A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints

Section Introduction: The Novel

Richard Cracroft and Neal Lambert, editors

God, the best storyteller, has made a better story out of Joseph and the Mormon wandering than fiction will ever equal. --Bernard DeVoto

More discursive in form and much broader in format, the novel offers remarkable possibilities for expressing and exploring the religious experience of the individual and the historical experience of a people. And when the history is striking and the religious experience itself so remarkable, it is not surprising that Mormons and Mormonism have been the subjects for literally hundreds of novels. While the Great Mormon Novel is still waiting for the Great Mormon novelist to come along, other pieces of varying attitudes toward Mormonism and varying levels of accomplishment have poured from the press. By and large, Mormons and Mormonism, until 1939, fared badly in the hands of both Gentile and Saint. Susa Young Gates, in 1909, published John Stevens' Courtship, a romance of the "Echo Canyon War," another of the faith-promoting stories so popular among the Mormons. Nephi Anderson achieved the same kind of fiction with his continuingly popular (among Mormons at least) Added Upon, its settings including pre-earth life, earth life, and postmortal existence; to this work he added Marcus King, Mormon (1909), and John St. John (1917), as well as several similar moralistic but artistically unpromising novels.

As with Anderson's other novels and stories, Marcus King, Mormon is didactic, written to demonstrate to Latter-day Saints how the Lord will prosper those who "cleave unto the truth." King, an eastern sectarian minister of one year's experience, concludes through his studies that "much of the theology he had learned at college and that which he was supposed to teach, was dim and of doubtful meaning .... He had been asking for light, and God had sent it to him" in the person of Elder James, who preached Mormonism to King. In the following excerpt, taken from the novel's beginning, we follow King in his decision to embrace Mormonism, despite the heartbreak caused by the rejection of his fiancee, Alice Merton:

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