presidency of the Seventy wrote:
So the moving picture, another modern invention, is to do much to inculcate

Astle and Walker  S  Propaganda and LDS Church Filmmaking
a knowledge of the world and art. . . . [This] picture will help the world at
large to an understanding of our history. It will serve as a means to an end. . . .
One thing is sure. The moving picture together with all the other modern
inventions is to help us carry the Mission of Christ to all the world, and to
bring humanity home to the true principles of salvation. (80)

This optimistic attitude toward the possibility of film to persuade to a higher
purpose has continued through the activities of the Church throughout
the twentieth and into the twenty-first century. The very advent of the
Brigham Young University Motion Picture Studio (later taken over by the
LDS Church) came about because Church leaders were impressed by Frank
Capra’s Why We Fight series during World War II—propagandistic films
designed to promote a higher cause.
This political link is not incidental. We can gain insight into the workings of film for an intended religious purpose by observing the workings
of propaganda for social justice and education. Indeed, strong connections
between religion and politics are surprisingly interwoven, even long after
Pope Gregory XV and despite the Enlightenment ideals of separate spheres
for church and state. The parallel between religion and politics in film is
embodied in the person of John Grierson, one of the greatest early advocates
for film as propaganda. A Scottish film producer and civil servant, Grierson
worked tirelessly for several decades to produce propaganda films as a catalyst
for education and social reform. In 1933, near the beginning of his career,
he wrote:
I look on cinema as a pulpit, and use it as a propagandist. . . . Cinema is to
be conceived as a medium, like writing, capable of many forms and many
functions. . . . But principally there is this thought that a single say-so can be
repeated a thousand times a night to a million eyes. That seven-leagued fact
opens a new perspective, a new hope, to public persuasion. (16)

As one of the most influential men in the history of documentary film, we
have Grierson to thank, for better or worse, for the style of millions of movies
that from one perspective might be considered “persuasive,” offering “a new
hope,” but from another perspective, would be manipulative or, at the very
least, sentimental.
The effect of Grierson’s film project in Canada to change large populations
for the social good is largely unparalleled, and serves as a model for other
Western countries. Such propaganda films do not rely solely on their formal

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qualities for their power to persuade. As the real estate marketing truism
holds, “location, location, location” can make all the difference. Grierson, in
addition to mastering the art of “the single say-so,” enabled its repetition “a
thousand times a night to a million eyes” through innovative film distribution methods. Grierson wanted films taken out of the movie houses and
into the workplace. In 1943, in the process of establishing the National Film
Board of Canada, he wrote the following:
When we bring under observation new and stubborn materials—the seem­
ingly desolate problems of housing and unemployment and health, for
example—it is difficult at first to make them entertaining and to qualify them
theatrically on the ground of either entertainment or inspiration. Happily
there is more seating capacity outside theatres than there is inside them. Also
happily, men are creatures of mood. The very people who are united in relaxation inside the theatres are otherwise united in terms of their professional
and specialized interest outside the theatres. It is in this latter field that the
educational picture is filled out: in schools and colleges, in civic social services,
trade unions and professional groups of all kinds. (291–2)

Thus he strongly advocated screening films in factories, schools, churches,
libraries, and other public arenas, including television in his final years. Such
noncommercial venues required noncommercial production, and thus perhaps
his greatest work was in establishing nonpartisan government-­sponsored film
units, most notably in Great Britain and Canada.
The mechanisms advocated and implemented by Grierson bear a striking
resemblance to the LDS Church’s cinematic practice. With the growth of
Church-produced films and filmstrips in the twentieth century, LDS Church
members enjoyed Sunday School lessons or seminary classes enhanced with
works the likes of The One and Tom Trails in the meetinghouse and the
seminary building, not to mention temple visitors’ centers and the mecca of
Mormonism, Temple Square itself, which has been constantly screening films
since the late 1940s. Notwithstanding Americans’ beloved notion of separation of church and state, the similarities between religions and governments
in their commitment to producing and distributing short, moralizing films
in various noncommercial venues might lead us to wonder what the gospel
has to do with any of the Church’s efforts.
Susan Clayton Rather pursues this same question in her 1997 BYU master’s thesis entitled Film, Propaganda, and the Christian Way of Knowing


Astle and Walker  S  Propaganda and LDS Church Filmmaking

Truth: A Look at LDS Documentary Filmmaking. In an extensive analysis of
the 1991 Church-produced film Called to Serve, Rather finds strong parallels
between government-produced and Church-produced films. Though the
parallels are not surprising, Rather is troubled—in the context of religious
filmmaking with a higher purpose than mere entertainment, artistry, or
even social improvement—by the Mormon mandate to respect the agency
of every individual. In practice, especially in filmmaking, the doctrines of
proclaiming the gospel and promoting free agency often seem at odds with
each other. How, on film, can one strive to convert the viewer to the gospel
without using heavy-handed tactics designed to manipulate?
It is in this light that Rather analyzes the writings of the Christian philosopher Jacques Ellul in opposition to Grierson’s. Any interest Ellul has
in social change is subordinate to interest in individual, spiritual change, a
position akin to the LDS Church’s. He therefore places ultimate responsibility for change with the individual, echoing LDS teachings on agency and
stewardship. He is entirely opposed to propaganda in any form because it
removes this responsibility from individuals, placing their fate in the hands of
an authoritative entity (akin to LDS notions about the premortal ambitions
of Lucifer). It is important to note that Ellul is not opposed to the dissemination of facts, but it is when the inevitably biased interpretation of facts is
included as well that he takes issue with propagandistic films, as they may
take on a false factual legitimacy in the minds of their receivers. To Rather,
the practice of making films with the purpose to persuade cannot coincide
with the liberating LDS belief that “truth is knowledge of things as they are,
and as they were, and as they are to come” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:24,
quoted in Rather 38). For Ellul, it means individuals cannot accept truth or
form ideas unless these are validated by mass media. At worst, he asserts, this
will create a society of drones unable to exert themselves to access pure truth
or, if we extend his argument into LDS theology, salvation.
When evaluating propaganda, it might be wise to consider the observation
of Brian Winston, who asserts that propaganda films, for the most part, are
“preaching to the converted” (cited in Williams 8)—or, perhaps, those who
are already about to be converted. Such insularity may be beneficial in films
geared toward Church members but has an unfortunate distancing effect in
films designed to attract outsiders. This, however, raises the larger issue of a
mediated community. As evidenced by a lively discourse emerging in the last
decade, film has a power to build community to the point of ­establishing

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

common identity for entire nations. Benedict Anderson’s well-known analysis
of reading as a means of nation-building (see Imagined Communities: Reflec­
tions on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism) has been expanded by critics
whose work is compiled in tomes such as Cinema and Nation (2000) and Film
and Nationalism (2002). As Alan Williams points out, “Sometimes, preaching
to the converted is a very, very useful thing to do. If [the Nazi film] Triumph of
the Will in fact only confirmed a small number of young Nazis in their beliefs,
that would have potentially been a very important thing” (8). Indeed, propagandistic filmmaking is deliberately intended, as Grierson articulates directly,
to create mass unity, even as it reaches “a million eyes a night.” When viewers
of propaganda accept a given message, they join a constellated community of
like-minded people. This is, of course, the ultimate aim of LDS proselytizing
films, to unite others to the true Church where they will have access to the
doctrines and ordinances that may lead them to salvation.

Persuasive Screenings vs. Resistant Readings
Together Forever (1988), written and directed by LDS musician/dramatist
Michael McLean at the Church’s Bonneville Communications, offers a case
study in the strategies of institutional LDS propaganda. First the formal level:
The film presents itself as a documentary, with characters frequently addressing an entity just to the side of the camera, a technique modern viewers are
extremely comfortable with; occasionally an off-screen male voice interjects
follow-up questions to provoke generally emotional responses. In each segment the interviewee tells of spiritual and familial dissatisfaction, and then
through dramatic vignettes or musical montages we see the character, now
obviously fictitious, work through these problems with the assistance of the
gospel. Situational difficulties presented in the film include a busy father,
marital trouble, isolated teen loneliness, and a six-year-old daughter killed
by a car. As the solutions of the gospel are presented, virtually every segment
goes into an inspirational montage sequence, compiling shots of our despondent protagonists now happy and hopeful, accompanied by inspirational soft
rock with lyrics like the titular “We will be together forever someday.” At the
end, a Church logo appears with a direct invitation to talk to a missionary
or Church member.
The creators of the film present an ideal scenario whereby viewers might
find happiness through the Church, which they are prompted to investigate

Astle and Walker  S  Propaganda and LDS Church Filmmaking

in order to emulate the characters on screen. As in all propaganda, a definite
hierarchy is implied: the viewer is in need of spiritual and familial guidance,
and the LDS Church is in a position to provide it. The film also creates
a sense of community—as a prerecorded message distributed via satellite
broadcast, through visitors’ centers, and most importantly by an army of
VCR-toting full-time missionaries, the video can ensure that thousands of
people receive the exact same message, without the kind of variation that
ensues with individual missionary or investigator personalities and environments. More significantly, the film ends with the invitation to join the larger
community of Latter-day Saints.
Together Forever continues to be very popular in the Church’s missionary
efforts. It has been one of the most heavily distributed productions in recent
Church history; it also served as Temple Square’s main attraction before the
premiere of Legacy in 1993. Furthermore, it has been our experience that fulltime missionaries and others have generally believed it will bring the Spirit
and touch the hearts of all but the most disinterested viewers. One secondhand account tells of a family investigating the Church while unbeknownst
to the missionaries undergoing severe marital difficulties. Finally the parents
agreed to file for divorce the following morning, only to have the missionaries, contrary to their planned discussion, decide to show Together Forever that
night. After watching it, the couple threw out the divorce papers and were
subsequently sealed in the temple and began serving in leadership positions
in their branch. In cases such as this, investigators view the film, are emotionally and (perhaps) spiritually touched, and then make changes in their
lives according to the recommendations of the film, specifically to devote
more effort to familial happiness and/or to continue with the missionary
discussions and thus progress toward union with the LDS community. This
is propaganda doing its job.
But the film does not always have such an effect on its viewers. What of
resistant readings? It is entirely possible to find the film distasteful, manipulative, and even offensive, particularly at the climax when the dead daughter
runs onscreen to hug her father at a family picnic—a scene enhanced with
soft focus, warm backlight, an orchestral pop song, and even a half dozen
pink balloons. One could argue that the film has no respect for viewers’
agency or actual experiences, especially of those who have endured similar
tragedy. Its authoritative position does not allow for variations in individual
circumstances and beliefs; the film’s diegesis itself will not validate a father

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who chooses to spend more time at work (even to pay exorbitant hospital
bills incurred through a tragic accident), or a mother who questions God’s
justice. One probably would not even feel respected in airing doubts concerning life after death. All of this can, to many spectators, lead to stonewalling rather than acceptance.
If it is difficult for Church filmmakers to respect the agency of potential
converts (by not manipulating their emotions), to connect with them on an
intellectual or spiritual level (by not being self-righteous, judgmental, or otherwise insular in favor of the LDS community), and still provide them with
a spiritual experience that will help advance them toward union with the
Church, then it may be comforting to realize that all propagandists face similar difficulties in reaching a new audience. The capitalist will have difficulty
accepting Battleship Potemkin; the African American, Birth of a Nation; the
pacifist, Casablanca; the Republican, Fahrenheit 9/11; the McDonald’s executive, Supersize Me; the Mormon, Marriage or Death; and the atheist, Man’s
Search for Happiness. There exists, in other words, the reality of resistant readings, cases where the viewer refuses to cooperate with the ideals presented on
screen but instead actively disagrees with part or all of the intended message.
Some anti-Mormon organizations or wary denominations have shown LDS
films such as Called to Serve in order to alert their members to the dangers
of Mormonism. Conversely, some Latter-day Saints began their initial
investigation of the Church because of watching the anti-Mormon film The
Mormons themselves have exhibited this kind of resistant reading since
the early days of film, when they were often the subject of sensational
stories of the West. In the 1910s and early 1920s a slew of theatrical films
in Europe and the United States sensationalized Mormonism with tales of
polygamy and the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Titles included Marriage
or Death, Trapped by the Mormons, A Mormon Maid, The Danites, A Victim
of the Mormons, and Married to a Mormon, among many others. There were
attempts, some successful and some not, by Church leaders and other prominent members to suppress or censor these, but the most interesting response
came from young full-time missionaries. As often as not they would stand
outside the movie theaters and pass out tracts sometimes specifically written to disprove the claims of the film. Missionary G. Osmond Hyde wrote
home from Hull, England, that Trapped by the Mormons (1922) “was the best
stroke of advertising that we have put forth since coming over here. In three

Astle and Walker  S  Propaganda and LDS Church Filmmaking

e­ venings we let more people know that we are here than we could have done
in three months at ordinary tracting from door to door” (5). Similar missionary reports came from New York, London, Sydney, Johannesburg, and
elsewhere. The truism that there is no such thing as bad advertising was thus
in place decades before the days of provocative Calvin Klein billboards.
Spectatorship is thus a much more complicated activity than is implied by
a label such as: “This videocassette will make youth want to be morally clean.”
Viewers are not, perhaps, passive receptacles, swayed by every wind of propaganda. And in spite of the power of film to persuade its viewers to adhere
to a message and take action in support of a cause, the power of individual
agency is always at work after all. Film is merely a catalyst for those who are
ready to believe, whatever that belief may be. As with Triumph of the Will,
however—for those who are ready—such a catalyst can be crucial.
And, in many cases, the effects—of the right film at the right moment for
the right person, such as Man’s Search for Happiness at the 1965 World’s Fair
for Karl Konnry—make all the difference in finding God.

How, then, to honor agency yet still assist viewers in their path to conversion? For Susan Rather, following Jacques Ellul, it lies in respecting the
independent and autonomous stature of eternal truth; indeed, she might
suggest that LDS films teach correct principles—as fervently as their creators
may like—and leave the spectators to govern themselves. This open-ended
solution necessitates future studies in style, aesthetics, narrative structures,
typology, and other formal characteristics of LDS films on the one hand,
and phenomenological inquiries into the nature of LDS spectatorship/the
viewing of LDS-made films on the other, neither of which would fit into a
short introductory study such as this. What we hope to have examined here
is the relationship between both politics and religion, and persuasion and
unrighteous dominion, all within a cinematic context. Such an understanding is essential, we believe, to the creation of a persuasive, spiritual, and
moral cinema.
Works Cited
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of
Nationalism. New ed. New York: Verso, 2006.

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)
Family Resources. Distribution Services of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints, 2006 edition.
Grierson, John. Grierson on Documentary, ed. Forsyth Hardy. New York: Praeger
Publishers, 1966.
Hyde, G. Osmond “Movie Campaign Against ‘Mormons’ Leads Many to Investigate
Message.” Journal History (April 30, 1922), 5.
Lyden, John C. Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, and Rituals. New York: New York
University Press, 2003.
Rather, Susan Clayton. Film, Propaganda, and the Christian Way of Knowing Truth:
A Look at LDS Documentary Filmmaking. Thesis, Brigham Young University
Department of Theatre and Media Arts, December 1997.
Schrader, Paul. Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer. New York: Da
Capo Press, Inc., 1972.
Williams, Tyler F. Codex. Archive for “Bible and Film” category. “The Old Testa­ment
on Film.” May 10, 2005.
Wirsing, Whit. “Skeptic Touched by Church Film.” Church News (August 26, 1972),
Young, Levi Edgar. “Mormonism in Picture.” Young Woman’s Journal XXIV:2 (Febru­
ary 1913), 75–80.


Heidi Hart

Slowing the Song
Cricket song played back
at half and half again its ordinary speed
spreads into major thirds, a full-voiced triad choir
singing in circles, the same song for millennia.
Medieval churchmen thought this sound
too bright for the grim business of salvation;
how the major scale—to them, Ionian—
would grate like insects chafing with desire,
song as forbidden as the devil’s interval from F to B,
song suspect in its innocence, the echo
of a lullaby, a child’s taunt in a stableyard,
song not fit for Eden-fallen ears.
I never loved the major scale until
I heard the crickets sing its triads slow, not melody
but trinity in waves, arriving endlessly.
The cricket I find in my basement, one wing
broken after recent ambush by the cat,
has not been dropped from grace’s garden.
It sang once. It suffers, as we want and wound
and sing the only songs we know,
calling to each other in the dark.


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In Ordinary Time
Miles from the flood-city where the dead drift out
into the street through open windows,
what sky shows through mine is darkening
to Dickensian soot. A hammer rings:
my boys have banded with their friends
to build a wood scrap fort against the looming rain,
against the TV images of a stampede
in Baghdad, bodies billowing along the Tigris.
Here in this more recent desert settlement, fresh
with faith in God and progress, plum trees swing
with unasked-for abundance, each windfall fruit a gift
or waste, who knows. I can hear my neighbors
talking prophecy—Old Testament—as rain
pulls at their kitchen screens. Another neighbor
belts her daughter’s name until the thunder
takes her voice. So our epoch nears its end;
so have others; we’re flotsam, I’m thinking
as my doorbell sounds its electronic carol and
I light the porch up for a three-year-old,
naked and muddy, who hands me a crushed
blossom. He says nothing. I thank him
and tuck the bloom into my book.


