Terryl L. Givens. The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy, updated edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Paperback. 978-0-19-993380-8. $24.95.
Since its original publication in 1997, Terryl Givens’ The Viper on the Hearth has been a mainstay of the study of Mormonism and anti-Mormonism in American culture. And deservedly so. Givens’ work provided the first substantial scholarly book-length exploration of images of the Latter-day Saints in American culture in any time period. His examination of the representations of Mormons in the United States in the 19th century is sweeping in its coverage of the period; thorough in its inclusion of a wide variety of sources, from newspapers to popular fiction to fictive memoirs; and convincing in its argument that, whatever American claims of separation of church and state and tolerance for differing religious views may have been, religion was at the heart of mainstream America’s intolerance, suspicion, and occasional violence toward the Mormons. For many students of Mormonism and of American religion, Viper has served as an introduction to anti-Mormonism in America. For the generation of scholars who have examined the subject since Viper’s first publication—including Megan Sanborn-Jones, Patrick Q. Mason, and J. Spencer Fluhman—Givens’ scholarship has served as a guide. No one can engage in a study of anti-Mormonism in the United States without responding to his arguments about the mechanisms of and motivations behind anti-Mormon sentiment in American culture.
Much of the updated edition remains, in its essentials, unchanged, although it is evident that Givens has edited for clarity and smoothed out the language in many places—a very real improvement, given that the original text’s heavy use of theoretical language. The first part of the book—then and now—situates Mormonism within the broader context of the revivalism that swept the nation in the early 19th century and spawned numerous new movements within existing religions as well as entirely new religious communities. Givens dedicates this section of the book to explaining exactly what it was about this new religion that so offended the Mormons’ American neighbors. He convincingly argues that what made Mormonism different from so many other new and existing religious movements in this period was its collapse of the distance between the sacred and the profane. Mormonism’s claims to ongoing direct communication with God and the eventual assertion that human beings can become gods and that God himself was once human—what Givens calls Joseph Smith’s “unrelenting anthropomorphizing” (99)—radically transgressed traditional boundaries between humanity and divinity. By “rematerializing” and “rehistoricizing” Christianity, Smith and his followers put “the unavoidable features of religion-making” on the table for everyone to see (93). In short, by infusing the profane with the sacred, Smith forced more orthodox Christians to confront the reality that their religions, too, were man-made: “Mormonism stands as a defiant reminder that, much as it tries to, orthodoxy cannot escape the fact of its own construction” (102). As a result, Givens argues, orthodox Christians fought hard to define Mormonism as something completely other in order to protect the wholly sacred nature of their own religions.
In the book’s second part, Givens analyzes a wide variety of sources to demonstrate several strategies that American Protestants used in their efforts to combat and contain the new religion. Comparing anti-Mormon rhetoric to the language and images deployed against another religion feared and maligned in 19th-century America—Roman Catholicism—he shows that opponents of the Latter-day Saints recycled images that were already familiar to a wide American audience. The popular Indian captivity narratives of the 18th century, which had been adapted with great success into Catholic captivity narratives like those attributed to Maria Monk, morphed into salacious tales of Mormon kidnap, debauchery, and murder. Orientalist views of Islam—a religion all but unknown within the nation’s borders—provided Americans with handy imagery to cast the men of the Mormon hierarchy as foreign potentates at the head of captive harems and a subjugated populace. And because, as Givens shows, the boundaries between genres were unfixed in this period, the lurid imagery of popular novels couched as memoirs were considered “true” enough to be used as evidence in the news and on the floor of Congress in arguments for containing or suppressing the Mormon menace. Givens effectively demonstrates that, popular claims to the contrary, 19th-century anti-Mormonism was inspired by religious difference and not simply by social and political concerns. (I agree with Fluhman, however, that religion is not as wholly the cause of the rift between Mormons and non-Mormons in this period as Givens argues. )
The most significant changes in the updated text are to the final chapter, which focuses on the Mormon image in contemporary American culture. This is not surprising given the events and the materials produced in the 15 years since Viper’s first publication, from Jon Krakauer’s bestseller Under the Banner of Heaven (2003) to The Book of Mormon on Broadway (2011–) and Mitt Romney’s two runs for the presidency in 2008 and 2012. What is surprising, however, is how few new examples Givens incorporates into the revised chapter despite the wealth of new Mormon images available for analysis. By and large, the examples of “contemporary” American images of the Latter-day Saints that he used in the original edition of Viper are untouched in the update. He extends his discussion of Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America, but does not address the substantially revised award-winning HBO Films adaptation first aired in 2003. He adds only one new writer to his description of contemporary novels (176–77), and his only addition to his discussion of Mormons on television is the HBO show Big Love (2006–2011). He retains an extended discussion of an episode of the show Picket Fences—cancelled in 1996—but makes no mention of other prominent examples of the Saints on the small screen, including a full season of the medical drama House and multiple episodes of the wildly popular Comedy Central series South Park (1997–) that deal with Latter-day Saint characters.  He also doesn’t engage with the numerous news magazine episodes on Mormon-related topics, or, aside from a brief mention of Dancing with the Stars, with Mormons on reality TV.  And while he discusses Krakauer’s examination of violence and Mormon fundamentalism, he does not engage with other depictions of Mormon violence like the 1996 television adaptation of Zane Grey’s The Riders of the Purple Sage or the 2007 film September Dawn.
