Ardis Parshall is one half of the duo behind the Mormon Image in Literature series published by Kofford Books. Along with Michael Austin, Ardis rescues literature from the past that otherwise would remain largely unknown. The works that Ardis and Michael are republishing are rare, fragile, and soon could be lost. They hope to preserve these types of works for a generation of researchers.
Dime Novel Mormons, their current offering, presents four Mormon-themed novellas. Dime novels were a popular genre from about 1870 through the turn of the century. America was going through an educational revolution and people needed things to read. Dime novels filled that need with affordably priced, page-turning excitement.
The way Mormons were portrayed in dime novels was remarkably consistent. The authors played on common stereotypes and themes such as Danites, polygamy, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
These stereotypes couldn’t help but affect the public opinion and the reception of Mormon missionaries. No matter how clean-cut the missionaries were, they had to overcome literary baggage pointing to the secret, suspicious, and nefarious nature of Mormons.
These melodramatic portrayals represented reality for millions of people. In fact, one sensational novel became so popular in England that citizens called for a removal of all Mormon missionaries, which resulted in a thorough investigation and later vindication from Winston Churchill.
While readers may become frustrated when reading these outlandish tales that scarcely represent history, they are recreating what it meant to be a Mormon in the nineteenth century. Akin to dressing up in pioneer clothes and pushing handcarts, reading these novels help reenact a historical event. They allow the reader to enter the experiences of members and non-members alike as they read the same words they read about “Mormons.”
Laura Harris Hales of LDS Perspectives Podcast interviews Ardis Parshall about preserving the literature of the past and inspiring the current generation to own the real Mormon story and share it with the world.