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[DitV] Appropriate reading?

Started by Christopher Weeks, September 13, 2004, 03:45:15 PM

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Christopher Weeks

Over here people mention a couple of books:

A Study In Scarlet


Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896

And I got to thinking that a collection of personally recommended literature might be valuable.

I read most of The Refiner's Fire : The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 in preparation for a historical Mormon game several years ago.  I'd suggest it for your reading only if The King of Life grants overt supernatural powers in your campaign.  It's all about connecting Smith's revelation to European magical tradition.

Many of Orson Scott Card's works of fiction reveal facets of his Mormon philosophy.  I found Saints, a book about very early Mormonism -- very little of which deals expressly with Utah as the church ages, especially compelling -- long after learning to appreciate his F/SF as a kid.  I think it's a great read for getting into the mindset of the Faithful, at least for we gentiles.  I'd also suggest The Folk of the Fringe for some post-apocalypse Mormon goodness.  And really, building after the collapse of society isn't too different than building on the frontier.

As a kid, I read the Great Brain books by JD Fitzgerald.  They're largely set in a small town in southern Utah.  Several years ago, I started reading them to my son.  My wife started doing some research and found that while they're presented as autobiographical, there are many liberties taken.  Fitzgerald also wrote a bunch of more adult pieces of fiction that are somewhat hard to locate.  Honestly, I think it's all great stuff.  Some of his harder to find books are: Papa Married a Morman, Mama's Boarding House and Uncle Will and the Fitzgerald Curse.

Jumping away from Mormonism, but into the west, I can only recommend everything by Larry McMurtry.  I'd suggest the stuff set earlier, but really, it's all good.  You can get a feel for the kind of things that assail people in the relative emptiness that we mostly can't even imagine these days.  Small towns, colorful characters, the wilds of the plains (on the wrong side of the mountains).  I guess the earlier two books from the Lonesome Dove series: Streets of Laredo and Comanche Moon would be good for providing color.

Have anything to add?  I'd particularly like to read fictionalized (but plausible) accounts of corruption in government offices like the Territorial Authority.



Good call, Chris.

Here are some from past threads:

Quote from: Jake NorwoodVincent, read this book: Porter Rockwell, a Biography

Porter Rockwell was a close boyhood friend of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph loved Porter, and Joseph's wife hated him.  He is the source for every legend about "Danites," Mormon Mafias, and a lot of other such things.  He was a gunslinger, a bodyguard, a bounty hunter, indian fighter, missionary, US Marshall, and a temple worker, often at the same time. He clearly had a hard, hard time adhering to much of what Mormons--especially Mormons in the last 100 years--would consider "decent" behavior.  He drank, swore, and gambled.  He was loved and feared at the same time by different people. His hair and beard were long after the Prophet Joseph told him that if he never cut his hair or beard (like the Nazarites of old) that he would be protected from the Devil and from harm.  Like Wyatt Earp, though shot at many, many times, he was never hit. It should also be noted that separating the fact from legend in Porter's life is impossible at this point, which perhaps makes it *better* for present purposes.
from Orrin Porter Rockwell

Quote from: Jake NorwoodThis just occured to me, but the Movie "Brigham City," by Richard Dutcher, is not only a fantastic piece of indie filmmaking, but it addresses the feelings of something very similar in an all-mormon town when a serial killer starts up. Really worth seeing, regardless of your opinions on faith.
from Skipping Steps


edit: Well hey, stickying it worked!

Jason Durall

Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is an excellent novel, a bit unorthodox in form, but incredible in evoking the worst parts of the period (or thereabouts) and is full of hard moral choices and quandries faced by the main character.

Ron Edwards


Big-time: Riders of the Purple Sage, by Zane Grey

Highly unsympathetic to the religion in question, but as western as it gets, full of passion and gore and all sorts of similar.



Doesn't hit the setting exactly, but might give you some ideas anyway: Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter .


I'd like to second Jason's recommendation of McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and to urge anyone who likes that book to keep reading McCarthy.  I found Outer Dark not only an incredible novel, but great fuel for visualizing frontier towns.  McCarthy's handling of prose is breathtaking, and his evocative descriptions are like nothing you've read.


I just finished reading Under the Banner of Heaven : A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer.  It's a chilling true story with all kinds of applications to Dogs.  Two ideas were especially striking to me in reading it:

One, once a powerful idea has gotten into a religion, it can't be gotten out again.  There's always a tendency for fundamentalists to crop up and drag that idea back out into the modern world.  Dogs deals a lot with heresies, but it would be interesting to have some heresies that are inspired by the fictional history of the Faith. 

