People asked great questions that further developed my thoughts on the book’s trajectory and purpose. Here are a few of the Q&A from the post.
Q How long was Captain Trail in jail? Did he ever emigrate to the U.S? Utah? Comment by Helen — June 28, 2013 @ 2:35 pm
A Captain Trail was in prison roughly 2 1/2 months or 71 days. Here is the rest of the quote for those who are interested. Paraphrasing the first part, The King confined bro. T. 71 days in a Siamese prison…”There grones while under the torture drew tears from the eyes of bro Trail he canciled several debts & set them at liberty only 10 soles came out alive, the King never feeds his prisoners if they hav no friends to feed them they starve to death…”
Did Captain Trail emigrate to US/Utah?
This is a great question. Luddington himself doesn’t mention Trail emigrating and may have lost contact with him. I checked both the “Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel” and “Mormon Migration” databases and didn’t find Trail. If someone else knows something about it, please let me know.
What I think is also interesting is that if we only focus on the fact Luddington’s only convert was thrust in a Siamese prison, we might miss the powerful impact that experience might have had on Luddington’s perceptions of the King and Siam as a whole. What does that tell us about the Siamese? What does it say that 40 people died in that prison during those 2 1/2 months? I presume that many if not all 40 of those people were native Siamese. Do we have many stories of Westerners in prison in Siam?
Does this story help us get a more nuanced angle on what was happening in Siam in the mid 1800s? Western reports of Siam during this period were often positive or dismissive. This story shows the power of the King in a very intimate way.
Comment by Audrey Bastian — June 28, 2013 @ 3:00 pm
Another quick note: I think this story also demonstrates the power of the King in Siam in 1854. He was protecting his people from Western intrusion.
Comment by Audrey Bastian — June 28, 2013 @ 3:09 pm
Comment Your points about paying attention to the “abysmal” baptism records are important. I feel too often we interpret signs of success (such as with high baptism numbers in certain regions) as being a marker of change whereas low or high baptism rates do reveal a lot about interactions between cultures.
I am also interested in learning about Elam Luddington’s missionary experience comparison of to others understandings of the missionary experience in the 19th century.
Comment by NatalieR — June 28, 2013 @ 7:17 pm
Q When is the book going to be published? Or where is it in process? Comment by Brig — June 28, 2013 @ 11:33 pm
A Brig, As to your question: Where is the book in progress?
The foundational research is mostly done. The first chapter is almost complete and the second chapter is well under way. There is an outline for the entire book already. A professional published narrative non-fiction writer critiqued it twice here in Washington DC. A published fiction writer also critiqued it here as well. I currently receive weekly feedback from another writer. Others are giving me feedback where they have expertise.
A note about narrative non-fiction:
Narrative non-fiction is lots of fun. Not a quote or an adjective can be fiction but it needs to read somewhat like fiction. Using fiction techniques to arrange a non-fiction piece can be tricky. Sometimes it takes me a week or more to write a sentence because not only do I need to know what happened, I need to know what it looked like, smelled like, sounded like, etc.
The process is a bit slow but very interesting. I hope to get lots of feedback as I go along from the experts in their fields related to my project. As you may notice, my website is full of reports on the narrative research that I am doing along with the scholarly. For example I recently wrote a post about how much time it took to go from Elam’s ward to the tabernacle. We actually walked and clocked it so that it would be an accurate narrative account rather a guess.
I appreciate this opportunity to write a piece on this blog.
Comment by Audrey Bastian — June 29, 2013 @ 9:28 am
Q Very interesting piece. It’s clear that you are looking at the topic from many different angles! I’m curious about your outline — how many chapters are focused on Luddington’s observations as a window into Siam/Asia vs. how many are focused more on Mormonism and how it was being spread to other countries? I look forward to reading more!
Comment by llcall — June 29, 2013 @ 5:05 pm
A llcall, I appreciate this question and it is a difficult question to answer. If I am reading your question correctly, it seems you are interested in knowing what the overall thesis or direction the book is taking at this point. And really there are two sides of this as you point out. The book could be more focused on Asian history and using Luddington’s story as a window into those dynamics. Or the book could focus more on the Mormon aspect of being in Asia as a missionary.
Although I am Mormon, my life focus and educational background has been in Asian history including speaking the languages, living and working there, or with Asians here in the United States. This is a new angle for me to come back into my own Mormon history and tackle a story that is a mixture of both.
The ultimate goal for me is to tell a powerful story of a man who goes on a quest and then believes he has failed. His people even think he has failed. But I want to use the years of training, language, and living in Asia to squeeze out every detail possible about the people he met and give them life and a voice. Just looking at Elam Luddington’s journal isn’t enough I believe. We have to know the dynamics of what was happening in those countries well enough to understand that his descriptions are only the very first blush of what he actually witnessed.
The interplay between what he thought he saw and what he actually saw is for me, breathtaking.
My goal is to show that interplay well. If people then read lessons into the story, it will be there own. I want to tell the story as honestly as I can.
There are some great pieces, though, that are telling the story of Mormon missionaries’ affect on the countries to which they proselyte. A new piece came out about New Zealand that won an award at the MHA conference. I think those points are also very interesting to take into account.
Comment by Audrey Bastian — June 29, 2013 @ 10:19 pm
To see all comments please refer to the article here: “From Siamese Prison to Mormon Memory”