Hippies Can Be Mormons, Too


Newell, Coke. On the Road to Heaven. Provo, UT: Zarahemla, 1987.

This novel title’s reference to Kerouac’s most famous work is no accident. Kit West, the protagonist in this (seemingly autobiographical) conversion/redemption story is a ’70s era long-haired, pot smoking, Colorado mountain cabin-squatting, unabashed Kerouac devotee (as well as a lover of Emerson, Thoreau and Edward Abbey) who finds the Mormon Church through a lapsed Mormon hippie girlfriend, who decides to become devout again. Once baptized, the ever-spiritual Kit becomes not just religious, but doctrinaire, serving a full-time proselytizing mission, and more than half of the novel is dedicated to this. Big dense paragraphs are chock full of details about the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, and the two-year mission spent in the often arduous environs of Columbia. Engrossing and interesting for the ways in which Americanized Zen Buddhist spiritualism collides with mainstream western states Mormonism.

What Makes It Marginal: References to pot smoking, shoplifting, pre-conversion pre-marital sexual relations (implied) and male/female cohabitation, mild missionary flirtations with young female Columbian investigators

What Makes it “Mormonal: An unlikely convert becomes an exemplary member, serves a full-time mission, and marries his old hippie era girlfriend in the temple.

Key quote: “Then I scattered the remains of the bag into the dormant skeletons of the golden lupine and green gentian and candytuft and spring beauty and went back inside to read the Book of Mormon and listen to the Ozark Mountain Daredevils. / I never smoked pot again.” (124).

7 responses »

  1. Being that I know absolutely nothing ab. mormon lit., I will allow myself to pose this very naive question… what is the target audience for these (marginal) mormon books? I mean, they do not seem appropriate for mormons to read… but how receptive is the general public to the ‘conversion/prosletizing’ embedded in some of these?

    • I’ve always envisioned the target audience of MML as rather small–less orthodox or at least “open-minded” Mormons who would not be turned off by the relative “transgressiveness.” While a small group, there are more of them than you might think.

    • How does one define “hippies?” I think many Mormons have tried to merge aspects of that subculture with their Mormonism. One thing that’s fascinating about contemporary Mormons is that many of them are invested/involved in pop culture and other secular subcultures without compromising their beliefs.

      • i would define by the author’s own definition, but it is certainly a relative term which i have often found unsettling. That really IS fascinating, though. cool. who knew?

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