Library in the Eternities
Note: I fully support President Nelson’s shift towards using the formal, Christ-centered name of the Church when discussing members of the Church and the institution. However, for specific references to artistic, culture-specific things I think “Mormon” is appropriate and is keeping in the spirit of the new direction. I hope nobody faults me for not using the name of the Savior when talking about horror cinema or seedy urban legends.
Sorry for another AI post, but I feel like aliens landed in the Rose Garden and only half the country is talking about it, so readers will have to bear with my preoccupation for a bit longer.
One of the use cases of AI I’ve seen bantered about is as an idea generator, and I wanted to see how well it did in regards to Mormon fiction and cinema. Of course, ideas are cheap, and any author or moviemaker worth their salt has hundreds of ideas in their head, it’s getting the ideas to sing that is the hard part. Still, I wanted to see if GPT-4 just spat out cliched plot lines or was really capable of creativity.
It looks like it’s mostly the former. Specifically, it looks like a pastiche of common tropes mashed together with Mormon themes. Still, the bar for novelty these days is quite low, and there are some gems that are intriguing, so in theory this could be useful for idea generation if one is willing to wade through multiple outputs. I’ve posted the entire prompt lists below, but the ones I think have the most potential are the following.
- “Spiritual Quantums” invokes an interesting thought experiment. If we get to the point where feelings can be manufactured, what is the function of natural or manufactured spiritual sentiment?
- I haven’t read a ton of Mormon fiction, but I assume that the idea of interplanetary missions has been done to death. The idea of time-traveling missionaries (“Temporal Missionaries”) going back in time three Nephites-like to help the early Church is more clever (e.g. the handcart pushing angels were missionaries from the future).
- “Temple Square” and “The Silent Prayer” could be quite touching in the hands of a skilled writer.
- “Darkness in the Sacred Grove” sounds like a Brian Evenson short story.
- The idea of a cursed, monkey’s paw-type seerstone (“Unholy Seer”) is intriguing.
- A Mormon version of “The Exorcist” sounds fun (“Demonic Disruption”). Maybe it’s been done already.
- “Deseret Unchained” just sounds like a Porter Rockwell biopic. Still, a Quintin Tarantino Porter Rockwell biopic would be pretty awesome.
- Some of the themes don’t make sense (I’m not sure what a “temple heist” is, or why a seminary teacher would need a stunt double).
- “Kill Cain” could work.
- “Django Unbaptized” made me LOL.
- Most of the Terrence Malik Mormon films could work in the hands of a Terrence Malik (especially “The Thin Veil,” “To the Wonder: Temple Square,” and “Knight of Faith” in particular–and yes, I know these are very slightly modified derivatives of some of his actual films).
So could AI be useful for fiction writers? The threat has become real enough that striking Hollywood writers are concerned, but I think it’s clear that it is more of a potentially useful tool than a replacement for a skilled, sophisticated writer. That being said, what we see coming out of Hollywood and Barnes and Noble nowadays is often no less cliched than what was produced above; it’s probably more of a threat for some types of creative works than others.
“Write ten ideas for Mormon-themed science fiction.”
- “Spiritual Quantums”
In a world where spiritual connections can be quantified and manipulated through advanced technology, a group of Mormons must protect their spiritual integrity from an oppressive government aiming to control people’s faith.
- “Nephi’s Code”
An LDS computer programmer discovers a divine code within the internet’s framework that can alter reality. As he grapples with the potential and morality of this power, he must keep it away from those seeking to misuse it.
- “Ensign Pulsar”
Set on a space station called “Ensign Pulsar,” the story follows a group of LDS pioneers establishing a colony on a distant planet, spreading the gospel while dealing with extraterrestrial challenges and the test of faith on an alien world.
- “Ether’s Plates”
After the Book of Mormon’s ancient golden plates are rediscovered, they reveal hidden information about advanced technologies that were once used by the ancient civilizations. Modern-day LDS scientists try to decipher these technological enigmas before they fall into the wrong hands.
- “Temporal Missionaries”
In a future where time travel is possible, young LDS missionaries are sent back in time to help the early Church navigate through difficult times, ensuring the survival of their faith.
- “Celestial AI”
An artificial intelligence is created based on LDS doctrine and principles, but when it starts to question its own spiritual existence, it sparks a theological debate among its creators about the nature of souls and divine consciousness.
- “The Liahona Project”
Inspired by the Liahona from the Book of Mormon, a group of LDS scientists develop a navigational device that guides its user not by physical routes but by spiritual righteousness. The device leads its users on unexpected spiritual adventures and moral challenges.