Two, a religion which encourages its followers to commune directly with God and get revelations from him will have a hard time controlling the effects of those revelations.  This is one of the core conflicts in Dogs, I think -- how can you tell the man  with a genuine revelation from the King of Life apart from the huckster? 
I believe in peace and science.


Kenneth L. Holmes's Covered Wagon Women series is a valuable resource not only for scholars of American women's history, but also for fans of antebellum American history in general.  Note especially his 1840-1849 volume, which features selections from the 1847 diary of Patti Bartlett Sessions.  Sessions's diary has been a staple resource for historians and scholars, but it's really very accessible to average readers.  It deals nicely with the move westward to Utah, and it gives insight into the place of women in Mormon society.  Plus, it's just fun to read these old letters and diaries.


Quote from: Transit on December 13, 2005, 01:36:48 PM
I was doing some online research while working on a DitV town, and found this.  It's an online copy of a Utah history book written in 1889.  It seems like it would be a good source for background historical information, descriptions of living conditions, and for finding authentic period character names.

In particular,  I think chapter thirteen, which talks about the establishment of different branches might be helpful/inspirational when creating DitV towns.

It gives cool Dogs-worthy descriptions like this:

QuoteIn the autumn of 1847 one Thomas Grover arrived with his family on the bank of a stream twelve miles north of Salt Lake City, and now called Centreville Creek. His intention was to pasture stock for the winter; and for this purpose a spot was chosen where the stream spreading over the surface forms plats of meadow-land, the soil being a black, gravelly loam. Here Grover, joined by others in the spring, resolved to remain, though in the neighborhood were encamped several bands of Indians, and this notwithstanding that as yet there was no white settlement north of Salt Lake City. Land was ploughed and sown in wheat and vegetables, the crops being more promising than those to the south. But in May of the following year the settlers were startled, not by the war-whoop of the Utahs, but by hordes of black monster crickets, swarming down from the bench-lands, as at Salt Lake City, and bringing destruction on field and garden. They turned out to do battle with the foe; ditches were dug around the grain-fields, and the water of the stream diverted into them, while men, women, and children, armed with clubs, checked the advance of the devouring host. Enough of the crop was saved to supply the wants of the settlers, and their energy, on this occasion, coupled with a supposed miraculous visitation of gulls, probably saved a foretaste of the disaster of 1848

With the addition of some sins, I think that's a DitV town right there!


Quote from: Danny_K on October 27, 2005, 12:01:22 PM
I just finished reading Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer.  It's a chilling true story with all kinds of applications to Dogs.

I'll second this. I'm reading it now (most of the way through) and it's full of Doggy inspiration. It's the story of a pair of Fundamentalist Mormon brothers who murdered their sister-in-law and her infant daughter, claiming that God had told them to do it. And it's intercut with a history of the Mormon church, all the way back to Joseph Smith, presenting both wrongs done to the Mormons and wrongs done by them. Along the way you get descriptions of characters like Orrin Porter Rockwell, the "Destroying Angel", who's also got his own thread.


Though its not heavy on practical info on how to run the setting, thematically David Gemmell's Jon Shannow series has some good resonance. Aside from the obvious (it features a religious gunman who drifts in the west that never was), there's lots of emphasis on the power a gun gives the user, assuming they have the will to use it. Jon Shannow remarks himself, he enters a town and the townsfolk plead him to remove the corruption and topple the tyrants. After he does so, the town is faced with a big list of bodies with associated bereaved families, a power vacuum and their hero turns out to be a ruthless murdering gunman.

'Who... are... you?' Dillon fell sideways, but his pain-filled eyes continued to stare up at his killer.
'I am retribution,' Shannow told him. Kicking away the man's pistol, he scanned the crowd. 'You have allowed evil to prosper here,' he said, 'and that is a shame upon you all.'
(Bloodstone, p111)

It's a Dog's life to be sure. ^_^


I've been thinking about this for a while, but I think the best reading for Dogs is actually the Talmud. The trappings may be quasi-Mormon, but to me Dogs don't argue like Mormons at all. They argue like Talmudic scholars in a Yeshiva, or like the Baal Shem Tov or the Vilna Gaon wandering among the shtetls, only with guns.
James R.


