The Viper on the Hearth on Wednesday's Access Utah

Aug 20, 2013


 When it was published in 1997, The Wall Street Journal called Terryl Givens' “The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy” "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 has updated the book to address the continuing presence and reception of the Mormon image in contemporary culture. “The Viper on the Hearth” shows 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 reveals 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. In this new edition, Givens addresses the Mormon presence in contemporary American culture, including theater (The Book of Mormon musical), literature (the Twilight saga), and politics (the Huntsman and Romney campaigns.) Terryl Givens is Professor of Literature and Religion and James A Bostwick Chair of English at the University of Richmond.