Wednesday, December 18, 2013

mormonhermitmom's review of Volume 4, Great Books of the Western World

This volume contains English translation of ancient Greek plays by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes.  I only managed to read a few of the plays still extant while in college so I was excited to read more. 

Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides wrote plays often classified as "Tragedy" while Aristophanes wrote "Comedy".  In a very basic sense, a Greek Tragedy ends badly for the protagonist, and a Greek Comedy ended well for the protagonist.  I won't get into the particulars of characteristics of Greek Tragedy/Comedy here (I still have memories of high school A.P. English where this was pounded into our heads), however I will say that after reading this volume, I prefer the Greek Tragedy.

Normally I prefer to laugh instead of moan, but unfortunately, Aristophanes's work turned out more bawdy and vulgar than I remembered it.  I don't know if I feel this way because the translator decided to use the most crass of English words to make it more palatable to a modern audience or if Aristophanes was really that foul-mouthed and dirty minded.  I suspect both possibilities have had their influence.  Aristophanes was a satirist, though in his own plays he calls himself a "poet".  He made fun of the political figures of his time, as well as other playwrights he knew.  (Poor Euripides.) Every kind of sexual act was referred to, every biological function applauded, and every possible way to demean, humiliate or debase a person was utilized.  Think Saturday Night Live with a rather unhealthy dose of pornography thrown in and all sense of decency thrown out.  I would NOT recommend letting teens or children read anything by Aristophanes.

The tragedies are a bit better as far as rude humor is concerned, but they can still get into uncomfortable themes and mature subject matter.  For a modern audience, the works of Aeschylus would probably seem oddly formal and stiff, lacking true to life emotions and situations.  The volume includes two or three plays that focus on Greek myths and a few that focus on characters and stories you can find in Homer's The Illiad or The Odyssey.  Aeschylus used a chorus and maybe a couple of actors.  The chorus in his plays tended to speak all together and there really wasn't a leader among the chorus.  Prometheus Bound was one of my favorites by this poet.

Sophocles wrote the Theban Plays - the trilogy that chronicled the story of Oedipus and how messed up his family got.  Oedipus was left outside as a newborn to die because his father received an oracle (prophecy) that Oedipus would kill him someday.  Oedipus was found by a shepherd, sent away to another country to grow up with another family.  However, fate is a big deal in Greek Tragedy.  When he grows up, Oedipus finds himself traveling to the country he was born, unknowingly, and in an altercation on the road he kills his biological father, unknowingly.  Oedipus saves the city of his birth from the ravages of the Sphinx, is hailed as a hero, marries his mother, unknowingly, and later has four children with her.  When he finds out that he has (gasp) married his mother, he blinds himself and the city exiles him for his incest.  The kingdom is put in trouble when one of Oedipus's sons banishes the other and the banished one raises an army to fight for his right to rule.  The brothers kill each other and their Uncle Creon takes charge.  The Uncle forbids the "traitor" brother to be buried.  Of course, one of the sister decides that's not right, buries the traitor and comes under condemnation herself.  She ends up hanging herself and other suicides follow.  Like I said, a real mess.

Sophocles' other works in this volume deal with characters involved in the Trojan War: Odysseus, Philoctetes, Electra, Agamemnon, Clytemenaestra and so on. The Women of Trachis is a Heracles (that's Hercules, to Americans) story.  Sophocles plays come across a little more "natural" to the modern reader; there is still a chorus, but there are more speaking parts and definitely more "drama".

Euripides is described in this volume as reclusive, living a hermit type existence, not liking women much and generally a gloomy person.  Aristophanes makes fun of him (in one play, a comic character goes to the home of Euripides looking for a costume that befits a tragic character so he can engender some sympathy among his creditors).  There are more plays by Euripides in this volume than the other poets, even Aristophanes.  I found some of Euripides' plays came close to what I think of as "horror stories".  The Medea, which tells of Medea's reaction to her husband Jason deciding to marry a princess for political reasons is a prime example.  Jason (the same that captained the Argos, finder of the Golden Fleece, etc.) decides that his fortunes would be better if he married a princess for her wealth.  He promises to take care of his sons born of Medea, but Medea is so mad she threatens bodily harm to Jason, his new bride and his bride's family.  The father of the bride wants Medea banished.  Medea feels she has no where to go.  She plots to hurt Jason by killing his bride and their children.  Her pride is so extreme that the thought of letting Jason cuckold her overwhelms her maternal instincts. 