Joel T. Long

Bread and Plums
The plums are blind in the trees broken
last winter while we were away. They are too high,
out of reach. I will not climb to reach them.
Leave them to drop for the snails that slide out
after the sprinklers shut down, and the fruit flies
with their red eyes, carried by wings the size
of a flake of skin propelled by a smaller will. The plum I
reach is not ripe, tastes of grass and lemon rind,
and my teeth put on gauze, tongue-touched.
I am always too soon. The sunlight slips past me.
It is the bread I craved, crusty loaves salty
and dense. I wish to be sustained, and the plums
tumble around in their nest of branches,
the power line strung through it to the house.
Their roundness makes wine holes in the light.
They are gathering juice from the ground. They know
the way to make sweetness from inside.
They are working all night. Inside, my daughters move
from room to room, turning on lights and music.


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Saint Catherine’s Finger Sonnet
She wound her finger in thread, pulling to break
it, and the thread tightened like a feeble noose.
The tip of her finger swelled with blood,
dark and leaden, color of a birth mark.
And it felt cold there, small, hidden climate,
a cold front, three miles high, little needles
of frozen clouds slipping through the crease
like a sting. She released the thread. Blood found
the low place again, rushed to even pressure,
and the finger felt that it might lift or fall,
felt dizzy in its curl as it joined the rest,
flexing like necks of a series of swans, burnished
by firelight, sipping air, fig brown and sweet, leaning toward
the heart in the middle of the hand, pulling away.


Judgment Day
Aaron Orullian
He put the script down again and sighed. It was the dirtiest, sexiest, roughest thing he’d ever read, and it was still brilliant. It was
script “32” of the ScriptWorld Screenwriting Competition, and he
had no idea what he was going to do with it. He’d volunteered to be a firstround judge because writing and movies were what his life was all about, and
he wanted to make a difference. Hollywood had long since fed its audiences
with loaves of chaff. This contest would be his chance to winnow out some
garbage and recommend some whole wheat.
He said a quick silent prayer and reexplained the situation. It really had
the most ridiculous soft-core title, and he’d rolled his eyes when he first
picked it up a week ago. Yet how was he to know that this hypercharged
erotic odyssey would contain such assured storytelling, such exquisitely realized characters, such raw, brutal truth? (He himself had never had sex, but as
an artist could recognize truth.) So in spite of himself and in spite of its heaps
of inventive sex, he had to admit that Dove’s Passion had achieved something
both telestial and sublime. It was a work of art. A work of something. Oscar
Michelle materialized at his corner table by the deli counter, poking at her
Gorgonzola walnut salad, beaming.
“So have you read anything good lately?”
She sat down.
“No. Not really.”
He took a bite of his chicken on wheat and said a quick prayer and apologized for lying. Then he said another and asked if he really was lying, since
he really hadn’t decided how to define “good” in terms of the competition.
“Well don’t be discouraged. Maybe you’ll find something wonderful like
Lord of the Rings.”
Michelle was well-meaning, if a bit naïve. They had met at a Single Adult
conference last July; she introduced herself to him after a workshop on debt

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reduction. He sensed early on that she’d wanted him. It was obvious by the
way she held on to his every word, the way she stared and laughed—that
love-laugh of a thousand movies. He was annoyed at first, then felt bad
because she really was a nice person and only wanted someone to love.
As he left the deli, he prayed for her. That someone would find her and
love her. Someone really nice. Someone who wasn’t him, even though she
was a good listener and reminded him of that fascinating actress on The West
Wing with the bug-eyes. (Although those qualities could never be enough and
he knew it. As an artist he could never compromise. Not in art. Not with
women. Not with things both eternal and final.)
Crossing Lemon, he could almost see Dove running through the rainswept streets of Prague, Russian tanks rolling in the distance, a heart burning
for traitorous lovers under a pale green sweater. (Janáček music would be
perfect over all of this.)
He found his window again at the Washington Mutual and sized up the
lunch rush. Because Dove didn’t know about the gospel, he couldn’t hold any
of her sleeping around against her. In fact, if he hadn’t had the gospel and
had to hide from Communists day and night, he too might have been the
same way. He said a quick prayer and apologized for thinking so much about
that sweater, then said a quick prayer of gratitude, then prayed for everyone
in China.
Forty scripts read in four weeks. Two to be recommended for more
analysis and possible glory, thirty-eight to be sent to the dustbin of shattered
dreams. It was a miserable thing that had to be done, artist executing artist
(he’d been killed forty-six times so far over the course of his own emerging
screenwriting career). Of course, most of these competition scripts were dismissible examples of How Not to Write a Screenplay. But seven had somehow
sidestepped his contempt and caused him real trouble. Two were revisionist
historical dramas (one set in 1709 New Jersey) with impeccable dialogue
and rich visual detail; another, a riveting Civil War story about an obscure
and unbelievable event at Gettysburg (he’d never been there but could only
imagine); a simple story about a dog and an orphan (surprisingly void of
cheap sentimentality, despite the disposable title); a satire about consumerism (from a totally different angle); a remarkably constructed biography of
Fats Waller (all flashforwards within a flashback); and a story about a girl in
1968 Czechoslovakia.
Hana Jovic had moved to Praha from Morava to live with her grandmother after the sudden death of her parents in an auto accident. Dark-haired,

Orullian  S  Judgment Day

soft-spoken, and partial to green apples, she soon found employment at a
nondescript glass­works outside town.
A small blue SOUND, a moan.
A long white line. The rounded outline of a woman’s side.

Her first “encounter” seemed ridiculous and unmotivated—a lunch-break
fling with her trainer. It came out of nowhere and was completely casual and
indefensible—probably just a cheap attempt to keep the reader and audience interested. By page 17, a pattern had developed. Hana with the retiree
upstairs. Hana with the milkman. Hana with the Metro ticket-taker. Every
couple of pages Hana would take time out to wrap glass or sip coffee.
It was all so excessive and relentless, yet he began to feel there was something to it. Sure, it was beautifully written (very well-crafted and poetic), but
that wouldn’t have been enough. Something was obviously wrong with this
Hana, and it fascinated and disturbed him. Maybe she held a dark, terrible
secret (what was it?). Or maybe she was meant to be a psychological case
study in extreme behavior. Better yet, a cautionary metaphor for the joyless
carnality and vacant pleasures the worldly unwittingly seek (why was she
having such a good time?).
At page 22 he’d already put the script down several times and said several
prayers apologizing for his growing interest in it. But he had to keep on. He’d
committed to giving each script a fair shake (the $50 entry fee was a good
chunk) and Hana could be no exception, no matter how spiritually disabled
she was. Besides, he needed to know what exactly he might be ­dismissing.
From her bed, she watches as a dim shadow thrown to the ceiling from the
street lamp below begins to crawl and brighten into a glowing cross.
A low RUMBLE is heard in the distance. VOICES heard shouting outside.

It was on page 27, as she was lying in the arms of her latest experience, that
the tanks with red stars rolled in.
And that’s when everything changed.
A remarkable twenty pages or so followed: the whirlwind occupation by
foreign troops, the student and radio protests, families and friends breaking
apart to realign their allegiances or rush for the fast-closing borders. The
dream of a free republic being firmly submerged just at the moment when

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things were beginning to be sweet. (He’d sighed relief that the good times
were over.)
Hana hadn’t known much about politics up till then—Novotný, Dubček,
Svoboda—all names of famous, potential lovers. Nor had she understood
what was sweeping the country, why the people were gathering in great
masses on Wenceslas Square to await Dubcèk’s return from Slovakia.
The foreign occupiers noticed her beauty and her, the barricades of buses
and cars set up by students, the street signs all mixed up and missing. Pushed
in a crowd, she sat on a tank to rest herself, until a firm arm pulled her down
and away. Her friends at the factory and voices in the Rudé Právo said the
sky was falling; the young Polish officer pressed her close and didn’t say much
of anything.
It wasn’t until p. 42, after police had sacked her friends’ café, and Radek
and Dušana were imprisoned for treason, that Hana realized that her world
had come undone. The factory explosion on October 4 (she’d been framed
by the foreman) and her forced descent underground sealed her fate.
In hiding, her education came fast. She learned about the fight for freedom. She learned about her country and about justice and how to serve up a
Molotov cocktail. In dark solitude she realized that there were things only she
controlled, and she determined from that day forward to surrender them to
the cause of counterrevolution. And it would be nonviolent. She would use
her body for peace. Socialism with a female face. They would call her “Dove
of Peace.” (He couldn’t remember the Czech phrase for it, but it was really
weird and sexy).
I can only do what I have to.

On p. 72 she began her crusade in Brno, giving herself up to anyone—
men and women, bureaucrats and beauticians—who could further the cause
of freedom. Aligned with several resistance groups but fiercely independent,
she tried to free a comrade with a kiss, reduce a sentence with a striptease,
and from a bed, smuggle families across the border.
It was dangerous, soul-destroying work, and she became surprisingly
less successful at it as she went along. Yet while others were ignoring the
broadcasts and mouthing the slogans, Dove was leading her own revolution
by sleeping with the enemy. The whole enterprise felt abusive and sad to
him (the entire third act was a downer); but to Dove, her denial of self was

Orullian  S  Judgment Day

a ­passion—the ultimate form of passive resistance. She would bring spring
back to the people or lie and die trying.
By the last page (122), after Dove’s final humiliation and sacrifice, he didn’t
know which end was up. He had come out of the experience completely traumatized and yet somehow charged. He couldn’t possibly have gone where he
just went, but then he felt so oddly warm, so refreshed creatively; his spirit
had soared in and out of the ashes of sin and error and felt redemption somehow.
There was completely too much nudity in it, too much sex, most of which
couldn’t be morally justified (the last scene possibly excepted). If the rest could
be toned down somehow—excised, trimmed—maybe the director could cut
away to rain or dove wings flapping (no, too obvious) or flower petals falling
like in Asian films. Maybe then the sexual element could be doable. Tight
over-the-shoulder shots and close-ups. He sighed and wondered if watering
things down would end up washing everything else away.
He’d always been careful. He had seen only six R-rated films over the past
few years—two rented, four on HBO. One was a historical drama with a
searing performance by his favorite actress. It was moving and important
and could easily have been PG-13 without the full-frontal scene. The other
was a critical standout—considered a groundbreaking film by many of the
major print critics—and so for artistic reasons he saw it. It was an excessive
film, over-hyped; but the cinematography was amazing. The rest were simply
time-wasters, viewed in motel rooms, accessible by ready remote. He’d since
repented of all these transgressions, repented even for not praying properly
about whether he should have seen them in the first place, and so had been
sober since summer. (Unrated foreign films didn’t count.)
S   S   S

Daphne from last Friday’s mid-singles’ social sat next to him on his couch,
staring at the end credits on the TV in silence. They’d just seen his favorite
Iranian film—a masterpiece of narrative understatement and minimal camera movement. The ending was depressing but amazing and he’d felt happy
to share it with her. It was a perfect example of art flourishing within restrictions, he explained, and that’s the paradigm he’d accepted for himself, too.
Art with standards. And he would try his best. But it wasn’t so easy, wasn’t
so simple. Because what if his own honest visions were someday viewed as
heresies? What would he do then?

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

He’d lain in bed that first night after meeting Dove and wondered why
he’d been made to know her. He didn’t really need to know about revolutions
and lovemaking positions, but once out of the garden there was no turning
back. And these things were almost exactly as he had imagined them to be,
made more intoxicating with all the odd, unexpected little details that make
these things more believable. He prayed for understanding and to know how
to feel. It must have been a horrible, sexy time—all those yearnings and
couplings in art deco cafés and undersized automobiles, all that Tropic of
Cancer and Capricorn buzzing in high-rise concrete beehives. All that bread
and booze and vlast. Heaving women with doe eyes and body odor. Laughter
and hunger and raucous singing. Desperation. Life lived to its limited fullest;
love and self-sacrifice at all costs. It was all just too much.
Daphne nodded slowly, her eyes sharing the weight of his dilemma with
the DVD player. (Dove had slept with an entire regiment to save a family
of six).
“Maybe you should pray about it again,” she suggested quietly. He agreed.
S   S   S

At the third-Sunday fireside on individual worth, he listened and listened
and waited for his answer. He’d prayed sixteen times since sacrament meeting, sixteen times specifically (with different wording), before apologizing
for keeping count. He had to make his decision by midnight, had to leave
an unmarked envelope containing two screenplays on the doorstep of the
volunteer coordinator’s apartment. He didn’t enjoy the silence, but had faith
that the answer would come.
He stared up at the chapel ceiling and found Jennifer Connelly’s face in
the cottage cheese. She hadn’t been there before, but then everything was
changing. He said another prayer. Maybe this was the beginning of his own
real change, toward the next level of his artistic maturity and spiritual understanding. Maybe this contest had happened to him for a purpose. Maybe
there were things in this earth life that weren’t meant to be understood,
just accepted and experienced and acknowledged as valid. Maybe Jennifer
Connelly would use a body double.
Michelle appeared in line behind him at the refreshment table. She had
bad breath and that’s why he’d never kissed her.
“So, are you done reading all those scripts? Were there any really good

Orullian  S  Judgment Day

He looked around, hoping to spot someone else to talk to.
“So what’s it about?”
“A woman who sleeps around.” He knew exactly what to say to her.
She picked up a handful of pretzels and put them in her napkin.
“You know, it’s a hard thing,” she started. “I mean, I think about the Lord
of the Rings movies and how violent they are. But I don’t think the violence
overwhelms the positive feeling from the story, you know? It’s like a counterpoint to the good that the characters are seeking to keep alive. It makes what
they might lose more precious.”
He took a sip of his Hi-C and said a prayer that she’d go away.
A guy with glasses tugged at her from behind. She turned around and
smiled and felt for his hand.
“This is Phillip.”
Phillip smiled at her, and she looked back at him in a way he’d seen only
once before, after the dance in the old hall in the Malá Strana, when she was
truly happy, before the tanks, when everything was green.
He moved through the crowded cultural hall and said a prayer that they
would be happy. That he would be happy. That the slight inexplicable emptiness he was feeling now would somehow go away too.
He drove to the Rancho Villa Apartments and sat for a moment. He’d
prayed so much already and thought so much and now he just wanted to
do what was right. It was time to act. No more praying over stupors, selfinflicted or real. He would pray one more time and that would be it.
It was between the dog, Dove, and the Civil War.
Walking up the steps to C-14, he listened and listened and listened.
Everything felt held in the balance of this one decision—his entire approach
and understanding about the gospel and art was at stake. He could endorse
the best thing he’d ever read, or he could sift it through the lens of his own
By the time he reached the door, the Civil War script was already in the
envelope in his right hand, two others in his left.
He looked down at Dove and then at the dog script and then back at
Dove. Barky would touch hearts and uplift spirits; Dove would fracture souls
and show them something deeper.

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

He held her in his hands and remembered with compassion the pain of
her many degradations. These were hard things to put to the world, he knew,
and would they be worth it? Sure, Barky had taught his orphan owner to
trust and love again; Dove had slept with a village and had a nervous breakdown in the nude.
Holubice míru.
He listened again and listened and listened.
There was no way he would ever see the movie if it came out, no way he
would recommend it to friends. It would be a hard R at least; NC-17 if all
secrets be told. It was bad stuff. Nasty. Heartbreakingly nasty brilliant stuff,
and it had come to him.
He sighed and resigned and with reluctance slid it into the envelope and
said a prayer that it wouldn’t win.
S  Editor’s note: This story is the first-place winner of the 2005 Irreantum fic­

tion contest.


They Wandered in Deserts
Shawn P. Bailey
Jed was thinking about his girlfriend. His eyes were fixed on the
silhouette of the westernmost column of the Wasatch Range,
which runs neatly parallel to the line of the freeway. Mark was
singing over the radio as he drove. Ryan was reading a book in the passenger
seat. The windows were rolled down, and warm dry air beat at their ears.
They had loaded their packs into Mark’s Ford Escort—dented fender, one
hubcap missing—the night before. They left directly from school; it was a
late spring Friday and class had been out for roughly fifteen minutes; they
were already halfway to Provo.
They drove south on I-15 to Highway 6, which wound southeast to the
mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon. The few miles of road between the freeway
and the canyon marked the transition away from population and radio
reception. They climbed into the canyon, where only a few modest structures and the occasional tree occupied sparse hills. Not long after beginning
the descent from Soldier Summit toward Price, pink and orange sandstone
walls—stained white and charcoal in streaks where water runs each spring
from snow melting off the benches above—replaced the high-desert hills.
Friends on the latest of several trips, they were going camping in Arches
National Park. They were all seniors in high school; they knew this might be
the last time before graduation.
“Do I go East or West on 70?” asked Mark.
“Follow the signs to Moab,” Ryan said, not looking up from his book.
“Ryan! Which way do I go? You’re the navigator! So navigate!” Mark
shouted. “Why do you think you got to ride shotgun anyway?”
Ryan was sure that Mark knew where to go and just wanted to make conversation. “It doesn’t matter, dude. Desert is desert. Follow your heart,” Ryan
said as flatly as he could manage.
“So here’s the deal,” Mark started in. “In a few months, you are going to be
out there somewhere, just you and some other guy, knocking on doors all day.”

