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QUESTION: I was wondering about the impact of Mr Card's religious awareness (religious "mind," I don't know how to put it) in his writing -- writing available in bookstores, not writing within the LDS Church -- on readers. Are the author's "Mormon moral values" actively perceived by the reader? Does the reader make a distinction between the story and the moral mindset behind it? I could imagine a reader liking the story, the way it is told, but putting aside the religious implications as "yet another Card moralism." Does the reader include it as part of the author's style?

Have readers been attracted to the author's religious mindset so much as to look for more religious writing by Card? (From reading SF Ender's Game to Lost Boys, Saints)

I have a secret question . . . have there been readers who have gone to the Mormon Church because of what Orson Scott Card writes -- who have felt drawn to not only his moral values, but to the religious background? As a matter of fact, I myself feel more and more drawn to the religious aspects within the writer's novels -- but afraid of being attracted to the religious Card, and not to the religion -- whose church I wonder if I want to join.

If only I could have Mr. Card tell me what he thinks (or is the word "feel" more appropriate here) . . .

-- Submitted by Phil Rose

OSC REPLIES:

I have no way of measuring the impact of my specifically religious ideas. Since I don't tag ideas in my fiction as being Mormon (except where Mormonism is actually directly addressed), and since my own ideas are intermingled with ideas derived from the Mormon religious and cultural milieu, and since some of the ideas are there for playfulness and some for serious moral effect on the story, it would be virtually impossible to sort out which kind of idea even one reader was responding to, let alone some imagined group of readers.

Oddly enough, in some ways Mormons make the worst readers of my fiction, because, having caught a Mormon reference (and knowing that I'm a Mormon) they think they've "got it." Often what they catch is merely a wink, or a note passed in class, nothing substantive; they miss the substance because they think the wink is all; they think the note is the book.

I dare say that most readers who would be inclined to say "yet another Card moralism" are probably not going to read much more of my fiction. When moral issues come into my stories, they are not there because I have an agenda -- because I am writing an essay. Rather, the moral issues come up because they matter to the CHARACTERS (and sometimes issues come to matter to characters that would not matter to me!) in the course of the story. They are never extraneous. Therefore, if you come upon a moral issue in my fiction, and are so emotionally uninvolved that you could say "yet another Card moralism," you are certainly not involved in the story enough to warrant your reading much more from me!

And, unfortunately, many readers are unable to get the idea that not all ideas presented in fiction are the personal opinions of the author. They forget that if I am creating a character with false ideas, I will nevertheless have to develop those false ideas as he would develop them, and defend them as he would defend them. Within the context, it may emerge that he is an idiot or a moral cretin, but it may not! So to assume that, having read a passage of moral reasoning, one then knows the author's view of the subject is not always a reliable conclusion.

Also, many of us have learned from Shakespeare. Some of his most-quoted aphorisms are placed in the mouths of fools -- either openly, as with the fool in Lear, or less obviously, as with the aphoristic speech of Polonius to Laertes in Hamlet. Here, the trick is to avoid seeming preachy by stating true things out of the mouth of a comic persona, in such a way as to seem intended to be mocked. Thus we layer our ideas in a complicated way within the story. In my Homecoming books, Elemak is the bad guy -- and yet some of the things I have him say, I believe; and Nafai is the good guy, but I give him moral reasoning which, while it certainly is what his character believes, is sometimes completely opposite to what I myself believe. So "yet another Card moralism" would be an unfortunate and unsophisticated reaction indeed!

I don't know of many readers who have specifically looked for "more religious writing" by me. And in fact the progression you cite -- from Ender to Lost Boys to Saints -- is a progression from more to LESS religious writing. Whenever I have characters who are openly religious, the story itself becomes LESS religious as I deliberately keep from forcing the reader to make a decision of belief. That is, my novels Saints and Lost Boys do LESS to put forward Mormon ideas than my novels Speaker for the Dead or Pastwatch, in which Mormonism is never openly mentioned. The reason for this should be obvious. So those who are drawn to looking at religion sociologically, as yet another alien society, will be properly attracted to Lost Boys and Saints, which document eras in Mormon culture; but those who are actually concerned about what religious ideas to BELIEVE will find more to feed that hunger in my less openly religion-centered writing.

As for the secret question -- of course there are readers who have joined the Mormon Church and who credit my books as being their first exposure to the ideas they love and believe in Mormonism. But in my experience, such people were already predisposed to be searching for religious truth and to resonate with it wherever they find it. I'm pleased that they found such resonance in my work -- but I've also known converts to Mormonism who were first attracted to Mormon ideas they ran across in ANTI-Mormon writing! The pious -- and truthful -- explanation is that the Spirit of God can work through anything, to speak to the open heart. So there is no particular virtue required in my fiction to achieve that end. And, in fact, I have never written fiction with the idea of converting anyone to Mormonism. Frankly, while I have been and still am a teacher of Mormonism to those who wish to hear it, I think my fiction has a much wider didactic purpose, which is to lead readers to better understand civilized values and wish to make them real in their own lives, an enterprise which does not require that people convert to Mormonism per se. If baptism of readers into the Mormon Church were the measure of my "success," then my success would be small indeed, even if the total were in the hundreds. But if the measure of my success is giving readers an emotionally moving transformative experience that leads them to value the same virtues that I value -- honor, sacrifice, kindness, etc. -- then I think some of my work was well worth doing, at least for a significant portion of my readership. But THOSE readers may remain completely unaware that some aspects of what they respond to are ideas from the LDS Church. However, I would only be delighted if familiarity with my work made them more receptive when the Mormon missionaries (like my son Geoff, currently serving in Santa Ana CA) knock on their door.

I do, however, have a small following of people who value, not the Mormonness of my fiction, but the fact that I frequently show characters who are religious but are neither hypocritical nor stupid -- the primary way religious people are represented in all the storytelling media by our cultural elite. That is, however, an entirely different subject, since the issue is not religious ideas, but the very idea of being a religious person who is worthy of the respect of intelligent people. Since almost all of the genuinely honest and/or intelligent people I personally know are deeply religious in one way or another, all I am doing is simple mimesis -- faithfully representing the world as I experience and understand it.

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