We never see the actual killing.  The Greeks apparently didn't want to ever go that far so the action would take place offstage and later the audience sees the bodies.  There are quite a few instances in Euripides' plays where someone offends one of the Greek gods and the gods get their revenge by making the character mad/insane to the point where they kill the people they love most.  In one play, Heracles kills his wife and children, in another, a woman kills her son thinking that he is a vicious lion.

One interesting thing Euripides does is he twists some of the stories from The Odyssey and The Illiad.  Instead of Helen being an adulterer, she was switched with a ghost of herself when Paris abducted her and took the ghost to Troy as his wife.  The real Helen was sent to live in Egypt while the Trojan War was being fought over her ghost.  The point of the war?  The gods felt there were too many warmongering Greeks and decided a war was the best way to kill them off and have peace again.  I know.  Not very logical, but very effective, right? 

So, after three months of wading through this volume, I think I'm ready to move on to something else.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Mormonhermitmom's bits and pieces of stuff, especially The Iliad, by Homer

I haven't stopped reading.  I just stopped reviewing books that were, "eh, no biggie."

While perusing my local library, I happened upon a series by Encyclopedia Brittanica called Great Books of the Western World.  It is a collection of classic works by plenty of dead authors, many of whom I heard about in college, but never really took the time to really read their stuff.  Except for Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripedes, etc., and only because they were Greek dramatists, I haven't read anything from the likes of Robespierre, Locke, and I don't know how many others.  So I decided to read the series.

I've finished the volume on Homer.  The Iliad and The Odyssey were both works I had read before in college but I couldn't remember much more than The Iliad was about the Trojan War and The Odyssey was about a guy named Odysseus who was trying to get home after the Trojan War.  If you have no intention of ever reading these works, I'll leave it at that.

If you think you might, here's a little more but you need to know a little bit in advance.

No one can agree if Homer was one guy, or a girl, or if the works of Homer are bits and pieces of several related stories that have been written by different people and strung together.  You also have to know that when these stories were being told, there was no television, no internet, no mass communication of any sort, and most people went to bed at sundown and those who didn't were either partying around a campfire or getting into mischief or both.  Today's youth are going to have a hard time staying awake because the storyteller was very verbose.  Even I could only take short doses every once in a while and it was best that I did the reading at night so I was already in bed when my eyes shut down on their own.  And lastly, the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses figure very prominently in these stories, so even though many archeologists agree that there WAS a Trojan War, and there WAS in fact a Helen of Troy, this is a fictionalized account.

Okay, so a brief summary of The Iliad:
The story takes place outside the city of Troy, aka Ilium, during year ten of a ten year war.  The reason for the war is because the son of Priam, aka Alexander, stole Helen from her husband, King Menelaus and Menelaus wants her back.  He wants her back badly enough that he got his brother King Agamemnon to join him.  These two kings, aka the Atridae, because they are sons of Atreus, gathered a large host of Greek warriors from all over Greece to join them with promises of war spoils when the city of Troy was sacked.  You would think after nine years they would just go home.  No.  Can't do that, because that would be like admitting they lost and they can't go home having spent all that time and resources and then give up.

So the Greeks, aka the Danaans, aka the Argives, aka the Achaeans, (oh yeah, between all their names it rivals the character list of a Russian novel) are sitting on the beach near Troy.  Agamemnon had taken a girl who was a daughter of a priest of Apollo and the priest wanted her back or he would curse the Greek army.  Agamemnon is pretty full of himself, but he knows he has to give her back as well as perform the requisite sacrifices.  He feels cheated of the prize, and declares that one of the Greek generals will give up one of his slave girls to compensate Agamemnon for the girl he had to give up.  The guy that gets to give up his own slave girl is Achilles.

Achilles, son of a demigoddess, is pretty peeved and decides to sit out the war until Agamemnon gives her back along with an apology.  Agamemnon is too proud to do such a thing.  Achilles' mother goes to Zeus and asks him to make sure the Greeks don't prosper until Achilles is properly treated and given great glory.  Zeus complies.

For most of the rest of The Iliad, we read about the battles between the Greeks and the Trojans and how the gods and goddesses interfere with the battles.  The advantage goes back and forth and back and forth with plenty of details about who kills whom, how they were killed ("the spear went in to the left of the nipple"), whose armor was taken from them (apparently after you kill someone, you take their armor off and keep it with your other war booty) and which god/goddess helped which warriors escape certain death.

