UNDER THE MORMON BANNER OF HEAVEN

Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven chronicles the 1984 murders of two families by two brothers who believe a heavenly vision commanded them to kill a woman and her infant daughter. At least it uses the murder as a starting point. The motivation for the throat-cutting was not only a supposed divine revelation but a personal and complicated relationship involving a marriage gone wrong and the defiance of a wife who refused to go along with a fundamentalist “commandment” that she allow her husband a second wife. Both brothers belonged to one of the several LDS church-disowned splinter groups who believe that the church went terribly wrong when it officially banned polygamy in 1890.

In Krakauer’s version of the history, the worst of the polygamists used the god-sanctioned practice to commit rape and incest on a grand scale. One of the chief tenets of the sects was/is absolute obedience to the patriarch, so once the vision of the male in charge came down, the discussion was over. Many women felt comfortable with the idea and followed willingly. A particularly interesting case to me was that of 12-year-old Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her bed and forced to live as a sex slave for something like two years. When she was finally recovered and returned to her family, her main concern was for the fate of her captors. Seemingly A classic case of the Stockholm Syndrome wherein victims bond sympathetically with those who hold them prisoners.

Much of what Krakauer describes in the book is historically accurate, and beyond appalling. It’s savage and violent and all centered around so-called visions of specific individuals who use their communications with the Almighty to commit all kinds of outrages. None of what they do is sanctioned by the church, at least after 1890. However, there is plenty of church-sanctioned slaughter to condemn before that time, such as the infamous Mountain Meadows massacre of 1857. In that event–series of events, actually–a self-styled militia, many disguised as Indians, murdered about 120 members of a passing wagon train. The president of the church at the time–the famous Brigham Young–condoned both the murders and the cover-up. There are plenty of execrable acts committed under the banner of other religions, so it would be entirely unfair and inaccurate to declare the Mormon church one-and-only violent outlaw religion. Still, the degree of savagery in its history is hard to ignore. The insistence on a certain degree of secrecy in its philosophy and practices contributes to the suspicions many hold against it. That’s not to mention one of the underpinnings of church philosophy which was blatantly racist. In 2019 the practice of discrimination against blacks was officially stopped, but of course many still believe in it.

Jon Krakauer

At any rate, Under the Banner of Heaven, as an account of events surrounding America’s only home-grown religion, makes for disturbing reading.

THUNDERSTORM –A MEDITATION

We were strolling woods and swimming through birdsong that turned somehow into summer thunder and stabbing lightning that tore  a smoldering hole in what used to be a moment ago a whole and beautiful pine or was it an oak I don’t quite remember and it doesn’t matter really what matters or did was its wholeness, its upright beauty bending in the wind and dancing balletic while that  coming again the snapping rumble and the withering downpour that will soak you and dry you out all at once like some sort of holy paradox that one can maybe describe but never understand, and overtake you even when you’re standing still and minding your own business and meaning no harm or even disturbance to anyone or anything and don’t’ you know it can happen like that and not only can but does in nature which doesnt care a dam or a dram about you or what you want or what you intended or doesn’t even know you’re in the way but just slams its way into and around you until its finished and like the magic finger having writ moves on and I say amen and can you say amen once more and even then give me one last until next time aaamen.

SEARCHING FOR A TITLE

A while back I wrote a book called You Can’t Keep Her. It is a sequel to Bonita, the coming of age tale of twelve-year-old girl who wends her way through enormous trials and tribulations to become a woman of character and means.

I think it’s a heck of a book, but with my customary poor marketing and other circumstances, It didn’t sell worth a damn. I’ve still got a number of virgin copies I can send you if you submit a postage paid envelope. But the struggle is not over yet.

What if God had given up on Day 5? We’d be without water or elephants or redwoods or who knows what. Something important, that’s for sure. So I’m developing a new plan. By the end of next month, I should have, if all goes as promised, five novels up and ready to go. As revealed in an earlier blog,

The Three-Volume Maxwell Family Saga:

The Maxwell Vendetta

The Second Vendetta

and

BRAND NEW

Swindle in Sawtooth Valley.

Then comes the aforementioned Bonita

The Yellow Rose (Co-authored with Bob Stewart)

But wait, there’s more. You may have noticed I haven”t mentioned You Can’t Keep Her. That’s because I’m not keeping You Can‘t Keep her. Never fear, I’m not dumping the book, just the title.

