The J. Golden Kimball Stories

Book Review
Reviewer: Elliott Oring
Categories: Book Reviews
Journal: 47:2

In The J. Golden Kimball Stories, Eric A. Eliason offers an "as-complete-as-possible" collection of the oral narratives surrounding the figure of J. Golden Kimball. He presents some 180 texts, drawn mainly from conversations with informants and from folklore archives. The texts are presented in eleven chapters. The first eight chapters are organized according to story theme: chapter 1 (ten texts) deals with J. Golden Kimball's attempts to manipulate or trick his interlocutors; chapter 2 (thirty texts) with his responses to hostile Gentiles and self-satisfied Mormons; chapter 3 (twenty-six texts) with his pointed comments on Mormonism and its leaders; chapter 4 (nine texts) with his adherence to the Mormon health code; chapter 5 (twenty-two texts) with his views on the practice of swearing; chapter 6 (twenty-eight texts) with his preaching and counseling; chapter 7 (eleven texts) with his rebukes both to Mormon congregations and to Gentiles; and chapter 8 (five texts) with both self-imposed and Brethren-imposed efforts to repent. There is a certain amount of overlap in this arrangement, and readers may have difficulty locating particular stories when they look for them.

Because Eliason is presenting stories found in folk tradition, he wishes to illustrate some of the textual variations that mark orally transmitted narratives. Eleven narratives included in the volume are presented as variants of other texts and follow the texts they most resemble. Yet "Tithing," which appears to be a variant of "Giving Your All"; "Patriarchal Blessing," which appears to be a variant of "Parentage"; and "Vocabulary," which is a variant of "Vocabulary Words," are presented—and I am not sure why—as unrelated texts. The anecdotes included in the last three chapters of the book are meant to show how oral tradition works. The narratives in chapter 9 (ten texts) are meant to exemplify the distinction between the first-person accounts of people who actually spoke with J. Golden Kimball and the orally circulating anecdotes. Chapter 10 (sixteen texts) is meant to show how the types of stories attributed to J. Golden Kimball attach themselves to other Church leaders. Chapter 11 (twelve texts) is meant to demonstrate how the stories can feed back into oral circulation from official Church sources.