Vardis Fisher–Idaho’s Local Maverick Author

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Vardis  Fisher was born to an LDS family near Rigby Idaho. After graduating from the University of Utah in 1920, Fisher earned a Master of Arts degree (1922) and a Ph.D. (1925) at the University of Chicago. He was married three times, first to Leona McMurtrey (m. 1917–1924), second to Margaret Trusler (m. 1928–1937), and finally to Laurel Holmes (m. 1940). Unfortunately, the first two marriages were racked with strife and disappointment, leading to his first wife’s suicide and his second wife demanding a divorce. He is well known for his fictional Testament of Man series, which tracks humankind and society from the very beginning to the modern day.

Of late, few books of his remain in print. His writings received mixed feelings—some overwhelmingly positive, and some very negative. His writing is very detailed, flowery, and highly skilled, and the pictures he paints with his words are vivid and dream-like. As a man he was very precise but had some very strange ideas about the way the world works. F. Scott Fitzgerald once claimed that Fisher was a better writer than the other American Writers of the time.

He regarded the Testament of Man series to be his most important work. Strangely, it has received the least attention. One major critic, Marilyn Grunkemeyer, who brought an anthropologists background to the table, found some of his readings “toxic.” She said that for her, one of his last works Orphans of Gethsemane (1960) was the “literary equivalent of being beaten steadily with a stick.” That said, she noted that it was a valuable reading experience and would recommend it, but that it was an endeavor to be taken with care.

Despite his LDS roots, he never claimed the religion as his own, though some of his writings have been interpreted as having LDS roots. Whatever his real feelings toward religion are, he remains one of the best writers produced by Idaho. The BYU-Idaho Special Collections department has copies of every one of his 35 books–some of which had only 200 copies printed. Come take a look! Having read several of his books, I can definitely recommend them as an interesting, thought provoking read.

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