I was never fond of that title anyhow, so with a new printing and such a small audience out there who might be familiar with it already, I figure it’s time for a change. So in the unrelenting search for the perfect name for this baby, will it be

[drum roll]

HER GREAT SEARCH

THE LOST PARENTS

BONITA’S GREATEST QUEST

BONITA’S GRAND QUEST

AND FINALLY,

HERE IT IS :

BONITA’S QUEST

SEQUEL TO BONITA (1)

I’m going to live with these for a while, probably choose one of them in the end, but a new inspiration may appear. As my wife’s aunt used to say, “If you can’t rip, you can’t sew.” And it you can’t “kill your darlings”, Faulkner is purported to have said, you can’t write.

Now, after sleeping on it, I haven’t found the title I was searching for, have I? I think maybe I’ll go for a walk and try to hunt up an inspiration.

Stay tuned.

BOOMERANG

Throwing a plain wooden boomerang midair with blue sky and cloud background.

Time for a comeback even at this late (80) age. I have had symptoms sort o like PTSD, except this is what you might call PTCOVIDS–Post Traumatic Covid Syndrome. Seeking isolation yet also hating it–feeling trapped. But here I come. New books, new marketing strategies. It’s all the on the way.

Did JJ go through something like this?

Worse. So quit whining

James Joyce lurks

THE ODYSSEY OF JOYCE’S ULYSSES

SYLVIA BEACH

The book is entitled The Paris Bookseller. The author, Kerri Maher. It’s a rather insipid, if accurate title, I think, for a novel about the literary event of the twentieth century. I’ve had my struggles handling this epic novel. Its obvious excellence often outdistances my understanding. As for its successor, Finnegan’s Wake, I confess bewilderment. A terrible thing for an English major to say, I suppose, but that’s the way it is. On the other hand, I’ve been enthralled with A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man from the first moment I touched it, so I do have some creds. However, of the effort it took to bring Ulysses to readers, I was close to completely ignorant. I knew it ran into censors and legal challenges and that there was enormous opposition to its publication, but I had no idea. I thank Kerri Maher for this engaging, painful, exciting, and often heart-rending tale.

Though Joyce and Ulysses are seemingly at the heart of the story, the novel is multilayered. It opens with young Sylvia Beach and her first visit as an adult to Paris in post WWI. She hasn’t been there since her family had spent some time there when she was a young girl, but in her heart she never left. She’s smart, well-read, and eager for adventure. She’s also a lesbian. This was a heady mixture for someone from sex-repressed America and who was of a revolutionary frame of mind and ready for adventure and romance.

She soon fell in with the literary crowd that frequented the left bank of the era. Hemingway, Dos Passos, Joyce, and a flock of others became her everyday companions. The atmosphere was bilingual, and she soon became enamored of the notion that she might do well to open a bookstore that catered to the English-speaking crowd that was part of the literary mix. Thus was born Shakespeare and Company, sponsored largely by Adrenne Monnier, who was Sylvia’s lover and the owner of a French bookstore that was already famous among the literati.

All well and good, but what about the Ulysses connection? It happened this way: In the midst of composing his epic, Joyce was having a hard time finding a publisher. He and Sylvia had become close friends as well as colleagues by this time. So, Adrienne and Sylvia cooked up a scheme whereby Sylvia would publish this work by a man they loved who wrote the prose they thought would reshape English literature.

We all know the result of their labors, but if you’re as ignorant as I was, what it took to reach the result is astounding. Thus, the layers I spoke of came into play. Sexism, selfishness, betrayal, misogyny, and greed all became characters in the ugly and thrilling drama that unfolded over many years. The book was finally published in 1922. By that time a pirated edition had emerged, which cut into sales and royalties. In the U.S., the case went all the way to the supreme court despite the fact that the book had appeared in various versions all over the world.

I’ll leave it to you to read the book and discover how Sylvia Beach, the original publisher, editor, and mentor of Joyce and his work fared amid all this sturm und drang. If not for her endurance and sensitivity, the story of Ulysses would likely have ended quite differently. Cream rises to the top? Don’t believe it. Not automatically. It needs a lot of help. Thank goodness, in this case, it got what it needed. Of course, the effect on other writers and readers that succeeded the 1922 group is incalculable. And, despite it all, Sylvia lived a rich and relatively long life. When she died 1n 1962 at the age of seventy five, she was still in Paris, still the proprietor of Shakespeare and Company, still unheralded in comparison to all that every reader and writer owes her right down to present day.

JAMES JOYCE