On the Trojan side is one of King Priam's sons named Hector.  For a good long while, Hector has Zeus' favor and he slaughters a good many Greeks.  The Trojans get the Greeks pinned down on the beaches where their ships are and some Trojans even break through to a couple of the ships and try to start them on fire.  One of Achilles' best friends, now I can't remember his name, goes to Achilles and begs him to help the Greeks out.  Achilles says no, but gives his friend his special armor made by Hephaestus to go fight him.  Achilles' friend is killed by Hector and an even fiercer battle breaks out because Hector wants that fancy armor, but the Greeks want to get it back to Achilles in the hope that Achilles will rejoin the fight.  The body is dragged back and forth for a while, and finally the Greeks get the body, but Hector gets the armor.

When Achilles realizes that he let his friend go out to fight alone, he wails with grief.  He washes the body of his friend, he makes sacrifices, he insists on tending to the funeral rites that night. The other Greeks try to convince Agamemnon to give Achilles a bunch of prizes and gold and slave girls as an apology.  Agamemnon finally relents and Achilles finally accepts.  But before they go back to fighting the Trojans, Achilles hold some games in his friend's honor and gives out prizes of his own to the victors.  Yeah, I didn't get that part either.  There's a war on and they are having chariot races, wrestling and boxing matches, and sparring sessions with each other.

In the meantime, Achilles' mother goes to Hephaestus and asks him to make Achilles more armor since Hector took his first set.  Hephaestus does and Homer goes into nauseating detail about the decorations on the armor and what all the pictures on them mean.

Once in his new, god-made armor, Achilles goes out with the Greeks to fight the Trojans again.  This time the Trojans are beaten back to their city and Achilles chases Hector around Troy for a bit until Hector decides it would be better to stand and face Achilles.  Achilles kills Hector.  But. The Greeks still haven't won the war yet.  We don't even get the story of the Trojan horse, or how Achilles was eventually killed, which his mother knew was going to happen soon, and Achilles knew it too.

Maybe Homer, or whoever was supposed to Homer, wanted to leave a cliffhanger and then finish the story in The Iliad 2?  Who knows.


One last caution for parents:  Women are treated as possessions.  Those who lose their husbands in the war, can easily become the possession of the warriors who made them widows.  Apparently it was also considered proper that a warrior could use his slave girls for sex if he wanted to and he wasn't betraying his wife at home by doing so.  Zeus is notorious for having illegitimate children with mortal women or demigoddesses, and his wife Hera knows full well that he does it.  Hera also uses sex to distract Zeus from the battle long enough for some change to happen to her liking.  Parents might want to talk to teenage children about mutual respect for others and the effects of slavery.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Michael R. Ash's Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt (Second Edition)

Michael R. Ash, an LDS apologist, answers tough questions regarding doctrine, history, and issues in his book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt.  The version I have is an e-book on my Nook, published by the Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research (FAIR) in Redding, California, in June 2013, and based upon the second printed edition with a publication date of February 2013.  The first edition of the book has a publication date of December 2008.

I came upon this book after having browsed a few Internet sites that contained Mormon-critical discussions.  I was perusing these sites because I wanted to know certain perspectives that ex-Mormons had about certain doctrines or customs.  Most of the time, they did not bother me, but one subject really caught my attention and started to shake my belief in the general leadership of the LDS Church.  What disturbed me was finding two very different video presentations of a talk given by Elder Ronald E. Poelman during a session of General Conference in October of 1984.  I understood talks could be redacted before appearing in the Church’s Ensign—maybe a word here or there—but this talk was heavily edited, causing the meaning of the talk to turn completely around.  I then came upon some information suggesting that the Church leadership changed the talk and the video presentation in order to keep the general membership in line with the physical institution, given the fact that Elder Poelman returned to the Tabernacle a few days later to re-record his talk.  The accusatory tone in an article started a series of thoughts in my head, leading down a mental path that I did not want to follow.  Too many arguments were running through my head, so I decided to sleep on it.  The next day, the feelings still persisted.  Although I considered myself strong enough to handle tough gospel questions, this topic just would not go away.  I remembered a term I heard called “shaken faith syndrome,” and I thought some resource could help me in my predicament.  That was when I found the book’s official website.  I decided to purchase the book on my Nook and see what the LDS apologist had to say.

