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 diasappointment, leading to his first wife’s suicide and his second wife demanding a divorce. He is well known for his Testament of Man series, which tracks humankind and society from the very beginning to the modern day.
Of late, few of his books 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 he had some very strange ideas about the way the world works.
One of his contemporaries was F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was given a large centennial recognition–a postage stamp with his face on it. Vardis Fisher, who (he would claim) was a better writer than the other American writers of the time, received almost no attention at his centennial, even though he was appointed Dean of the Western Literature Association. He was also the first recipient of the Distinguished Achievement Award in 1965.
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.
The Special Collections Department in the McKay Library houses the Vardis Fisher collection, which includes copies of every one of his 35 books, some of which only had 200 copies printed. His files, notes, and papers can be found in MSSI 5.
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 feelings toward religion, he remains one of Idaho’s best writers.