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

“Sounds more like your dream job than mine,” Ryan said. “So what’s it
going to be, Mark? Knives? Pesticide? Security systems?”
“You know what I’m talking about,” Mark insisted.
“Right, I’ve seen the movie,” Ryan maintained his tone. “Lots of walking
two-by-two in front of exotic scenery. Synchronized waving. Wholesome
smiles. The womenfolk at home hold their breath between letters. A chorus
sings Called to Serve in the background. I’m down with that.”
“Where do you want to go?” Mark asked.
“Never tell anyone, not even yourself, where you want to go,” Jed spoke
up. “This is serious. If you honestly say where you want to go, you are sure
to not go there. And you may get sent somewhere just because you went
around telling people how awful it would be. Just say nothing. Or say you
want to go someplace you don’t really care about.” Jed smiled and looked up.
“Indifference is the key. Indifference. Extend the life of your secret desires by
hiding them so well even you can’t find them.”
“Somewhere dull, somewhere in the Midwest,” Ryan answered Mark’s
“Nice. Very wise,” said Jed. “I think the Midwest sounds like a fine place
to serve a mission.”
“Another question—another question is whether you are really going at
all,” Ryan said in a serious voice, turning from his book to the center of the
car. “Everyone I know assumes I am going.” He paused. “But I don’t know,”
he added.
“That’s not funny, Ryan. You are going,” Mark said, half regretting that he
brought up the subject in the first place. “The only question is where. I am
going someplace in South America—that is if China doesn’t open up in the
next six months.”
“I’m not even sure I have a testimony,” Ryan replied. “Can I do that—can
I go around telling people to join a church that I am not even sure about?
How do I explain polygamy? I don’t even get polygamy. And what about
blacks and the priesthood? What am I going to say other than ‘Hey, that’s a
pretty good question’? Can I take my parents’ money? My parents don’t have
a lot of money. Shouldn’t I go to college and get on with my life if I’m not
Mark and Jed were silent. Focusing on the road, Mark frowned. “You’re
going,” he said again, softly but irritated.
“Not that I don’t see how I’m cornered. My mom might not ever speak
to me again if I don’t go. And I can’t imagine looking down the dinner table

Bailey  S  They Wandered in Deserts

at Thanksgiving—at all my uncles—if I don’t go. And you know a Mormon
woman with any kind of fire would never date me if I don’t go. It’s a choice
between everything—everything in the world I know—and, well, the alternative is, is huge. I mean, I could be wearing a suit in the jungle somewhere
for two years, passing out pamphlets in the jungle. I’m not sure. We’re cornered. Just like that, we’re cornered.”
Jed was uneasy. He couldn’t deny anything Ryan said, so he tried not to
think about it. But he was certain that he would go. He would somehow survive it. He believed too much to question whether he was sure or not. I will
go because I trust them, he resolved to himself, the people who always pressure me to go—my parents. And his thoughts returned to his girlfriend, Lisa:
the indifferent look in her eyes at lunch today. What she would do without
him this weekend. Whether they would stay together after graduation, when
the high school social calendar, which required no effort from either of them,
would expire.
Mark’s car began to shake as it accelerated into the high eighties on the
stretch, flat and straight and narrow, between Price and I-70. Silent for several
minutes now, the car’s passengers had nothing to say about the fact that Mark
knew exactly which way to go on I-70 when the time came. They pulled into
the park after dark, found their usual campsite, and started a fire.
They ate beef stew from steaming cans raised from the coals with a pair of
pliers. They stared at the fire and the unsteady light it cast on the dark stone
masses that encircled them. They talked, ranging all over a small universe of
subjects: sports, girls, music, school, the future. Laughing, they quoted lines
from movies and TV and remembered practical jokes they had pulled and a
few they hadn’t dared to try.
As the fire declined to ashes, their conversation also tailed off. When it
finally expired, they rolled out their sleeping bags and put them to use.
They woke early. Jed moved nothing except his neck and eyes as he
examined a desert rat’s tracks that ended on one side of his sleeping bag
and started up on the other. One of his hands emerged from his sleeping
bag and rubbed his eyes. Fine red dust had collected on every contour of his
eye socket. Even after several trips to Arches—after falling asleep to so many
shades of gray—it was jarring to wake to all these reds, pinks, and oranges.
Only the sky and the pale greens of yucca and cactus plants provided counterpoint to the warm-colored stone and sand. Mark had a fire going and was
boiling water for instant oatmeal. Jed and Ryan joined him.

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

“God’s playground.” Mark broke the silence, looking just above their
heads, inspecting the salmon-colored sandstone formation behind them. “It’s
good to be standing here; you know, in such a holy place.”
“The way I see it, this place is all mountains and valleys,” Ryan interrupted.
“And I don’t have to tell you that mountains shall be brought down and valleys raised up—this whole place is scheduled for demolition. All we can do
is enjoy it while we can and not get too attached. How soon’s that oatmeal
going to be done?”
“It doesn’t mean that. You have no idea what—” Mark was cut short.
“It might mean that,” Ryan came back. “Consider the arches themselves.
Defiant. Defiant even to natural laws, friction, gravity, you name it. And
audacious. Always appearing in pictures. I mean, dude, look at your license
plate. Delicate Arch. How corporate can a geological formation get? ‘Come
to Utah,’ it says, ‘I will hold very still for you. Don’t worry, there will always
be some other tourist standing right next to me. She will be glad to snap a
picture for you.’”
Jed was pleased that Ryan could still get to Mark, just like always. “He
may have something there, Mark.” Jed grinned. “Those are some pretty
pompous arches if you think about it.”
Mark’s face was contorted, pulled tight. He was making an effort to ignore
Ryan entirely. He went to his car, returned with a map, and began to study it.
“Fiery Furnace,” he declared. “I think today we explore the Furnace.” There
were no objections.
The small parking area next to the Furnace was empty except for Mark’s
car. They noticed but were not impressed by the sign prohibiting hikers from
venturing into the Furnace without first registering at the ranger station and
taking an orientation course. “That’s new.” Mark shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m not going to spend the morning with old hippies in polyester shorts,”
Jed said. “You know, lecturing us not to litter or poop without providing a
proper burial or step on cryptobiotic soil, ‘thus disrupting the desert’s delicate ecosystem.’”
The morning passed quickly as they played their way deeper and deeper
into the Furnace, a maze of slot canyons, spires, boulders, odd-shaped
compartments, sand dunes, and sudden drop-offs. Many forces—wind, silt
collecting and curing layer upon layer, sudden torrential rains after months
without moisture, August afternoons second in extremity only to the lunar
chill of winter nights—had conspired to make that place.

Bailey  S  They Wandered in Deserts

They followed no trail; they climbed chimneys thirty and forty feet high
in tight slot canyons. They ran zigzag up a dry riverbed, looping sideways
higher and higher up the riverbed’s sloped walls. They scrambled to the
top of a small arch and jumped into the rust-colored sand below. Unstated
principles structured all of this play. The more difficult or original or at least
dangerous the stunt, the better. Once one of them successfully executed a
stunt, the others were obligated to duplicate it. Hours into their game, they
reached a high point where a single ragged juniper tree provided a few feet
of shade. They stopped for lunch.
Exceedingly hungry and safely beyond the gaze of girlfriends and parents,
they ate freely. No one spoke for several minutes. Mark had been thinking all
morning about what Ryan said in the car the day before; he was determined
not to let it pass unanswered. He finished his lunch quickly to make sure
he could address Ryan while he still had a mouthful of sandwich. Mark was
uncertain where to begin, uncertain even what he was going to say.
“Faith,” Mark said, looking directly at Ryan.
Ryan was only half surprised. He grinned narrowly and looked up at Mark
with raised eyebrows. He did not speak.
“You say you’re not sure. Well the point isn’t really being sure, is it? You’ve
got to have faith now. That’s what faith is, you know, pressing forward when
you’re not sure.” Mark wanted to sound both caring and wise, but he failed.
“And so your mom and future wife and your family want you to do what’s
right. Can you blame them? Imagine if it was the other way around! Then
you’d have something to complain about. And you make it sound like some
kind of conspiracy.”
“What do want me to say, Mark?” Ryan asked as calmly as he could.
“I know that everyone, everyone applying the pressure—including you,
Mark—I know that all of you just want to help. And believe it or not, after
eighteen years in the Church I have heard the definition of faith. I just don’t
find it that easy in practice. I do know what I feel, though, and I’m just not
Jed wanted to change the subject. “I think we should bring our girlfriends
on the next trip,” he said. “I mean those of us who have girlfriends. Sorry
Mark, impatient and angry, rose to his feet, turned his back and walked
a few steps into the sun. Ryan jumped up after him and gave him a friendly
slap across the shoulder. “Don’t stop trying to save my soul, dude, no matter

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

what,” he said to Mark with an enormous grin. “I am worth it.”
“Whatever,” Mark managed a smile of his own. “Let’s get going.”
They resumed their game, hiking deeper into the Furnace. They came
to a series of small mesas, enormous steps down, up, and diagonal—like a
series of roofless sandstone apartments connected by haphazard ramps or not
connected at all. They began to navigate their way into these curious spaces.
Sullen, Mark kept himself a compartment or two in front of Ryan and Jed.
Eventually, however, he came to an abrupt stop. Ryan and Jed caught up
to him. He was looking down into a large depression. Its floor was sandy,
populated by several angular stone blocks like abstract sculptures, and its full
extent was not visible from where they were standing.
“The inner chamber, boys,” Mark said. “The holiest room in the temple.
I’m going down there.”
“Looks like a little bit of a drop,” Jed warned. “Are you sure?” There was a
gradual slope—a lip at the top—that quickly transitioned into a steep dive.
Mark was already inching his way down the first few feet. Reaching the
point where he had to commit to the stunt, he hesitated for a moment and
then took a large step onto the steep wall of the hole. He managed to keep
his feet under him until he hit the floor. Still, falling with considerable
momentum, he stumbled in the sand and struck a large rock. He was slow
to rise, but even holding his side in pain he was laughing. “Don’t expect any
footing in that sand! And watch out for the rocks. Hard. Rock hard!”
Jed and then Ryan followed Mark into the hole, each doing better with
the landing than Mark had. They quickly turned to climbing on the stone
blocks. Except for when they fell to the forgiving sand a few feet below, they
pretended to free climb the face of a soaring cliff.
They finished with the boulders and explored the floor of the depression
further. In a cool corner where a sandstone overhang cast a jagged shadow,
they found a pothole of clear water. Walking around the outcropping of rock
that had prevented them from seeing the full extent of the hole from above,
they were surprised by a wide open view of the valley below. They could see
an arch in the distance. From the ledge where they stood to the valley floor
was at least one hundred feet of sheer cliff.
“Which one is that?” Jed pointed to the crescent of blue showing through
the distant arch.
“I would have to get out the map. I’m not sure exactly which direction
we’re facing.” Mark responded. “I think the only way out of here is back the

Bailey  S  They Wandered in Deserts

way we jumped in,” he added.
Several seconds of silence. Each continued to gaze across the valley, thinking about Mark’s last words.
“There has to be another way out,” Ryan responded.
Nodding in agreement, Jed dismissed the thought that they were stuck.
He sat down, indicating that he intended to rest and enjoy the view. The others joined him. They caught their breath and drank from their water bottles
and squinted in the relentless sunlight. Mark pulled out the map and named
the distant arch.
They did not truly rest; they only held still as each of them silently failed
to resist the thought of being stuck. Finally, Ryan pointed out that they
should head back. “Let’s look at this,” he said. “How’re we getting out of
Mark jumped up quickly. “Let’s go,” he said.
Together they walked the entire wall of the hole, looking for handholds,
or a slope gentle enough to smear their way up, or a chimney to stem. As
they did so, they could not avoid crunching through cryptobiotic soil, thick
after innumerable undisturbed years. After several minutes, it became clear
that the walls of the hole were uniformly even and steep for the first ten or
twelve feet up. Mark was right: the precise spot where they had entered the
hole would provide the most direct and uncomplicated climb back out.
Each of them tried several times. Each tried to simply smear his way up.
Then each tried getting a run at it, jumping, and grasping for where the steep
dive began to level out. They looked for rocks to pile up next to the wall but
found none they could move. They tried to push sand up against the wall
but found that any amount they could pile up easily melted away beneath
their feet.
Under the weight of such futility, they sat down. The heat of the day was
subsiding; the shade where they sat began to extend itself. All three minds
were racing, but no one spoke for several minutes.
Then Jed sputtered sharply: “Damn you, Mark. Damn you.”
Mark was silent. Even before Jed’s outburst he was frightened and
ashamed. Mark had not yet entertained the thought that they might die in
that depression, but he could hear himself explaining to park rangers and
police and parents, maybe even to reporters, how he led his friends into
that spot. His side—probably his ribs, he thought—throbbed with pain. He
considered how they would spend the next day or so before tracking dogs

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

sniffed them out or a search helicopter spotted them from above. In addition
to what they were carrying, they had a pothole full of possibly alkali-free
water. They would alternate between waiting out the heat of the day in the
shade and standing at the ledge overlooking the valley so that one of them
would always be visible to any potential rescuers from above. They would
listen closely for potential rescuers on foot and scream like mad if they heard
anything. They would huddle together at night if the cold became unbearable.
“I can’t believe this!” Jed cried. “I can’t. What are you going to do about
it, Mark? I get good grades. I have eighteen hours of AP credit. I’m going
to college! I have a girlfriend—but, but I keep the freaking commandments!
I am supposed to go on a mission! My patriarchal blessing says I’m going to
have children. Children!”
“We’re going to get out of here, Jed” said Ryan. “Right now, we are going
to pray. Each one of us is going to take a turn. That’s it. We’re going to be
Each of them did pray as Ryan had said. Their prayers were simple, earnest. We’re stuck and it’s getting dark. Help us to know what to do. Save us.
Mark prayed last. “We promise, Heavenly Father,” Mark prayed, “each of
us will serve an honorable mission if our lives are preserved.”
Ryan’s heart pounded and he wanted to strangle his friend. He clamped
down on that thought. He took a breath. Silently, he asked himself: if God
made me an offer along those lines, wouldn’t I take it? And is He? Am I
endangering my own life by feeling, even at this moment, so uncertain?
That feeling was unbearable. He wouldn’t feign certainty, not even to save
his own life. He knew that wouldn’t get him very far anyway. But he resolved
to somehow pry that feeling out of his heart. For now, he wanted to correct
Mark, tell him how wrong it was to make that promise for him. But it wasn’t
the time. He had an idea.
S   S   S

As soon as Mark said Amen, Ryan spoke: “I think two of us can boost the
other one up to the rim.”
“How does that help the other two?” Jed asked, incredulous.
“He lowers something down for the others,” Ryan replied.
“We don’t have any rope! We don’t have anything! There aren’t any decent
tree branches for a hundred miles!” Jed said, getting angry. “Thanks for noth42

Bailey  S  They Wandered in Deserts

ing, Ryan.”
“Our pants,” Ryan said. “We make a rope out of our pants.”
Mark didn’t speak, but with a grave look on his face he took off his hiking
boots, undid his belt, and lowered his pants. Ryan and Jed did the same.
They tied pant leg to pant leg and then worked out the remainder of the
plan. Jed would kneel on his hands and knees. Ryan would stand on Jed’s
back. Mark would put a foot into Ryan’s interlaced hands. Ryan would lift
Mark, who would lunge for the edge.
After some fumbling and falling, Mark found himself sprawled across the
wall, chest and arms above the point where the slope began to level out. Ryan
and Jed were still supporting his weight. Moving from lifting to pushing,
Ryan helped Mark slither higher and higher until he finally pulled himself
completely out of the depression.
Ryan jumped off Jed’s back and grabbed their makeshift rope to toss up
to Mark. Jed jumped up, brushing sand off his hands and bare knees.
Suddenly, an unfamiliar voice called out. “What happened to your pants,
Mark had been standing on the edge looking down at Ryan and Jed. He
turned to see a park ranger twenty yards away and rapidly approaching. The
ranger was a wiry old man; he wore a silver white beard and the expression
of someone choking back laughter and failing. Mark’s first thought was to
somehow cover up. Despairing of that—and not wanting to make things
worse by acting too ashamed—he turned to think of how to word his
“Hiking in your underpants, huh?” the ranger asked in a boisterous voice,
now only several steps away from Mark’s side. “Out here this far, alone, hiking in your underpants. Well, I have to admit, that’s a new one. Can’t really
see the advantage of underpants hiking, but maybe that’s just me.”
Mark wanted to jump back in the hole, where there was at least a rock to
stand behind. Although at first too amazed to move, Ryan and Jed did position themselves behind stone blocks on the floor of the depression.
“We got stuck, me and my friends,” Mark gestured toward the hole. “We
were going to use our pants to climb out.”
The ranger stepped up to the ledge and looked in, noting instantly the
heads and upper torsos of Jed and Ryan. “I take it both of you also happen
to be unencumbered by your pants at the moment?”

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

Ryan and Jed took that as derision and not a real question. The ranger
temporarily lost his smile. “So I’m curious, gentlemen, how did all three of
you somehow fall into that hole in the first place? Because no one, and I
mean no one, registered to hike in the Fiery Furnace today. That is your car
in the parking lot, isn’t it? You know, the one parked next to the sign that
says hikers must register with me prior to entering the formation?”
“Sir, I’m sorry,” Mark said. “It’s my fault. That’s my car. Please go easy
on us.”
The ranger nodded. “I think you boys have probably suffered enough,” he
said. “You may as well go ahead and get yourselves out of there because I don’t
have a rope and I won’t be able to get back here with one until after dark.”
S   S   S

They proceeded to execute the remainder of their plan, the park ranger looking on, occasionally snickering to himself or shaking his head in disbelief.
Ryan tossed the makeshift rope up to Mark, who, after wrapping one end
around his left wrist, grasped it tightly with both hands. Mark laid down
on his stomach to anchor himself and lowered the rope into the hole. As
Jed pulled himself up, Ryan pushed from below. Ryan then pulled himself
up with the rope. They untied it hastily, took off their boots, and pulled up
their pants.
“You guys know your way outta here?” the ranger asked, turning away
from them, down the canyon.
“We could use some help,” Mark confessed.
Gesturing with both hands, the ranger described prominent rocks and
trees and finally the dry riverbed that would guide them back. They did not
stop once to play, but made their way directly to Mark’s car.
They got in the car, Mark behind the wheel. Ryan tried to read but could
not concentrate. Both he and Jed watched the desert out their passenger side
windows, gazing east as Mark’s car carried them northward to Salt Lake City.
They did not speak. Jed fell asleep in the back seat. They were exhausted and
wary of remote places.
S  Editor’s note: This story is the second-place winner of the 2005 Irreantum

fiction contest.


