Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ammon and His “Flocks”

By Sariah S. Wilson

I’m not someone who can just jump into a story. I have to think about it for a long time. Probably too long of a time. I play the “what if” game. I get a general premise in my head, and then let the story run from there. I write down things I think might be significant or dialogue that pops up (because any time I try to recreate dialogue, it’s never, ever as good as it was the first time I thought of it).

The next story I’ve been mulling over in my mind and getting prepared to write is about Ammon. I’ve finally got my story line, my conflicts, the beginning and the end all plotted out. Now I just have to write the thing.

I’ve done quite a bit of research on Nephite/Lamanite culture. I’m interested in everything cultural - how they married, how they farmed, how they created/sold their goods, etc., etc - I think I probably should have majored in anthropology in college instead of history because I find this stuff fascinating. I try to incorporate what I’ve learned into my writing (but hopefully in a way that flows with the story and doesn’t feel abrupt) and to put new things into each new book.

I don’t even mind when I can’t find an answer for a question that comes up while writing - the best part of speculative fiction is the speculative part. Can’t figure out who’s older, Ammon or Aaron? Not a problem. I came up with an explanation for that.

But there is a need to balance people’s perceptions with what might have been. Jo Beverley (a romance author) did this great article in a writing magazine (The Writer? Writer’s Digest? RT Times? I forget) where she talked about how modern sounding words were actually in use in previous time periods. Like the word computer - in the early 19th century it meant an accountant (i.e., one who computes figures/numbers). Or the word car - also in use as it was short for carriage. A young man in Regency England may very well have asked his dad to borrow the car for a Saturday evening, but what would a reader think when coming across that? Technically correct, but a modern-day audience would cry anachronism.

So in balancing perceptions, you have to keep your guesswork along the path that an audience expects. Like Ammon and his flocks.

The typical reader assumes that Ammon protected sheep. I really wonder how this perception began (and on a side note, I think it would be fascinating to trace the emergence of this particular belief) because nowhere in that account does anyone mention sheep. Ammon doesn’t say sheep. The servants don’t. Lamoni doesn’t. Mormon doesn’t. All of them say flocks. I think the assumption probably comes because we think of sheep as being in a flock, and sheep, shepherds and lambs are so often associated with Christ and the gospel.

In my opinion, while there is a remote possibility that it actually was sheep, I tend to think that indigenous animals are being discussed.

Many LDS scholars offer different ideas on what sorts of animals Ammon might have protected. While doing research, I noted something interesting in the study of Central American cultures. Those peoples only domesticated two animals - the dog and the turkey.

Flocks of dogs? Can’t picture it. Flocks of turkeys? Say...aren’t groups of birds usually called flocks? And what happens when you approach a bunch of turkeys? Don’t they typically scatter like crazy when startled? Can you imagine the total chaos that would ensue if a large group of turkeys got spooked?

The Central American turkey was prized not only for its meat (and we all know how yummy that is) but also for its feathers. That’s surprising to us North Americans who have boring looking turkeys. But check out these pictures of the turkeys in Central America:

Turkey 1

Turkey 2

Aren’t their feathers beautiful? Usually only the wealthy (like say, oh, I don't know, maybe a king) could afford to keep turkeys - because they were so prized they were costly.

But…as much fun as I have with the notion of Ammon and his turkeys, I know the idea will never fly with the reader, thus forcing me to find another animal for Ammon to keep safe. A sheep-like animal.

Which means the flocks of dogs are out.


At 8/26/2006 11:22 PM, Blogger Stephen said...

Reminds me of other things. How many men did a Centurion command in the Roman military ....

40 to 60. Sure, at full strength a "century" was supposed to be a hundred men, but for most of history they were staffed to 40 to 60 men.

A Legion? Sure, it is supposed to be ten thousand ...

So, when someone falls with "his ten thousand" how many people actuall died? Leaving aside what it means to be "destroyed" (in ancient texts, a destroyed unit can have taken as few as 15% casualties), a "ten thousand" at the end of a long campaign that wasn't going well could be as few as a thousand men or less.

In the last battle, total Nephite casualties could well have been in the range of 3,000 to 4,000 killed, the rest being levies that scattered.

Or consider what goes on when Alma has a question about the Church that he takes to the king, who consults with his priests and then gets back to Alma with an answer. The surface impression people have surely doesn't match with a political situation where the head of the church has a problem.

Can you imagine President Hinkley going to President Bush with a religious problem and President Bush then consults with a group of priests that are unconnected with President Hinkley and ...

Lots going on in the book that people miss because of their assumptions.

At 8/26/2006 11:23 PM, Blogger Bored in Vernal said...

Lovely pics! I will never read the story of Ammon again without thinking turkeys!!

At 8/26/2006 11:30 PM, Blogger Karen Hoover said...

Personally I LOVE the idea of Ammon defending a flock of turkeys! That is something I'd definitely find worth reading about and knowing it was a little known fact true to history would make it an irresistable read for me. Just my opinion, but very cool. Thanks for sharing this!

At 8/27/2006 8:19 AM, Blogger Evil HR Lady said...

I am so happy to learn this. Too bad gospel doctrine is Old Testament this year or I would figure out someway to throw in the turkey idea with the story of Ammon.

Beautiful turkeys. Interesting thought. And makes for a much funnier picture in my head! I'm afraid I will now giggle at that point.

At 8/27/2006 2:19 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I vote for turkeys, too! We took in two turkeys from an animal rescue -- Poe & Koontz -- and they are beautiful, intelligent, affectionate creatures. Very easy to "herd" into their pen at night. Gentle, but also fearless and loyal. (They might have attacked at Ammon's side!)

Useless trivia: A "flock" of turkeys is called a "rafter." Who made up those names, anyway?

Lovely post, Sariah!

At 8/27/2006 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can I vote for keeping them turkeys, too? Just explain it in an introduction if you feel the need, but the turkeys would make the story more interesting. It's not as if they are central to the story anyway, Ammon is.

At 8/28/2006 10:45 AM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

My favorite part of the Ammon story: Ammon is brought before the king, the big pile of arms lying in front of him. The king doesn't say anything for an hour...

And it came to pass that Ammon, being filled with the Spirit of God, therefore he perceived the thoughts of the king. And he said unto him: Is it because thou hast heard that I defended thy servants and thy flocks, and slew seven of their brethren with the sling and with the sword, and smote off the arms of others, in order to defend thy flocks and thy servants; behold, is it this that causeth thy marvelings?
Now when the king had heard these words, he marveled again, for he beheld that Ammon could discern his thoughts;

Doesn't it seem like the king is, perhaps, a little too easily impressed? I mean, Ammon's statement seems pretty obvious. That makes me laugh every time I read it.

At 8/28/2006 3:23 PM, Blogger FHL said...

There's something about the story of Ammon that is just so disarming...

Right. I'll just go and get the flock out of here now. =D

At 8/30/2006 1:38 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Okay, first, fhl, consider yourself slugged.

Second, did you know that Ammon invented the one-armed bandit?

Third, I had never in my life considered that they were anything but sheep. Thanks for opening up this whole new train of thought -- fascinating.

Fourth, my son's name is Ammon.


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