From “Beauty and the Beast” to “Return of the King,” general auxiliary leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have referenced all kinds of literature in their conference talks over the years. See if one of your favorite stories, poems or plays have made the cut:
President Thomas S. Monson cited Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in April 2016 general conference while speaking on obtaining celestial glory. “Unlike Alice, we know where we want to go, and it does matter which way we go, for the path we follow in this life leads to our destination in the next life,” President Monson said.
The late President James E. Faust, formerly the second counselor in the First Presidency, taught in October 2002 general conference that seeking happiness from material goods prevents true joy. Quoting “The world is too much with us, late and soon,” by William Wordsworth, the apostle discouraged selfishness, stating that “a person obsessed only with getting will have a hard time finding peace in this life.”
President Monson also referenced Wordsworth’s poem, “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” in an April 2012 general conference talk. “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,” President Monson said, stating that all spirits come directly from God.
In an October 1989 address, President Gordon B. Hinckley addressed the women of the church. Also referring to “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” by Wordsworth, President Hinckley spoke of the heavenly home from which all of God’s children initially came.
Drawing upon the fairy tale “Cinderella,” President Monson said that all will eventually be accountable for the decisions made in this life. “There is a time of reckoning — even a balancing of the ledger. Every Cinderella has her midnight — if not in this life, then in the next. Judgment Day will come for all,” he said during April 2012 general conference. “Are you prepared?” he asked. “Are you pleased with your own performance?”
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, referenced several fairy tales in the talk “Your Happily Ever After,” which he addressed to the young women of the church in April 2010. Cinderella, Belle from “Beauty and the Beast,” the miller’s daughter from “Rumpelstiltskin” — all had to overcome adversity to obtain their happy endings, he said. During the talk, President Uchtdorf drew parallels between those characters and the challenges that young women face.
President Faust compared the fairy tale “The Emperor’s New Clothing” in his 1998 general conference address to members of the LDS Church. “Our real character, much as we would wish, cannot be hidden,” he said. “It shines from within us transparently. We are often like the emperor in the fairy tale who thought he was arrayed in beautiful garments when he was in fact unclothed.”
President Uchtdorf retold the German legend of the forget-me-not flower to the women of the church in October 2011. “It is my prayer and blessing that you will never forget that you are truly precious daughters in God’s kingdom,” President Uchtdorf concluded, using the five-petal flower as a metaphor throughout his talk.
In April 2013 general conference, President Uchtdorf also shared a story from his childhood when he and his family were fleeing East Germany. A young boy at the time, President Uchtdorf crossed the border to West Germany on foot. All journeys are not the same, he said, but each life is full of them. Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” Bilbo Baggins from “The Hobbit,” Ebenezer Scrooge from “A Christmas Carol,” and the monk from “Journey to the West” — each had to fulfill their mission, said President Uchtdorf. “Their successes and failures can help us find our own way through life.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell cited “The Return of the King” by J.R.R. Tolkien in a message he gave about the Atonement of Jesus Christ in October 1998. Although it is impossible to fix all the wrongs in the world, “we can strive to fix what may be amiss in our own families,” he said.
In his October 1995 conference address, Elder Dallin H. Oaks referenced “The Screwtape Letters” by philosopher C.S. Lewis, saying the story is a powerful reminder that “we should always put the Savior first.”
“Beware of Pride,” by President Ezra Taft Benson, was delivered during October 1989 general conference. Urging members to humble themselves, the prophet cited “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis: “‘Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone.’”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland relied on the classics in his April 2002 general conference address. Comparing the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son to the character Tantalus in Greek mythology, Elder Holland spoke of overcoming jealousy. Elder Holland also made reference to William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” and Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales” to demonstrate that envy “can resent anything, including any virtue and talent, and it can be offended by everything, including every goodness and joy.”
In the April 2007 priesthood session, President Faust said he wanted to address the men of the LDS Church as he would his grandsons. “Do not become so preoccupied with the material things of life that you lose the essence of your humanity,” said President Faust. Using Jacob Marley from the novel “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens to illustrate his point, the apostle stated that the work of God is more valuable than the work of mankind.
President Monson spoke on building a house of glory, quoting Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn,” in April 1984 general conference. In the quote, the character Huckleberry Finn knelt down to pray, but the words wouldn’t come. “I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all,” he said. “You can’t pray a lie — I found that out.”
In his most recent conference talk, Elder Holland spoke of “Songs Sung and Unsung.” Mental and emotional illness, economic inequality and times of sadness may prevent members from singing about the joy of the gospel, he said. At other times, individual experiences can be so deeply personal that they are better left unsung, Elder Holland continued, drawing on Shakespeare’s “King Lear” as an example.