Jennifer Quist

The Man Lehi
Came back slowly,
Shot full of metal splinters,
“How can the steel be broken?”
And you scoffed,
“It’s proved—there can be no steel here.”
Brass needles spinning,
Egyptian stickmen in leapfrog
—eyes and birds and ankhs forming and reforming—
in and out of squares.
Civilization starving
For three bows
Never meant to feed us all.
The curve at last remembered,
Green wood bowed almost to breaking,
wondering—string bitten fingers—
how there could ever be a heaven for me now.


Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

The infant blowing bubbles on her bare arm
—slick, cottage cheese saliva—
breaks suction, sneers at the two fingers,
still typing as if nothing ever happened.
The thinnest skin of her hand
tears under tiny crescent moons.
Cursing in the baby tongue only she knows,
he coughs curdled breastmilk onto his shirtfront.
“Idiot,” he calls,
catching and stretching her scalp by hairy reins,
“I am the word.”


Lon Young

Rumble of the Falls
The river drops here.
I’m leaning into the dry side of a boulder,
its cold weight in my kidneys,
in my ribs the rumble of the falls.
I’ve come to hear the voice of God in the thunder.
But today he’s only grinding his molars.
Stones knocking on stone.


Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

Sycamores by the Bagel Shop on Center
I’m scoring sycamores this morning
on a bank along streams of cars,
Saturday morning’s song stalled
by these puzzlements lining Center Street.
I should be leaning over fresh staves
at the bagel shop where I’ve parked,
but I got an itch to see that bark up close:
skins of plums, lizard’s belly, ten depths of green,
each color sprawls in its own plane.
I’ll botch this too. Pen dries up—
all I can do is scratch, etch bark into my notebook.
Here is a paint-by-number,
a topographical map of our Uintahs,
the smooth wash of valleys,
salt waters of Bethesda pooling.
I glide my fingers over a low branch, blind,
to sense the contours of relief,
subcutaneous, dermis, epidermis.
I open my eyes on the dry curb,
scabbed bits of bark sluffed at my feet.
I’m thinking, I could piece these into their places,
could wrap the leprous trunks in gauze.


HBO’s Big Love:
Negotiating Polygamy
Eric Samuelsen
Marriage is a negotiation. At its best, marriage involves a complex series of transactions and compromises, conducted in good
faith between equal partners. Even in the best marriages, some
decisions are reached against the wishes of one partner, but fairness and balance are the ideals for which both should aim.
Even in the best two-person partnerships, the whole process of marital
negotiation can be difficult, painful, and full of hurt feelings and misunderstanding. But if we imagine adding a third partner, or a fourth partner, the
process could well become far more tense and emotionally charged. The new
HBO series Big Love sets itself the task of mapping out a whole new terrain
of marital give-and-take, as found in a Utah polygamous marriage.
Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton) is the patriarch, a reasonably successful
owner of a series of home improvement stores. He’s married to Barb (Jeanne
Tripplehorn), to whom the other wives refer as Boss Lady, to Nicki (Chloe
Sevigny) and to Margene (Ginnifer Goodwin). Each wife has her own space;
three attached family homes share a common backyard, with picnic benches
and a swimming pool. The Henricksons seem reasonably well off–Barb’s
and Nicki’s homes are nicely furnished, and the family cars are new-looking
SUVs–but the cost of three homes has stretched Bill thin, and many family
squabbles are over money.
I’ve seen the first, second, and fourth episodes of Big Love (I am not an
HBO subscriber and am only able to watch the series when friends tape it
for me). So far, it appears that the series will pursue three main story threads.
First, and most prominently, the series explores the interpersonal dynamics of
the Henrickson family, and especially the complicated series of negotiations
between Bill and his three wives. Second, the series explores the relationships between the Henrickson kids and other Salt Lake youth, at least most

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

of whom are not, presumably, from polygamous families. Third, the series
focuses on Bill’s troubled relationship with Juniper Creek, the cult-like fundamentalist compound where he was born, and where his parents still live.
Juniper Creek is run by an elderly prophet figure called Roman (Harry Dean
Stanton), who is also Nicki’s father and therefore Bill’s father-in-law.
Of these three story threads, the most interesting, and the one the series
has thus far dwelt on the most, is the first, the everyday dynamics of a
polygamous family. In the few hours of the series so far, the three wives have
already been established as fascinating, dimensional characters. Barb is the
most independent of the three. She is the only one with a job–she’s a substitute teacher, a job which probably contributes only negligibly to the family
finances, but which is very important to her. She’s also been taking college
classes. Nicki clearly resents her for her outside activities, because the other
wives have to pick up the child-care slack. Barb makes most financial decisions for the family, and also takes the lead in what appear to be regular planning meetings, in which the wives coordinate schedules and homemaking
responsibilities, and also work out a mutually satisfactory conjugal schedule.
Barb’s past is, so far, a bit mysterious as well. She had a hysterectomy after
uterine cancer, and there’s some indication that her surgery was a turning
point for her–that she and Bill were monogamous for the first several years
of their marriage. To some extent, the other wives seem to be competing for
her attention. Although the women consider themselves friends, and, at least
rhetorically, are completely committed to their shared marriage, the planning
meeting scenes are all a bit tense, and there have been a number of scenes in
which we see two of the wives whispering their disapproval of something the
other wife has done. Usually these scenes involve Nicki or Margene as they
try to enlist Barb’s help in dealing with each other. As Tripplehorn plays her,
Barb is a strong, intelligent, fiercely independent woman, the only political
liberal among the wives, and the only one who doesn’t immediately defer
to Bill’s authority as family patriarch. So why did she embrace polygamy,
especially after many years in a monogamous marriage? She tells her oldest
daughter that the decision to give up monogamy was a difficult one (the
word she uses is “gradual”), but so far, that particular mystery has not been
fully answered.
Nicki is the only one of the wives to dress in the conservative style most
Utahns associate with fundamentalists–long skirts, long braided hair. It
makes sense that she, as Roman’s daughter, would retain the Juniper Creek

Samuelsen  S HBO’s Big Love

style, and she complains to her mother (the wonderful Mary Kay Place) that
she finds the Henrickson lifestyle spiritually shallow. We’re led to conclude
that Nicki may have the most genuine religious commitment of the wives.
But as Sevigny plays her, Nicki is also untrustworthy, devious, sly, and
financially profligate. When she asks Bill for money to decorate, he gives her
a hundred dollars, leading her to steal his credit card and charge an entire
living room set without his knowledge, and she seems to react to stressful
situations by going shopping. We learn that she carries nearly sixty thousand
dollars in credit card debt, and she’s not above asking her father, Roman, for
help with it. She has a knack for manipulating Bill, a knack the others can’t
quite match, and they resent it without quite knowing how to cope with her.
In the second episode, she seduces Bill on what should be Margene’s day and
then brushes off Margene’s hurt feelings as inconsequential.
Margene is the youngest of the wives, and her “third wife” status has been
one of the most poignant issues in the series. Her house is the smallest of
the three, and the most shabbily furnished. She’s also the only one of the
wives without her own car, which she resents. She’s a harried young mother,
dealing rather incompetently with her own small children, and with Nicki’s
undisciplined kids, whom she watches far too often. She gets overwhelmed
and disorganized, forever losing her keys or locking herself out of the house,
but her domestic solutions can also be quite imaginative. On the other hand,
the other wives resent her for the vocally exuberant youthful enthusiasm
she brings to lovemaking with Bill. But, of the three wives, she has so far
been the most direct and honest, bringing up issues that the others would
rather skirt.
In the series so far, the difficulties these women cope with are common to
most marriages: the frustrations of childrearing, interpersonal communication with their spouse, managing a home on limited financial resources. But
even the most mundane difficulties are compounded by their shared status as
co-wives. They have separate kitchens, separate food budgets. Even a simple
transaction, like borrowing a couple of eggs from a neighbor (something
most families do all the time), becomes fraught with tension and complexity.
Margene borrows some milk from Nicki, and on Chloe Sevigny’s face you
can read Nicki’s frustration: “She has the same budget we do, drawn from
the same source–why can’t she manage her own kitchen?”
But much of the series deals with what most of us would probably imagine to be the most tense and difficult issue in a polygamous marriage: sex.

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The planning session scenes often deal with issues relating to sex, and much
of the second episode revolves around the difficulties that arise when wives
have sexual relations with Bill out of turn. The sexual side of the Henrickson
marriage is treated quite graphically–though not, I think, pornographically.
We might suspect that this is, in part, because the show airs on HBO. But
the main impact isn’t particularly prurient. The focus instead is on the way
in which the complexities of the sexual negotiations of marriage are compounded by polygamy. When making love to Margene, Bill uses a particular
phrase, worded a particular way. Later, Margene overhears him having relations with Nicki and feels cheated when he uses the same phrase. When
Bill comes to bed wearing pajamas, which is not his normal practice, Barb
pointedly asks if he’s going to wear them when he’s with the other wives. Bill
clearly feels pressured not to just sleep with each of his wives in turn, but to
actually make love every night, no matter what his day’s been like, no matter
how he’s feeling. On another occasion, he loses track of which wife’s turn it
is and wanders in his underwear from bed to bed, looking for a place to sleep.
When impotence threatens, he resorts to Viagra.
All this conspires to make polygamy look utterly exhausting, emotionally
and physically, for Bill and his wives. Bill emerges as a decent man, but somewhat uncommunicative, someone whose response to his wives’ emotional crises is often “I can’t deal with this right now.” Bill Paxton has always excelled
in playing ordinary, decent men in extraordinary circumstances, especially
in such films as A Simple Plan or Frailty, and he’s great in this series as well,
especially in a wonderful scene where he answers his cell phone’s seventeen
voice messages, all from family members, and quietly and competently copes
with all of them. Paxton also plays Bill Henrickson as a spiritual man. We see
him praying, and he offers thoughtful and wise counsel to his son regarding
how exactly one receives answers to prayers. When he hurts Margene’s feelings, we also see him comforting her with great sensitivity and kindness, the
strong implication being that he’s received answers to his own prayers. But as
soon as he’s told Margene how much she means to him and how important
she is to him, the negotiations start again. “I still need a car,” she says.
In addition to the family scenes, the series also explores the interactions
of the Henrickson children and their friends, especially the two oldest kids,
Sarah (Amanda Seyfried) and Ben (Douglas Smith). Ben is something of an
athlete, and in episode three he is apparently very touched to be given his
uncle’s Super Bowl ring as a gift. Sarah has a part-time job, and makes close

Samuelsen  S HBO’s Big Love

friends with an active LDS girl, Heather Tuttle (Tina Majorino). Sarah only
reluctantly tells Heather her family secret, and although Heather is clearly
troubled by it, she’s kind and nonjudgmental. However, the “friends” relationships scenes have been the weakest of the series so far, though a scene
where Sarah goes to a party and gets high on cough syrup is quite powerful.
The interfamily scenes and the exploration of family relationships are at
the heart of Big Love, and are what give the series its emotional resonance.
But it’s difficult to see how those scenes alone will be able to maintain audience interest for the entire series. The Juniper Creek scenes are what give the
series its narrative thrust, both forward, as the story progresses, and backward, as we learn more fascinating details from Bill’s past. We know that Bill
was kicked out of the Juniper Creek compound when he turned fourteen.
His crime: merely being male, and therefore a threat to the aging compound
hierarchy and their monopoly on young women. We think Bill would be justified in wanting nothing to do with polygamy or Juniper Creek. But we also
learn that Bill started his first business with money borrowed from Roman,
and that he’s been paying interest to Juniper Creek ever since. That fact also
drives the story forward: Bill has opened another store and is determined to
stop paying Juniper Creek’s extortionate interest rates. And Roman (played
with a wonderfully understated reasonable-guy-menace by Stanton) threatens Bill for it, leading Bill to hire a bodyguard. The third episode, which I
have not seen, apparently revolves around a tense and uncomfortable birthday party which Nicki invited her father to attend, and in the fourth episode,
Bill has a series of dreamlike revelations in which Roman is compared to a
rabid wolf.
After four episodes, it’s hard to see how this whole story will play out, but
it’s fascinating and powerful television. Surely Nicki’s loyalties will be tested,
torn as she is between her father (whom she also reveres as a prophet, and
to whom she’s financially beholden) and her husband. Bill’s parents are also
caught between Roman and Bill. Bill’s father (Bruce Dern) is poisoned but
survives in the first episode, and both he and Bill think Bill’s mother (Grace
Zabriskie) did it, possibly following Roman’s orders.
The show is quite fascinating, beautifully acted and competently written,
with rich, well crafted characters and stories. But it’s impossible, as a Utahn
and a Mormon, to watch it without reflecting a bit on what we know about
contemporary polygamy in Utah and on polygamy historically. The Church
has obvious and valid concerns about the impressions people who don’t

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know much about Mormonism will form based on the series. However, I
think it’s unlikely that most people will conflate the polygamous Henrickson
family with current active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. The Henricksons are clearly covert about their family practices,
clearly furtive and underground, and the show frequently references the LDS
faith in ways that show that the Henricksons aren’t LDS. In addition, active
LDS characters like Heather Tuttle help distance the show from the Church.
Nor does the show make polygamy seem appealing. The Henrickson home
life seems tense and emotionally exhausting, and the Henrickson kids, especially Sarah, want no part of it for themselves.
The show does portray current polygamy in ways that strike me as strange.
I haven’t researched contemporary fundamentalist culture at all, and my
opinions about it are surely uninformed ones. But the fundamentalist families I know haven’t been prosperous. My impression of current polygamy in
Utah is that it’s primarily characterized by grinding poverty. It’s possible that
some polygamous households are as well-off as the Henricksons seem to be,
but I doubt that’s the norm.
And Big Love gets so many other cultural details wrong that I think I am
justified in questioning how carefully researched the show is. The writers use
terms like CTR and LDS incorrectly, they refer to Family Home Evening
with the emphasis on Home and not on Evening as is common practice, they
live in the Wasatch Valley instead of on the Wasatch Front, and they talk
about rigidly orthodox Mormons as “Mor-bots,” a phrase I’ve never heard.
Worst of all, the show suggests a lesbian attachment between two plural wives
of a Henrickson family friend, something that strikes me as inconsistent with
the scriptural literalism I associate with fundamentalism. And those are just a
few examples. Watching the show, I find the research seems superficial. And
so I don’t know how much I can trust the show’s depiction of the interpersonal details of polygamy, the negotiations and strategies and compromises
that make up plural marriage today.
At the same time, my wife pointed out that the show isn’t a bad representation of polygamy in the nineteenth century. Today, we think of financially
prosperous polygamists as unlikely, as exceptions to the norm. But the
Henrickson home, with three houses in close proximity, a shared common
space between them, enjoys a relatively prosperous lifestyle; that all sounds
a lot like my grandmother’s descriptions of the Spanish Fork farm my greatgreat-grandfather shared with his three wives. And the show’s depiction of

Samuelsen  S HBO’s Big Love

polygamous marriage as a series of uneasy truces between wives in constant,
subtle competition, of the negotiations and compromises, but also shared
tasks and responsibilities of a complex and difficult shared marriage–all of
that feels about like the way things might really be, or might have been. It’s
emotionally convincing. And it also all matches the descriptions I’ve read of
nineteenth-century polygamous households.
It’s possible, then, that the Church’s opposition to the series may reflect
not only contemporary concerns, but historical ones. Our ancestors did practice polygamy. It could have looked something like this. And it doesn’t seem
very appealing.
Still, it’s a fascinating series. I’m looking forward to following the story as
it continues to progress. I’ve really grown to care about Bill and Barb and
Nicki and Margene, and I want things to work out for them. I’m also worried
that Bill doesn’t take Roman’s threats seriously enough, though his visions
may push him to respond to Roman more forcefully. I find the characters
compelling and the story lines intriguing. I don’t think any television series
can ask for more than that, especially after four episodes.


