book reviews, LDS

Repost: Elder Bill Shunn is the Accidental Terrorist…

Oops, I lied. I just thought of this book and decided to repost it today. I posted this on my original blog on January 3, 2016. It’s here as/is.

Some years ago, I read a fascinating story by a guy named William Shunn, an ex Mormon who writes science fiction.  He had written about how, as a Mormon missionary in Canada, he’d gotten into some serious legal trouble.  The story, as it was originally written, was condensed so that it could be read in one sitting. 

I had forgotten about Elder Shunn and his wild adventures as a missionary.  Then I found out that William Shunn had published his story into a full length book.  Remembering how exciting I found the excerpt I’d read online, I was eager to download it.  I just finished Shunn’s The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary and I’m happy to report that the story was just as fascinating and engaging as it was in its shorter form.

Who is William Shunn and how did he become an “Accidental Terrorist”?

Donald William “Bill” Shunn grew up in Kaysville, Utah, the eldest of eight children.  His parents were devout Mormons and raised their children to also be dedicated Latter-day Saints.  Like many young LDS men, Shunn had been saving up for and planning to serve a Mormon mission his whole young life.  His father had served in Germany and frequently told Shunn stories about the mission experience.

When Shunn was nineteen years old, he did what so many other young Mormon males do.  He put in his paperwork to become a missionary.  He also took out his endowments; that is, he went through the temple for the first time, donned “sacred” temple garments, got a new name, and became fully invested in the LDS church.  Bill Shunn came of age for the missionary experience in the mid 1980s. At that time, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still had blood oaths in the temple endowment ordinance.  Four years later, that part of the temple experience was removed.

Around the time Shunn was planning for his mission, he met a pretty young lady named Katrina.  They started dating and the relationship quickly became serious… or as serious as it can get between two people who aren’t supposed to go to third base before marriage.

Shunn’s parents didn’t like Katrina, even though she was “gorgeous” and a church member.  Naturally, Bill was head over heels for her, and the feeling was apparently mutual.  They planned to marry once Bill finished his mission in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Bill Shunn writes very colorfully about what it was like to go through training at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.  Then, he describes what it was like to go to Canada, where he settled uncomfortably into the missionary lifestyle.  Being a missionary made Bill miserable.  He missed Katrina and chafed at the lack of freedom he had.  So he decided to escape.  Shunn’s escape story was probably my favorite part of The Accidental Terrorist.  I’d love to describe it in this post, but that would spoil the story for others.  Let’s just say that he made a great effort that eventually failed.

Two months later, another missionary attempted to leave and roped an unwilling Shunn into helping him.  Having seen what happened to his own companion after he’d tried to escape, Shunn was determined to stop the other missionary from leaving.  So he called the cargo department of the airline the missionary was using and made a phony bomb threat.  Needless to say, that landed Bill Shunn into some very hot water.

My thoughts

William Shunn is an outstanding writer who has a real gift for painting mental pictures with vivid words.  I really had a hard time putting down this book and even stayed up pretty late last night to get through it.  While the book is entertaining and often hilarious, it’s also educational.  Interspersed with Shunn’s “terrorism” story is the story of Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS church.  I had read parts of Joseph Smith’s history before, but not written in such an engaging and entertaining way.  Also, I noticed that though I was familiar with Shunn’s story after having read it online years ago, this version is tighter and better edited.  I could practically envision the people involved in the story… it was as if it became a virtual movie in my mind.

I love a good missionary tale, especially when the missionary is an ex Mormon.  Bill Shunn’s life has turned out fine post Mormonism.  He and his wife, who didn’t turn out to be Katrina, now live in New York City and it appears that Shunn has been able to make a living from his writing.

You don’t have to be Mormon to appreciate Bill Shunn’s story.  I am not now nor have I ever been LDS.  My husband was Mormon for a few years and got me interested in the church.  I have been studying it for years, but have pretty much come to the same conclusions Shunn did.  It’s definitely not a lifestyle for me.

Anyway, I think you can tell this book gets my stamp of approval.  Five stars!

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