There’s an interesting article over at The New York Times called Mormons Offer Cautionary Lesson on Sunny Outlook vs. Literary Greatness.
It looks, in part, at the influence on one’s culture on the stories authors write. The problems I have with it is that at times it lacks nuance and offers sweeping generalization. Look, for example, the headline — “cautionary lesson” — what? One cannot have a “sunny outlook” and “literary greatness”?
Shannon Hale is quoted, and I wish I just had her entire interview to read, because her approach is nuanced: “The books she was assigned treated “decline and the ultimate destruction of the human spirit” as necessary ingredients for an honest portrayal of life. But what if Mormons do not think that way? “I think Mormons tend to have hope and believe in goodness and triumph, and those portrayals can ring false in a literary world,” Ms. Hale said.”
I think there is a good discussion that can be had about the “literary world,” and Hale captures why I tend not to read literary fiction. I’m not a Mormon; and I also don’t believe that goodness will triumph, no, I’m too pessimistic for that; but I don’t want my literature to be all “ultimate destruction,” as she puts it. I also don’t believe that is or should be the definition of what makes literature “great.”
And I say “culture” because it’s both more and less than what one’s religion is. The article mentions some specific aspects of Mormon belief that may influence what people may write — such as the existence of other worlds — and I find that type of exploration into what inspires, as well as the framework of a person’s worldview that they may not even realize they have, fascinating.
The article also gets into some blanket statements about genre and category that bothered me. There is an assertion that Mormons write books for children and teens (or have their works labelled as such) because it’s a way to avoid “having” to write sex scenes. Stuff like that makes me want to list all the non-children and non-teen books that don’t have pages and pages of sex scenes. And there’s a professor who calls genre literature like SF/F “uncomplicated.” Which, yeah, that.
Despite leaving the article wishing for something with more substance, there are a couple of questions raised that I think are worth examining. (And it’s largely due to Hale’s quotes that I’m thinking about them.)
What is “literary greatness” and is that definition the correct one? Is the issue not whether an author has “sunny outlook” but, rather, whether today’s definition of “literary greatness” is too narrow to embrace great works that are not doom and gloom?
And, how does ones culture and outlook influence what one writes?
Also, I’m using “Mormon” so frequently because the article does. Should it simply be LDS? I’ll go back in and revise this if I’m using terminology wrong.