The Ascension of a Saint:
New York Doll
Randy Astle
In writing about Greg Whiteley’s New York Doll I feel somewhat
like the last one to the table: there has already been a tremendous
amount of material in the form of professional and amateur
reviews, news stories, blogs, Internet posts, and conversations. I believe the
premise will be known by many Irreantum readers: Arthur “Killer” Kane,
former bassist for the 1970s glam rock band the New York Dolls, has converted to Mormonism and is quietly living his life in Los Angeles when he
is given an opportunity to reunite with his band for a London festival—the
film simply chronicles Arthur’s transition from a family history center worker
to rock star and back again. Despite the danger of revisiting too-traveled territory, I would still like to say a few words because, for all that’s been written,
I think we’ll be writing about it for years to come, and even then just scratching the surface. Indeed, I believe New York Doll is not only a masterpiece,
but will prove to be one of the most important films in the history of LDS
cinema. Some points as to why:
First, it didn’t take many films after God’s Army for the enthusiastic cadre
of LDS filmmakers to recognize the limits of the Mormon market, and therefore most of the conversation for the last three years has been about crossing
over, reaching outside the LDS demographic to other areas of the American
public. Since then, great effort has been put into reducing the LDS content of supposedly LDS films, resulting primarily in ciphers like Pride and
Prejudice and Saints and Soldiers, both of which are otherwise excellent films
but represent attempts to have a cake and eat it too. Those who dislike such
productions—at worst they can be seen as attempts to capitalize financially
on the Mormon market while simultaneously being doctrinally and culturally ashamed of owning up to it—will humbly note that New York Doll has
somehow slipped underneath the radar and become the great crossover hit of

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everyone’s dreams, but without anyone realizing it. In browsing through the
online reviews and blogs, I noticed that virtually all the reviews written outside of Utah describe the audience as half Mormon, half rocker, which was
somewhat true of my own experience right in the middle of Provo. Whiteley
was able to make the crossover leap by doing at least two things: first and
foremost, he was not ashamed of the Church or Arthur Kane’s somewhat
odd relationship to it. He included the gospel as the essential component in
Arthur’s mature life, and it is through the juxtaposition with the rock and
roll culture of his youth that the film gains its richness and density. Second,
the reverse is also true. Whiteley stumbled upon that rare story that appeals
strongly to a different subculture, thus drawing in the musicians who know
nothing about Mormonism—what if he had tried to tone down the elements
of rock and roll culture to appeal to his Mormon audience? As it is, both
groups are respected, both recognize themselves up there on the screen, and
both come away edified by the other.
The second reason I believe New York Doll to be so important is the giant
leaps it makes in establishing the “LDS film” as a viable, rich, complex, and
spiritually rewarding art form. This is quite a statement to bite off, and it will
require multiple essays to explore fully, but it seems, at least to me, apparent
on a first viewing. On a visual level, the film’s animator uses LDS genealogy
charts—family trees—as the basis for a beautiful and entertaining history of
the band and Arthur himself. The credits indicate that the primary illustration on the history of rock was a preexisting diagram, but the fact that it
came from “the other side” yet fits so perfectly within the LDS mindset is still
more praise toward the film’s crossover capability. On an aural level the same
thing is done with the use of hymns, rock and roll, rock and roll hymns, and
hymn-like rock and roll songs. Indeed, this brings us to the thematic level
where the heart of the genius lies: Arthur lives in the crossroads of two very
different worlds, and he knows it, and he’s comfortable with it. He thereby
embodies one of the central paradoxes of LDS theology, the contiguity of the
sacred and the profane. As Terryl Givens points out in his upcoming BYU
Studies review of the film, Joseph Smith imbued our fallen, physical reality
with the possibility of a spiritual presence (a literal Zion, physical angels,
hefty plates, spiritual matter, and so on). The Holy Ghost, as we believe in
him, can transform any space into a sacred space, whether it be a temple, a
mountaintop, or a rock concert.

Astle  S  Ascension of a Saint

The third reason is its typology. It is not far into the film that we start
identifying parallels between Arthur and Jesus Christ: he is a man of sorrows,
acquainted with grief, and the whole world has hid its face from him and
esteemed him as naught—he is the self-described schmuck who sits at the
back of the bus. If this typology is not enough, made all the richer because
it is not scripted, then we reach a new level of symbolism for LDS art when
Arthur takes on the persona of the Prophet, donning a Joseph Smith costume
for his triumphal concert, not out of a sense of theatricality or exploitation
but sheer respect and veneration for Joseph himself. Thus attired he preaches
the gospel in the dressing room, addressing himself to modern rock stars
much as he might have to ancient publicans or nineteenth century gold diggers. Immediately after, he offers a magnificent pre-performance intercessory
prayer as he entreats the Lord on behalf of himself, his present band members, and even those who through drug overdoses have already passed to the
other side. If we have not realized it yet we now see that the entire excruciating rehearsal process has been Arthur’s Passion, and that the stage he is now
stepping onto is his Gethsemane, his Carthage. As the Dolls play, Arthur
stands immobile—“the only living statue in rock and roll”—transfixed as he
brings heaven to earth with his music. Thus, as Givens points out, there is no
incongruity between the sacred and profane when, at the concert, the rock
soundtrack drops out and the wordless tones of a heavenly choir swell. If the
film has any fault, it is that this moment is not held longer.
To describe Arthur’s further development into the roles of Joseph and
Christ is to spoil the plot, but it is so firm and undeniable that when we see
and hear the Dolls’ lead singer David Johansen sing “A Poor Wayfaring Man
of Grief ”—a song he, not Whiteley, selected—over the appropriately white
closing credits, we do not know who he is singing about; the words of the
song itself, after all, are about finding Christ hidden in the least of our brethren, revealed to us as the veil is parted at our moment of greatest spiritual
crisis. By the film’s end, we have seen the ascension of a saint: Arthur, Joseph,
and even Christ have become indistinguishable. I felt as though I was hearing the hymn for the first time, and I could not escape thinking of perhaps
the only other occasion when it was sung with such conviction (based in an
equally physical reality), in Illinois in June 1844.
The fourth and final reason this film is so important has already been
alluded to in each point above. The documentary footage proceeds at a pace

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that allows it to acquire such syntactic and spiritual density that each phrase,
each nuance, comes to resonate with irony, humor, devotion, and pure love.
There is love for rock and roll, love for the LDS Church, love for the little
old ladies of the family history center, and love for the casualties of heroin.
More than anything else, we see love from every participant—onscreen and
off—for Arthur, and he reciprocates by loving his music, his God, his friends
(on-screen and off), and even his enemies; the entire experience was worth it
for him, not because of the music and fame, but because he was finally able
to extend love and forgiveness to those who had despitefully used him and
persecuted him. Indeed—and the fourth point is this—Greg Whiteley and
his crew have succeeded in creating a film entirely imbued with charity, an
unabashed expression of the pure love of Christ. And there can be no greater
praise for a work of art, LDS or otherwise.
New York Doll’s theatrical run is essentially over, and it was released on
DVD in April. The PG-13 rating is hardly deserved, probably given as a
technicality due to the fact that the film discusses, quite poignantly, the use
of drugs. There is slight profanity and cross-dressing (the band’s trademark)
in the archival footage. It’s probably not for the kids, but there is nothing
in it that I found offensive, and I urge all readers to see this film, to buy the
DVD. It is the most important piece of spiritual, Christ-centered cinema in
years, especially for Latter-day Saints; as BYU film professor Dean Duncan
has said, it is our Babette’s Feast. It is that rare film that truly is a must-see.


New Direction for HaleStorm:
Church Ball
Eric D. Snider
One of the most admirable things about Church Ball, director Kurt
Hale’s fourth slap-happy contribution to Mormon Cinema, is that
you don’t have to be Mormon to appreciate the premise. This is a
switch from Hale’s previous films (The Singles Ward, The R.M. and The Home
Teachers), which relied heavily on things so intrinsically Mormon that, had
any non-Mormons accidentally wandered into the theaters where the films
were being shown, they’d have been completely baffled (not to mention curious as to how someone’s home movies came to be exhibited in a commercial
Church Ball is about church basketball leagues and how the men get so
competitive and violent that they start to forget it was devotion to God that
brought them together in the first place. I don’t know if other faiths have basketball leagues, or if other religions build gymnasiums (I’m sorry, “cultural
halls”) into all their meetinghouses the way Mormons do, but it doesn’t matter. Even if you have no experience with these things, you can easily accept
that they exist and enjoy the upbeat tone and occasional chuckle that make
Church Ball a mildly entertaining experience.
The characters in the film are Mormon—their ecclesiastical leader is called
“Bishop,” and a Book of Mormon verse is quoted at one point—but the word
“Mormon” and its synonyms are noticeably absent from the dialogue. (That’s
right: someone reads from the Book of Mormon without mentioning that’s
what he’s reading.) In fact, all of the language has been scrubbed clean of
any overt references to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all
the better to give the film mass-market appeal. The players don’t belong to a
“ward”; they attend a “congregation.”
Whatever we’re calling it, the Mud Lake team is a ragtag group of lousy
players who are defeated every year by the rock-solid team from Crystal Hills.

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This is the last year the church will have officially organized leagues, and
Bishop Linderman (Fred Willard)—a church ball veteran with an eye patch
and other injuries to prove it—wants to make it a good one. So he replaces
Mud Lake’s doddering old coach with Dennis Buckstead (Andrew Wilson),
a mediocre player who must now coach his uncoordinated teammates to
Hale, working from a screenplay that he wrote with Paul Eagleston and
Stephen Rose, leaves no sports-movie cliché unturned, right down to the lastsecond play that decides the game and a serious overuse of music-accompanied montages. (I counted four montages, which is probably three too many
for a ninety-minute comedy.) Dennis and his teammates recruit new players,
endure practice drills, and suffer the kind of humiliations and setbacks you
expect from an underdog team. And since it’s a sports comedy (rather than
an inspiring sports drama), you can count on there being a grossly out-ofshape player and one from a foreign country, too.
For some reason, former child star Gary Coleman shows up as a diminutive new neighbor who is recruited for the team. He has three very tall sons,
though. Why can’t they play? The movie doesn’t tell us. I assume it’s because
it’s funnier for Gary Coleman to play basketball than it is for three tall guys
to do so.
Hale’s skills as a comedy director have not come very far, unfortunately.
The scene where Coleman is introduced is a prime example. Dennis and one
of his buddies are at the Coleman character’s house, where his wife and three
tall sons are outside. Dennis is eager to meet the father, who must surely be
as tall as his sons. Soon a large truck pulls up—certainly the vehicle of a big
man. The driver gets out, and the punch line is that he’s actually quite tiny.
But Hale only shoots him from the chest up, and from the chest up, everyone
looks the same! We recognize, after a moment, that it’s Gary Coleman, and
we recall that Coleman is famous for being short. But the joke would have
been much, much more effective if Hale had included a full-body shot of
Coleman, maybe standing next to the truck or his wife, as a means of conveying the “Whoops! He’s a short guy!” punch line.
There are many legitimately funny moments in the film, and almost all of
them come from witty dialogue or (more often) excellent delivery—verbal
humor, in other words, not visual. Hale uses the camera as nothing more
than a functional device, ignoring all its potential as a joke-teller.

Snider  S  New Direction for HaleStorm

For a lot of the laughs we can thank the brilliant Fred Willard, whose
performance as the jovial, semi-insane bishop is nearly as fun as the roles he’s
played in films like Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. Curt Doussett
and Larry Bagby are great as two of Crystal Hills’ arrogant players, a pair of
lawyer brothers with a signature frat-boy laugh. And Ross Brockley has a wry,
understated delivery as Mickey, a Mud Lake player with a potty mouth. His
profanity is bleeped every time, which, as Arrested Development has taught us,
only makes it funnier.
As a whole, the acting is a step up from previous Hale efforts, no doubt
due to the company’s having hired mostly professional actors rather than
the filmmakers’ buddies. (In fact, the two most obviously amateur contributors are the basketball referees, played by Hale regulars: Salt Lake radio tool
Jimmy Chunga and over-the-top Utah comedian Michael Birkeland.) It’s a
wonder what committed, experienced actors can do for a mediocre script.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of the usual Hale time-wasting, too. There’s a
running gag with Dennis’s daughter preparing themed dinners—apparently
just an excuse to make the actors wear silly hats—that isn’t funny enough to
justify its randomness. Two scenes involving Dennis’s day job are completely
irrelevant, and so is the sequence where the Mud Lake team has to go doorto-door selling meat. And the subplot where a nerdy Mud Lake player finds
love is as pointless as it is bizarre.
Did I laugh? Yes, several times. Even with the just-mentioned tangents it’s
still a more cohesive, streamlined story than, say, The Singles Ward, and the
production values are getting better each time.
HaleStorm, the production company that distributes Kurt Hale’s films
(among others), has said it will shift its focus to mainstream family comedies
instead of Mormon-specific ones, and Church Ball is an indication that
the metamorphosis has already begun. Will the gambit pay off? Will nonMormons start noticing HaleStorm’s productions? I wouldn’t bet the tithing
money on it yet—there’s still a lot of progress to be made—but they’re heading in the right direction.


This Divided State:
An Exploration in Civility?
Peter Walters
This Divided State is filmmaker Steven Greenstreet’s intelligent documentary about Utah Valley State College’s 2004
decision to spend $50,000 to invite liberal activist Michael
Moore into “one of the most conservative towns in the most conservative
county in the most conservative state in the union.”
The film begins with a Gandhi-worthy political quote from Joseph Smith:
“Political views and party distinctions should never disturb the harmony of
society.” What we see over the next eighty-eight minutes, however, is a lot of
disharmony, contention, incivility, and a society that is anything but Fourth
Shortly after the film’s completion, Greenstreet was invited by the Center
for American Progress to accompany the film on a university tour around
the United States, including screenings at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, NYU,
Vanderbilt, Stanford, and USC, where it was praised by student reporters as
“informative and entertaining” (Ohio State Review), and “more important
than anything Michael Moore has made to date” (Yale Daily News).
After the film’s national release in 2005, larger publications awarded it
four stars (Seattle Times, Christian Science Monitor), declared it “filmmaking
gold” (New York Times), and called it “the first successfully balanced political
documentary” (Lexington Herald Leader).
In Greenstreet’s words, This Divided State is an “observation of how citizens will go to the greatest lengths to stand up for what they believe is right,
even if that means sacrificing civility and brotherhood.” Throughout the film
we see residents, students, professors, and administrators arguing sharply
over beliefs and rights, booing and bullying opposing viewpoints, filing petitions, threatening lawsuits, sending hate mail, placing irate phone calls, and
otherwise engaging in conduct unbecoming a polite citizenry.

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Eventually, word of the controversy reaches Fox News commentator Sean
Hannity, who expresses an interest to visit the campus. In the interest of balance, a deal is struck. Hannity agrees to waive his speaking fee if the school
will cover the cost of a private plane and related expenses for a small Fox
News entourage. “Michael Moore isn’t worth one red cent of student funds,”
Hannity declares during his student address. Hannity later billed the school
“The original protest,” says Greenstreet, “was that the school was using
student funds to bring Michael Moore and that it was a violation to do so.”
But as tickets to the event quickly sell out, covering costs, and therefore
invalidating financial objections, Greenstreet’s crew begins to discover deeper
issues that go beyond the red state/blue state divide: can one hold liberal
views and still be considered a good Mormon?
“Because they feel so certain about their convictions,” as one Columbia
University Ph.D. student put it, “there is no reason to investigate something
else. But at the same time those convictions struck me as rather fragile. It
seems to me that had those convictions been more secure, they wouldn’t have
opposed Moore’s visit. This complete refusal to engage any of Moore’s arguments—to not even allow them to be uttered—stunned me.”
At least three times in the film when liberal-leaning professors attempt
to share their views through a loudspeaker, they are silenced by thousands
of conservative students, whose boos elicit from communications professor
Jason Nichols an impassioned response, which serves as the film’s central
theme: “You don’t silence the messenger; you evaluate his message.”
“This is not about money,” Orem resident Kay Anderson confesses on
film, “it’s about ideology. . . . This man hates who we are, he hates our values,
and he would like to destroy us!” Anderson attempts to bribe the school with
a $25,000 check, promising more funds if the school will cancel the event.
When UVSC President Sederburg says, “We will not respond to threats,”
Anderson files a lawsuit against the school, key administrators, and the students responsible for the decision to bring Moore to campus.
Pound for pound the film works well. Greenstreet wisely provides breathers from the yelling and screaming with inclusions of a Republican Michael
Moore look-a-like (who supports Bush as well as Moore’s right to speak on
campus); a BYU student named Michael Moore who receives no end of
teasing from his conservative classmates; and some zany interviews with Star
Wars–clad moviegoers.

Walters  S  This Divided State

After the film’s release, Kay Anderson remarked to local news channels
that Greenstreet succeeded in making everyone look stupid, to which Green­
street responded, “If I did anything to make anyone look stupid it was hit
the record button.”
The entire melee at UVSC represents an exaggerated case of the disease
which seems to be sweeping America: the furious divide between political
ideals and the lengths to which some will go to perpetuate them. Watching
the film, one senses that perhaps nowhere in the nation is this divide more
acutely noticeable than between conservatives and liberals in Utah County,
where 93 percent of registered voters are Republican.
The embarrassing, sometimes shocking, scenes captured by Greenstreet at
UVSC serve as a real life reminder of one of the virtues lauded by President
Hinckley to heal our hearts and homes: “Civility carries with it the essence
of courtesy, politeness, and consideration of others. All of the education
and accomplishments in the world will not count for much unless they are
accompanied by marks of gentility [and] of respect for others.”


