Critical Evaluation

It was perhaps inevitable that Vardis Fisher should attempt writing of the saga of the Mormons, for his own parents came from Mormon converts who went West with Joseph Smith. Despite much repetition, this Harper Prize novel of 1939 bursts with great vividness, especially in the mob scenes. The writing of this long novel was an enormous task, but Fisher managed to bring to the book a message of dedication rarely equaled.

Fisher’s serviceable prose methodically draws a picture of the origins of the Latter-day Saints and their efforts to overcome prejudice in nineteenth century America. The scale of the narrative is grand, but Fisher does not penetrate to the depths of his characters’ personalities or do more than suggest their private torments. Yet he is able through sheer energy to give the reader the feeling of a continent opening up and a people growing and affirming their newly won ambitions and dreams.

The leaders of Mormonism are revealed in their imperfections as well as greatness. The stubborn strengths of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young dominate the story. Whatever the reader feels about the mission or morals of these two men, he comes away from the book with a profound respect for their power of endurance and supreme dedication. The epic of the Mormons is presented here with all the pain and horror of history. One feels that Fisher meant this book to be more than a conventional historical romance.

Fisher tends to overexplain when he should be content to suggest, but the story is so interesting that the book maintains a steady pace as it follows the beginnings of Mormonism to the end of the first half-century of its existence. Perhaps the author was too concerned with appearing impartial to create a first-rate novel.