Strangers and Pilgrims

Season 1 – Death of the Prophet Joseph Smith

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Yeats, Eliot, and Indecision on Stairs

In 1933 W.B. Yeats published the book of poetry “The Winding Stair and Other Poems”

The poem Vacillation V, from this book, has the following stanza:

Things said or done long years ago,

Or things I did not do or say

But thought that I might say or do,

Weight me down, and not a day

But something is recalled,

My conscience or my vanity appalled.

The idea of vacillations on a staircase remind me of the vacillations on a staircase of Prufrock in T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

"Mormon" is Correctly Used in Proper Names

As I’ve been editing all my scripts to get them more in line with President Nelson’s guidance on using the proper name of the church — so that I can then re-record the episodes — I’ve noticed in my scripts that the term “Anti-Mormon” gets used a lot.

I’m not taking this out, because of the line in the Style Guide which says:

"Mormon" is correctly used in proper names such as the Book of Mormon or when used as an adjective in such historical expressions as "Mormon Trail."

“Anti-Mormon” was the name of an actual group, or party, of people that lived in Western Illinois while Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints lived there from 1840-1845. Here is a small Wikipedia entry about them.

One of the leaders of the Anti-Mormon party was a man named Thomas Sharp, who ultimately figured largely into the death of Joseph Smith.

Starting Again & The Name of the Church

I haven’t written anything on this blog — or done anything on the podcast in a long time.

I wrote back in April 2017 that I was working on a film script, and so was temporarily stopping writing Season 2 of the podcast. I didn’t expect the film script to get bought, or have it go anywhere, and so when I wrote that last blog post in April I figured I’d have Season 2 of the podcast out in the summer. But, the script ended up doing more than I thought it would.

It got bought, and produced. In that process it went through 13 rewrites — or 13 drafts. I wrote the first 8 drafts, and did the re-writes based off the notes of the Director and Producer attached to the film. And, then the Director did the last 5 rewrites based off my and the producer’s notes. The director says that he didn’t actually do 5 rewrites, that he only did 3, and that his numbering system only make it look like he did five. But, either way.

The director, in July 2017, while we were doing rewrites raised the budget, and the film was shot in early November 2017 — there are some good actors attached to the project, I think. They did pretty good.

I would talk more about the movie, or link to it, or use people’s names associated with it — but nothing about it has been published yet. Everyone is keeping it close to the vest. And, I don’t want to be the first person to say something about it on the internet.

So, the reason that I just stopped — out of nowhere — with Season 2 of the podcast, is because I was doing rewrites on this Church history movie I wrote. The movie tells a story from the life of Joseph Smith. It isn’t the story of his death, though. It’s not based off the podcast. I do, though, have that script written already, though — a script telling the story of the death of Joseph Smith. It’s just a big budget script — probably $5 million dollars. So, in order for that movie to get made, this movie coming out in 2019 will have to do very well.

Anyway, what I’m going to be doing over the next few weeks is going back and re-recording all the first season episodes of the podcast.

In October 2018, Russell M. Nelson, the prophet and leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the Church Joseph Smith founded, gave a talk in General Conference titled “The Correct Name of the Church”.

In that talk, Russell M. Nelson referenced an official statement he put out regarding the proper name of the Church — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This official statement directs people to an updated style guide which says:

While the term "Mormon Church" has long been publicly applied to the Church as a nickname, it is not an authorized title, and the Church discourages its use.

In his conference talk, President Nelson said:

the name of the Church is not negotiable. When the Savior clearly states what the name of His Church should be and even precedes His declaration with, “Thus shall my church be called,” He is serious. And if we allow nicknames to be used or adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He is offended.

What’s in a name or, in this case, a nickname? When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the “LDS Church,” the “Mormon Church,” or the “Church of the Latter-day Saints,” the most important thing in those names is the absence of the Savior’s name. To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan. When we discard the Savior’s name, we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us—even His Atonement.

Since this talk in October 2018 I’ve been meaning to fix the podcast and take out all the times that I used the term “Mormon” or “Mormon Church” or “Mormonism” — but I haven’t done it. And, I was a pretty big offender — in the first episode of the podcast there were probably 70 times that I referred to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the “Mormon Church” or to its members as “Mormons”. So, I’m repenting now, and starting to get myself more in line with the teachings of the prophet.

So, over the next few weeks I will be updating every podcast episode, all the scripts, and information on the website, and on the podcasts, so that I use the appropriate, correct name of the Church and its members.

T.S. Eliot and a passage from Dante

Section 3 of T.S. Eliot's poem Ash-Wednesday was originally published as a stand-alone poem in Autumn 1928.  When it was published by itself, it was given the title "SOM DE L'ESCALINA".  This translates to, roughly, "Summit of the Stairs."

The narrative of the poem is about someone walking up a set of stairs.  The title of the poem comes from a line in Dante's Divine Comedy:

Ara vos prec per aquella valor
'que vos guida al som de l'escalina,
'sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor.'
Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina.

This passage translates to:

"Now I petition you, by that kind Power
Escorting you to the summit of the staircase,
At the appropriate time, recall my pain.”
Then he hid himself in the refining fire.

That last line of that poem, Poi s'ascose nel foco che gli affina, is found untranslated in the last stanza of T.S. Eliot's poem The Wasteland -- line 427.

Eliot referenced that last line in a critical essay he wrote titled Dante.  Regarding that last line he says:

. . .the errors of Arnaut are corrected - Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.

