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Book review: 'Latter-Day Lore' is a scholarly approach to Mormon folklore

Published: Sunday, Feb. 23 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

"LATTER-DAY LORE: Mormon Folklore Studies," edited by Eric A. Eliason and Tom Mould, University of Utah Press, $34.95, 591 pages (nf)

Mormon folklore contains a wonderful array of stories, legends, beliefs, jokes, traditions and histories. The topic makes a great book. "Latter-Day Lore" brings almost 30 different works on Mormon folklore scholarship together into one book edited by two university professors.

This is not a collection of stories, it is a scholarly study of Mormon folklore. Each of the book's six sections begins with an introductory essay that provides context to the topic that follows.

The 28 chapters that comprise those sections include essays, articles, personal interviews and historical records from the past century about a particular folklore or several similar stories about a particular theme.

Weighing in at almost 600 pages, the authors explore everything from the use of the beehive in Utah folk art to Brigham Young University coed jokes. Additional topics discussed include the three Nephites, marriage confirmation narratives, the Apocalypse, personal revelation, Porter Rockwell, Mormon humor and missionary experiences. Some of the included topics were a bit of a head-scratcher, but were entertaining to read. The section on creative date invitations included some interesting oral interviews, but the text didn't offer any definitive correlations as to why the topic is uniquely Mormon.

Overall, "Latter-day Folklore" gives a deeper understanding of what makes Mormon mythology a fascinating study. The original interpretations and commentary throughout the book help illuminate the reasons why certain stories and traditions have developed over the years. The editors and authors aren't trying to prove or disprove Mormon theology, but have put together reference materials for students, professors and folklore enthusiasts. The readers can draw their own conclusions.

There are more than 100 pages of notes and a comprehensive bibliography that people may find helpful for getting additional sources. The index is also extremely helpful. For example, to find references to The Horseshoe Prophecy, a supposed apocalyptic oral history, the index comprises 266 through 269.

This book will appeal to those who like reading essays and research study publications on Mormon folklore. It also makes a good reference for those interested in some of the background behind Mormon folklore past and present. Even for someone who just wants to read stories, there are gold nuggets scattered throughout.

rmorgenegg@desnews.com

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