Quote from: Noclue on November 19, 2007, 04:38:50 AM
I've been thinking about this for a while, but I think the best reading for Dogs is actually the Talmud. The trappings may be quasi-Mormon, but to me Dogs don't argue like Mormons at all. They argue like Talmudic scholars in a Yeshiva, or like the Baal Shem Tov or the Vilna Gaon wandering among the shtetls, only with guns.

I think you're on to something in this in that many religions are about taking a revelation from God and adding their own traditions as authoritative.  It's what the Talmud is.  It's what the Book of Mormon is.  It's what the teachings of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church is (as found in the Catechism).  It's God's revelation + our tradition as authoritative = our religion.

But I do find one statement you made a bit strange "Dogs don't argue like Mormons at all."  What are you basing this on?  Isn't every group of players going to do it slightly differently?  Also I don't necessarily see a Dog's authority from the Prophets and Ancients to make pronouncements and judgements equal to Rabbis arguing about what past Rabbis taught or didn't teach.  I agree with your point in that I see the similarities in the adding of human tradition to the revelation of God is present both in the Talmud and in Mormonism (and every religion to some extent or another, but it is a defining feature in many).  I would like to hear what you'd back up that statement with.  Please do back up the statement that "Dogs don't argue like Mormons at all."
I'm not designing a game.  Play is the thing for me.


Hi Nathaniel. Well, to some extent it was me being didactic and over-generalizing from my own experiences. But, here's the back up (Warning LONG and SPRAWLING MESS OF A POST). The Talmudic tradition is based on over a thousand years of textual and oral analysis. For talmudic scholars, the guiding premise is essentially that the Torah came from on high in its existing form and every word is there for a reason. The torah is essentially a road map to the universe and to God's inner workings. Therefore, inconsistencies must be rooted in misunderstanding of the text and apparent redundancies must be there for a reason. The book is highly inter-referential too. For example, in the story of moses breaking the first stone tablets after seeing the Jews worshiping idols the word choices are obviously referencing the story of Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden. You're supposed to read one story while thinking about the other.

The Talmud is generations of rabbis arguing with each other in text and challenging each others legal and ethical problem solving all of which is ultimately based in the Book. So, let's say you're trying to determine the ownership of a mule that was bequeathed in the will of a man to his cousin, but who was in debt at the time of his death. Ultimate authority rests first in the original text, the Torah. So if you can derive your ruling directly from a verse in the Torah, you're golden. If the Torah doesn't address the question adequately, there's a whole bunch of oral teaching about the Torah passed on through the generations and compiled and codified in 200 AD. So, if you can quote a great brain in the Mishnah, you're pretty close to golden but someone can trump you with a nice juicy quote for a bigger brain or the good book itself. Then there's the marginalia and discussions over the next 300 years which is codified in the Gemara. You quote those guys, you're generally still good to go. After that, you get to relying on tradition and lastly just using common sense. So the arguments are basically about text and the meaning of text. There's an old saying that if you have two Jews in a room, they have three opinions. Imagine how many opinions you have to wade through in Talmud. Let's say you want to understand the first word of the Torah. That's easy right? Repeat after me "In the beginning God created..." That first word there. In. Seems so simple, but the Hebrew also means "with." So, now we have two readings (and we know from what we talked about redundancies that meanings aren't trivial in analyzing this book). In the beginning and with the beginning (to make the English more palatable that could be read "During the beginning time"). Even that first word is problematic!

OK, back to Dogs and Mormons. In Dogs you get to make up your own book and then argue with it. Your book can be a detailed and rich as you want. It can be crafted to support just about any argument, including arguments that seemingly contradict each other. You can postulate how those arguments are reconciled by additional readings. Talmudic textual analysis and legal argument is great for this stuff.

OK Mormons. They have a book too. But from my admittedly limited reading they interface with it differently. The book says stuff that happened. God did this and God said that. The two brothers fought, one killed the other. Etc. The prophets and elders tell you how to behave in accordance with His wishes. Lessons are drawn from the narrative sure, but not really the syntax and vocabulary. If the old testament says God is my rock and my shield, you don't then ask "why does it use both the word rock and the word shield? What's the difference between the two? Where else does the text refer to God as a shield? Does it use the same word for shield? Are there multiple meanings for the word shield here? What do the rabbis say in the Mishnah about how we should be thinking about God as a shield? etc.

Does any of that help make sense out of my earlier comment or did I just make things worse?
James R.


Oh, and the Baal Shem Tov and his Rabbi disciples travel from town to town fixing ethical problems, marrying people, blessing children and banishing demons.
James R.