The Viper on the Hearth, updated edition

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The Viper on the Hearth, updated edition
Author Terryl L. Givens
New York: Oxford University Press, 2013

The Viper on the Hearth, updated edition

Reviewer Mickell J. Summerhays

Many may be familiar with Givens's classic study on Mormon literature entitled The Viper on the Hearth. It is known as one of the most in-depth studies of anti-Mormon literary texts. Givens himself calls this a look at "the long and tumultuous relationship between Mormonism and American society." This updated edition brings the study to the present by taking into consideration much of the public media and cultural shift of the last sixteen years.


Terryl Givens’s classic study on Mormon literature entitled The Viper on the Hearth is known as one of the most in-depth literary studies of anti-Mormon texts. Givens himself calls this a look at “the long and tumultuous relationship between Mormonism and American society” (5). This updated edition brings the study up to the present by adding consideration of the public media and cultural shifts of the last sixteen years.

The first part of this book, “Mormonism, Politics, and History,” gives a basic history of Mormonism and puts it in context of the culture and religions of the United States. In doing this, Givens answers many complex questions about the Church’s place in society, bringing those questions and answers up to recent events. Part two, “Mormonism and Fiction,” shows how Mormons have been represented—generally negatively—in literature and popular culture since the founding of the religion. This part contains most of the updates in this new edition, the most significant changes being found in the final chapter.

Those looking for Givens’s signature sharp and insightful analysis, particularly of recent media events, should not be disappointed, although the book does not give an in-depth treatment of the recent “Mormon Moment,” since the wave of media attention surrounding HBO’s Big Love, John Krakauer’s book Under the Banner of Heaven, the broadway musical The Book of Mormon, and Mitt Romney’s two presidential bids cannot be covered fully in a volume of this breadth. Still, this book comes highly recommended. Its updated information will be valuable, if not essential, for all students of Mormon literature and arts.

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