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In Which Jules Verne Meets Clarissa

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 22, 2008

Clarissa, the daughter of commenter East Coast, is a seventh-grader, the only Latter-day Saint in a student body of more than 600. She read Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days last year in her advanced reading class, and her teacher — unaware of Clarissa’s religious background — assigned her the Mormon chapter for a presentation.

Verne’s classic was written in 1872, published in 1873. Its author never visited Utah, probably never met a Mormon; his Mormon chapter was inserted for comic effect in his fictional account of a man who circled the globe in 80 days. Rather than permitting Verne’s stereotypes to create a false Mormon image in the minds of her classmates, Clarissa chose to distinguish the generally true from the more distorted details of Verne’s chapter. She also presents simple facts about Mormon belief and Utah history.

Below is her presentation. Her copy suggested illustrations; the ones I have inserted here probably aren’t exactly the ones she used. She also indicates that she used props when giving the presentation — which was so successful that she has been asked to give a repeat performance to this year’s sixth graders.

Clarissa’s presentation impressed me for its straightforward statement of Mormon beliefs, and for the uncomplicated selection of relevant facts for classmates. As Mormon history buffs who have read more widely than she has yet had time to study, and with the Bloggernacle’s penchant for splitting hairs, it would be easy enough for most of us to add nuance to any ranking of statements as “this is true” and “this is false” — but how many of us could make a presentation to our own colleagues with the unembarrassed frankness of this one? Thank you, Clarissa, for permitting your work to be posted here.

Please remember as you comment that this is a report written by a sixth grader for other sixth graders, and that its author will be reading your remarks.

Presentation about Around the World in Eighty Days

Topic: Utah-Mormons
Presenter: Clarissa

In Around the World in Eighty Days, Jules Verne’s information was not always accurate. He was getting his information from newspapers and magazines and there was not a good history of the Mormons available.

This is an internet copy of Chapter 27. The parts that are accurate about the Mormons are highlighted in blue [bolded in this post]. The parts that are fictional or inaccurate are in magenta [italicized in this post].

Chapter 27

IN WHICH PASSEPARTOUT UNDERGOES, AT A SPEED OF TWENTY MILES AN HOUR, A COURSE OF MORMON HISTORY

During the night of the 5th of December, the train ran south-easterly for about fifty miles; then rose an equal distance in a north-easterly direction, towards the Great Salt Lake.

Passepartout, about nine o’clock, went out upon the platform to take the air. The weather was cold, the heavens grey, but it was not snowing. The sun’s disc, enlarged by the mist, seemed an enormous ring of gold, and Passepartout was amusing himself by calculating its value in pounds sterling, when he was diverted from this interesting study by a strange-looking personage who made his appearance on the platform.

This personage, who had taken the train at Elko, was tall and dark, with black moustache, black stockings, a black silk hat, a black waistcoat, black trousers, a white cravat, and dogskin gloves. He might have been taken for a clergyman. He went from one end of the train to the other, and affixed to the door of each car a notice written in manuscript.
Passepartout approached and read one of these notices, which stated that Elder William Hitch, Mormon missionary, taking advantage of his presence on train No. 48, would deliver a lecture on Mormonism in car No. 117, from eleven to twelve o’clock; and that he invited all who were desirous of being instructed concerning the mysteries of the religion of the “Latter Day Saints” to attend.

“I’ll go,” said Passepartout to himself. He knew nothing of Mormonism except the custom of polygamy, which is its foundation.

The news quickly spread through the train, which contained about one hundred passengers, thirty of whom, at most, attracted by the notice, ensconced themselves in car No. 117. Passepartout took one of the front seats. Neither Mr. Fogg nor Fix cared to attend.

At the appointed hour Elder William Hitch rose, and, in an irritated voice, as if he had already been contradicted, said, “I tell you that Joe Smith is a martyr, that his brother Hiram is a martyr, and that the persecutions of the United States Government against the prophets will also make a martyr of Brigham Young. Who dares to say the contrary?”

