This whole apocryphal world is brought together in the B. of M., a veritable handbook of motifs and traditions. As a work of fiction, as a mere intellectual tour de force, nothing could touch it – but along with that it is full of old Jewish lore that very few Jews have ever heard of, handles the desert situation in a way that delights my Medcans, and gives a picture of primitive Christianity that is right out of the Dead Sea Scrolls & the Nag Hamadi texts. What a theme for a kid of 23 to attempt – it makes all the honors papers I have ever read look painfully jejeune and unbeholfen: I’ve never met or heard of anyone in college or out who could turn out a piece of work of such boldness, sweep, variety, precision, complexity, confidence, simplicity, etc. Put it beside any work in our literature for sheer number of ideas, situations, propositions & insights… It makes me mad the way they act as if this was nothing at all and turn out a million pages of pompous froth about a literature that has hardly given the world a dozen interesting ideas or characters in 200 years. Open the B. of M. every 10 or 20 pages and see what it is talking about – a bedizzening variety of stuff; open any other big work – James Joyce or the 1001 Nights – and you will find largely variations on a theme, a round of safely familiar matter given largely stereotype treatment.
Shakespeare has that kind of variety but Shakespeare does not have to be telling the truth, does not have to combine his things in a single package, and can take 30 years to tell his story; also he is free to borrow at will without apologies to anyone. When you start listing the problems J. S. [Joseph Smith] had to face just to get his book down on paper you will see that writing about a biblical people does NOT automatically take care of everything – in fact it raises more questions than it solves.