Joseph meets the devil

by | Jan 10, 2021 | 2 comments

One of the main relationships in my novel is between Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and the devil. I’ve sketched a few different ways to introduce this idea, including a dialogue scene that I’m not including here. But I am including two others. These are really just sketches – how I really go about this will depend on a structure that I’m still assembling from Smith’s actual biography. (As you’ll see, one of the questions is who knows what. Oliver is a close friend and follower of Smith; Emma is his wife.)

Sketch 1

In the end, the considerable doubts about whether Joseph had ever really seen any personages at all in that long stretch of boyhood nights obscured a better line of inquiry: Who appeared to him first, saying what? And did or didn’t Joseph agree to something, which would follow him forever? Only the young acolyte Oliver, whose heart Joseph could steer with a gaze, ever had the prophet’s trust enough to know of any visions before the one he called the first. And even Oliver didn’t know that the real first figure to appear to Joseph was also the most frequent — that he had a lifelong friendship, of sorts, with the devil.

The obscurity in which Joseph placed that encounter was understandable, given the struggles of his reputation. It was enough for the Saints to be accused of everything else they were accused of; contact with the devil would not have accrued to their advantage. This was the final chapter of the earth, in which the Son of God would come in power and great glory, and it was utterly unfitting that it should begin with Lucifer. 

Sketch 2

The real first time Joseph had a vision, it took him two weeks to realize he had been talking to the devil.

“I’m just a messenger,” the personage — his slurring, dancy language sliding across the 14-year-old farm boy like a fish — had said. “But you should know that you are about to become a prophet. It will change your life forever, and then you will die terribly. I’m supposed to give you the option of declining.”

This conversation would be omitted from the later reminiscences and the official texts. That Lucifer, and not an angel of the Lord, had made contact first was doctrinally inconvenient. Oliver knew about it, because Oliver knew everything. But even Emma didn’t know about the devil.


  1. Florina Falce

    Both sketches have a powerful message but I love the dialog style of the second. “I am supposed to give you the option of declining” and the “doctrinally inconvenient contact” are striking. I adhere right away to this convention defying language that feels both direct and subtle. Can’t wait to read more.

  2. Amy McDaniel

    “…his slurring, dancy language sliding across the 14-year-old farm boy like a fish” – I love that. I think you should keep using fish imagery for the devil.

    I have so many questions but it is not the time to ask. I just can’t wait <3

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