No one ventured to gainsay the missionary, whose excited tone contrasted curiously with his naturally calm visage. No doubt his anger arose from the hardships to which the Mormons were actually subjected. The government had just succeeded, with some difficulty, in reducing these independent fanatics to its rule. It had made itself master of Utah, and subjected that territory to the laws of the Union, after imprisoning Brigham Young on a charge of rebellion and polygamy. The disciples of the prophet had since redoubled their efforts, and resisted, by words at least, the authority of Congress. Elder Hitch, as is seen, was trying to make proselytes on the very railway trains.

Then, emphasising his words with his loud voice and frequent gestures, he related the history of the Mormons from Biblical times: how that, in Israel, a Mormon prophet of the tribe of Joseph published the annals of the new religion, and bequeathed them to his son Mormon; how, many centuries later, a translation of this precious book, which was written in Egyptian, was made by Joseph Smith, junior, a Vermont farmer, who revealed himself as a mystical prophet in 1825; and how, in short, the celestial messenger appeared to him in an illuminated forest, and gave him the annals of the Lord.

Several of the audience, not being much interested in the missionary’s narrative, here left the car; but Elder Hitch, continuing his lecture, related how Smith, junior, with his father, two brothers, and a few disciples, founded the church of the “Latter Day Saints,” which, adopted not only in America, but in England, Norway and Sweden, and Germany, counts many artisans, as well as men engaged in the liberal professions, among its members; how a colony was established in Ohio, a temple erected there at a cost of two hundred thousand dollars, and a town built at Kirkland [Kirtland]; how Smith became an enterprising banker, and received from a simple mummy showman a papyrus scroll written by Abraham and several famous Egyptians.

The Elder’s story became somewhat wearisome, and his audience grew gradually less, until it was reduced to twenty passengers. But this did not disconcert the enthusiast, who proceeded with the story of Joseph Smith’s bankruptcy in 1837, and how his ruined creditors gave him a coat of tar and feathers; his reappearance some years afterwards, more honourable and honoured than ever, at Independence, Missouri, the chief of a flourishing colony of three thousand disciples, and his pursuit thence by outraged Gentiles, and retirement into the Far West.

Ten hearers only were now left, among them honest Passepartout, who was listening with all his ears. Thus he learned that, after long persecutions, Smith reappeared in Illinois, and in 1839 founded a community at Nauvoo, on the Mississippi, numbering twenty-five thousand souls, of which he became mayor, chief justice, and general-in-chief; that he announced himself, in 1843, as a candidate for the Presidency of the United States; and that finally, being drawn into ambuscade at Carthage, he was thrown into prison, and assassinated by a band of men disguised in masks.

Passepartout was now the only person left in the car, and the Elder, looking him full in the face, reminded him that, two years after the assassination of Joseph Smith, the inspired prophet, Brigham Young, his successor, left Nauvoo for the banks of the Great Salt Lake, where, in the midst of that fertile region, directly on the route of the emigrants who crossed Utah on their way to California, the new colony, thanks to the polygamy practised by the Mormons, had flourished beyond expectations.

“And this,” added Elder William Hitch, “this is why the jealousy of Congress has been aroused against us! Why have the soldiers of the Union invaded the soil of Utah [1857-1860]? Why has Brigham Young, our chief, been imprisoned, in contempt of all justice? Shall we yield to force? Never! Driven from Vermont, driven from Illinois, driven from Ohio, driven from Missouri, driven from Utah, we shall yet find some independent territory on which to plant our tents. And you, my brother,” continued the Elder, fixing his angry eyes upon his single auditor, “will you not plant yours there, too, under the shadow of our flag?”