- “Nauvoo Starship”
The Nauvoo, a vast starship, is on a mission to find habitable worlds and expand humanity’s reach. The crew, all LDS members, face moral dilemmas and challenging decisions about upholding their faith in an unknown universe.
- “The Seer Stone”
In a post-apocalyptic future, a young Mormon finds the Seer Stone once used by Joseph Smith. The Stone now has the ability to reveal impending dangers, and the young hero must lead his people to safety while confronting skeptics within his own community.
- “The Last Tribe of Ephraim”
In a world where genetic modification is the norm, the Ephraim’s bloodline remains unaltered. When these DNA-pure descendants are targeted by a powerful corporation seeking the “Mormon gene” for their sinister experiment, they must rally to preserve their lineage and faith.
“Write me ten ideas for Mormon-themed short stories.”
- “Zion’s Harmony”
A struggling LDS choir in a small Utah town recruits an unlikely conductor who, despite his rough exterior, brings them together and helps them discover the true meaning of harmony.
- “The Unseen Miracle”
The story of a hardworking single mom who, amidst her trials, is unaware of the small miracles happening around her every day. The narrative would emphasize the unseen hands of community members guided by their faith.
- “Goliath in the Classroom”
A young Mormon student, the only member of the Church in his school, stands up for his beliefs when a new popular trend contradicts his values, earning the respect of his classmates.
- “The Last Leaf on the Tree”
Set in Nauvoo during the early days of the Church, a family must decide whether to stay behind as winter approaches or join the Saints as they journey westward, knowing they may not survive the harsh winter.
- “Temple Square”
The life of a groundskeeper at Temple Square, detailing his interactions with tourists, church members, and the homeless. Though he seems insignificant, his humble service touches the lives of many.
- “The Silent Prayer”
A deaf girl prays silently for a friend and is answered when a new family with a deaf daughter moves into her ward.
- “Two Percent”
After deciding to pay tithing despite financial struggles, a family is blessed when they receive an unexpected windfall, reaffirming their faith in the principle of tithing.
- “Beneath the Veil”
A woman working on her family history feels a strong connection with an ancestor she uncovers, a pioneer woman who joined the Church in England and made the trek to Utah.
- “The Carpenter’s Son”
A humble LDS carpenter has a life-altering experience when he is asked to create a wooden sculpture of Jesus for the local meetinghouse.
- “Echoes of the Sacred Grove”
A troubled teen visits the Sacred Grove, where Joseph Smith had the First Vision, seeking answers to her personal questions. Here, she has her own spiritual experience that changes her life.
“Write me ten ideas for Mormon-themed horror”
- “The Shadow of Moroni”
A small Mormon community is plagued by a dark presence that seems to originate from their town’s statue of the Angel Moroni.
- “Darkness in the Sacred Grove”
While on a church history tour, a group of Young Men and Young Women accidentally awaken an ancient, malevolent spirit in the Sacred Grove that begins to stalk them.
- “Whispers in the Ward”
Paranormal activities start to occur in a church building, causing fear and confusion among ward members. It’s up to the Bishopric and the Relief Society President to uncover the truth and restore peace.
- “The Unholy Seer”
A cursed seer stone falls into the hands of an unsuspecting church member. As he begins to see horrific future events, he must find a way to prevent them and break the curse.
- “The Nauvoo Phantasm”
Haunted by the ghosts of past persecution, the old Nauvoo settlement begins to exhibit strange phenomena, driving away potential tourists and causing distress among the local LDS population.
- “The Missionary’s Lament”
On a mission in a secluded Eastern European town, two Elders encounter ancient folklore creatures that test their faith in terrifying ways.
- “Nightmare at Deseret”
A horrific entity lurks beneath the peaceful streets of a Deseret Book store, its dark presence gradually affecting the patrons and staff, leading to chilling and unexplainable events.
- “The Forgotten Ward”
A newly called bishop is assigned to a forgotten ward rumored to be haunted. As he fights to rejuvenate the ward and face his own fears, he unravels a disturbing history that challenges his faith.
- “Mormon Trail of Terror”
During a pioneer reenactment trek, a group of LDS youth stumble upon a forgotten graveyard. Disturbing the site triggers a series of horrifying events that make the youth’s faith their only defense.
- “Demonic Disruption”
A demonic entity disrupts the peace in a Mormon family’s home. The family, along with their local priesthood leaders, must unite and use their faith to exorcise the entity.
“Write me ten ideas for a Mormon-themed film in the style of Quinten Tarantino.”
