Pillar of Light (The Work and the Glory, #1) by Gerald N. Lund
The United States of America is the country founded by seekers of freedom from oppressive governments. But did you know the Mormon Church, born on April 6th, 1830 in New York State, was forced with violence from New York, to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and ultimately west across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains—because of their beliefs? The governor of Missouri actually issued an official declaration that all Mormons were to be driven from the state or exterminated. It has always been ironic to me that the first Mormons actually had to leave the United States—the country founded on freedom—and travel 1300 miles before they were able find a place where they could peacefully worship.
This is the story found in the 9 volume series The Work and the Glory, by Gerald Lund.
5600 pages—exactly—in 32 days. That’s what it took for me to read all 9 volumes of The Work and the Glory. Along the way I kept promising a grand review of the entire series once I finished book 9. Now that I’ve closed the cover on the last page of the last book, I feel a bit lost for words. I want to share what I learned, how I felt, what I liked, what annoyed me, what brought on the happy tears, and what caused the sad tears. I’m quite certain no one wants to read a review as long as the series itself, but I’m afraid that’s what it’s going to take.
So how do I do this? What do I say? How do I squeeze all these thoughts and feelings into a book review? I dunno. Let’s find out. . . .
The Work and the Glory is historical fiction. The historical part is thorough, accurate, well researched, and well documented. The books chronicle the incredible, inspiring, often tragic, always miraculous, and (to us Mormons) deeply meaningful first 20 years of existence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Book one begins in 1827, just before Joseph Smith is to retrieve the Golden Plates that will become The Book of Mormon. Book nine ends in 1847, a few months after Brigham Young leads 12,000 Mormon Pioneers from Nauvoo, IL to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.
The fiction part is engaging, well written, and breathes life into the historical events. Through the eyes of the fictional-but-representative-of-the-time Steed Family, we become first hand witnesses to all of the major events surrounding the Restoration (as it’s known within the Church). The Steeds meet Joseph Smith shortly after moving to Palmyra, New York in 1927, and soon they find themselves involved with all the peoples, places, and events those familiar with the history of the LDS Church will quickly recognize. Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdry, the Whitmer’s, Brigham Young, Parly P. Pratt, Herber C. Kimball, Emma Smith, Hyrum Smith. April 6th, 1830, the Grandin Press, the Sacred Grove, Hill Cumorah, the Kirtland Temple, Haun’s Mill, Liberty Jail, the Nauvoo Temple, Carthage Jail. Mission calls, the law of consecration, plural marriage, the Kirtland Safety Society, extermination order, martyrdom, the trek West, the Donnor Party, the Mormon Battalion. Palmyra, Kirtland, Independence, Far West, Nauvoo, Carthage, Winter Quarters, the Salt Lake Valley. Conversion, apostasy, persecution, miracles, revelations, visitations, resilience, tragedy, joy, and finally, peace and rest. The Steeds are part of it all.
For me, the best part of The Work and the Glory is the way becoming invested in the lives of the Steed Family makes history personal. Now, instead of just knowing the facts surrounding a historical event, I have an idea of what it was like to actually be a part of that event. What did it feel like to hear Joseph’s testimony straight from his own mouth? What was it like to be told to leave your lives in Palmyra and follow the Church to Kirtland? Can I really imagine the terror of the hateful mobs driving us from every place we worked to start a new life? How about the joy of being there when the Kirtland Temple was dedicated? Cutting stone for the Nauvoo Temple? What would I have thought on the great day of healing when Joseph rose from his sick bed of malaria and healed so many others who were sick? What was it like to ride in a wagon across Iowa and Wyoming? How did it feel to watch your children leave bloody footprints in the snow after being forced at gunpoint from Far West? What about when Joseph was killed? What did it feel like to witness Brigham Young suddenly look and sound like Joseph on that day in Nauvoo? And on and on. After all the trials, I feel like I caught a glimpse of their joy and relief to finally reach the Salt Lake Valley, where they would be out of reach of their enemies.
I’m a firm believer that the best books are the ones that make you feel, and there is a lot of feeling to be felt in reading The Work and the Glory.
As literature, the books are engaging and well written—but packed full of Mormon cheesiness. The cheesiness wasn’t too distracting for me, however, thanks to the strength of the characters. I really cared about the Steeds and I loved watching their family grow through both sorrow and joy over the course of 20 years.
It was also fun to read about my own pioneer ancestors as the Steeds even interacted with some of those that I am actually descended from.
Mostly, I feel proud of my heritage. The first members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had the faith and courage to do and endure impossible things. I feel steeled up more than ever before to carry on with the work they started and to live my life with as much faith and courage as I can find in myself. I want them to look down on me from heaven and be proud that I am carrying on their legacy.
See, now I’m caught up in Mormon cheesiness! But, what can I say? It’s how I feel after reading The Work and the Glory.
I recommend these books to everyone, especially lovers of American History and members or friends of the LDS Church. For non-Mormons especially, I think reading a detailed history of the LDS church such as this would go a long way in helping you understand better what makes us tick.