The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy

The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy

by Terryl L. Givens
     
 

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Published in 1997, Terryl Givens's The Viper on the Hearth was widely praised as a landmark work—indeed, The Wall Street Journal hailed it as "one of the five best books on Mormonism." Now, in the wake of a tidal wave of Mormon-inspired artistic, literary, and political activity—ranging from the Broadway hit The Book of Mormon, to the HBO series

Overview

Published in 1997, Terryl Givens's The Viper on the Hearth was widely praised as a landmark work—indeed, The Wall Street Journal hailed it as "one of the five best books on Mormonism." Now, in the wake of a tidal wave of Mormon-inspired artistic, literary, and political activity—ranging from the Broadway hit The Book of Mormon, to the HBO series Big Love, to the political campaign of Mitt Romney—Givens presents an updated edition that addresses the continuing presence and reception of the Mormon image in contemporary culture.

The Viper on the Hearth showed how nineteenth- and twentieth-century American writers frequently cast the Mormon as a stock villain in such fictional genres as mysteries, westerns, and popular romances. If today some authors like Tom Clancy use "Mormon" as shorthand for "clean cut and patriotic," earlier writers more often depicted the Mormons as a violent and perverse people—the "viper on the hearth"—who sought to violate the domestic sphere of the mainstream. Givens is the first to reveal how popular fiction constructed an image of the Mormon as a religious and social Other. The list of authors includes both American and English writers, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes mystery to Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage, from Robert Louis Stevenson's The Dynamiter to Jack London's Star Rover.

For this edition, Givens has expanded the final chapter, shedding further light on the Mormon presence in contemporary American culture, with insightful discussions of topics ranging from the musical, The Book of Mormon, to the political campaigns of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A wonderfully thought-through look at the interrelationships between fiction, religion, and the culture of humor/hostility.... It represents a significant contribution to our understanding of literary relations."—Larry H. Peer, Brigham Young University

In this fascinating study, he examines how Mormons have been constructed as the great and abominable "other". Interestingly, although the religion was once scorned for its weirdness,"it is now because Mormons occupy what used to be the center that they fall into contempt"(164).—Utah Historical Quarterly

"The prose, illustrations, and overall construction of the book are aesthetically pleasing. The exemplary scholarship significantly enriches Mormon historiography.... Few books succeed, as this one does, in stimulating thought far beyond their own scope."—Journal of Mormon History

"Contains provocative insights into American culture, LDS identity, nineteenth-century literature, rhetorics of oppression, and religious formation.... I highly recommend this book."—Religious Studies Review

"This is the first full explanation of why Mormons have been demonized by a nation that prides itself on open toleration of all faiths. Givens carefully appraises every past explanation for the printed attacks and physical persecutions that occurred from the 1830s onward, as newspapers, novels, and satires convinced a 'tolerant' public that Mormons should not be tolerated. He then makes a convincing argument that the primary affront the Mormons offered was theological: their anthropomorphic picture of God and of his continuing personal revelations to the one true church. The book is thus an impressive achievement that should interest not just Mormons or other religious believers but anyone who cares about how 'freedom-loving,' 'tolerant' Americans turned 'heretics' into subhuman monsters deserving destruction."—Wayne Booth, University of Chicago (Emeritus)

"A powerful and compelling thesis...[an] ingenious reading...For a great reading experience in thoughtful and independently conceived religious and cultural thinking rare in Mormon studies, turn to this recent addition in the excellent 'Religion in America Series,' published by Oxford University Press."—Journal of American Ethnic History

"A wonderfully thought-through look at the interrelationships between fiction, religion, and the culture of humor/hostility.... It represents a significant contribution to our understanding of literary relations."—Larry H. Peer, Brigham Young University

"The Viper on the Hearth by Terryl L. Givens is a remarkably lucid and useful study of the patterns of American prejudices against the Mormon people. It provides also a valuable paradigm for the study of all religious "heresy"."—Harold Bloom

"This work is a model of significant interdisciplinary study."—Western American Literature

"[Givens] precisely situates the literature in American and Mormon history....he is the first to survey anti-Mormon writing thoroughly."—The Journal of American History

"Given's survey of histories and historians...is impressive. It enriches our perspective on such thought-provoking questions as whether Mormons comprise a religion, an ethnic group, or "a people," and why that matters."—Western Historical Quarterly

"The book is thoroughly documented and Givens writes with a graceful style. This is an excellent example of both historical and literary scholarship."—American Historical Review

"One of the Five Best Books about Mormonism."—Wall Street Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199933808
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
01/31/2013
Series:
Religion in America Series
Edition description:
Updated
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Terryl L. Givens is Professor of Literature and Religion and James A. Bostwick Chair of English, University of Richmond. His books on Mormonism and American religious culture include By the Hand of Mormon, People of Paradox and (with Matthew Grow) Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism.

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