Alethea & Athena (double_dear) wrote,
Alethea & Athena
double_dear

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Literary culturalism

The day we finally get back to work, Legend Cards isn't working, so we have nothing to help us break the monotony. Fortunately, our job isn't technically monotonous.

Anyway, I wanted to talk about A Study in Scarlet (the first Sherlock Holmes novel), and why it's important to do proper research.

So I was reading A Study in Scarlet, being amused at the similarities between Sherlock & Watson and Shawn & Gus, and then I got to part two. Complete change of setting. It's in America now! Yay! I was pretty excited about this, because I'm always intrigued to see how people from other countries portray the United States. I wasn't disappointed when the first two American characters started talking. It was pretty hilarious. But I like dialects.

Anyway, it had already been mentioned that the year was 1847, and then they mentioned the salt flats, which I knew to be in or around Utah (my geographic knowledge is sadly lacking), so I started getting a little excited. Then it mentioned a giant caravan, not like a few wagons out for trading purposes, but like a whole people fleeing. My hopes got up even higher. Then one of the people in the caravan referred to another one as Brother Stangerson. This was even more exciting!

And then! they introduced themselves to the first two American characters and said, something something, "chosen by the Angel Moroni." And that's where I said, "Oh my gosh..." The emotions involved in the exclamation were mixed, because yay! My people! But clearly the research hasn't been that well done, because I doubt any Mormon thinks we were chosen by the Angel Moroni. He was a messenger. If anything, we were chosen by God, but I don't think that's even accurate. I don't doubt that there are LDS people who do think we were chosen by God, and there are different senses of "chosen" that might make that accurate, but the point is, we welcome everybody, and good Mormons don't think they're better than everyone else.

It was pretty fascinating reading on. There were some things that I was surprised to see Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had gotten right, like how Brigham Young didn't found the religion. (On the other hand, that might be a more modern misconception, and back when the book was written, maybe it was more common knowledge that Joseph Smith was the first president of the LDS Church.) And there were some things that I was like, "Okay, no. But I can see where you might think we'd talk like that." Like when somebody said that Brigham Young speaks with the mouth of Joseph Smith. That's like...no. But there is a story about after Joseph Smith was martyred, and there was a lot of confusion about what to do as far as church leadership. There were two candidates for the next leader, and at a meeting, Brigham Young was speaking and the whole congregation saw his visage change to look like Joseph Smith. They all took that as a sign that God was saying Brigham Young should be the next president of the Church. But I think that was really just a one-time thing.

There was an especially interesting instance of Sir Doyle applying his own cultural view to that of the Mormons, when he had someone refer to "the sainted Joseph Smith." As a Mormon, I'm not entirely sure of the proper usage of that adjective, but we're the church of Latter-Day Saints, so describing Joseph Smith as sainted doesn't really place him above anyone else. In fact, the character (if I remember correctly, it was Brigham Young) probably would have called him "Brother Joseph." The point is, the author was assuming that this culture would use the same terminology as his own. This is a reason it's risky to use certain Western exclamations when translating stuff from Japanese, or stuff that takes place in a fantasy world with a different creation story. But that's a tangent.

Anyway, as the book went on, it was like, "Dude, did you even bother checking your facts?" On the other hand, as he started portraying the Mormons as more and more evil, we were glad there were things that were out and out wrong, because that makes it easier to convince people that clearly he didn't do the research. For example, Sir Doyle kept mentioning the Sacred Council of Four, which had us like, "Wha...?" They supposedly were the main guys leading the Church, but the Church has always, since Joseph Smith's time, had a presidency of three and twelve Apostles.

Then there was the stuff about the Danite Band. That seemed like it was probably grounded in fact, but we'd never heard of it before, so we looked it up. It was a group of vigilante Mormons, who took it upon themselves to punish dissenters and persecutors and stuff. According to Wikipedia, they were not officially sanctioned by the Church presidency, and Joseph Smith spoke against them multiple times. And they didn't even really do anything after the saints moved to Utah. But in A Study in Scarlet, it was like every male member of the church was a Danite. That's like writing a book about Muslims and portraying them all as extremists.

So the book left a bad taste in our mouths. We're not super offended about it, because I figure the author was just looking for an exotic setting for the origins of his mystery, and I know how authors are about research. But man.

But happily, Wikipedia talks about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's portrayal of Mormons (in the article about the Danite Band), and it says that after he actually visited Utah, he started writing more sympathetic Mormon characters.


Today I'm thankful for personalized coupons from Fresh & Easy, getting to try pumpkin spice pita chips (but we didn't care for them, alas), having plenty of time to practice the concertina, authors who do proper research, and finally seeing The Secret World of Arrietty last night.
Tags: church, sherlock holmes
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