Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mormon Mentions: Ellen Hopkins

If you're new to BBB, you might be wondering what a "Mormon Mention" is. Heck, you may be wondering what a Mormon is. Here's a hint: My name is Susan. I'm a book blogger. And I'm a Mormon. Since I'm a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (often referred to as The Mormon Church), I'm naturally concerned about how my religion is portrayed in the media. This blog deals with books, so every time I find a reference to Mormonism (written by a non-Mormon) in my reading, I highlight it here, along with my reaction to the statement(s). This gives me a chance to explain confusing doctrine, debunk misconceptions and laugh at the peculiarities of Mormon culture (it's true, sometimes we can be a funny bunch).

Not your cup of tea? No problem. Feel free to skip these posts.

So, I know Ellen Hopkins wrote a YA book about a girl who escapes her fanatic Mormon family by moving to another state. However, this reference doesn't come from that book. It comes from Crank, the first novel in a trilogy Hopkins wrote about a teenage girl's struggle with her addiction to meth. It says:

Tried my right side. Kept
seeing the kitchen
cockroach, the one I
tried to pretend was
only a Mormon cricket,
Los Alamos-grown (59).

If you're LDS or if you've studied Utah history, you've no doubt heard the story about early settlers to the state having to fight off scores of crickets to save their newly-planted crops. I thought that's what the character in the book was talking about, but, as it turns out, the Mormon Cricket is an actual animal. The insect (which isn't even actually a cricket, but a katydid) can be found in the grasslands of Utah, Idaho and Nevada. Since the main character comes from Reno, she's no doubt familiar with this particular bug.

The story of the crickets goes a little something like this: After Mormon pioneers emigrated to the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847, they were fortunate to experience a mild winter. Still, realizing how brutal the cold season in that area could be, they prepared for the upcoming winter by planting 900 acres of crops. In late May, swarms of large, black crickets descended, eating everything in sight. Because of the sheer number of insects, witnesses compared the incident to a Biblical plague. Desperate for help, the faithful pioneers prayed for heavenly aid. On June 9, 1848, in what many agreed was a miracle, legions of California gulls swept down on the valley. The birds devoured the crickets, vomited them up, then ate more. Because of the timely arrival of the gulls, enough crops were saved to ensure the survival of thousands of pioneers.

So impactful was the experience on Utah's early arrivals that a monument was erected in honor of the birds (Seagull Monument in Salt Lake City) and the California gull became the state bird of Utah.

(Book image from Barnes & Noble; gull painting by beloved LDS artist Minerva Teichert)

As with any historical event, differing accounts of the incident exist. Even if it has been exaggerated over the years, I don't care. I love the story of the seagulls devouring the crickets because, to me, it represents the inexhaustible faith, hard work and commitment of those early pioneers. Plus, I detest crickets.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not very active in Church but I grew up Mormon and I absolutely adore these posts that you write. I didn't know what a Mormon cricket was until now, thanks for writing these.

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