Ash begins his book by explaining what it means to have shaken faith syndrome.  He sets up the parameters of what constitutes belief, doctrine, custom, and argument, situating the reader in a way for him or her to comprehend the philosophical minefield—leveling the playing field, so to speak.  He describes psychological terms like “cognition” and “cognitive dissonance,” along with four various, unconscious behaviors that people follow when new arguments arise that pit against their prior paradigms.  Ash continues by writing about fundamentalist assumptions, unrealistic expectations of Church leaders, confusion between tradition and doctrine, limitations of the scientific community, qualifications of LDS and non-LDS apologists, and resources for people to investigate certain topics.  Once this foundation has been laid, Ash then dives into the most pressing issues that face members of the LDS Church currently, topics ranging from the historicity of the Book of Mormon to the priesthood ban.  Each chapter ends with a list of further reading for anyone who wants to continue research on a particular topic.  The book also has annotations that number in the hundreds, so finding a primary source should be relatively easy.  When everything is said and done, one begins to accept the aphorism that “[a] lot more ink is required to respond to an accusation then to make an accusation” (“Testimony and the Danger of Fundamentalist Assumptions,” ch. 2).

Ash outlines four behaviors a person unconsciously makes when critical information assaults his or her beliefs: “(1) reject the new information—the competing cognition—as false; (2) reject the new information as unimportant; (3) add information (additional cognitions) to validate the original belief; or (4) reject old beliefs in favor of the new information” (“Cognitive Dissonance,” ch. 1).  The behaviors above make sense to me because I have reacted in similar ways to anti-Mormon arguments, like so:

(1) “That is completely wrong!”
(2) “Now you’re just complaining.”
(3) “Well, if you consider this circumstance, it will explain why so-and-so made that decision.”
(4) “This explanation sounds much better!”

Later, Ash dissects the tricks ex-Mormons or anti-Mormons use in their arguments that may cause cognitive dissonance in an unsuspecting believer, exposing them to be emotional and sensational smokescreens that detract believers from the fallacies of the ex-Mormon’s or anti-Mormon’s claims.  What Ash hopes to do in his book is give an LDS believer the means to defend his or her beliefs, or testimony, without resulting to distress, unmitigated contention, or defeatism.  “‘Though argument does not create conviction,’ wrote non-LDS Christian philosopher Austin Farrer, ‘lack of it destroys belief’” (“Anti-Mormon Disdain for LDS Scholarship and Apologetics,” ch. 8).

The most prominent principle I have learned from this book ties back to the doctrine that people must choose between one way or another while sojourning on this planet: Ambiguity must exist so that we can think for ourselves.  Otherwise, we would not be having debates in the first place, a sign that ambiguity is doing a pretty good job.  Ash notes, “There is no intellectually compelling evidence that requires a reasonable person to conclude that the Church is false.  Likewise, there is no intellectually compelling evidence that requires a reasonable person to conclude that the Church is true.  For those who reject a belief in God or His ability to speak to modern prophets or send new scripture, the data will be interpreted to support such a conclusion.  For those, however, who have received a spiritual witness that the Church is true, the data will be interpreted to support that conclusion as well” (“Supporting Belief,” ch. 9).

There are a few observations I want to put forward about this electronic edition.  First, I notice elements of Post-structuralism, especially those developed by Jacques Lacan.  Ash does not refer to Lacan, but the bulk of his arguments take on Lacan’s flavor of philosophy.  This may or may not make a difference in his overall goal.  Second, there are elements of phenomenology developed by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.  Again, Ash does not mention him by name, but one can easily replace “cognitions” with “intentionalities.”  Third, Kantian manifolds appear with layers of meaning from time to time, thus complicating the process of reaching a specific word’s semantics.  Again, Ash does not refer to the philosopher by name, but having a cursory knowledge of this branch of philosophy may help in comprehending certain dilemmas.

Other observations are more serious.  For the next edition or a reprint of the current edition, I would like Ash to be more consistent in his arguments that relate to non-dualism.  He tends to get into a bind when he tries to use non-dualistic reasoning in a topic that fits better in a dualistic model.  For instance, religion does very well in explaining concepts like good versus evil, black versus white, etc.  However, when Ash tries to conflate black and white with skin color, in order to put Church leaders or doctrines in a favorable light, he ends up giving more weight to the opposition who posit those leaders or ideas as racist.  We may all come from Adam and Eve, but to ignore the obvious distinctions, between one skin color and another, does not help in justifying the treatment experienced by past generations.  Stretching the definitions of the words “skin” and “hide” to the breaking point ends up obfuscating a problem that needs to be addressed.  Reading the word “skin” should be taken literally in this instance, not metaphorically.  (To the author’s credit, his platform sounds more convincing when he relates personal stories and historical events at the end of the chapter, leaving befuddling interpolations behind.)

As well in the next edition or reprint, numerous and minor typographical errors that a spellchecker can miss should be corrected.  I find problems with subject/verb agreement, singular/plural mistakes, missing definite and indefinite articles, the use of the same where they should not be used, formatting inconsistencies (although common in e-books, they are glaring in this one), and missing punctuation.  A fresh proofreader should be able to pick these things out.

