Hales, “The Garden of Enid: The Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl Part Two” (reviewed by Andrew Hamilton)

Review
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Title: The Garden of Enid: The Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl Part Two
Author: Scott Hales
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Genre: Graphic Novel
Year Published: 2017
Binding: Paper
ISBN:978-1-58958-563-8
Price: $22.95

Reviewed by Andrew Hamilton for the Association for Mormon Letters

“Harry and the Hendersons does Not qualify as a Mormon movie…” (see “Enid vs. the Cryptid” Oct 30).

To find out how a bizarre episode from Mormon history intersects with The Garden of Enid and a late 80’s Jonathan Lithgow comedy, stay tuned.

From 1985 to 1995, first as a teen and then as a twenty-something, I rarely missed reading “Calvin and Hobbes” in the newspaper. When “Calvin and Hobbes” books became available I scarfed them up. To this day I have a well-worn collection of “Calvin and Hobbes” books that I love and that are loved by my children. When Calvin and Hobbes hopped onto a sled and headed off to go exploring into a new and unknown adventure looking for a fresh start in a world full of possibilities on December 31, 1995, it was like a piece of me sledded off with them. For ten years Calvin, the boy with the active imagination who was always exploring the world around him as he contemplated the meaning of life, made me laugh, made me cry, made me ponder the meaning of my existence, and made me think about my place in the world around me. The pathos that Bill Waterson infused into his strip made it so you couldn’t not believe that the little boy and his tiger were real.

When the boy and his tiger disappeared on their sled around the next bend on that final day of 1995, I thought that no comic would ever again touch my mind and heart the way that Calvin and Hobbes had. Then I met Enid. Enid, a weird Mormon girl with an active imagination who is always contemplating the meaning of life as she tries understand the purpose of her existence and her place in the world, is the Calvin and Hobbes for the internet generation of Mormons. And now, thanks to Kofford Books’ two part graphic novel presentation of Scott Hales’ amazing web based strip, Enid, like Calvin before her, will have her adventures preserved in a bound format so that her heartwarming experiences with life can be enjoyed as a whole for generations to come.

The Garden of Enid: The Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl Part Two starts right where part one left off. Enid has just returned from her adventures at EFY and her mother has come home from the hospital. In the first comic Enid has been asked by her bishop to share her testimony of EFY, only all of her jokes bomb and no one in the congregation laughs when they are supposed to. Then the bishop and Enid’s crush, a 16 year old priest named Kyle, come over to give Enid’s homebound mother the sacrament. When their visit ends, Enid’s mother tries to apologize to her for giving her such a scare, but Enid storms off because she does not know how to handle it when her mother “tries to parent” (“Enid vs. the Apology”, August 3). Enid’s relationship with her mother only goes downhill from there.

As I started reading this book to write a review, I grabbed a pack of those little tape strip Post-its to mark favorite pages so I could easily find them again and mention them in m review. This plan immediately backfired because, before long, I realized that I was marking nearly every page and that I was running out of Post-its. The book is just that good. Every included strip is memorable. So I will mention just a few of the fun and often touching things that are to be found in this volume.

First I want to mention the Mormon cultural references. Scott Hales packs in “Easter eggs” of Mormon culture like a true master. Among the many that are to be found I will name just a few. Unfunny jokes in sacrament meeting talks, doing temple work for celebrities, extreme awkwardness in talking about sex, the BYU Honor Code Office, Saturday’s Warrior, wearing “church clothes” all day Sunday, and many more. Some are the subject of the cartoon, some are on Enid’s T-shirts (always pay attention to the t-shirts), and some are in the background. You can spend hours and multiple readings trying to catch them all. Like partt one, part two is packed full of Mormon history, doctrines and practices, and references to current challenges in Mormonism. “Zion” versus “Big tent Mormonism,” multiple versions of the First Vision, Mormon Prayer Language, the seer stone in the hat, David Patten’s claim to have seen “Big Foot” who told Patten that he was “Satan” (I told you that “Harry and the Henderson’s” comes in to this), and that is just the beginning. And of course, thanks to Enid’s active imagination, she is once again visited by many guest stars who come along to dole out wisdom and advice or to give Enid a bad time. Among those who show up in this volume are Karl Maeser, Philastus Hurlbut, Eugene England, Evan Stephens, Joanna Brooks’ volume “The Book of Mormon Girl,” “The Lost 116 pages,” and even the state of Utah! All of these visits come with wisdom, valuable information, or at least pithy humor.

There are several other great things about this book that I should mention. It comes with bonus material. After the last official comic in the story line Scott Hales has included a set of notes and commentary giving the story behind a number of the strips. There is also the text of a podcast interview that Hales did. These are followed by several never before published Enid comics and the collection of Enid’s Mormon themed Halloween costumes. These are all very fun.