“Instead of making excuses, let us choose repentance,” said Elder Dale G. Renlund in an October 2016 general conference address. Elder Renlund referenced Shakespeare when speaking of the Atonement and urged others to become better.
Elder Renlund also turned to comedy when quoting Shakespeare during April 2015 general conference. The play “As You Like It,” which tells the story of a younger brother forgiving his older brother, is similar to God’s mercy and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Elder Renlund said.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson began his October 2014 message by setting the scene for Shakespeare’s “The Life of King Henry V.” In the scene, King Henry walks among his troops late at night and his men don’t recognize him. Listening in on the soldiers’ conversations, the king discovers many blame him for their conditions. “When things turn bad, there is a tendency to blame others or even God,” said Elder Christofferson, using the story to remind members that all have agency and will be accountable for their own decisions.
Society often dismisses faith, refusing to believe what it cannot see, said President Ucthdorf in his talk, “Be Not Afraid, Only Believe” in October 2015. Referencing “Hamlet,” President Uchtdorf stated that just because something lacks physical evidence doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. “‘There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of’ in our textbooks, scientific journals, and worldly philosophies,” he said.
Sister Elaine S. Dalton served as the Young Women general president from 2008-2013. Drawing a parallel between Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” and eternal rewards, Sister Dalton asked the Young Women to walk the path of virtue on October 2009.
Elder Renlund told the story of “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo in April 2017 general conference. In the book, the bishop is an example of treating others the way Christ would, said Elder Renlund. “We, who are sinners, must, like the Savior, reach out to others with compassion and love,” he said.
Bishop Gerald Causse, first counselor in the presiding bishopric, also cited "Les Miserables" in October 2013 general conference. Using the example of the bishop who showed mercy to the main character Jean Valjean, Bishop Causse asked members to welcome all newcomers to the LDS Church.
Elder Christofferson referenced “Les Miserables” in April 2013 general conference, telling of how the character Jean Valjean had stolen silver from a bishop at the beginning of the story. Rather than condemn Valjean, though, the bishop gives him additional silver. The tale is one of redemption, said Elder Christofferson, and serves as a reminder to reach out to others whenever possible.
Titling his talk, “Bring Him Home,” after a song in the musical “Les Miserables,” President Monson entreated the men of the church to reach out to others in October 2003. Just as Jean Valjean looked after the character Marius, it is the duty of priesthood holders to look after the children of God, President Monson said.
Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke in general conference in October 1991 of how Jean Valjean asked himself the question, “Who am I?” in the story “Les Miserables.” Posing this same question to the young women of the church, Elder Ballard reminded the youth that they are daughters of God. Understanding this truth, he said, will bring them more direction and purpose in life.
The book “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes contains a message of hope and comfort, said President Howard W. Hunter in October 1987. “In that masterpiece, we find the short but very important reminder that where one door closes, another opens,” President Hunter said.
Feelings of inadequacy and disappointment are universal for both men and women, said President Uchtdorf at a priesthood session in October 2013. “We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” he said, quoting “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzergald. But despite setbacks, President Uchtdorf counseled for men to press on. “Brethren, our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward,” he said.
Sister Ann M. Dibb, second counselor in the Young Women General Presidency from 2008-2013, spoke to the youth in April 2011. Referring to the British classic “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, Sister Dibb recounted how the protagonist chose to stay true to her beliefs even when it wasn’t easy. Sister Dibb encouraged the yYoung women of the church to do the same.
“Good works should not be done for the purpose of receiving recognition,” said Sister Susan W. Tanner, Young Women general president from 2002-2008. Sister Tanner related how Mrs. Jellyby, a character from “Bleak House” by Charles Dickens, became so consumed with making her good deeds visible to others that she forgot to care for her own child. The antithesis to Mrs. Jellyby, said Sister Tanner, is the character Dorothea from “Middlemarch” by George Eliot. While her selfless deeds were quietly done, they made a powerful effect on the world.
“In the depth of winter, (we find) within (us) an invincible summer,” said President Uchtdorf, quoting the French writer Albert Camus in an October 2008 general conference address.
“Hope is critical to both faith and charity. The brighter our hope, the greater our faith. The stronger our hope, the purer our charity,” he said.
Christlike love transforms men and women, removing bitterness and hatred from their lives, said Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin during October 2007 general conference. Referring to the playwright Sophocles, he said: “One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.”
In “The Righteous Judge,” Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Seventy asked parents to remember the divine identity of their children during his October 2016 general conferene talk. Elder Robbins included a variation of a quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in his talk, saying “the way you see (a child) is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is (who) they (will) become.”