A Storyteller in Zion
Orson Scott Card
Bookcraft (Salt Lake City), 1993.
Suggested retail price: $14.95 (US)
A Sea of Glass and Fire
OSC, More Than Just A Storyteller in Zion
[MOD: While this article qualifies for the Card Week contest,Lee had already generously agreed to write us a series on sciencefiction and fantasy. This marks then the inauguration of "A Seeof Glass and Fire," a new regular (though not weekly) column onAML-List Magazine. Our thanks to Lee, and welcome to the team!]
Orson Scott Card autographed my copy of A Storyteller in Zion. I mention this not to brag or boast, but to note a curious phenomenon. I also have autographed copies of Scott Bronson's "City of Peace" tape, Arlen Card's "The Mountain of the Lord" CD, and Marilyn Brown's "Statehood" novel. Scott Card inscribed my book with the following:
A fellow builder of the Kingdom!
Scott Bronson wrote almost the same phrase, word for word. Arlen Card and Marilyn Brown wrote similar sentiments. That such divergent artists would write virtually the identical inscription years and miles and media apart is evidence itself of the united Zion community LDS artists wish to build.
Artists are almost by definition individualistic. Certainly by temperament they almost always are. That we LDS artists wish collectively to build anything (let alone build anything as communal as Zion) appears to be quite unusual. Orson Scott Card notes:
"When I talk to other writers about art changing the world, I will confess that a good many of them look at me rather strangely. 'We just write stories,' they say. 'All we want is to get into the NEW YORKER...We're not trying to change the world.'"
Well, we are.
Some of us by painting, some by playwrighting, some by composing, and some by storytelling. Given the title of Card's non-fiction essay collection, A Storyteller in Zion, one might think that it consists of account of Card's struggles in building the Kingdom. And to some degree, that's true. Storyteller is partially about Card himself. Most of it, however, is about you and me. Our struggles.
Card is solidly converted to using his prestige as a writer as a tool to build up others. Writers of his stature don't gain commercially from the time or effort required by such projects as VIGOR, Hatrack River Publications, or his NAUVOO online community. Card has taken to heart "When thou art converted, strengthen your brethren." These projects, his speaking engagements to LDS art communities -- these are all ways to build up the LDS artistic community, and thus Zion. While Card has had other successes, notably midwiving the LDS sf writing community centered in and around Utah County, the capstone of his effort is A Storyteller in Zion.
The book, quite frankly, was not written for Card's fiction fans. It is targeted to a rather small audience: the faithful LDS artist, be the artist's medium prose, paint, or play. It is an instruction manual on how to be A Storyteller in Zion. Dos. Don'ts. Pitfalls that lay ahead and ways to avoid them. Sometimes Card has had no choice (as trailbreakers often must) but to offer up himself as an example. Often, though he holds up other lights on the hill: Eugene England, Dave Wolverton, and even John Gardner.
The anthology's scope is wide: "Book of Mormon -- Artifact or Artifice?;" "Sunday Meetings: A preparation for Work;" "The Hypocrites of Homosexuality;" "Family Art." Taken by themselves, they seem unconnected. Yet, as a whole, a dominant theme appears -- the moral pitfalls peculiar to artists: putting one's self, one's art, one's pride, one's artistic community, one's education above the Gospel or the Church or building Zion.
For some the book will be hard reading (and hard swallowing)e. The anthology contains Card's defense of Boyd K. Packer's speech on the arts. "Sermons in Critical Form" essay could be read as a direct commentary on much of the Saturday's Warrior AML-List thread that ran just last week. Enough triggered hot buttons for all and sundry. Yet to paraphrase Card himself (speaking of John Gardner): "not that [he] has all the answers. But he has enough of them .& .& ."
