Whether taken as reality or mythology, Mormonism presents truly epic settings. Vast pre- and post-mortal realms entice the imagination, especially for creative writers like me. Mormonism has become my Middle-earth. Even after many years of abstaining from regular church attendance, I find myself wondering on it all. As part of my ongoing fascination, I recently sat down to read Nephi Anderson’s novel Added Upon.

Exploring Mormonism’s Middle-earth

Added Upon depicts the entire plan of salvation, from premortal life to exaltation. An ensemble of characters, with varying degrees of spirituality, come to Earth to learn and be tested. The novel derives suspense from readers wondering how things will turn out for these eternal brothers and sisters. Who will be born in the covenant? Who will wander and search, perhaps failing? Most importantly, who will marry whom?!

Anderson published Added Upon in 1898. I read the 1912 expanded edition, which divides into five parts. Part One covers premortal life. Part Two covers mortality. In this fashion, the novel progresses through missionary work in the spirit world, life on Earth during the Millennium, culminating in Exaltation for the worthy. Added Upon is perhaps best known for paving the creative way for the musical Saturday’s Warrior.

Flirting and Feuding in Premortal Life

Like Saturday’s Warrior, Added Upon uses premortal life to set up relationships which will play out in mortality, especially romantic ones. Interesting to watch spirit children crushing on other spirit children while trying to decide whether to support the Savior or Lucifer. Call it silly or campy, but really… Would that not happen?

Like other 19th Century Mormons, Anderson depicts premortal life as a realm where people attained a range of merits which affected their placement in mortality. Interestingly, some characters end up in difficult mortal lives because they volunteer for spiritually risky assignments. Not quite as simple as noble spirits being born in the covenant for a straight shot to exaltation.

The idea of spirits achieving differing levels of merit in pre-Earth life is natural speculation within the context of the plan of salvation. Tragically, Brigham Young and his ilk used the idea to justify racism, white supremacy, and a longstanding priesthood/temple ban against peoples of black African descent. Anderson doesn’t seem to play the race card in Added Upon, though he leaves plenty of room for people to read it that way if they so choose.

Mortality as a Series of Sunday School Lessons

I found Added Upon’s depiction of mortal life far more interesting than I thought I would. Anderson’s characters are plenty sympathetic. Still, the novel includes chapters worth of Sunday School speechifying. Wandering characters learn the gospel through conversations with members. The discussions are essentially sermons broken up by the investigator asking just the right questions to carry the lesson forward. Added Upon is belief-promoting literature, meant to make Mormon doctrines endearing by encircling them in the robe of conventional romance.

Unsurprisingly, Added Upon feels very Utah-church-centric. Travel east to places like Chicago at your own peril. Unless of course you are the protagonist. In that case, the Lord may set you on a sordid path through the lone and dreary world. After a suitable period of struggle, if you humble yourself, you may conveniently land on the doorstep of a home where your future eternal companion lives.

For all the times I felt cynically toward Added Upon, there came a moment I felt deeply moved. After some arduous wandering, one of the protagonists gets introduced to a certain pro-Heavenly Mother hymn. It’s the first full-on Mormon moment in the novel’s mortality section. For me, the scene struck just the right emotional chord. I could feel what it meant for these characters to realize how far away they were from their heavenly home. I sympathized with their poignant hope of returning there some day.

The Privilege of Patriarchy

One passage really troubled me in the section devoted to the spirit world. The author presents us with the spirit of a deceased missionary. We learn the young man’s death on his mission was no accident. The Lord “permitted him to be taken away” before he could give into temptation. Having arrived in the spirit world free of a big sin, he is able to find a suitable eternal companion and be wedded and sealed by proxy. On the page, this plays as a good thing. God protects one of his sons from committing a major transgression. But it amounts to God preventing the young man from exercising his free agency so as to ensure his exaltation. That would be the proposed plan which got Lucifer kicked out of Heaven. Now… here is the more troubling part.

Also in the spirit world, we encounter the spirit of a sorrowful woman. She seems to be someone the protagonist knew and cared for in mortality. It seems clear the world got the best of her and she ended up single in the afterlife. Unlike the deceased male missionary, whom God went out of his way to protect, this woman is allowed to go wayward on Earth and carry the consequences and her regret into eternity.

Theocracy Mingled with Progressivism in the City of Zion

During Added Upon’s depiction of the Millennium, a secular king of Poland visits the city of Zion. Through his eyes, we see how everyone from resurrected beings to non-members experience Christ’s personal reign on Earth. Those not of the Lord’s kingdom still have free agency, or at least the appearance of it. All secular governments are expected to welcome missionaries. Furthermore, it is made clear “the nation and kingdom that will not serve the Lord shall perish.” Hard to see that as genuine free agency for the Polish king—seems more like an offer he can’t refuse.

Far more entertaining to me is how Added Upon drifts into futurism. In the Millennium you can say goodbye to Big Oil and coal. The city of Zion champions renewable sources of energy and clean air initiatives. Gone are the smoking chimneys of pre-Millennial Earth. Furthermore, capitalist competition, wealth acquisition, and libertarianism are no more. In God’s wisdom, the blue-collar worker with a large family receives more compensation than his white-collar supervisor who has a small family.

Smooching in the Morning of the Resurrection

Even with all the Sunday School moralizing in Added Upon, there is a richness to the book. It rolls out the intricacies of premortal, Millennial, and spirit world realms, speculating in detail about what they would actually be like. The scale is operatic, but the plot remains human and relatable. And the novel revels in Mormon peculiarity—especially the mingling of spiritual and romantic warmth culminating in eternal marriage. There’s even a post-resurrection kiss which dare I say is kinda hot—albeit a properly modest hotness.

I’ve never fallen out of love with Mormonism’s story—both its manicured front lawn and its overgrown backcountry. I can get onboard with Nephi Anderson’s need to explore it creatively. In 2020, as the pandemic began to drag on, I wrote a story about a premortal boy and his premortal dog for the comfort it gave me. It took me out of the painful present for a while and returned me to what poet Eliza R. Snow called “a more exalted sphere.” Added Upon journeys to that sphere as well. For all its problematic implications, it makes for a decent yarn.

Questions for Discussion

What do you imagine premortal life, the Millennium, and the spirit world would be like? What specific details do you envision?

Have you read Added Upon? If so, what were your impressions?

What should consumers of Mormon creative work expect, both in terms of literary quality and spiritual messaging?

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