He led up to this quote by saying:

A variety of passages might illustrate the assertion that no emotion is contemplated by Dante purely in and for itself. The emotion of the person, or the emotion with which our attitude appropriately invests the person, is never lost or diminished, is always preserved entire, but is modified by the position assigned to the person in the eternal scheme, is coloured by the atmosphere of that person’s residence in one of the three worlds. About none of Dante’s character is there that ambiguity which affects Milton’s Lucifer. The damned preserve any degree of beauty or grandeur that ever rightly pertained to them, and this intensifies and also justifies their damnation.

This commentary on the completeness of Dante's characters in his Divine Comedy reminds me of Shakespeare's success with characters -- that he created whole men and women. Independent of themselves.  Whose emotions are 'preserved entire'.



Writing a Film

Season 2 of the Strangers and Pilgrims podcast will be out this Summer -- Summer 2018  Hopefully in June.  Or, in July at the latest.  It's pretty close to being realized.

Before I finish Season 2, however, I'm going to finish a movie script I was writing.  The movie script tells a story from the first 14 years of LDS Church History.  I was writing it last year, in 2017, and stopped writing it to do Season 1 of the podcast.

Now, I want to finish writing the script before I do Season 2.  About 70% of the first draft is done.  But, I haven't really blocked out the last parts.  But, It's already gone through a lot of revisions.  So, I'm hoping that I won't have to do too many drafts after the first.


The Tragedy of Korihor

I make collages as social media advertisements for the podcast.

One of the books I cut out of is “Mormon Arts: Volume One, Brigham Young University Press, 1972”.

It is a pretty cool little book.  It actually came with a record in the back that has BYU Orchestra and Choir recordings on it.

In the book there is a section titled “Mormon Drama”, and a little write-up on a play called "The Tragedy of Korihor."  The play was written by Louise G. Hanson -- a student at Brigham Young University. 

The play was performed in 1971 by BYU's Touring Repertory Theatre Company and was directed by Dr. Harold I. Hansen.

Here is the write-up in my book:


Dr. Hansen directed the popular Hill Cumorah Pageant that is put on by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints every year. The Hill Cumorah Pageant is an outdoor pageant that tells the story of the Book of Mormon, and of Joseph Smith finding golden plates on which the Book of Mormon was written.


Context in LDS Church History Stories

In his 1954 essay "The Writer and the Audience," Saul Bellow says that the writer wants the audience to, "assume what he and his. . .characters assume."

He goes on to explain that this must be done so that, "When a character is wounded the reader [feels] pain," and so that, "when a character makes a promise the reader [feels] the underlying obligation."

I think this is just a nice way of saying that a writer has to give his readers context -- because without context you can't fully understand character actions and their emotional effects. Especially important is context for historical stories.

Most stories told about the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints take place between 1820 and 1850 in America -- almost 200 years ago.  In order for people to fully understand a story, they have to fully understand the time and place in which it is set.  A lot of the anecdotes or facts shared in church history stories to provide context are the same ones told over and over again.  I don't know if this is due to laziness, or due to the fact that the stories have had 200 to find their most efficient way to be told -- and have reached the point of being canonized themselves.

Often, I find the context provided in these stories not interesting because a) I have already been explained this context 100 times in other church history stories, and b) the context is not told narratively.

The first bit of context that gets used constantly, and of which I often get tired, is the context given to Joseph Smth's first vision.

And, don't get me wrong.  It's good context.  It's important context.  It should be told in advance of telling the story of Joseph Smith's first vision.  In fact, Joseph Smith himself establishes this context being used narratively in 1838, when he sets the scene up the story of his first vision with the context itself.  He says:

Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.

This feeling of religious interest in Joseph's area help explains why a 15 year old boy would go to the woods to pray about what church he should join.  It helps explain the persecution that would follow him when he claims to have received a revelation from God on the question in which God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him.

But, are there other ways to set context without just repeating what Joseph said about it already?  And, about which everyone else has quoted him saying it?  Or, do we just use that bit of context because it's the context Joseph used and it's good enough for us?

Another important aspect of context, I believe, in Church History Stories is setting doctrinal context.

For example, in Season 1 Episode 3 of the podcast, we talk a lot about Joseph being charged with treason.  Understanding these charges against Joseph, I believe, requires understanding the Kingdom of Daniel -- why it was considered treasonous by government and officials, and a righteous goal by church members.

Understanding the motivations for Joseph establishing the Kingdom of Daniel better help us understand how much it must have hurt him -- or not hurt him -- when he was thrown in jail for it.

These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins

I almost titled Episode 9 of my podcast series, "These Fragments I have Shored Against My Ruins."  This is a reference to the end of Eliot's wasteland.

But, I didn't.  The entire time I was writing my podcast I was constantly putting in bits and references and allusions to literature, and pop culture, and I was always taking them out.  Trying to pare the podcast down so it was just history.  I tried to limit any tangential-editorializing of the story.

But, I still borrowed two ideas from T.S. Eliot in Episode 9 of my podcast.

The first idea comes from this line -- these fragments I have shored against my ruins.

Instead of having Episode 9 be in the 3 Act structure, like all my other episodes are, I decided to just put in a lot of loose fragments that relate to one another.  You can see relics of this idea in the script I wrote for the last episode in which I actually call each vignette 'fragment one, fragment two, fragment three', etc.

George Steiner said that modern literature is incomplete.  that it adopts a "poetics of the fragmentary, of fragments shored against the ruins."  And, that a fragmentary ending is a 'convention of noncompletion."

I didn't think about all that when I was writing the podcast.  I just liked the idea of ending the podcast with fragments.

The other idea I borrowed from T.S. Eliot's poem Little Gidding.  this is the last of the Four Quartets.

That idea came from these lines of poetry:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

I figured that I might as well do what T.S. Eliot said,  and since I started Episode 1 with Porter Rockwell in jail in Independence, Missouri -- I might as well end Episode 9 with Porter Rockwell in jail in Independence, Missouri.