One more piece of criticism, and then I am done.  Wikipedia is a great resource to test the waters, but because it is edited by numerous, and mostly, unqualified submitters, the reliability of its contents falters.  I consider Wikipedia a tertiary source, not a primary one.  Wikipedia was referred to, in the endnotes, too many times to my liking.  Wikipedia should be avoided as much as possible.  If you have to, once is enough; twice, you are pushing it; thrice or more, you are not doing your research properly.

Shaken Faith Syndrome is a good book, and serves its purposes.  The discussion of the book easily speaks to a person who has had experience in literary criticism, philosophy, or education.  That is not to say no one else will not enjoy or get something out of it.  Unfamiliar jargon gets defined promptly, and the author does not disrupt the flow of ideas and information with tangential information.

By the way, the cognitive dissonance I felt while pondering my question mostly resolved itself because I realized that I was not alone in my situation.  I also found a piece of information that validated my original belief.  One possibility for the redaction was not to give cause for fundamentalist polygamists to say that they did not need the Church in the first place.  For a person who believes that the LDS Church is the only authorized organization to perform the ordinances that God expects us to make, this is important.  Once that cognition entered my mind, the dissonance disappeared.  The turbulent seas were stilled.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

William Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor

Project Gutenberg Etext of Carnegie Mellon University, working out of Champaign, Illinois, and cooperating with World Library, Inc., offers for free a digital edition of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, first published between 1990 and 1993 with no pagination, its latest edition dating around November 1997. I obtained my digital copy through Apple iBooks using my iPad Mini on 17 April 2013. According to The Library of the Future Complete Works of William Shakespeare, the institution names this digital file “1WS2010.TXT” for database purposes. William Shakespeare originally writes the script in 1601.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a comedy usually played out on stage, the principal role belonging to the bigger-than-life Sir John Falstaff—remembered mostly for donning antlers in portraits and sketches in advertisements and playbills. Flanked by his cronies Bardolph, Nym, and Pistol, Falstaff hatches a plan to woo the wives of Master Ford and Master Page, Mistress Ford and Mistress Page, respectively. Falstaff’s objective in wooing two wives at once is to gain access to their husbands’ purse strings. Here is what Falstaff says to Pistol, Nym, and Robin as they drink in The Garter Inn, showing just how delusional, egotistical, and opportunistic he can be:

“FALSTAFF. Briefly, I do mean to make love to Ford’s wife; I spy entertainment in her; she discourses, she carves, she gives the leer of invitation; I can construe the action of her familiar style; and the hardest voice of her behaviour, to be English’d rightly, is ‘I am Sir John Falstaff’s.’ […] I have writ me here a letter to her; and here another to Page’s wife, who even now gave me good eyes too, examin’d my parts with most judicious oeillades; sometimes the beam of her view gilded my foot, sometimes my portly belly. […] O, she did so course o’er my exteriors with such a greedy intention that the appetite of her eye did seem to scorch me up like a burning-glass! Here’s another letter to her. She bears the purse too; she is a region in Guiana, all gold and bounty. I will be cheaters to them both, and they shall be exchequers to me; they shall be my East and West Indies, and I will trade to them both. Go, bear thou this letter to Mistress Page; and thou this to Mistress Ford. We will thrive, lads, we will thrive” (Wiv. 1.3, emphasis mine).

Pistol and Nym mock Falstaff’s attitude with asides to each other. Pistol yells to Falstaff as he and Robin leave the inn, “Let vultures gripe thy guts!” (Wiv. 1.3).

Other characters, like Sir Hugh Evans, Dr. Caius, Slender, Fenton, and Shallow, vie for, or help suitors try to win, the hand of Mistress Anne Page, the daughter of Master Page and Mistress Page. In the case of Slender, he oddly tries not to pursue Mistress Anne Page despite his cousin’s encouragement to the contrary. As Slender hesitates to make a commitment to chase the young maiden, one wonders if his behavior comes from observations of other couples, or from some other … ahem … orientation. In any case, Slender has a talent of inverting propositions and ideas in a tongue-in-cheek way that make him come off as a passive aggressive coward, as in the following:

“SHALLOW. Nay, conceive me, conceive me, sweet coz; what I do is to pleasure you, coz. Can you love the maid?
“SLENDER. I will marry her, sir, at your request; but if there be no great love from the beginning, yet heaven may decrease it upon better acquaintance, when we are married and have more occasion to know one another. I hope upon familiarity will grow more contempt. But if you say ‘marry her,’ I will marry her; that I am freely dissolved, and dissolutely” (Wiv. 1.1).