“No!” replied Passepartout courageously, in his turn retiring from the car, and leaving the Elder to preach to vacancy.
During the lecture the train had been making good progress, and towards half-past twelve it reached the northwest border of the Great Salt Lake. Thence the passengers could observe the vast extent of this interior sea, which is also called the Dead Sea, and into which flows an American Jordan. It is a picturesque expanse, framed in lofty crags in large strata, encrusted with white salt– a superb sheet of water, which was formerly of larger extent than now, its shores having encroached with the lapse of time, and thus at once reduced its breadth and increased its depth.

The Salt Lake, seventy miles long and thirty-five wide, is situated three miles eight hundred feet above the sea. Quite different from Lake Asphaltite, whose depression is twelve hundred feet below the sea, it contains considerable salt, and one quarter of the weight of its water is solid matter, its specific weight being 1,170, and, after being distilled, 1,000. Fishes are, of course, unable to live in it, and those which descend through the Jordan, the Weber, and other streams soon perish.

The country around the lake was well cultivated, for the Mormons are mostly farmers; while ranches and pens for domesticated animals, fields of wheat, corn, and other cereals, luxuriant prairies, hedges of wild rose, clumps of acacias and milk-wort, would have been seen six months later. Now the ground was covered with a thin powdering of snow.

The train reached Ogden at two o’clock, where it rested for six hours, Mr. Fogg and his party had time to pay a visit to Salt Lake City, connected with Ogden by a branch road; and they spent two hours in this strikingly American town, built on the pattern of other cities of the Union, like a checker-board, “with the sombre sadness of right-angles,” as Victor Hugo expresses it. The founder of the City of the Saints could not escape from the taste for symmetry which distinguishes the Anglo-Saxons. In this strange country, where the people are certainly not up to the level of their institutions, everything is done “squarely”–cities, houses, and follies.

The travellers, then, were promenading, at three o’clock, about the streets of the town built between the banks of the Jordan and the spurs of the Wahsatch Range. They saw few or no churches, but the prophet’s mansion, the court-house, and the arsenal, blue-brick houses with verandas and porches, surrounded by gardens bordered with acacias, palms, and locusts. A clay and pebble wall, built in 1853, surrounded the town; and in the principal street were the market and several hotels adorned with pavilions. The place did not seem thickly populated. The streets were almost deserted, except in the vicinity of the temple, which they only reached after having traversed several quarters surrounded by palisades. There were many women, which was easily accounted for by the “peculiar institution” of the Mormons; but it must not be supposed that all the Mormons are polygamists. They are free to marry or not, as they please; but it is worth noting that it is mainly the female citizens of Utah who are anxious to marry, as, according to the Mormon religion, maiden ladies are not admitted to the possession of its highest joys. These poor creatures seemed to be neither well off nor happy. Some–the more well-to-do, no doubt– wore short, open, black silk dresses, under a hood or modest shawl; others were habited in Indian fashion.

Passepartout could not behold without a certain fright these women, charged, in groups, with conferring happiness on a single Mormon. His common sense pitied, above all, the husband. It seemed to him a terrible thing to have to guide so many wives at once across the vicissitudes of life, and to conduct them, as it were, in a body to the Mormon paradise with the prospect of seeing them in the company of the glorious Smith, who doubtless was the chief ornament of that delightful place, to all eternity. He felt decidedly repelled from such a vocation, and he imagined–perhaps he was mistaken– that the fair ones of Salt Lake City cast rather alarming glances on his person. Happily, his stay there was but brief. At four the party found themselves again at the station, took their places in the train, and the whistle sounded for starting. Just at the moment, however, that the locomotive wheels began to move, cries of “Stop! stop!” were heard.

Trains, like time and tide, stop for no one. The gentleman who uttered the cries was evidently a belated Mormon. He was breathless with running. Happily for him, the station had neither gates nor barriers. He rushed along the track, jumped on the rear platform of the train, and fell, exhausted, into one of the seats.

Passepartout, who had been anxiously watching this amateur gymnast, approached him with lively interest, and learned that he had taken flight after an unpleasant domestic scene.