I was handed the package containing my copy of “Enid Part 2” on my way to sacrament meeting on a Sunday morning. I must admit, I took it with me and instead of paying attention to the testimony meeting, I sat in the back devouring this book. I expected to laugh (quietly, I was in a church meeting after all), I expected to occasionally get a little misty eyed; I didn’t expect to get overwhelmed with spiritual feelings and insight. As I alluded to earlier, over the course of part two, Enid’s relationship with her mother comes completely unraveled. At one point Enid goes through her mother’s stuff and finds a letter about the father she never knew. This letter has a crushing effect on Enid. Later, as Kyle is driving Enid home from church, she confides in him about the letter and how it made her feel. This causes Enid to explain to the reader, “…and Then something Amazing happened ‘cause I got done…and he said ‘That Sucks Enid.’ Yeah. He actually Spoke. Three. Whole. Words. (and one of them was my Name)”(“Enid vs Three. Whole. Words.” October 26. Ellipsis, parenthesis, and emphasis in original). As I read those words, especially that last bit “and one of them was my Name,” I wasn’t just reading about a teenage girl gushing over her crush saying her name, I was reading an eternal truth spoken through a young girl who was experiencing an important human connection as she realized that she was known by, and important enough to be remembered by, someone she cared about. As I read the comic I thought of the LDS scripture that states:

“And after they had been received unto baptism, … they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished” (Moroni 6:4)

“Remembered and nourished” – in a moment of heartbreak Enid was being remembered and nourished and in the process demonstrating to her readers how “remembering and nourishing” one another is so vitally important and showing us why “remembering and nourishing” one another is one of the primary functions of “The Church” or any church. I was also reminded of how Gordon B. Hinckley used to be fond of saying that one of the three primary responsibilities of the Church was to provide its members with a friend to sustain them in their trials.

Unfortunately for the hapless Enid, soon thereafter she seriously embarrasses Kyle at a party and he does not respond when she tries to apologize so she becomes convinced that she is “the world”s suckiest friend” (“Enid vs the Party” November 23). But the most touching moments for Enid and Kyle were yet to come. A few pages after her near mortal embarrassment, Enid’s mother’s health takes a turn for the worse and she ends up in the hospital in a coma. Instead of going to church one Sunday, Enid wanders the halls of the hospital. When she returns to her mother’s room “…Kyle was there…”. Enid explains to Kyle: “‘She’s in a coma…so she kinda can’t take the sacrament…’ …and he was like ‘Um…it’s for you…’” After Kyle administers the emblems of the body and blood of Christ to Enid he asks: “Mind if I hang out here a While” to which Enid responds “…and I was like ‘It’s a Free Country…’” and then the two are shown sitting closely next to each other facing Enid’s mother[1] (“Enid vs the Hospital”, December 7, ellipsis and emphasis in original).

As I read that comic I was greatly touched as Enid learned about Christ-like love and forgiveness and as I saw demonstrated the Mormon teaching to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; yea and … to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort,” (Mosiah 18:8-9). This principle was demonstrated again in the final comic of the book when Enid runs away, no longer able to stand all that has happened to her, only to discover that, when she thought that she was at her most alone, Kyle and her friend Cyndy have come looking for her. As they pick her up off of the side of the road Enid declares:

“Anyway…I Really had no formal plan for How to do what I set out to do…So I was Kinda Glad I wasn’t Alone…That I had…Friends…with me…” (“Enid s the End,” December 23, ellipsis and emphasis in original).

I have to admit, my eyes moistened and my heart was filled as Enid made me again think of those words “that they may be light; … mourn …comfort.” It’s pathos-filled comics like these that make Enid so powerful, important, and lasting. It is this power to touch hearts and stir emotions that takes Enid “Calvin” off the page and out of the imaginations of readers and into their hearts. It is for this reason I encourage everyone to buy a copy of this book and experience how Enid will bring laughter to your soul, warmth to your heart, and even growth to your spirit.

I only have ONE complaint about this book. IT ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER! Darn you Scott Hales! How could you do this to me! How can you not resolve for me what becomes of Enid! But then again, if the story of Enid has to have ending, this is a very good one. In fact, since I have made the comparison already, the ending of Enid’s story in “Garden of Enid Part 2” reminds me very much of the ending of Calvin and Hobbes. On December 31, 1995, Calvin and Hobbes ended with a fresh snowstorm on what was for them the first day of a new year. After looking at the vast world before them Calvin exclaims to Hobbes: “Let’s go exploring!” and off they go down a hill on a fresh run of snow to find their place in the world.

Enid’s last strip, which was also a December-based strip, is called “Enid vs The End.” Enid has experienced an unimaginable tragedy. She decides that her only alternative is to run away in the middle of the night. She sets off, alone, into the great unknown to find her true self. As described above, as Enid starts down the road, Cyndy and Kyle show up and offer to join her on her quest. And they ride off, “into the night…Three Weird Mormon Kids…Looking for Answers…” (Enid vs The End). So, if as with Calvin and Hobbes there must be an end to Enid, I can’t think of a better way for it to end than with Enid and her friends setting off to discover themselves on an exciting new adventure[2].

Well, I apologize to Scott Hales, Kofford Books, and to the AML that my review turned into something of a Sunday school lesson. I had not intended for this review to go the direction that it did. I was just very touched at the unexpected spirituality in Enid’s story. The Garden of Enid Parts One and Two tell a fantastic story in a way that will reach out to Mormons of all generations and of all walks of life. It tells our stories. It tells of our struggles. Scott Hales understands Mormonism, he understands weird Mormon people who don’t fit in, and through Enid he tells the story of a weird Mormon Girl and her struggles in such a way that we can all see our struggles in her and relate to what we are reading. I urge everyone to buy these two books and experience “The Garden of Enid” for themselves.

[1] Not included is a comic from November 2015 called “Enid vs The Hurt” where Enid returns the gesture by sitting next to Kyle, who she has since learned is gay, to offer him comfort after the announcement by the LDS Church about gay couples and their children.

[2] In the commentary at the end Hales explains that he thought about ending Enid with this strip. Since that time he has created more Enid comics that can be found online. It remains to be seen if they will make their way into a bound collection. But I hope that they do.

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