What follows is the first entry in what I intend to be an occasional, not-at-all regular, sporadic series here at the Juvenile Instructor: Mormon Studies in Unexpected Places. The basic idea is fairly straightforward: to identify instances in which Mormon Studies authors and/or their books, articles, etc. make an unexpected appearance in popular culture, political discourse, etc.
In the third-to-last episode of the final season of Veronica Mars, a television show that aired from 2004-2007 on the CW about a witty, sarcastic, and smart high school student (and, in the final season, college freshman) who helps her private investigator dad solve crimes, the show’s eponymous star (played by Kristen Bell) is browsing the stacks in the fictional Hearst College’s library. There, she runs into her on-again, off-again boyfriend Logan Echolls, and somewhat sarcastically asks if he is “boning up on [his] South American culture? Conversational Portuguese, perhaps?” (a reference to Logan’s planned upcoming summer surf trip to Brazil.) Logan doesn’t answer, but either way, it is clear that the section he and Veronica were browsing had nothing to do with Latin America. Instead, it appears Veronica was taking a look in the BX shelves (that is, the Library of Congress’s designated call numbers for published titles dealing with “Christian Denominations”). The giveaway is Stanley P. Hirshson’s 1969 biography of Brigham Young, The Lion of the Lord (published by Alfred Knopf), seen clearly in the lower left hand corner of the screen shot below.
For those unfamiliar with Hirshson’s biography, it was universally panned by scholars of Mormon history. In a particularly biting review published in BYU Studies, Leonard Arrington blasted the author for failing to visit Salt Lake City and make use of the extensive papers of Brigham Young kept there, comparing Hirshson’s reliance on reports in eastern newspapers to a London-based writer penning a biography of Robert E. Lee and concluding that “the key to Lee is in the British Museum!” Arrington concluded his review with the following call:
Since it is clear that even Guggenheim Fellows will not use primary Mormon materials which are available to them, it behooves Mormon historians conveniently located close to Salt Lake City to use the rich materials which the Church Historian’s Library-Archive has to offer. If a good biography of Brigham Young has not been written (and clearlyThe Lion of the Lord doesn’t fill the bill) it is up to Mormon scholars to write one and see that is published. Hirshson’s book is dramatic evidence of the acute need of publishing some, if not all, of the Brigham Young papers.
Arrington would, of course go on to publish his own biography of Mormonism’s second prophet in 1985, which has since been followed up by John Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (see JI’s 2012 roundtable on the volume here). As for the publication of “some, if not all, of the Brigham Young papers”: hear, hear!