A few weeks ago I read about a Mormon Literature story contest, here. The premise is 400 years of Mormon Stories, inviting writers to write Mormon stories set in the 19th, 20th, 21st, or 22nd century. I also read an interview with LDS author Eric Stone on mentioning Mormons in science fiction. That was a very interesting read, especially as he discusses several specific points about adding a Mormon character to his sci-fi novel, like the fact that he didn’t make his Mormon character perfect, but gave him some flaws, and no one gets converted either to or from Mormonism – this novel was not intended as a proselytizing tool, but simply a novel that has a Mormon character.
So, as I have been thinking about writing a story to submit to the contest, I have been thinking about what exactly constitutes Mormon Literature, and what the purpose of Mormon Literature is.
First, what makes a story Mormon Literature? Just because there is a character mentioned who is Mormon, does that make a particular novel Mormon literature? By that standard, then, books such as Around the World in 80 Days, or even A Study in Scarlet, both of which do not exactly portray Mormons in a positive light. Does a novel, then, to be considered Mormon literature, need to be written by a Mormon? So, is Ender’s Game Mormon literature, because it is written by a Mormon, and has a character that is Mormon? (For an interesting post on Ender’s Game as Mormon Literature, see this.)
So, what are the essential elements of a story that qualify it to be considered Mormon Literature? I don’t know. Would it require Mormon characters, and discussion of Mormon principles? Would it require at least Mormon doctrine as a central theme, even if not explicitly spelled out as such?
This leads into the next question I had – What is the purpose of Mormon Literature? Does Mormon Literature exist for Mormons to write about themselves, their culture and their doctrine? And what is the intended audience of Mormon Literature? Other Mormons who already believe in the doctrine, meaning the novel serves as a reinforcement of those ideas and confirmation that Mormonism is correct? Or are these novels intended for those who are not Mormon, written as a way of introducing others to the principles of Mormonism?
I believe that some of the best Mormon literature that I have read have indeed been written by Mormons, dealing with the intricacies and difficult questions of Mormonism or life itself. That seems to be the most important part of any literature, not just Mormon literature, that it deals with the questions of life, that it has the reader ask the serious questions and search for the answers, whether in philosophy or religion, or elsewhere, according to the particular reader. And so, Mormon literature should present characters and situations that allow the reader to ask the deep questions of the soul, and search for the answers.
And so, this is what I have been thinking about as I have begun writing for the Mormon Literature contest, trying to figure out exactly what constitutes a piece of Mormon Literature, and what the purpose of Mormon Literature should be. What are your thoughts? What would you like to read as an example of Mormon Literature?