Most surprisingly, Givens only devotes two pages to an examination of the media’s coverage of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism during his five-year campaign for the presidency. Further, Givens focuses exclusively on the most egregious examples of anti-Mormon rhetoric leveled at Romney—claiming, in a show of hyperbole, that these examples demonstrate that the media’s coverage in general “seemed but a step away from calling for the pogroms that accompanied nineteenth-century anti-Catholic hysteria” (185)—without reference to the relative infrequency of attacks on Mormonism in the overall coverage of Romney’s campaigns. He also generally ignores related information or alternative interpretations that lessen the impact of his assertion that the media turned rabidly anti-Mormon in the decade of Romney’s candidacy. For example, he asserts that “evangelicals publicly resorted to the pejorative ‘cult’ word” as if it were a general occurrence (184), without noting that popular evangelist Billy Graham’s organization removed all references to Mormonism as a cult from its website soon after Graham endorsed Romney. 
Givens’ treatment of the media coverage of Romney’s campaigns is part of a larger lack of nuance in his choice and interpretation of sources in the updated chapter. In his expanded paragraph on Angels in America, for instance, he claims that Kushner “reprises nineteenth-century anti-Mormonism” (178). (He cites my own essay on Kushner’s representation of Mormons in the play in such a way that it appears that the essay supports his argument that Kushner is simply intolerant [178–79]. It does not.) He entirely ignores the play’s final scene, in which Kushner’s ideal community comes together, led by one of the play’s central Mormon characters, to embrace a reinterpreted angelic vision. Similarly, he quotes Stephen Colbert “mock[ing]” the miraculous experiences of both Joseph Smith and Moses, thereby, he asserts, using Americans’ contempt for Mormonism to undermine more widely held Judeo-Christian beliefs (187). He does not acknowledge the possibility that Colbert connected Smith’s and Moses’s miracles not as a means of denigrating Moses, but rather as a means of challenging his viewers to consider that their own beliefs are not so different, in their essentials, from the Mormons’. Finally, Givens does not engage with sources that demonstrate increasing tolerance and efforts at understanding, including Helen Whitney’s widely respected documentary The Mormons (2007)—in which Givens was heavily featured—and more recent examples like NBC’s Rock Center episode “Mormon in America” (2012). 
Givens’ final purpose is not, however, to engage with non-Mormon American ambivalence toward the Latter-day Saints. Rather, he wants to show that the mainstream that Mormonism fought so hard to join in the 20th century is under attack, and Mormonism’s success in joining that mainstream is now the source of the attacks against the religion. He seems to lament that “Murphy Brown and the Gilmore Girls [have] replace[d] Ozzie and Harriet and the Waltons.” He views the values celebrated by ABC’s popular sitcom Modern Family (2009–), with its celebration of second marriages, multi-cultural families, and gay parents, as the new “ruling paradigm” (178)—the 21st century’s new orthodoxy—and regards Mormonism’s embrace of the traditional values represented by Ozzie and Harriet as the new target on the community’s back. He finally argues that anti-Mormonism is on the rise because anti-religious sentiment is increasing in the United States. Because Mormonism embraces the sacred and the supernatural that is at the heart of Christianity, he argues, “attackers of Mormonism” are “implicitly, and perhaps deliberately, really attacking the foundations of Christianity itself” (187). His updates, then, are not simply about describing and explaining the myriad responses to the Latter-day Saints in early 21st-century American culture—representations that have been sharply divided along the lines of the culture wars in the last several decades. Rather, in the new edition of Viper, Givens uses his analysis of Mormonism in the public sphere to place himself squarely on the side of the defenders of the traditional values that the Mormons—or at least the Mormon image—came to embody a half-century ago.
 See Fluhman, “Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 53–54.
 Givens does engage in an extended discussion of The Book of Mormon on Broadway, another Trey Parker and Matt Stone creation, but in some ways the Broadway show softpedals the television show’s sharp wit. See “Probably” (2000), in which Saddam Hussein is banished from hell to live with the Mormons (who are, incidentally, the only people who get to heaven); “Super Best Friends” (2001), in which Joseph Smith is one of Jesus’s team of supernatural crime fighters; and “All about Mormons” (2003), in which a Mormon family moves to town and their son gets the last word.
 The first category not only includes numerous profiles of fundamentalist polygamy, but also NBC’s Rock Center episode “Mormon in America” (2012). The latter ignores TLC’s popular reality series Sister Wives (2011–).
 See for example The Washington Post, “After Romney meeting, Billy Graham website scrubs Mormon’cult’ reference” (October 16, 2012).
 In her seminal essay “From Satyr to Saint: American Perceptions of the Mormons, 1860–1960” and her later follow up “Surveying the Mormon Image since 1960,” Jan Shipps notes that while negative images of the Mormons have persisted throughout the 20th century, there has been an increase in positive images across the same time period. Both essays are printed in Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years among the Mormons (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000). My own research has also demonstrated that the frequency of positive images increased during the 20th century, as well as showing that many depictions of the Mormons in the late 20th and early 21st century are richer and more nuanced—in short, treating the Saints as fully developed human figures rather than caricatures.