Maureen Clark

Curious Tree
If I didn’t have eyes
I’d be able to hear
the difference between
peeling a tangerine
and an orange
Water wouldn’t be
a surface to fear
but perhaps become
some avenue
some curious tree
breaching arteries
stilled far too long
These two eyes
define many edges
give root to limbs
when maybe I want
to step into the thick air
of something
I have only ever heard


Clark  S  Two poems

Between the Gods
I pause again
Do you want me pressed and perfect
or come as you are? Bend me towards a shore
let shoes be optional
Show me how to fashion my heart
into a cup I’ll batter my eyes
against muscle and marrow to get to you
follow crooked paths
in the shift and twist of sunlight
If I were a moth
I could navigate by the moon
Nothing in nature is straight
wisteria coreopsis yarrow
brilliant explosions
I can hear in the silence
the wings of gypsy moths
Love is a shore
where everything is out of control
a curse a blessing
a corporeal thing
a porch-light moon
Listen is that the hum of electricity
or God speaking
with the voices of insects


Colin Douglas

Father in Heaven, hear my prayer:
My sins are not hidden from you;
upon my bed I remember them.
Before my shut eyes they dance
and watch me with solemn mockery.
I would forget them, Father;
will you not remove them?
Let there be a garden of tulips before me,
washed by spring rain;
walk in it with me.
As a raindrop on a tulip petal,
so would I be before you.


Readers Write: Religion and Film
We want to inspire you.
“Readers Write” includes essays on a preannounced topic
that our readers can address in a short form. If, as Mary
Lythgoe Bradford suggests (in citing Eugene England), the personal essay for
Mor­mons is a variation on the testimony as literary genre, then we hope you
will find inspiration here akin to what can be found in the best of testimony
meetings: personal edification, a sense of community and the fortitude to
share your own story. Submissions may address the topic from any perspective, but should be thoughtful and honest.
Topic for next issue: Leslie Norris among the Mormons

Leslie Norris was a highly regarded poet of international repute, originally
from Wales. He chose to make his home with his wife Kathryn (Kitty) in
Orem, Utah. He was poet in residence for several years in BYU’s English
Department. He never joined the church, though he was a mentor and
friend to his Mormon colleagues, students, and neighbors. What can you
say about this anomalous figure whose influence in the world of Mormon
literature may be felt for generations?
All submissions will be published on the Mormon arts blog “A Motley
Vision.” A selection will be published in the next issue of Irreantum.
Deadline for submission is August 30, 2006. Please submit electronically to, with “Readers Write” in the subject line.
S   S   S

Like other cultural forms, film tells us who we are and how to be. One early
Brigham Young Academy president encouraged students to go to the cinema
to learn American mating mores, including how to kiss. Today, there are
more films being produced than ever before, including movies that celebrate,
explore, challenge and, some would say, reify Mormon culture and the LDS
faith. How have the movies shaped your spirituality and your religion and
how you view yourself as a part of the human family?

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

Kubrick’s Astronaut
What I have discovered about spirituality on my own, I could have easily learned at the cinema, if I’d paid more attention. Frank Capra’s It’s a
Wonderful Life, Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, and especially,
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, all had things to teach me about the
Almighty, though I wouldn’t know this until years later.
From Capra, for example, I would have learned how much difference one
person makes in others’ lives. How one life suddenly removed or wrenched
from others around it, creates enormous holes and tears in the fabric of life,
bringing despair, poor health, financial ruin, and even death. A partner’s love
can indeed be a saving grace when you are plodding away in what seems like
a dead-end job in the middle of nowhere working for your half-wit relatives.
George Bailey’s self-sacrifice kept the bank open and people in their homes
even though he suffered dejection from what he thought was a wasted career.
Angels, however, do attend us in our moments of despair, say things to us
that no one else can hear, and bring tingling reminders that they are there.
From Darabont, I would have learned the importance of using even
the smallest tool in my possession to cut through the thick prison walls of
lies, prejudice, and oppression. Andy Dufresne—the wrongly imprisoned
accountant, used and abused by prisoners and the warden—would have
taught me the importance of maintaining dignity in the face of personal
danger and violation, how to befriend the good, how to create sanctuaries
like libraries for my fellow inmates, and to be persistent in asking for what
I needed even after many rejections. I would have also learned to remain
hopeful and not turn bitter, to keep chipping away with my seven-inch rock
hammer for decades at the thick walls around me until, through Providence
and my own diligence, I could escape to paradise to work on a boat on a
tropical beach, reunited with and assisted by a true friend.
Finally, there is what I would have learned from Kubrick, whose images I
realize now eerily mirror and validate my own experience with higher forms
of communication and transport. In 2001: A Space Odyssey the astronauts
stand in front of the lunar obelisk and suddenly grasp their helmets in pain,
trying to block out the shrieking signal transmitted from beyond Jupiter,
millions of miles away. This is my cinematic equivalent to the unexplainable chest pains I experienced one morning in a San Jose, California, insurance company canteen. “I’m having a heart attack,” I told my co-workers
who laughed and said I looked perfectly healthy. And then I realized it was

Readers Write

my father’s pain, thousands of miles away, hours before the first phone call
from Ohio.
From Kubrick, as well, I would have learned about instant communication beyond ordinary means and intelligence, about invisible choirs singing
in the vacuum of space, about what we are, what we can be, once returned
to the realms of glory. I would have learned that unfathomable distances are
covered in an instant, just as in 2001’s split screen of flashing lights, which
made my cinema seat seem to move forward as the space pod was drawn
through the intergalactic switching station. This, I imagine, was the experience of my aunt, mistakenly hooked up to a dialysis machine still filled with
cleaning fluid. The room suddenly spun faster and faster, she reported, like
a revolving door and then elongated toward a single point of light, brighter
than the sun, to which she was drawn until a nurse disconnected the apparatus. I would have known what it might have looked like for her. Even how
it may have felt.
I too have been pursuing Kubrick’s obelisk, the enigma, all these years.
I am his astronaut, Dr. David Bowman, who is shocked to hear someone
in the next room and then surprised to see it is himself. He suddenly ages
another quarter century. Yesterday I was twenty-five; tomorrow I’ll be fifty;
and soon, my teaching career over, I’ll be at home or in a hospital straining
to get up, to touch the inexplicable at the foot of my bed.
Bryan R. Monte
Zeist, The Netherlands

Agony of Redeeming Love
What fun it is to laugh and sing a slaying song tonight!

I love cop shows and thrillers and westerns. They deal with the struggle
between good and evil, often as myth or archetype, and work to unlock the
mystery of iniquity and sometimes even the mystery of godliness. And yet
I usually find movies of this genre at least vaguely unsatisfying. The villains
are often relentless, remorseless, and so evil only death can stop them. Most
cop shows, thrillers, and westerns are about the fun of slaying the monster.
Richard Dutcher’s film Brigham City is a good deal more satisfying than
most of its counterparts because it refuses to laugh and sing the slaying song

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tonight. At the risk of spoiling this murder mystery for those who have yet
to see it, the ending shows a redemption and a tragic structure I rarely see in
films showing the mythic struggle of good and evil. That sentence is ironic
because Wes does the kinds of vigilante things cop shows and thrillers and
westerns delight in—an illegal search here, a killing there, and for Brigham’s
sake don’t let the press (I’m a reporter) hear about it. It is also ironic to call
Brigham City a tragedy when I remember sitting in the Provo High library
(or was I younger?) reading about the etymology of tragedy—tragoidia, goat
song. René Girard said a myth is not a story containing some deep universal
human truth, but a story a community creates to justify sacrificing a member,
creating a scapegoat, a story told to justify violence against the scapegoat.
But as the story of a good man who falls by overstepping himself, a tragedy
need not replay the ritual of driving out the scapegoat. It can replay instead
the ritual of redemption, of atonement. Brigham City moves me so deeply
because it chooses the ritual of atonement.
In the beginning Wes, the film’s main character, who is both bishop and
sheriff of Brigham City, hides a murder from the press and other police agencies. He assumes he can handle it himself, but not too many minutes later
the camera tells us this assumption will have consequences. Wes and another
character, Stu, are standing in the city park gazebo at the end of Brigham’s
celebration day and both agree “all is well.”
Except when we sing those words in “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” Mormons
usually use the phrase “all is well” ironically, as a reference to Jacob’s warning
in 2 Nephi about the devil’s lulling people “into carnal security, that they will
say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well.” Dutcher suggests
this is also his use by moving the camera down below the men’s feet to the
gazebo’s latticework. The next shot of that latticework tells us all is not well.
There’s a body under the gazebo.
Later Wes conducts an illegal search of Brigham, organizing the priesthood to go door-to-door. During the search Wes not only violates the civil
rights of a community member—thus violating his oath of office—he violates his duty as a pastor, spiritually wounding a member of his ward.
Toward the end of the film, as Wes is checking fingerprints on bottles
gathered from bar patrons, he decides to check the mugs and glasses of his
helpers and finds he has made another mistake. Years ago, his sense that all
was well in his community lulled him into false security, so he neglected to
take fingerprints and do a background check when he hired his deputy, Terry.

Readers Write

As Terry points out in the verbal confrontation that has to happen in any good
mystery, Wes has brought calamity upon the town by not doing his duty.
And he is about to bring further calamity. Wes has gone to confront a
murderer without backup. He hasn’t learned his own abilities are not sufficient—or he’s just too tired, gone too long without rest, to grasp the implications of confronting a murderer alone. He even lets Terry reassemble the
pistol he’s cleaning at the kitchen table instead of arresting him immediately.
Of course Terry points the gun at him and Wes fires first.
I don’t remember ever watching Walker, Texas Ranger or John Wayne as
McQ or other film cops collapse against the wall sobbing after killing someone. These mythic heroes sing, they don’t sob. For this reason Brigham City
moves me. But it also delights me, especially little details like Wes’s last name,
Clayton, which makes him a namesake of William “Come, Come, Ye Saints”
Clayton, and Wes’s wounded leg, which recalls Oedipus even though he is
not Oedipus. The Oedipus story, after all, never questions the rightness of
Oedipus’s going into exile. In Dutcher’s film, Wes tries to go into exile, but
his people won’t let him.
The alternative to the goat song is the song of redeeming love. At the end
of the film Wes’s answer to the prophet Alma’s question “[I]f ye have felt to
sing the song of redeeming love . . . can ye feel so now?” (Alma 5:26) is no.
By refusing the sacrament he tells his flock he feels unworthy to be their
shepherd. The people who have suffered from Wes’s overstepping his boundaries answer differently. They can sing redeeming love. They are as guilty as
he. They’ve armed themselves, prepared themselves to commit violence, so
instead of casting him out they refuse the sacrament as well. Wes relents.
Even the fallen need the Atonement, need to renew their covenants.
This last scene in Brigham City is performed in silence, the silence of contemplation, of mourning, not the noise of the scapegoat song but the agony
of redeeming love. It is an agony which moves me more deeply than mythic
archetypes in shows like Die Hard and its friends, portraying good destroying
evil through evil means. “You’re a good man, Wes,” Meredith, the FBI agent
says; “you really are.” Not quite the last words, but everything after her words
builds on their comfort. Even the fallen good are welcome to broken bread
from the Lord’s table.
Harlow Clark
Pleasant Grove, UT

Sharlee Mullins Glenn

Ye Shall Be As the Gods
How far from Eden’s shadow must we go?
foundlings banished, sick with nameless dread
looking always backward, never ahead
longing for the lushness, for the flow
of Gihon’s honeyed waters. Now we know.
Our seeing eyes perceive we were misled—
promised knowledge, given pain instead.
How far? How far from Eden must we go?
Blood-smeared sweat-bleared we toil to bring forth fruit
from earth, from loin. Then what this sudden rapture?
From whence the breeze, and how so sweet the gall?
Surprised by Joy, we feel our souls uproot
and soar toward that holy armature
upraised in honor of the blessed fall.


From the Archives
Gordon B. Hinckley’s 1936 newspaper article for the LDS Church
section of The Deseret News (a predecessor of today’s Church News)
exhibits all the traits of his lifelong church service. The article
marks a point in Hinckley’s early professional career that exhibits
his forward thinking in matters of technology and science, while
remaining firmly committed to the values and mission of the Church.
Situating the article historically points to the considerable impact that
film and visual technologies were beginning to exert in the general culture.
Consider the following events and trends of 1936:
• The Olympic Games were held in Munich and became the subject of
Leni Riefenstahl’s master (and Nazi-biased) documentary film Olympia,
which would be released some years later.
• Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (Chaplin’s last silent film) was released,
along with George Cukor’s Camille (one of Greta Garbo’s greatest performances), and Fritz Lang’s Fury (which set the stage for film noir of
the 1940s and ’50s).
• King Kong had been out three years; Disney’s Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs would be released in one year; Gone With the Wind and Wizard
of Oz would be released in three years.
• Heber J. Grant, President of the LDS Church, was in the eighteenth
year of his twenty-seven-year tenure, one marked by significant changes
in general practices that helped usher in a new, modern era for the
• New Church programs were in the process of coming into being, including the Relief Society’s Social Services Department the decade before
(providing therapy, counseling, and adoption services), the Church
Security Program in that year, and the Welfare Program two years later.
• Gordon B. Hinckley had been home from his mission to England for
one year and would marry Marjorie Pay and be appointed to the Sunday
School General Board one year later.

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In this article, Hinckley explicates new methods being used in missionary
service that take advantage of new technological advances and the attraction
that storytelling held in the mission field. Steadfastly optimistic in tone, it
should be no surprise that the article should address missionary work. The
article offers a window into the kernel of a legacy of unprecedented openness
between a Church president and the media, where one might see the beginnings of a belief in the power of media to communicate the message of the
gospel to a broad range of peoples on all continents throughout the world.
Note: The text as printed retains all original spelling and punctuation.

The Romance of a Celluloid Strip
Gordon B. Hinckley
The Deseret News, Saturday, May 2, 1936 (Church Department), pp. 4, 7

Do you know the romance of a celluloid strip and a beam of light?
Together they have gone practically ’round the world—into the homes of
the rich and the homes of the poor, down under the equator in Brazil and
up into the lands of the Northern Lights.
They have removed biting prejudice and opened doors that were once
tightly barred. Their guests they have entertained and instructed; their sponsors they have delighted.
That may sound slightly fantastic, but it is a part of that truth which often
appears stranger than fiction. The celluloid strip is a film slide the size of a
spool of thread. The beam of light is a tiny projector that weighs less than
a big book and is as easy to carry as a camera. And their travels include all of
the missions of the Church where they have been enthusiastically received.
Need More Films

Writes President Joseph F. Merrill from London, “We need more films at once.
Our mission presidents in Europe are finding them very effective in making
contacts!” In the same post is a letter from President Nicholas G. Smith of
California, “We are extremely anxious to receive two dozen films to take
care of our immediate needs.” President T. Edgar Lyon of the Netherlands
mission in a request for more films writes, “The missionaries are reporting
new investigators found through the use of this material, and avenues of

Hinckley  S  Romance of a Celluloid Strip

contact are being opened which have heretofore been unheard of. As a rule
when given in halls, they are well attended by non-members and favorable
reviews of the same have appeared in local newspapers. Their use at cottage
meetings, however, has up to the present time been of greater value than the
public presentations.”
From Berlin comes word from President Roy A. Welker to the effect that
they have increased activity in the use of this material by 1400 per cent during the past few months, so convinced are they of its effectiveness. He says,
“they have a tendency in breaking down prejudice better than any word we
have of our own.” And President Don B. Colton adds, “At the present time I
think it is one of the most effective means we have of preaching the Gospel.”
These are typical of the testimonies coming from mission president and missionaries in every land where the Gospel is being preached.
An Experience

In the words of President Philemon M. Kelley, let us go with a pair of elders
into the village of Thun, high in the mountains of Switzerland:
“They completely canvassed the small town, after first getting permission
to hold the lecture in the village schoolhouse. About half of the population
of the towe [sic] came to the lecture and they all went away with an entirely
different opinion of the Mormons. It would have taken weeks of hard work
going from house to house, to have accomplished as much good.”
But as President Lyon suggests, it is in the cottage meeting that the best
results are obtained, and it is principally for cottage meeting work that the
lectures are prepared. Here the group is small and congenial. The informality
of the occasion allows for a closer personal association between the lecturer
and those listening. Exchange of thought and opinion is easy; differences can
be quickly cleared up and questions may be asked.
In fact, the lectures are designed with the principal thought of piquing the
interest of the listener so that he will want to hear more and ask questions.
Every precaution is taken to avoid being dogmatic or argumentative, or of
appearing in any way to foist doctrines on those who have been so gracious
as to welcome the elders. More than that, the cottage meeting allows the
bearing of personal testimony.
Value Realized

Anyone acquainted with the conditions the missionary of today faces is quick
to realize the value of such work. Let us go to such a town as Brighton in

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

England. It is a south coast resort city. Many stalwart members have come
from there in the past, and there is a small but thriving branch there at present. The task of the elders is to interest others. But other things seek the
attention of the man who lives in this city of promenades, bright lights and
beautiful parks.
An elder has no difficulty in getting casual conversation. But he generally finds that his new-found friends is [sic] more interested in him as an
American or a young man than in the message he has come to preach.
Perhaps he asks him about the land in which he was raised. The elder tells
him a few things to excite his interest and then tells him that he has a splendid collection of colored pictures which he would enjoy showing to him and
his friends. English hospitality graciously responds. Here is the making of a
cottage meeting of the finest kind.
A Novel Machine

The little machine is a novelty in itself. There is something intriguing about
the “magic lantern,” as English children call it.
Pictures are thrown on the screen. A carefully-prepared manupscript [sic]
accompanies them, and they become the vehicle for telling an interesting
story lasting 35 or 40 minutes.
Perhaps it is the lecture, “Down Pioneer Trails,” dealing with the history of
Utah. Utah is located on the map and a brief description given. Then follows
the story of the Indians, always welcome in Europe. Next we follow Fathers
Escalante and Dominguez into Utah and on into valley of Timpanogas. Here
is a touchstone of good will with certain peoples: The Catholic fathers were
the first white men in what is known as the Mormon state. Then comes the
fascinating tale of the trappers of this territory. But what of those people who
were not merely seeking a shorter route to another settlement or who were
not content with only a blanket and the sky for a ceiling? Here is the story of
the Mormon pioneers, with its sorrows and final triumphs. Then the modern
picture, a climax in an epic of accomplishment through faith and industry.
Vanishes Prejudice

In most cases the old prejudice vanishes and the way is opened for questions.
Likely an invitation is extended to come again. Those listening have been
entertained and at the same time instructed. Moreover, it is a dignified manner of preaching the gospel. Wıthout the odium of propaganda, it catches the

Hinckley  S  Romance of a Celluloid Strip

interest of the listener. There is none of the thought that he is being fooled
into something, for it was never designed that such a thing should be.
This method of preaching in no way takes the place of other methods.
Tracting, street meetings and exhibitions can go on as ever. It will supplement
them. And it has a good many advantages over methods of somewhat similar
Inexpensive Equipment

The machines are portable. Moreover, they are not costly. One excellent for
cottage meeting work may be obtained for the price of camera. Nor are the
films expensive when their cost is compared with other things. A film of
fifty selected colored views may be had for the price of three or four colored
glass slides. And they are more easily carried and are not in great danger of
Because they are assembled as one strip their unity is preserved without
the possibility of their continuity being affected. A carefully-prepared and
documented manuscript accompanying each film insures the use of reliable
The individual personality of the elder is an important thing in missionary
work. In this method none of the value of personality is lost. No mechanical
voice tells the story. The individual operating the machine can do the talking.
He need not confine himself to the story as it is written. In putting it into his
own idiom it becomes his story and he is unrestrained in expressing through
it his own personality.
Preparing Lectures

The assembling of these lectures has required a good deal of effort. After the
determination of the subject the finest photographs available for the telling
of a story must be secured. This requires the taking of special photographs,
sending away for others, securing the right to use copyrighted pictures. Then
there is the task of condensing what is often a great mass of technical material into an interesting, abbreviated form readily understandable to all. The
pictures must then be adapted for projection work, and then assembled in
their proper sequence, photographed and printed from a masterfilm negative. Following this they are colored by hand by expert tinters. This is tedious
work requiring a good deal of time, and at present a process for photographing in natural color is being developed.