Falstaff’s advances begin to bother the wives of Windsor. In the opening of the second act, we hear Mistress Page’s soliloquy after receiving Falstaff’s first letter:

“MRS. PAGE. […] What a Herod of Jewry is this! O wicked, wicked world! One that is well- nigh worn to pieces with age to show himself a young gallant! What an unweighed behaviour hath this Flemish drunkard pick’d—with the devil’s name!—out of my conversation, that he dares in this manner assay me? Why, he hath not been thrice in my company! What should I say to him? I was then frugal of my mirth. Heaven forgive me! Why, I’ll exhibit a bill in the parliament for the putting down of men. How shall I be reveng’d on him? for reveng’d I will be, as sure as his guts are made of puddings” (Wiv. 2.1).

Later, Mistress Ford comes to Mistress Page and shows her the same letter she has received from Falstaff. Both Mistress Ford and Mistress Page become disgusted by the idea of a rascal hitting on them, wondering why any man would desire women of their age and wrinkling features, the wooer risking their public reputations as honorable housewives to two middle class gentlemen. Instead of simply rejecting Falstaff’s advances or telling their husbands to defend their virtue, the wives contrive revenge “against this greasy knight” (Wiv. 2.1).

The story gets moving here as we read about pranks and silly confrontations among the members of the main story and the side stories. While reading about Master Ford’s attempts to catch Mistress Ford and Falstaff in flagrante delicto, I could not help but refer back to Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s El médico de su honra (The Surgeon of his Honour). This play reveals the opposite of what happens when a wife’s supposed reputation or honor comes under scrutiny, even if suspicions of an affair are false. Shakespeare uses comedy to criticize those who try to dishonor marital relationships; Calderón de la Barca uses tragedy to criticize husbands who kill their wives in order to protect an honor, or its public image, that has not been transgressed.

However, Shakespeare’s play resolves the conflict in a light-hearted way, a form that may exhibit some Puritan ideal for the preservation of spousal relationships. Falstaff gets a beating, but the punishment stops short by a merciful verbal contract that Falstaff, in fact, has made and satisfied with Master Brook (aka Master Ford). So, as I think about the appropriateness of this script for future readers, I can say this script satisfies the requirements of decency despite treating the theme of cheating or other men’s attempts to cheat with married women. Younger children may become bored by the story or misunderstand the Shakespearean dialogue inherent in this script. Students in middle school should be able to grasp the story if properly prepared and taught by the teacher.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

mormonhermitmom's review of Latter Leaves in the Life of Lorenzo Snow, by Dennis B. Horne with material prepared in 1890 by Orson F. Whitney

I was given this book as a thank you from one of our Sunday School teachers.  I had substituted for him a couple of Sundays while he was recovering from surgery.  In the LDS Church, our focus in Relief Society/Priesthood lessons are taken from the writings of Lorenzo Snow, fifth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We don't use this text by Dennis Horne, but a church produced manual that doesn't really focus on Snow's life.  I was pleased to receive this book as a way to learn more about Lorenzo Snow.

While Dennis Horne has done a bang-up job on running down sources and sorting fact from fiction, I wonder if he should have top billing on authorship.  While the cover says, "with material prepared in 1890 by Orson F. Whitney", the reader comes to find that most of the book is taken heavily from Whitney's work, Latter Leaves from the Life of Lorenzo Snow, which covered the years 1884 to 1889.  Horne admits this from the get go.  Unfortunately, throughout the book, I found myself reading along and suddenly finding the "voice" of the writer had changed.  I had hoped that Horne would set off the material Whitney had written from his own. Instead, it seemed he was extensively paraphrasing Whitney's work, inserting his own words here and there without warning.  When the older turns of phrase change to more modern syntax and cadence, you know that Horne has been using Whitney's words and trying to sew on his own.

When my mother and I were trying to bring family stories together in a book for our relatives to read, I always made sure that any materials taken from journals, histories written by others, or other sources, that each source was properly quoted and sometimes put in a block quote format so that there was no question as to who was speaking (writing). I'm sure Horne was trying to keep this work from becoming too disjointed with liberal quotes, but it almost felt like there was a thin line between summarizing, paraphrasing, and outright plagiarism.  Just the feeling I had.  I'm sure it was unintentional on Horne's part.