- “The Bishop’s Briefcase”
A mysterious briefcase owned by a bishop attracts the interest of various quirky and dangerous characters in a small Mormon town. Everyone’s after the briefcase, but what’s really inside?
- “Temple Dogs”
Following a temple heist gone wrong, the remaining crew members, not knowing each other’s real identities, try to figure out who betrayed them. A Tarantino-esque whodunnit in the backdrop of faith and betrayal.
- “Deseret Unchained”
An LDS pioneer turned bounty hunter uses his knowledge of the wild west and Mormon trail to capture outlaws, aiming to bring peace to the territories while dealing with his own inner struggles and the brutal realities of frontier justice.
- “Liahona Bill”
An excommunicated Mormon, known as Liahona Bill, seeks revenge on the members of the High Council who wronged him. One by one, he confronts them, resulting in cathartic dialogues about redemption, forgiveness, and the true meaning of faith.
- “From Salt Lake with Love”
An LDS secret agent goes undercover in a crime syndicate planning to disrupt the General Conference. The film would involve high-octane dialogue, action scenes, and a journey of self-discovery.
- “Pulp Mormon”
Set in Salt Lake City, a bishop, a pair of missionaries, a rogue seminary teacher, and an underdog Primary President’s paths intertwine in this darkly comedic tale that investigates the intersections of faith, crime, and redemption.
- “Reservoir Saints”
After a plan to save their ward’s historic chapel from being sold goes wrong, a group of Mormon women must figure out who amongst them tipped off the Stake President. A tale of intrigue and suspense, infused with rich dialogues.
- “Django Unbaptized”
A newly baptized member, mentored by a seasoned stake president, fights against corrupt local businessmen trying to seize church lands. This could be a gritty, stylistic exploration of standing up for one’s faith and community.
- “Once Upon a Time in Provo”
Set in 1970s Provo, this movie would follow the lives of a has-been seminary teacher and his stunt double as they navigate the changes in their careers and personal lives, all in a distinctly Mormon milieu.
- “Kill Cain”
An eternal wanderer, cursed to the earth for his crime, “Cain” has taken up a new identity. When a group of Mormons accidentally discover his secret, they must use their combined knowledge and faith to stop him from creating further chaos.
“Write me ten ideas for a Mormon-themed film in the style of Terrence Malick.”
- “Eternal Recurrence”
A visually stunning exploration of a Mormon family’s multigenerational faith journey, with the cycles of birth, death, and rebirth mirroring the eternal nature of existence in LDS doctrine.
- “The Tree of Life: Latter-day Perspective”
A meditation on the nature of life, pain, and joy as experienced by a contemporary Mormon family. The film would juxtapose the family’s struggles with cosmic imagery, paralleling their experiences with universal themes of creation and existence.
- “The Thin Veil”
A spiritual journey of a Mormon bishop who, after a near-death experience, starts experiencing glimpses of the spirit world. His new understanding changes his perception of mortality and eternity, told in a visually poetic and dreamlike style.
- “Days of Heaven: Zion”
Set in early pioneer Utah, the film would follow a family of pioneers, focusing on their relationships, struggles, and the transcendent beauty of their faith against the backdrop of the untamed West.
- “The Celestial Nature”
An atmospheric film centered on a devout Mormon environmentalist grappling with the destruction of nature. It would weave LDS doctrines about the sacredness of the earth with breathtaking natural imagery and a haunting narrative about man’s relationship with the environment.
- “To the Wonder: Temple Square”
This film would follow the lives of various people visiting Temple Square – tourists, missionaries, investigators, church leaders – weaving their stories into a beautiful tapestry of faith, doubt, discovery, and the quest for spiritual connection.
- “Knight of Faith”
The existential journey of an LDS philosophy professor who experiences a crisis of faith. He embarks on a spiritual journey, symbolically represented by beautiful landscapes and the changing seasons.
- “Song of Nephi”
This film would take a poetic and impressionistic approach to adapt the story of Nephi from the Book of Mormon. Using minimal dialogue, it would emphasize visual storytelling, nature, and symbolism to depict Nephi’s spiritual journey.
- “The Hidden Valley”
Set in the serene Utah landscape, a family on vacation stumbles upon an isolated valley. The narrative explores themes of isolation, connection, and divine presence, portrayed through a visually poetic narrative.
- “The Silent Prayer”
A contemplative film following a Mormon woman’s silent prayer that unfolds over one day. The narrative would explore her interior life, doubts, hopes, and revelations, making space for moments of transcendence in the ordinary.