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

Because the films are used in all of the missions of the Church there is no
English appearing on the screen besides the title. The language of another
land always distracts the attention, and for this reason the titling of pictures
is taken care of in the manuscript.
Bishop David A. Smith pioneered this work as a mission project, with
Abram Hatch as photographer and W. A. Peterson doing the tinting. The
supervision of the work is with the Church Radio, Publicity and Mission
Literature Committee, composed of Elders Stephen L. Richards, Melvin J.
Ballard, John A. Widtsoe, Charles A. Calles and Alonzo A. Hinckley of the
Council of the Twelve.


Book Reviews
Desperately Seeking Spirit
A review of Martha Beck’s Leaving the Saints (Crown Publishers, 2005;
also in paperback from Three Rivers Press; also available in hardcover,
audio CD, abridged audio CD and cassette, and downloadable
audiobook editions)
Reviewed by David G. Pace

If ever there were a daughter of Mormonism, Martha Beck is she.
Fiercely intelligent, talented, well-read, often witty and articulate. A mother. But mostly she is a spiritual seeker, obsessed, in
her own words with “all things spiritual.” In her latest memoir, Leaving the
Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found my Faith, Beck’s prayerful mantra
asking for God’s help recalls the most foundational story of the LDS faith:
Joseph Smith’s first vision. At one point she remembers she was “willing to
try anything to invite, invoke [or] induce some sort of mystical state” (51).
I went to high school with Beck. We studied and played together, performed in shows, and went on the road to drama competitions together.
She was the most articulate, talented, and funny person I had ever known.
She even made it into an entry in my journal after we returned from a
Shakespearean competition in Bakersfield, California. I suppose we were
as intimate in high school as two self-absorbed LDS adolescents can be. In
California, she played Helena, “the painted Maypole,” and I played Oberon,
“King of the Fairies.” She had a prodigious memory, quoting from the Book
of Mormon as well as from the classics, including the Bard. And I suppose we
were both considered what she calls in her book “Mormon Royalty,” tucked
away in the hothouse of Provo and BYU with, among others, the grandchildren of Spencer Kimball and the children of Truman Madsen and Dallin
Oaks. All of this is to say that I identify with much of what Beck has written
in Leaving the Saints, often to the point of pain.

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By now most Latter-day Saints have probably heard about the accusations
Beck makes in her book against her father, the renowned Mormon intellectual and apologist, Hugh Nibley, though few, I suspect have actually read
it. Other than these accusations, which are explosive enough, Beck describes
her encounters with other believers and with the Church in Utah County
where she and her young family had returned from Harvard to raise their
Down’s Syndrome child Adam (the subject of an earlier memoir, Expecting
Adam) and to teach at BYU. Her spiritual seeking leads her first into orthodox practice, but eventually into recovered memories of ritualized sex abuse
perpetrated by her father, who was attempting to manage his own stress,
induced, she theorizes among other things, from the institutional church’s
unrealistic demands that he defend the historicity of the Book of Abraham.
Beck’s deftly written, at times tortuous, account of her descent into
tribulation followed by revelation and relief is similar to Joseph Smith’s
in that it follows a narrative common in Mormon testimony bearing and
other accounts of how God allows the seeker to sift through trial, confusion,
and pain prior to revelation. The fact that later in the book she identifies
with Moroni’s lonesome wandering in the wilderness of rejection and being
hunted by enemies, suggests further that Beck, like other Mormon seekers,
is following a commonly articulated path. In fact, Leaving the Saints may be
the quintessential Mormon book of our age because it reiterates not only the
trajectory of Joseph Smith’s journey—right down to a perceived persecution
from what she often calls her “community” and “family of origin”—but
because it presents an ostensibly new liberation of the human spirit from
moribund religion. Beck’s “spiritual technologies” correlate in broad ways
to the more doctrinal and mystical innovations of the prophet, but they are
just as audacious to her own people as the young prophet’s pronouncements
were to his. Like Joseph Smith, who, arguably, sought to reveal the definitive history of the Native American and, unarguably, the definitive Christian
religion, the debunking Beck seeks to circumscribe what it means to be
Mormon through her own experience. This restoration narrative model that
Beck relies on, however unwittingly, speaks to both what is best and what is
most destructive in Mormon character as I understand it.
As with other outings of this type, Beck’s book exhibits a seeker with
a certain egotism at work, an egotism that seeks enlightenment but also
applause from the world, ironically one of the things Beck accuses her father
of seeking. “What sustains my father,” she writes, “is the cheering crowd, the

Book Reviews

adulation, the approval. I suspect this is the closest he has to feeling unconditionally loved. I recognize the symptoms because I’ve been there” (39). Beck
was indeed the object of adulation, even with her father. After her first year
at Harvard, she returned to Provo to attend summer term and was featured
in an article comparing the two universities. The article even featured a large
picture of her, standing, with her arm around her seated and, even then,
aged father. They were, as I remember, the picture of faithful intellectualism.
Perhaps they were Mormon Royalty. I submit that Beck still exists in that
photo but now beamed to the outside world through her book. Martha Beck
is still seeking the approval of the world and, perhaps more menacingly, besting her father at his own game by playing to an even larger audience than a
Mormon one.
The darkest side to the Mormon narrative that I believe Beck’s book epitomizes is what I believe to be a frequent tendency in our culture for Mormons
to self-aggrandize while they claim a higher purpose. For me this is the most
troubling aspect of Leaving the Saints. I cannot believe, considering the
cruelty she was inflicting on a ninety-five-year-old man and his family, that
the publication of her claims is a healing act, as she purports. Clearly her
motive, among others, is to emotionally process her trauma. But the result of
her very public disclosure, coupled with her track record of mining her own
experience for personal profit signals to me self-aggrandizement. Freighted as
this work is with false modesty, it counters any attempt she makes to appear
implicated in and by her own life. Instead she is pure victim, which leads me
to remark somewhat ruefully, “God spare us from the power of victims.”
All that said, Leaving the Saints is valuable in the same way that the recent
bloodletting over polygamist Tom Green is. Why? Because in my view the
book is so very Mormon. There are rich and telling descriptions of the
Church and of Mormon culture, particularly as it configures in Utah Valley,
more precisely BYU. Many of us are apt to resonate with Beck’s account of
the young Latter-day Saint leaving Zion, then returning home with not only
religious questions but an invigorating sense of the expanding context in
which Mormonism and the LDS Church nest. Her account of the disturbing
confluence of family, faith, and culture triggered by exposure to the world
opens up the question of why many Latter-day Saints—surely one of the
great globetrotting groups of the world—can remain so cloistered, so inoculated from the world outside themselves.

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

The memoir also suggests how within co-cultures like Mormonism,
provincial lunacies begin to emerge, not just that of her father, whom she
realistically, in my view, claims was forced by his community to defend the
indefensible, but also the contingent lunacies that emerge in a group often
desperate for validation. Within this community both the hierarchy and the
rank and file did project almost anything they wanted, it seems, onto what
the literary critic Eugene England liked to call our great “lay prophet,” Hugh
Nibley, an academic whose rhetoric and footnotes, if we are to believe Beck
and others, are incomprehensible.
These lunacies in our own Mormon culture emerge for me not so much
in Beck’s book but in the response to her book which, I believe, indicts us all.
Hugh Nibley’s family may not deserve the book Leaving the Saints, but I submit that the Mormon community at large does. And perhaps for this reason,
the defensive outcry from Latter-day Saints was for a short time deafening.
First, the book exposes the LDS hierarchy that seems determined to edit
history and culture, and has used questionable means to keep their employees as well as others either working as apologists or silenced. But the tome
also, clearly without meaning to, exposes the dark side of dissidents and
former LDS, like myself, lost in perpetual complaint-based and reactionary
rhetoric with the institutional church, the same rhetoric that, despite Beck’s
claims, has largely cankered her and motivated her to vengeance as opposed
to transcendence.
Second, the response to the book points a damning light on the local press,
including Utah’s largest newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune, which failed to
formally review this nationally published work of tremendous import to the
paper’s constituents. Other than columnist Robert Kirby’s weak attempt at a
comic riff on the book, the coverage was reduced to a prepublication article
fixated almost entirely on Beck’s admittedly shocking allegations of abuse.
Then there was the initial response to the book by the Sunstone Foundation,
which like other Mormon enterprises has, in my view, largely bought in to an
uncritical view of Hugh Nibley and his research. Clearly the foundation—a
home for what liberals and dissidents enjoy referring to as “an open forum”
for Mormonism—had something profound at stake by running anything
other than the review-essay it did in its magazine. In the article, the author
felt she could divine not only inconsistencies in Beck’s narrative but that
Beck’s accusations were a lie. Only later did Sunstone publish a sizeable letter

Book Reviews

to the editor, questioning the conclusions of the more definitive (and arguably more influential) essay.
In and around the more formal organs of communication were the
behind-the-scenes hotheads and “book burners” (including Oprah Winfrey’s
friend Stephen R. Covey), who, even before the memoir’s release, felt obliged
to contact the talk show host and magazine publisher to attempt to put
the kibosh on any promotion of Beck’s book. This, coupled with the email
blasts of angry Latter-day Saints to Random House and the Oprah Winfrey
Show—again, even before the book was released—suggested the mentality
of a mob.
And yet, on the other side of these figurative torchings, there was Random
House. Through its Crown Books imprint, the powerful publisher pimped
Beck by overlooking her legitimate cultural critique and shamelessly fronting
the lurid, married as it was to minority religion. The book’s subtitle, How I
Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith was carefully calculated to sell books
at the expense of what Beck’s work was, in my estimation, potentially and
admirably about.
As a cultural artifact, Leaving the Saints becomes a warning to all of us who
have fantasized writing not just an exit-memoir, but a full-bodied revenge
drama, a King Lear with ourselves cast as a Cordelia-Beck, the loving daughter determined to become her father’s sanctuary from his own (purported)
fear. No book of this kind is worth the paper it’s printed on if it does not
honestly and expansively implicate the author.
Most of all, however, Leaving the Saints is an indictment of Martha Beck.
To be intelligent, well-read, talented, witty, and articulate does not make one
brave, right-minded, or healing. It remains to be seen if this literary effort—
and it is literary—can be Beck’s last deeply personal book, whether she can
at last live out her intimate choices without the footlights and without an
audience. To me Beck’s existence is a strong argument that like other minorities—Jews, blacks, and gays, for example—Mormons might suffer from a
kind of chronic self-hate. If so, we can expect to hear from Beck the Mormon
again, riding the countryside as an itinerant former Mormon “insider” with
admittedly piercing and insightful things to say about her “community of
origin,” but unable to resist burning the occasional cross on a Wasatch Front
Until we see the whites of her eyes again we would all do well to read Leav­
ing the Saints. It is instructive, it is well-written, it points sharply, ­sometimes

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

even humorously at our own people’s extreme behaviors, the not-so-quiet
lunacies that if they did not settle in the bed of a five- to eight-year-old girl
as Beck claims, could in fact do just that.
But most of all Leaving the Saints is a cautionary Mormon tale. It is clearly
an act of savagery, but it is a brilliant savagery.

The Jolting Truth
A review of Gregory Prince and William Robert Wright’s
David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
(University of Utah Press, 2005)
Reviewed by R. John Williams

Reading Gregory A. Prince and William Robert Wright’s new biography of
David O. McKay one finds a rather curious disclaimer nestled quietly near
the end of the introduction: “We realize that truth can be jolting, particularly
to those whose lives have been shielded from it. There will doubtless be some
who after sampling a few pages will choose not to go along for the whole ride.
We wish them no ill and trust that they will continue to pursue their own
faith journeys by their own rules” (xviii). These are not usually the opening
sentiments expressed in biographies of modern Mormon prophets. In Sheri
Dew’s biographies of Ezra Taft Benson or Gordon B. Hinckley, for example,
one finds no such warning that the “truth” of these men’s lives might be the
least bit jolting. But Prince and Wright’s biography of McKay has a lot more
to be “jolted” about. One senses, in fact, that after reading Prince and Wright,
Sheri Dew may have been simply part of the “shielding” process that has kept
us from understanding these Mormon leaders as actual men, grounded in
specific cultures, in space and in time.
The question on the table for most Mormon readers is whether or not
this sudden access to “jolting” information will hurt or protect their faith.
In his plenary address at the 2005 Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake, Prince
affirmed his conviction that writing this biography has been extremely “faithpromoting.” In fact, to those who would suggest that an examination of a
prophet’s culture (and the inherent biases that it engendered) is necessarily
subversive toward faith, Prince and Wright reply that “truth can only liberate,” and that “seeing the truth about a great man like David O. McKay

Book Reviews

will inspire the reader to greater attempts at personal greatness” (xi). Of
course, given the fact that this biography was published by the University
of Utah Press, and given the fact that Prince has been so closely connected
to non-mainstream LDS publications like Sunstone and Dialogue (where
earlier ­versions of some chapters of the biography appeared as articles), one
is reminded of D. Michael Quinn’s reaction to his critics at FARMS: “[We]
obviously see faith and its defense in very different ways, both as historians
and as believers” (351).
But what is it about David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism
that makes it potentially “jolting” for some members of the Church? In a
review like this, one is tempted to summarize all of the shocking tidbits and
anecdotes included, but that would probably spoil some of the fun for those
reading it for the first time, and there are literally so many intriguing stories
and events, it would be difficult to know where to start. What this review can
do instead is examine some of the book’s strengths and weaknesses (though,
in my opinion, there are a lot more of the former than there are of the ­latter).
To begin, then, what makes this biography so unusually candid and interesting is an unprecedented archive kept by McKay’s personal secretary, Clair
Middlemiss, and bequeathed to her nephew William Robert Wright (who
then contacted Prince for help in completing research and actually writing
the volume). Middlemiss served as McKay’s secretary from 1935 until the
prophet died in 1970, and during that time she kept records on his every
meeting, his every decision, his talks, and even his personal diaries—an
incredible 130,000 or so pages of material. Prince and Wright’s work in not
only combing carefully through all of this material, but in reading nearly
every available book on Mormonism during McKay’s lifetime and interviewing his associates (including Presidents Hinckley, Monson, and Packer in the
Church hierarchy) is nothing short of dazzling. The picture that emerges
of President McKay is that of an extremely charismatic, sensitive, educated,
non-confrontational and politically reactionary individual, a product of the
provincial nineteenth-century church he inherited, but also a man with a
vision of the Church as more global and modern.
The chapters in the book are organized thematically rather than chronologically, which makes for a somewhat different approach to biographical
writing. One of the downsides of organizing the book this way is that certain
events tend to get discussed repeatedly throughout the book, and sometimes