To be fair, Horne devotes a whole chapter to Orson F. Whitney, outlining a short biography of him and explaining how Whitney ended up with the job as Snow's biographer while Snow was still alive.  Horne also states in the Introduction that chapters 1 and 2 of this book draws heavily on the biographical work of Eliza R. Snow, Lorenzo's sister, who catalogued Lorenzo's life up to 1884. That book was generally just distributed to family members and Whitney's book was intended to be a "sequel" if you will.

One other contributor Horne mentions is Lorenzo's son LeRoi C. Snow, whose written articles about his father in such publications as the Improvement Era have been a source for other historians about the later years of Lorenzo's life.  Horne states that some of LeRoi's writings about his father are accurate, but others lean towards exaggeration and no corroborating testimony is available to confirm some of the stories that he's told, particularly the story about the prophecy Snow had about tithing and whether a drought in Southern Utah would abate once the people of the church more faithfully paid their tithing.  That brought me up short.  I remember a BYU film entitled The Windows Of Heaven that reenacted that very story.  Apparently, according to a majority of eyewitness accounts of Lorenzo speaking to the Sanits in St. George, Snow did seem to pause in his talk and then very fervently preached that the principle of tithing should be more obediently focused on.  However the promise that a severe drought would lift if the Saints would pay their tithing was NOT ever made.  It appears only LeRoi remembered such a promise.  He was there with his father at the time, but no one else who wrote of the talk that Lorenzo Snow made that day made any note of such a promise.  The folks in the BYU film department must have taken LeRoi at face value and not made any effort to confirm if the "faith promoting" story was true.  Oops.

Lest you think I am dismissing this book entirely, let me say that despite not knowing which commentary was Whitney's and which was Horne's at times, I did for the most part enjoy it.  The notes and appendices were well ordered and many details of Lorenzo's life were well documented by multiple sources.  Horne was nothing if not thorough.

Before you ask, yes, polygamy is mentioned in the book.  Actually it dominates a few chapters where we see how Lorenzo Snow spent time "underground" avoiding capture due to the U. S. Marshalls looking to prosecute offenders of the "segregation law" forbidding polygamy in Utah territory.  Snow was apprehended, convicted and taken to the Utah Penitentiary for a time.  The legal battles are well covered.  I found this part particularly interesting because I have an ancestor who was also incarcerated for polygamy.  I didn't find his name among the others who were pictured in the striped suits, but it was interesting because Whitney wrote quite a bit about the conditions within the prison.  That information never made it into the history of my ancestor, just that he spent time there.  My ancestor brought home and autograph book, with signatures of some of the prominent leaders of the LDS Church at that time who were also incarcerated there. I don't remember if Lorenzo Snow's signature was in there.  (Time for me to go check that source again.)

This volume is definitely for an LDS audience.  Anyone hoping for a completely factual work without spiritual assumptions would better look elsewhere.  Even though polygamy is not practiced by the LDS people today, the "rightness" of the principle is affirmed by Lorenzo's writings, heavily quoted in this volume. The doctine of "As man now is, God once was; as God is, man may become", which Lorenzo preached about repeatedly is a thread that runs throughout the book.  Those who are not of the LDS faith my find the biography a bit "preachy".  It makes sense, though, since Lorenzo did preach for much of his adult life.  Just be prepared if all you want is the facts.  You are going to get a bit of a Sunday School lesson if you read this.

I'm not going to take this book to my local library for donation.  Yes, it has flaws, which the author freely admits to, and I can accept that.  If you happen to be an LDS Relief Society teacher or Priesthood Quorum teacher, this might be a good secondary reference to fill in where the Church's lesson manual is a little thin.  You might want to ignore the polygamy chapters though.  No need to beat a dead horse.

Monday, April 8, 2013

mormonhermitmom's review of The Battle of Britain; Five Months That Changed History, May-October 1940

I only took one course of Military History in college, but I enjoyed it.  I don't qualify as an "armchair tactician".  That being said, I don't enjoy a work of military-focused nonfiction that goes too far into terms that only military personnel would understand.  I can follow only a short ways before long acronyms and other jargon start to lose me.

This work by James Holland, fortunately, doesn't go too far that way.  I learned a lot about 'the Blitz' from this book I hadn't known before. 

