- Latter-Day Lore: Mormon Folklore Studies ed. by Eric A. Eliason and Tom Mould
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Latter-Day Lore is a collection of essays by premier folklorists who study the folklore of the Church of Jesus christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Edited by Eric A. Eliason and Tom Mould, this is a timely compilation coming off of a decade of Mormonism in the spotlight. The 2002 Salt lake city Winter olympics, popular authors like Stephenie Meyer and Brandon Sanderson, contemporary musicians brandon Flowers, Lindsey Stirling, and Imagine Dragons, The Book of Mormon Musical, and, of course, california Proposition 8 and the candidacies of Mitt Romney have all generated a frenzy of interest about Mormons and their beliefs, traditions, and quirks.
The anthology includes 28 individual chapters, many of which have been published elsewhere. The editors have included several illustrations and charts, along with extensive notes for each chapter, and a separate comprehensive bibliography. Broken up into six major sections, the editors begin each section with an insightful overview that provides valuable context.
In their introduction to the collection, Eliason and Mould identify the various origins of Mormon folklore and discuss the major players in Mormon folklore studies, including William A. Wilson, Austin E. Fife, and Jill terry Rudy, all of whom have chapters in this book. After debating the challenges of folklore related to Mormons, Eliason and Mould present a working definition of Mormon folklore: “(1) folklore performed by a substantial number of Mormons, (2) folklore about Mormons, and (3) folklore analyzed for its connection to Mormon culture and identity” (p. 9). The editors then hypothesize that folklore is a major part of the Mormon experience because of the general admonition within the church to develop genealogies and family histories. Mormons are trained storytellers from infancy, hearing tales of their pioneer ancestors coming across the plains, reading family mission journals, or listening to their grandmothers’ conversion stories. Likewise, Mormon theology grew from a personal narrative tradition, beginning with the story of Joseph Smith and his communion with God and Jesus and with angels. Each month, faithful Mormons attend congregational testimony meetings in which believers stand before their peers and witness their beliefs publicly, and narrate their own personal conversions.
To conclude their introduction, the editors address head-on the tension between Mormon folklore and being a Mormon folklore scholar. This discussion includes identifying the complex nature of membership in the LDS church and how that has influenced Mormon scholars. Eliason and Mould claim that, despite this tension, the treatments in their compilation rise above self-censorship and are of full scholarly quality. The final pages of the conclusion offer apologies for not covering all aspects in Mormon folklore equally and, in some cases, leaving out entire facets of the field. The editors soften the blow by assuring the reader that they have included at least some direction in these unexplored areas in their section introductions. In a gracious acknowledgment of their own limitations, Eliason and Mould then point to a welcome list of potential areas for future Mormon folklore exploration.
“Part 1: Mormondom as Regional Culture” contains five studies on the Intermountain West, dealing largely in material culture, such as art, gravestones, architecture, and homemade farm machinery. Hal Cannon explores the pervasive icon of the beehive in Latter-day Saint customs and structures. Latter-Day Lore itself boasts an image of the beehive on its cover and a bee on the dividing pages of each section of the book, supporting Cannon’s thoughts on the significance of the bee in Mormon iconography.
“Part 2: Making Mormons” also has five essays, each of which discusses rituals, rites of passage, and other Mormon customs and traditions. Kristi Bell Young writes about the elaborate dating conventions of Mormon youth, and George H. Schoemaker follows with a compelling study of the importance of marriage in Mormonism through stories believing Mormons share about how they selected their spouse in a genre that he terms “marriage confirmation...