Parker Blount has a wonderful piece in the latest Sunstone Magazine, “Ancient Fairy Tales Written for This Generation.” My brief summary will not do justice to Blount’s witty insights, so read it here.
In his article Blount draws parallels between Book of Mormon stories and fairy tales. In both, the hero finds a magical object that helps him on his journey or to fulfill his goals. (Think Liahona, Mosiah’s interpreters, and stones that emit light in the Jaradite barges). The hero takes a journey into a dark forest (wilderness), defeats his enemies, and protects the kingdom.
Blount also finds differences in the two groups of stories. Unlike fairy tale heroes, Book of Mormon leaders never make mistakes, and they never get distracted by pretty women—or marry the princess. Another difference is that nobody lives happily ever after. The Nephites perpetually relapse into sin and war. Blount interprets their perpetual warfare as a symbolic battle with ego.
I think I could stand to reread the Book of Mormon again if I looked at the stories metaphorically. Unfortunately, that’s not really an option for active members. Mormons “know” the book is a factual history of early inhabitants of the Americas. Readers are not free to interpret history symbolically.
Mormons also take Bible stories literally. I don’t think Jonah being swallowed by a whale is a litmus test for Mormons, but most still adhere to Joseph Fielding Smith’s insistence that the earth was totally covered by water as a “baptism” during the flood. Joseph Smith thought Job was likely a real person, so Mormons defend that story as literal despite having to do mental gymnastics to explain God giving Satan permission to afflict Job and kill all his children. Although the Church has not taken an official position against evolution, insistence on a literal interpretation of the Creation story puts many Mormons into the Creationist group.
The Catholic Church no longer insists their members accept biblical accounts literally. I would like to see the Mormon Church open up and encourage members to find personal symbolic meaning in scriptural stories. I would like the freedom to say in Gospel Doctrine class that I see the Book of Mormon cycles of war and peace as a message that few people live happily ever after. Peace and happiness come and go in our lives as we deal with situations that arise—not necessarily from sin. Like the Nephites, we soldier on doing our best through times of trial. If we’re lucky, we get a few peaceful breaks between difficulties.
I do think my interpretation is at least as spiritual as my neo-con neighbors’ insistence that Book of Mormon war cycles are a message that the U.S. needs to maintain a strong defense system and aggressive foreign policy.