Because I know the circumstances surrounding the establishment of Mormonism only in a general way, I shall leave to the professional historian the task of commenting on those circumstances as they are presented by D. Michael Quinn in Early Mormonism and the Magic World View. In what follows, I shall discuss the book from the point of view of the general reader for whom Quinn says he intended the work and from the point of view of my own discipline, folklore.
After listening to much heated debate generated by Quinn’s book and after reading the work twice (once fast for general impressions and a second time line upon line, precept upon precept), I would like to make two points at the outset. First, Quinn genuinely tries to view the Restoration through the eyes of those who brought it about. He does not, as some have suggested, attempt to ridicule Church founders or belittle their achievements. He clearly believes that these founders could have been followers of magic and at the same time righteous men capable of establishing the kingdom of God. These were not mutually exclusive endeavors. Second, Quinn does not believe that the magic practiced by Joseph Smith and his contemporaries was something evil or sinister. Indeed, one wonders at times if Quinn has not accepted what he calls “the magic world view” himself, believing that magical practices, as followers of the occult claim, were revealed to Adam by God in the beginning and that “the restoration of all things” included reestablishing these practices. Quinn’s discussion of the restoration of the temple endowment (184-90) could certainly lead one to that view, just as his treatment of magic in general led Sterling McMurrin to comment that Quinn “seems to be remarkably generous in his attitude toward such things [magical practices], almost as if, after all, they are really God’s way of dealing with the masses, or even with their prophets.”