For instance:  I never knew about Great Britain's network of first generation radar that stretched along it's southern coast. The Germans had something like it for intelligence gathering but they totally dismissed the idea that all the big towers along the English coast were for that purpose.  The Germans sent wave after wave of Stukas and ME 109's in what they thought were sneak attacks, only to be met, again and again, by Hurricanes and Spitfires.  The Germans had the better planes but the pilots were hindered by tactics and orders that wouldn't let them use their planes to their best advantage.  The English pilots were plagued with ammunition capacity that only let them shoot for a few minutes before having to return to their bases to reload, if they managed to get away without being shot down.  The English pilots were also dealing with outmoded fighter pilot training that was stuck in methods developed during the First World War.  Only gradually did one of their higher-ups realize that a new way of dogfighting would work.

In other books about the World War II, the unbelievable actions of Hitler never failed to amaze me.  Here again, more examples of his erratic, emotional, and manipulative style of leadership lead me to wonder how he managed to do so much damage.  He took risks that shouldn't have worked but did, he sat on his hands at precisely the wrong moment to ensure a permanent victory for himself and yet gave his enemies the time they needed to shore up their defenses, and instead of working to instill a unified command, actually encouraged his subordinates to try to outdo each other to gain his favor.  How does one fight a war this way?

Holland gives us a look at how England's government was dealing with the real threat of invasion at that time.  Chamberlain lost his seat as Prime Minister to Winston Churchill - not the smoothest of politicians, but apparently exactly what England needed to prepare for the Germanic plague across the Channel.  Direct, blunt, and yet surprisingly realistic in the political nuances that had to occur to keep things moving, Churchill could be compared to an old bulldog; short, unattractive, physically beat up, but watch out if you threaten his territory - you'll find his stout jaws clamped on your leg and heaven help you.

Included in the book are a wealth of photos of the airmen on both sides whose reminiscences make up a good part of the narrative.  Holland weaves the point of views of the rank and file with those at the top of the command structure very well.  I appreciate a history that brings a personal, real-life perspective to the work.  Names, dates, even photos can be musty and seemingly out of touch with today's world, but when you can include the words of those who lived in those times, you actually remember they were real people.  They had families, they had dreams, they had frustrations, they had feelings.  History no longer becomes something to memorize, it becomes something you want to remember as you witness the events going on around you.

I find this an excellent source of information for those wanting to know more about the European theater of World War II.  Teenagers could handle it, however few teenagers would care to read it.  With all the technology around, the study of history becomes more and more of a dead academic pursuit for the young.  Sad, but that's just how it is.  Churchill would probably want to trip a few up with his cane if he were alive today.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Monsters & Mormons; Thirty Tales of Adventure and Terror, Edited by William Morris & Theric Jepson, review by mormonhermitmom

I waited quite a while to read this one because I had a hard time coming up with the money to buy it.  I even looked into maybe getting a Kindle or a Nook just so I could read it, but my cheapness finally won out.  This is a collection of short stories written by Mormons, about fictional Mormons in fantastic and bizarre situations.  I certainly can't review each and every story. However I will list my favorites.

Charity Never Faileth by Jaleta Clegg:  I read this one aloud to my children - hilarious!  The nightmare that is green Jell-O salad comes to life and nearly subdues three stalwart Relief Society sisters.  The book is worth buying just for this story alone.

Allow Me To Introduce Myself by Moriah Jovan:  This can be a mind-bender. Single members are called upon to slay demons, evil spirits, and other dark forces.  They have secret identities and kick-butt weapons. They write notes to each other in Reformed Egyptian.  If this is what it would be like to be a Mormon nun, sign me up.

Traitors and Tyrants by John Nakamura Remy and Galen Dara:  This is a comic book! And what's better, it's an alternate history/zombie slaying mashup.  Who gets to do the zombie slaying?  The wives of Erastus Walsh, all four of them.

Pirate Gold for Brother Brigham by Lee Allred:  Some old college buddies go out to the Great Salt Lake to record a ghost ship that one of them had seen on a prior dark, foggy night.  The mini-treatise on fry sauce is a treat.

Fangs of the Dragon by David J. West:  There's a monster in Bear Lake and Porter Rockwell has to investigate.  Better than Pecos Bill tales in my humble opinion.

Some of the stories are definitely PG with the occasional swear word and adult situation. I think most teens could handle it. Junior high students would benefit from parental involvement/discussion.  There was only one story that had enough of an "occult" feeling that it truly creeped me out.  I'm not generally a fan of the horror genre.  If it makes me start thinking scary things when it's time to go to bed, it's too much for me.  On the whole, I was very glad to have purchased the book.  The only truly disappointing thing was that the cover had an illustration of a pair of sister missionaries battling what looked to be giant squid or octopus, and there wasn't a story to go with it!  If the editors do another connection, I want my sister missionary story!

You can trace the beginnings of this collection at A Motley Vision.


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