This is not to say that I agree with everything he writes -- particularly his solution to presenting "The Problem of Evil in Fiction." At least the aesthetics of that solution. This essay, and its companion "On Art, Morals, and Morality" show that Card clearly built much of his aesthetic approach from Gardner's seminal treatise On Moral Fiction. (Ironically, so did I.) Even though on the surface both of their approaches seem not too far apart, Gardner's reasonings sound genuine, emotionally and intellectually. Card comes across somewhat defensive, somewhat smacking of self-justification, self-rationalization. Card writes:
If a work of art depicts evil and shows it to be painful, unrewarding, negative, destructive, bad, then that work of art is exactly as moral as one which shows good to be beautiful, uplifting, desirable. Art is not moral when it never shows ugliness; art is moral when it shows ugliness honestly."
Card maintains that:
the illusion of truth demands that there be evil, or his readers will cease believing in his characters and toss the book away." [italics mine]
My aesthetic approach runs more along the lines of "truth demands that there be illusion of evil."
Where Card and I differ seems to be that Card feels his readers must be shown evil and ugliness, have it thrust in their faces. I perhaps trust my readers more, trust that they have experienced evil and pain and suffering in their lives and can, by extrapolating, picture evil and ugliness far more vividly than anything I could ever write. For me, the off-camera terror of the Nazi's mutilation of a prisoner's hand in the movie THE PASSAGE is far more terrible than any gooey special effects graphically depicted in a Freddie Kruger movie.
Perhaps my disagreement is only one of scale, rather than concept. In a informal Q&A session at BYU (October 29, 1995), Card indicated that he now views his approach to depicting evil more as a point on a continuum rather than an either/or situation, one that he knows is too far up the continuum for some readers. He also indicated that over time his line has been shifting downscale -- closer to where I've drawn my own line in the sand.
Be that as it may, I agree with Card on many points. Where I don't, I have to think long and hard about why. A Storyteller in Zion has been an invaluable tool in teaching me not only my art and craft, but to remember the purpose behind my efforts. For any LDS artist striving to be "a fellow builder," Storyteller needs to be on your shelf next to the Strunk & White, click chart, or PANTONE(R) guide.
 Orson Scott Card, "Art as an Act of Charity." A STORYTELLER IN ZION. Deseret Book, Salt Lake City. 1993. pg. 112.
 See Barbara Hume's introductory essay in M. Shayne Bell's Washed by a Wave of Wind (Signature, 1994) and my 1996 Life, the Universe, & Everything symposium opening speech, "Nobody here still but us Orcs .& .& . An Incomplete History of Life, the Universe, & (Mostly) Everything" (forthcoming in an LTU&E symposium proceedings volume) for a history in Card's involvement in creating "The Class That Would Not Die," the Xenobia writing group, THE LEADING EDGE magazine, and the BYU sf symposium.
 The book was published in 1993. Many of the pieces were written long before then (some in the early 1980's). Since then, at least in the sf field, several LDS sf writers have achieved success in the field. Were Card to write a new edition, I suspect he would draw more heavily on writers such as William Russell Asplund, Susan Kroupa, and other members of the new "Mormon Battalion."
 Card, ibid. Pg. 99.
 Of special interest is that this essay is a revision of a Church sesquicentennial lecture at BYU (March 1980) by Card, "Nobody Here but Us Orcs: How a Mormon Writer Deals with the Problem of Good and Evil." This speech led to the formation of BYU's annual sf symposium "Life, the Universe, & Everything."
 Card, "On Art, Morals, and Morality." A Storyteller in Zion. Pg. 102.
 Card, "The Problem of Evil in Fiction." A Storyteller in Zion. Pg. 72
 This is not to say necessarily that I am right. Card certainly has touched a chord with tens of thousands of readers. I nevertheless have enough of the artistic temperament to fold my arms, stick out my quivering chin and say, "I don't care about the facts. I'm still right."
------ Lee Allred email@example.com www.leeallred.com Lee is a national market sf writer. He recently won first place in the international WRITERS OF THE FUTURE contest and is in the running (albeit far behind the pack) for the 1997 SIDEWAYS AWARD. He also is active in the LDS sf community and has twice chaired BYU's sf symposium.
© 1997 Lee Allred