When the Mormon had recovered his breath, Passepartout ventured to ask him politely how many wives he had; for, from the manner in which he had decamped, it might be thought that he had twenty at least. “One, sir,” replied the Mormon, raising his arms heavenward—“one, and that was enough!”

This is some accurate information. The Mormons are called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When Phileas Fogg was going through Utah the church was only 42 years old. The church started in New York in 1830.

Joseph SmithJoseph Smith was the founder and first prophet of the church. He was born in Vermont in 1805. His family moved to New York and he received a vision of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father. Some years after he received an ancient record that he translated from reformed Egyptian to English. This is called the Book of Mormon.

Book of Mormon This is the how the Book of Mormon looks today.

old Book of  Mormon This is a copy of the Book of Mormon which was printed in Liverpool, England, in 1900.

BoM stories The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. It is a record of a group of people who went from Jerusalem to America about 600 B.C. They had prophets who taught about Jesus Christ and Christianity. The Book of Mormon tells about how after Jesus was resurrected, he visited the people in America. Some of the records of these people were collected by a man named Mormon. That’s why it’s called the Book of Mormon.

Bible The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also believes in the Bible.

Articles of Faith Joseph Smith wrote the Articles of Faith which outlines basic beliefs. One of them says, “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”

The only thing Passepartout knows about Mormons is the “custom of polygamy, which is its foundation.” This is not true. Polygamy is not the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was practiced by the church for 40 years for expansion reasons. The church does not practice polygamy and hasn’t for 120 years.

The church moved from New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois, being driven by persecution the whole way. People didn’t like the way the church was growing and wanted to stop it. They decided to do away with Joseph Smith and killed him in Carthage Jail, Illinois, in 1844. However this did not stop the growth of the church.

Brigham YoungBrigham Young was the senior apostle and he became the prophet after Joseph Smith died.

State of Deseret Brigham Young led the Saints to Utah where they set up the Territory of Deseret which stretched from Canada to Mexico, and Colorado to California.

Members of the church across this region and even around the world celebrate a holiday on July 24 called Pioneer Day. This holiday celebrates the arrival of the pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. People celebrate Pioneer Day by holding parades, rodeos and other celebrations.

Although in its early days the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had some features that made it very different from other churches, nowadays Mormons are very much a part of America. Some Mormons you may know about are the inventor of television, Philo Farnsworth, the writer and director of Napoleon Dynamite, golfer Johnny Miller, football player Steve Young, and many others. In conclusion Jules Verne used as good as information as he had but did not get all of it right.

17 Comments »

Wow, Clarissa, well done! I like your method of demonstrating what Verne got right and what he got wrong. Congratulations on doing such a good job and for representing your faith so well. I’m impressed.

Comment by Paul Reeve — 12/10/2007 @ 12:46 am | Edit This

Isn’t this the reason given by the Lord to send out the youth to bear testimony of him? Do we, with age, hedge our beliefs out of fear of not being accepted?

Comment by Dan — 12/10/2007 @ 1:18 am | Edit This

Clarissa, this is very impressive work for a sixth grader–good for you!

Comment by Julie M. Smith — 12/10/2007 @ 1:26 am | Edit This

Congratulations to Clarissa on excellent work!

Comment by Edje — 12/10/2007 @ 1:53 am | Edit This

I like the way Clarissa didn’t think she had to explain everything in church history and doctrine. She stuck to the things Jules Verne mentioned — prophets, scripture, the most general outline of church history, and the inevitable issue of polygamy — and made direct, brief corrections. I have the feeling that if anybody asks her about additional points, she will be able to give equally direct answers.

It was also fun to see which “celebrity Mormons” were interesting to a sixth grader.

Comment by LL — 12/10/2007 @ 2:03 am | Edit This

Wow. It would be nice if we adults could learn from Clarissa about being factual and straightforward without rancor. Well done, young lady. You have impressed this old man. I am going to ask my children to read this to see how such a presentation should be done.