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

issues that might be interrelated get separated out into different chapters.
Henry D. Moyle’s vision of missionary work, for example, gets discussed
fully in chapter 10, “The Missionary Program,” but his influence in that area
as McKay’s counselor was marred by his handling of the Church’s building
program, as discussed in chapter 9. But, even if the chapters seem to depend
on each other a great deal, the benefits seem to outweigh the costs in this
case. In chapter 4, for example, on “Blacks, Civil Rights, and the Priesthood,”
Prince and Wright are able to discuss all of the difficult political and spiritual
turmoil that existed in the Church hierarchy in the decades leading up to the
1978 revelation giving blacks the priesthood. Some of this information is not
new, and some historians will no doubt grumble that much of the secondary
scholarship on this issue has been left out of the chapter, but the resulting
“McKay’s-eye view” gives us a fascinating picture of a time when a large group
of highly vocal Church leaders were racists, even as they were perceived to
be speaking for God. McKay’s own position on the issue seems to have been
something of a paradox. On the one hand, he sympathized with Ezra Taft
Benson’s claims that the civil rights movement was most likely a communist
conspiracy, designed to foment social unrest and slander the Church. On the
other hand, he reportedly prayed fervently for a revelation from God that
would repeal the ban and allow the Church to expand more aggressively into
Africa and other parts of the world.
One should also point out, however, that the particular “McKay’s-eye
view” contained in these chapters is not necessarily the last word on these
subjects, and Prince and Wright are eager to point out that the Middlemiss
archives, now housed in the Manuscript Division of Special Collections in
the Marriott Library of the University of Utah, are so comprehensive that
we can no doubt still expect a great deal of fascinating scholarship to emerge
on McKay and his contemporaries. Indeed, it seems possible that even
Prince and Wright may have left out some of the more fascinating parts of
the archives. One notices, for example, that in chapter 12, “Confrontation
with Communism,” when McKay’s son, Lawrence, and a few of McKay’s
counselors reveal Ezra Taft Benson’s duplicitous attempt to trick McKay into
allowing the John Birch Society magazine to publish his picture on the cover,
McKay tells them to get Benson on the phone. Prince and Wright explain,
At this point in the conversation, McKay asked Lawrence to get Benson on the
phone. Joseph Anderson recording the meeting in shorthand, naturally heard
only McKay’s part of the dialogue. Nonetheless, it is clear that, as the president

Book Reviews
began to talk to Benson his tone changed immediately. Like earlier occasions
when he spoke privately with Benson, he simply could not come down hard
on him. Unfortunately, the result was that he left the door open for Benson
to continue his activities. (310)

Readers of Dialogue will notice here that when this same chapter was published as an article, it was much less truncated, and included the actual minutes from the phone conversation:
McKay: “Good Morning, Brother Benson. My associates in the Presidency
are here and they inform me that the publishers want my picture on the outside cover of American Opinion.”
McKay: “Now would be a very poor time to put my picture on it. I wish
they would not do it.”
McKay: “At present time I think it would be unwise because the members
of the Church conclude that my giving permission to have my photograph on
it was an implication that I belonged to this and was in favor of their ideals.
I do as far as opposing communism. I would like a telegram sent to the publishers of the American Opinion telling them not to print my picture.” (Prince
“Red Peril” 77)

What gets published in the article in this case, but not in the book, is a much
more detailed sense of how McKay responded to his contemporaries, his
tone, and his persona—all of which seemed to involve a desire to avoid confrontation at all costs. Of course, this is not a criticism of Prince and Wright’s
book (after all, Prince wrote both of them), but simply an acknowledgement
that their book represents a tiny glimpse into the intriguing universe of the
Middlemiss archives, the tip of an iceberg that is now open for exploration
at the Marriott Library.
Some of this material will continue to be “jolting” for some members
of the Church. But jolting or not, it’s there, and it definitely isn’t going
away. One can only hope that, as Prince and Wright’s biography of McKay
sits neatly on the Deseret Book shelf next to Dew’s biography of Hinckley,
members of the Church will have a chance to pick it up, read it with an open
mind, and perhaps even embrace a more jolting vision of their faith and its
fascinating history. To return to Prince’s introduction: “[T]he only thing
that can truly promote faith (rather than shielding people from reality) is the

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

truth” (xviii).
Works Cited
Prince, Gregory A. “The Red Peril, the Candy Maker, and the Apostle: David O.
McKay’s Confrontation with Communism.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon
Thought, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Summer 2004), 37–94.
Quinn, D. Michael. Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. 2nd ed. Salt Lake
City: Signature Books, 1998.

The Importance of Identity
A review of Lael Littke’s Searching for Selene (Deseret Book, 2003)
Reviewed by Lisa Close

I have to admit to much trepidation upon reading the back cover of Lael
Littke’s Searching for Selene. After reading the novel itself, I understood what
the cover was trying to convey, but note to Littke: Make Deseret Book write
better explanations of your books. Searching for Selene is a powerful novel
about a teenager searching through her past to find who she really is and to
whom she belongs. Forced to choose between two futures, Selene Swensen
faces heartache and confusion at every turn. By remaining true to her faith
and upbringing, Selene realizes that she is a child of God—no more, no less.
The story begins with the Swensens receiving a letter from Minnesota. In
the letter, the Russo family tells of their daughter, Micaela, who was kidnapped as a toddler. The Russos think Selene, now a sixteen-year-old living
in Idaho, is their missing daughter, and they want to get to know her and
make up for lost time. After the Swensens adopted Selene, she would wake
up with nightmares of a woman in a big black hat. The story of her kidnapping helps Selene understand her nightmares and several unhappy memories
of her childhood, but she has no desire to travel to Minnesota and stay with
strangers. Her life in Idaho is changing: her brother is leaving on a mission,
her best guy friend, Lex, is in love with her, she has a major part in a play
where she’ll experience her first kiss, and her beloved, grouchy grandfather
is getting older. Selene and Lex have been helping her grandfather search
for his old girlfriend, Selena Marie, who is also Selene’s namesake. With life
going so well and finally getting exciting (her first kiss!), it is unthinkable for
Selene to leave to go to foreign Minnesota. Yet without even realizing it, she

Book Reviews

is on her way to her other family. The warmth of the Russo family and the
memories found in their home help Selene realize the truth of her parentage,
but struggles with an older sister and strong feelings of homesickness confuse
her as to where she should remain and with what family.
Though Littke’s story seems somewhat farfetched, she aptly explores family relationships and how to decipher one’s identity. When Selene realizes the
foremost knowledge that she is a child of God, all of her fears and doubts
recede and she is able to decide how best to care for herself and her families. Though the sideline search for Selena Marie is at times distracting, the
woman herself helps Selene with her life-altering decisions. Through Selene’s
adventure, Littke illustrates the importance of understanding true identity as
coming from Heavenly Father.
I would recommend Searching for Selene for anyone looking for an interesting, affirming story. Young adults in particular will enjoy the teenage romance
aspect, while older readers will relate to the grandfather’s love affair.

Nephi Among the Superheroes
A review of Mike Allred’s The Golden Plates, Volume Two:
The Liahona and the Promised Land (AAA Pop, 2005)
Reviewed by Mahonri Stewart

Spiderman, Batman, Wolverine, move over. Here comes Nephi.
Mike Allred’s The Golden Plates graphic novel—a fancy name for a high
quality comic book—was very welcome to me, being a comic book fan since
my childhood.
Comic books can be a very strong influence on their readers. In my life,
I found that they had both the potential to be positive and negative influences. Comic books emphasize the good versus evil aspect in the gospel: that
there is opposition in all things and that there is a great struggle, a dynamic
conflict, going on in our lives. Superheroes depict men and women (albeit
fictional ones) who are self-sacrificing and nobly intentioned in trying to
help others escape from harm and danger. My interest in LDS church history,
I believe, was a direct link from my reading of comic books. Take a Joseph
Smith or an Eliza Snow—with their miraculous experiences and spiritual
gifts—and they translate well into superheroes with super powers.
Yet there can be some negative side effects to comic books: women are

Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

often portrayed too sensually and there are some comic books (thankfully,
not really the ones I was interested in) that are extremely violent. However,
Allred relies on the strengths of comic books and not the weaknesses.
Characters like Nephi are prime material for this particular artistic medium
and Allred handles them skillfully. When Allred’s second issue of the series,
The Liahona and the Promised Land, was released, I was as pleased with it as
I was with the first issue.
Allred’s style, instead of being showy and ornate, has very simple lines and
figures, maintaining a kind of artistry, emotion and sweep that hearkens back
to comic book legend Jack Kirby (the original artist for such enduring icons
as Spiderman and the X-Men).
One criticism of the artwork, however, is that Allred sometimes relies a little
heavily on Arnold Friberg’s classic paintings of the Book of Mormon. Some of
the panels are directly based on the images that LDS people have been familiar
with for decades. However, this could be more of a tribute to Friberg and his
influence on the way we view the Book of Mormon rather than a copy. Yet,
for the most part, Allred has his own vision of Lehi and his family and doesn’t
delve too deeply into Fribergism. Allred’s Nephi is distinct and has his own
characteristics unrelated to any other Mormon artist’s vision of him.
As far as dialogue and story go, Allred doesn’t embellish much. He adds
some simple dialogue to further the story, but those moments are rare. When
he launched into doing a comic book version of the Book of Mormon, he
took that literally: for the most part, this is the Book of Mormon translated
into the medium of comic books. Verse for verse. This is not Allred’s “new
vision” of the work—unless you count the artwork. The ways he portrays
angels and devils, for example, is very dynamic, unlike anything I’ve seen
from anybody else. His heavenly and hellish beings have a vivid supernaturalness, while being depicted with simplicity. My favorite character in the
series is the recurring angel—that he wasn’t some nondescript character was
satisfying. Instead, the angel adds something new, a supernatural common
thread to tie the story together. The angel has layers and dimension; he uses
fear for the wicked (a la Batman) and light and joy for the righteous (a la
X-Men), and pulls the reader in by the power that he instills into this nameless character.
Allred creates his characters with raw, natural emotiveness. He knows how
to create images that imprint themselves on the reader’s brain. Allred draws
vivid pictures that have this compelling, yet never overtly showy, approach of

Book Reviews

portraying not only an image, but an emotion, a spiritualness.
Perhaps I say this because I’m still relatively young, but I think every
generation needs a new way to see old things, needs a “translation” into their
own language. We can’t rely on the old artists to carry the torch forever—
they become dated, they lose their effectiveness because it is no longer in the
new language. The fact that these comic books are selling so well (I know
of a single comic shop that sold over two thousand copies of the first issue
alone) shows that there are a great many people hungry for this genre. The
fact that I’ve seen them in the local Borders and Deseret Book means that
the big bookstores recognize the marketability of these comics, too.
Yet beyond markets, styles and language, what was most significant for
me in both of the current volumes was the fact that I felt the Spirit as I read
them. Allred’s work is so pure and sincere and meaningful, his testimony so
obvious, that I had an authentic spiritual experience with it. I felt the Holy
Ghost burn through me, testifying to me of the Book of Mormon’s truthfulness. That’s nothing—despite all the good they provided me—that the
X-Men, Spiderman, or Batman ever gave me.


is a graduate of Brigham Young University and
London Film School. He works at the BYU library as a Mormon
cinema specialist and taught the first course offered at BYU in
Mormon cinema. He lives with his family in Provo, Utah.
Randy Astle

recently moved from Washington, DC, to Boise, Idaho.
He works as an attorney, with a BA degree from the University of Utah in
English and History and a law degree from Brigham Young University.

Shawn P. Bailey

lives and writes in Bountiful, Utah. She received her BA from
Westminster College, where she was the editor of Ellipsis, and earned her
MFA in Creative Writing (poetry) from the University of Utah. She is the
former president of Writers@Work. Her poems have appeared in numerous

Maureen Clark

is working on her M.A. in English at Brigham Young University
while working full-time at UC Irvine. She and her husband live in Anaheim
with their redheaded three-year-old, Constance

Lisa Close

Colin Douglas grew up in the Puget Sound country and attended the
University of Washington, where he took a bachelors degree in psychology.
After earning a master’s degree in English at Brigham Young University, he
worked twenty years as an editor in the Church Curriculum Department.
For literary mentors, he looks mainly to the Bible and the Doctrine and
Covenants, Ezra Pound, Kenneth Rexroth, and Clinton Larson.
Sharlee Mullins Glenn’s essays, short stories, poetry, and reviews have appeared

in a number of periodicals including Women’s Studies, The Southern Literary
Journal, BYU Studies, Wasatch Review International, and Irreantum. She has
also published a novel and two picture books for young readers.
received her MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence Col­
lege. She is the author of the memoir Grace Notes: The Waking of a Woman’s
Voice. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Quarterly West, Cimarron
Heidi Hart



Review, Pleiades, Lumina, Pilgrimage, Monkscript, The Salt Flats Annual, and
Joel T. Long’s book Winged Insects was published in 1999 by White Pine Press.
His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals including
Seattle Review, Talking River Review, Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review,
Sonora Review, Poet Lore, Crab Orchard Review, and Bellingham Review,
among others. He lives in Salt Lake City, where he is president of the City
Art literary reading series and teaches creative writing to high school students.

has twice been an Honorable Mention winner in the LDS
Film Festival Screenplay Competition. He received the Dialogue 2004 fiction
award and was a submission finalist for the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab in
2005. He earned a BA in film from Brigham Young University. A resident of
Fullerton, California, he teaches screenwriting and film studies at the Orange
County High School of the Arts in Santa Ana.

Aaron Orullian

is the new book review editor for Irreantum. His creative
work is forthcoming in Quarterly West and Dialogue. He teaches courses in
American popular culture at the University of Phoenix in Salt Lake City.

David G. Pace

is a freelance writer living with her husband and four young
sons in northern western Canada. She holds a degree in sociology from the
University of Alberta. Her work has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout Canada and includes a newspaper column on family and
­women’s issues for the past six years.

Jennifer Quist

Eric Samuelsen is an award-winning playwright with several plays, as well
as theater and film reviews to his credit. He is associate professor in BYU’s
Theatre and Media Arts Department.

is a freelance writer and critic based in Portland, Oregon. Since
1999, he has published more than seventeen hundred film reviews in The
(Provo) Daily Herald and on various movie-related websites, including http:// and his own site,

Eric D. Snider

Mahonri Stewart is a playwright and theater manager who lives with his
wife and son in Provo, UT. Mahonri has been the recipient of the 2003
Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival’s second place National
Playwriting Award for his debut play Farewell to Eden. He has also received
first and second place in the 2004 Ruth and Nathan Hale Playwriting Awards


Irreantum  S  vol. 7, no. 3 (2005)

for his plays Legends of Sleepy Hollow and Farewell to Eden respectively.
Lee Walker

lives, writes, and watches movies in Salt Lake City.

studies Media Analysis and Social Science at Utah Valley State
College in Orem, Utah.

Peter Walters

is a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature at the Univer­
sity of California, Irvine. He has articles forthcoming in Comparative Criti­cal
Studies and Postmodern Culture.

R. John Williams

Lon Young directs middle school bands in Provo, Utah, where he lives with his

wife, Rebecca, and their four daughters. He is completing a master’s degree
in literature and creative writing at Utah State University.

Call for Submissions
We will publish an issue on “Youth” in early 2007.
We seek submissions of short fiction written for a
young adult audience. We also seek submissions on
any topic in the form of fiction, poetry, and personal essay. We especially would like to see translations of works written by, for, or about Mormons
in languages other than English. Send inquiries or
electronic manuscripts (MSWord, WordPerfect, or
rtf files) to


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Personal Essays by Mormon New Yorkers
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• Why the Church is as

True as the Gospel

by Eugene England
One of the most-cited collections of essays on
LDS thought and doctrine returns to print.

Paperback, aprox. 160 pp.


• The Rummage Sale:

Collections and Recollections
by Donald R. Marshall
The first of the new wave of Mormon
fiction that started in the 1970s.

$1000.00 each

• Mormoniana

Mormon Literary Library

• Under the Cottonwoods


• Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters


New editions of classic
works of Mormon literature.


• Lullaby of the Animals


edited by Gideon Burton

Innovative new projects by
cutting-edge artists.
• Silent Notes Taken


Paperback, aprox. 176 pp. $14.50



Added Upon
a critical edition

by Nephi Anderson
edited by Gideon Burton



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Signature Books
Publisher of Western and Mormon-Related
Fiction, Essay, and Art

visit us at

The Nelson Whipple house, built in 1854 in Salt Lake City, is now the home
of Signature Books. Drawing by Keiko Jones, courtesy the artist.

He’d always been careful. He had seen only six R-rated films over the
past few years—two rented, four on HBO. . . . He’d since repented
of all these transgressions, repented even for not praying properly
about whether he should have seen them in the first place, and so
had been sober since summer. (Unrated foreign films didn’t count.)
from Aaron Orullian, “Judgment Day”
I believe New York Doll is not only a masterpiece, but will prove to
be one of the most important films in the history of LDS cinema. For
all that’s been written, I think we’ll be writing about it for years to
come, and even then just scratching the surface.
from Randy Astle, review of Greg Whitely’s New York Doll
Even in the best two-person partnerships, the whole process of
marital negotiation can be difficult, painful, and full of hurt feelings
and misunderstanding. But if we imagine adding a third partner, or
a fourth partner, the process could well become far more tense and
emotionally charged.
from Eric Samuelsen, review of HBO’s Big Love
Plus Randy Astle and Lee Walker on LDS Church-produced films and
propaganda, first and second-place fiction contest winners Aaron
Orullian and Shawn P. Bailey, film reviews of Church Ball and This
Divided State
Poetry by Maureen Clark, Colin Douglas, Sharlee Mullins Glenn,
Heidi Hart, Joel T. Long, Jennifer Quist, and Lon Young
Regular features: Readers Write, From the Archives, Book Reviews

Official publication of
the Association for Mormon Letters