- Written by Orson Scott Card
The Book of Mormon is the most important book in my life. I remember it as one of the earliest things I read, starting with Emma Mar Peterson's children's adaptation. The illustrations in that book still linger in my mind as what black and white illustrations should look like. Soon I graduated to The Book of Mormon itself. I've read it many, many times.
It shows up in my style. Anybody who wonders why practically every sentence begins with "and," "then," "but"—you just have to think of the phrase "And it came to pass," and you will understand where that comes from. You see, if a sentence is important and true, I instinctively feel that it must begin with a conjunction.
But the influence is much deeper than style. It was the Book of Mormon that brought me to BYU as a student. My high school grades were such that I could have taken my pick of schools, but I applied only here, because I intended to become an archaeologist and work on understanding the Book of Mormon. I saw no point in going to any school that did not take the Book of Mormon seriously as an ancient document referring to real-world events.
Later, when I had abandoned the study of archaeology, mostly because I had found out that it was hard work, the Book of Mormon still kept changing my life. I was a theatre student at BYU when I attended a play adaptation of some events in the Book of Mormon. I sat there thinking, "Oh. Oh, she missed the point, she didn't see what's really important in the story." That impelled me to write my own treatment of that same story, which became one of my first produced plays, The Apostate, directed by Charles Whitman in the Arena Theatre at BYU. It was that play which launched me on my career as a writer.
For the rest of my time at BYU, half my writing consisted of adapting other Book of Mormon stories into plays. Years after I graduated, I worked on the first six animated adaptations of the Book of Mormon for Living Scriptures. A few years ago, I was called upon by the Brethren to rewrite the Hill Cumorah Pageant. They told me to ignore the existing script, and instead to go back to the Book of Mormon and find a way to shape a clear and coherent story that would present the book's most important themes for an audience of nonmembers. I've been exploring, analyzing, dramatizing this book for a long time.
So, it seemed to me only natural that I should write my Homecoming series—The Memory of Earth, The Call of Earth, The Ships of Earth. These books are really just another dramatization of the Book of Mormon, only transformed into a science fictional setting, where by fictionalizing it I have the freedom to explore questions of character and society in a way that I couldn't in a more direct adaptation.
Elements of the Book of Mormon have shown up in many of my other works. The massacre at Tippy-canoe in Red Prophet, for instance, clearly is taken from the Book of Mormon. Sometimes my debt to the Book of Mormon is unconscious. Not until Professor Michael Collings pointed it out did I realize that in my first novel, Hot Sleep, the naive narrators in the middle of the book were clearly reminiscent of the narrators in the books taken from the small plates of Nephi.
In short, I have explored the Book of Mormon again and again, going back to that deep well to draw water. No matter how much I take from it, the well is still full.
* * *
What Is This Book?
The Book of Mormon has its own account of how we got it. Most of us here are familiar with that account. Joseph Smith told us how he got the book. You know the story. An angel appeared in his bedroom three times in one night. Later on, while he was climbing over a fence, it appeared to him again. A most insistent angel.
Following the angel's directions, Joseph Smith went to a nearby hill where he found buried in it an artifact of an ancient civilization—golden plates with words written on them in a language he did not understand.
After four years of annual visits to that hill, Joseph Smith took the golden plates into his possession and proceeded to translate them with divine aid, dictating the words of the book to a scribe. We have witnesses of that process, the testimony of people who participated in the translation. Three witnesses were shown the plates by the angel and testified to its divine origin. Another eight witnesses handled the plates and swore that they were physically real.
At the end of the prophet's translation, he returned the plates to the Angel Moroni. Therefore, they are not to be seen among us now.
Either Joseph Smith's account is true, or it isn't. Either the witnesses who said they saw the plates lied, or they didn't.
If the account he gave us is true, then the Book of Mormon must be what it purports to be, which is the record of an ancient people written by an ancient author, and Joseph Smith's role in providing us with the Book of Mormon was solely as translator. Therefore, we should find his influence in the book, or the influence of any other 1820s American, only where we would expect to find a translator's influence: that is, in matters of word choice, consciously or unconsciously linking Book of Mormon events to experiences that he and his American readers could understand, choosing the clearest language he had available to him, fitting ideas he found in the book into existing American concepts as best he could.