Comment by Ray — 12/10/2007 @ 7:40 am | Edit This

Intelligence, courage, faith, communicating truths without rancor. Interesting contrast with the tone that Verne assigns to the Mormon missionary on the train. Clarissa, your tone was almost as significant as the messages that you delivered. Your parents must be very proud to have a daughter like you.

Comment by Richard O. — 12/10/2007 @ 8:32 am | Edit This

Ardis,
You have a great ability to seek out absolutely facinating stories from among the dead and the living.

Comment by Richard O. — 12/10/2007 @ 8:35 am | Edit This

My 6th-grade self is put to shame.

I really like the idea of using the actual chapter, with truths and errors marked.

Comment by Adam Greenwood — 12/10/2007 @ 10:02 am | Edit This

BTW, Clarissa was the youth speaker in our sacrament meeting yesterday. She did a great job with that as well. So for all you out there who teach Primary or YM/YW, don’t think you have to water anything down for these kids. The gospel isn’t too meaty for them, they can handle it!

Comment by Rob — 12/10/2007 @ 11:20 am | Edit This

To echo Rob, my teenage daughter spoke on fasting yesterday, and it was better than just about any adult talk I have heard on that topic for a long time (and she wrote it completely on her own). So, Amen, Rob.

Comment by Curtis DeGraw — 12/10/2007 @ 12:55 pm | Edit This

Very well, done, Clarissa! Here is some other information that will interest you and others, in case unknown. Various films have also been made on Around the world in eighty days. How was the crossing of Utah and the Mormon theme filmed? You will find it here.

Comment by Wilfried — 12/10/2007 @ 2:18 pm | Edit This

Sterling job, Clarissa! Good on you for having the guts to stand up in front of others for this and the wisdom to do so so clearly and without rancour. When I read “A Study in Scarlet” I wanted to throw it across the room. You handled this better than I might’ve. :)

Comment by Proud Daughter of Eve — 12/10/2007 @ 2:18 pm | Edit This

What a fun post, Ardis! (Of course I’m biased.) I enjoyed the chapter from Verne again; I get a good laugh every time I read it.

It is interesting raising very literate children. Clarissa (who wrote the presentation [and her talk yesterday] herself but I helped her do some of the research to mark the Verne chapter, so if there are any errors, blame me) reported that after she gave the presentation, one boy raised his hand and said, “Do you know any Mormons?”

She said that she was, and the kids thought it was “cool.”

By saying that you don’t have to water things down for kids, Rob, do you mean you guys believe in actually using the scriptures and church doctrine and discussions rather than resorting to cute little cut outs and apocryphal stories? What a novel idea…I’ll have to sit in on your wife’s primary class if that’s the case!

Comment by East Coast — 12/10/2007 @ 2:30 pm | Edit This

Very impressive, Clarissa. Even though I was a bright child, I know for a certainty I could not have done this level of work in sixth grade. Congratulations on a fine report.

Comment by Kevin Barney — 12/10/2007 @ 4:51 pm | Edit This

I echo PDoE’s comment — it was either fifth or sixth grade when we were assigned to read “A Study in Scarlet” and I didn’t respond very well at all to that text. To say nothing of my opinion of Stephen King, and he usually relegates Mormons to a half-paragraph color insertion.

East Coast — in my Primary class (CTR-8) we skip the cute stories, and I’ve never even thought about using the cut-outs. Last year we did create a timeline of the Old Testament (with items from the Book of Mormon and secular history for comparative purposes,) though. This is probably why they’re saying they’ll promote me to Senior Primary next year.

Comment by Sarah — 12/10/2007 @ 6:17 pm | Edit This

Nice work, Clarissa.

Comment by John David Payne — 12/11/2007 @ 10:40 am | Edit This

This appeared on another blog on 10 December 2007



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