This document is the notes for an essay. If these notes are not appearing in the lower half of a framed presentation, click here to access the entire essay.

Presented at the Fall 1983 meeting of the Utah Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters by Mick McAllister. Please cite by author and URL as well as title if quoted.

Citational Data: If you wish to refer to this article, use the following citational data
Mick McAllister. "Children of God: Vardis Fisher's Objective Epic". At Wanderer's Well (December, 2001).

Summary: This reading of Vardis Fisher's historical novel of the birth of the LDS "Mormon" Church identifies the novels point of view as "objective," which is to say, offensive to both the Church's advocates and its detractors. Although Fisher has been claimed by the American Atheists as some sort of posthumous spokesperson, Children of God provides an unbiased view of the phenomenon of a religion being born, and Fisher does not allow his personal animosities to interfere with the story.

December, 2001: I described in my notes to "Vardis Fisher's Mormon Heritage" how Opal Laurel Holmes descended upon me like an avenging angel the next time I dared to read a paper on Fisher. This is that paper. I was warned, I forget how, that Opal would attend this trivial academic meeting to defend her dead husband against any potential calumnies. I came into the room expecting an emotional scene, and instead I found a dear friend, Jim Maguire, looking a bit embarrassed, with Alan Crooks, a fellow Fisher scholar, the two of them at either side of Opal. Opal must have spent more than a thousand dollars to fly the three of them from Boise to Salt Lake and then make the hundred-mile trek to Logan, 1983 dollars. It was an interesting situation, reading a minor scholarly paper at a reasonably insignificant conference–the paper is not really ready for publication, even now–and braced for momentary hysterics.

They never came. Apparently the content of this paper was "goodthinkful." Opal "forgave" me for the earlier paper, and invited herself to our motel for a reconciliatory celebration which my then-wife, bless her friendly heart, encouraged. It was good, in fact, because I got to talk with Jim, whom I hadn't seen for a couple of years. It never seemed to occur to her, though, that I, on the contrary, had not forgiven her. Such is the nature of the female, I suppose. She had sabotaged a publication that I sorely needed to advance my scholarly career, and that after I had gallantly walked into the lion's den, challenging the scholarship of Leonard Arrington on his home ground. Such, as I said....

1. References in text will be to the recent reprint of the original 1939 editon of Children of God (Boise, Idaho: Opal Laurel Holmes, Publisher, n.d.) with a new introduction by Professor Joseph M. Flora. While Flora's introduction is a good critique of the novel and helpful in providing a historical context for the book, he overstates the pro-Mormon thesis throughout, beginning with the assertion that Fisher is "truly on the Mormon side" (p. xi). Fisher is on the human side. It is not their Mormonism, but their goodness and their suffering which attract Fisher's sympathy and respect.

2. Children of God, Introduction, p. xv. It is more than a semantic quibble to insist that is important–for the religious outsider particularly–to distinguish between "true Mormon," "true to Mormonism," and "true to their beliefs." The McBrides are clearly true to their beliefs. Surely there is a crucial difference between a "good Nazi"–that is, one who is orthodox–and a Nazi who is "good" in the sense of conforming to some moral norm we approve. The many ways the term "good Jew" has moved through our history should suggest the need for a certain precision of language.

3. Ray E. Willmuth of East Texas State University, in his paper "Marriages Made in Heaven: A View of Polygamy in Vardis Fisher's Children of God" (presented at the 1982 meeting of the Western Literature Association) has documented attempts by Fisher to put the reader's sympathy on the Mormon side. Particularly, he calls attention to the difference in detail between Fisher's version of the courting of Lucy Walker (pp. 266-67) and Walker's own version as recorded in Nels Anderson's Desert Saints: The Mormon Frontier in Utah (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942), pp. 391-92). Willmuth also points out the emphasis in the novel on Nephi's real affection for Chloe.

4. Professor Flora suggests that when Fisher speaks approvingly of the Hebrew spirit in his essay, "My Biblical Heritage," one "cannot help reading Mormon for Hebrew" (p. xiv), and Leonard Arrington and Jon Haupt, in "The Mormon Heritage of Vardis Fisher" (BYU Studies, Autumn 1976) similarly invite us to "read Mormon for Hebrew" (p. 47), quoting the same passage, a passage Fisher originally wrote for The American Zionist.