The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy

The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy

The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy

The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy


Nineteenth-century American writers frequently cast the Mormon as a stock villain in such fictional genres as mysteries, westerns, and popular romances. The Mormons were depicted as a violent and perverse people--the "viper on the hearth"--who sought to violate the domestic sphere of the mainstream. While other critics have mined the socio-political sources of anti-Mormonism, Givens is the first to reveal how popular fiction, in its attempt to deal with the sources and nature of this conflict, constructed an image of the Mormon as a religious and social "Other."


"Is there any group you wouldn't pick on?" "Mormons. You don't pick on Mormons. They've been picked on enough. I mean look at Marie Osmond. She's a Mormon."

Interview with Andrew Dice Clay

On the afternoon of October 30, 1838, after weeks of skirmishes between Missourians and Mormon militia, a mob attacked the Mormon settlement of Haun's Mill. Eighteen or nineteen Mormons were killed, including two as young as eight or nine and a Revolutionary War hero some eighty years of age. Artemisia Sidnie Myers was a nine-year-old girl when she experienced what came to be known as the Haun's Mill Massacre.

About dark word came to us that the mobbers were coming, and that men, women and children had better hide in the woods as they intended to kill all they could find. . . . The men were told to hide by themselves. After the men were gone, the women took the children and went about a mile and a half to the woods, and after the children were got to sleep and lights put out, my mother put on a man's coat and stood guard until one or two o'clock when word was brought to us that they had had a battle at the mill and two of my brothers were wounded. . . . When we came to [my brother's] house, we went in and found him lying on the bed. When mother saw him she exclaimed, "O Lord have mercy on my boy." He replied, "Don't fret mother, I shall not die." He was very weak from loss of blood. I will here relate the manner of his escape in his own words as he told to us after he got better. Our guns were all in the blacksmith's shop when the mob came upon us unexpectedly. Orders were given to run to the shop. The mob formed a half circle on the north side of the shop extending partly across the east and west ends, so as to cover all retreat from the shop. They commenced firing before we could escape with our arms. . . . I made two or three jumps for the door when a bullet struck me a little below the right shoulder blade and lodged against the skin near the pit of my stomach. I fell to the ground. Mother, if ever a boy prayed I did at this time. I thought it . . .

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