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Extended Version: Generation Ship Nauvoo & the Mormons | The Expanse

The Expanse is currently one of the most successful Science Fiction series worldwide. Based on the book series by James S. Corey (pseudonym for Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham) SyFy has been producing the TV series of the same name since 2015, which can currently be seen on Amazon Prime.

The titanic Nauvoo and the round Tycho Station.
Image via The Expanse Wiki

The Expanse is set in the 24th century and mankind has colonized the solar system. The big power blocks Earth, Mars and the Belt are in a more or less cold war with each other for resources, independency and supremacy. The Mormon religious community is shown as an important, but rather as a side line.

They missionize and collect money for the most daring and ambitious project of mankind at the beginning of the plot: the construction of the generation ship Nauvoo. With its help the Mormons want to venture into the unknown depths of space and find a new planet that can be inhabited by humans.

The success of the series is based, among other things, on the extremely realistic and well-researched presentation of science and technology, which convincingly shows existing concepts for space colonization, gravity generation, asteroid mining and so on.

But in addition to these genre-typical elements, the series also picks up on familiar elements of Mormonism, which are translated into the technologically advanced 24th century. For the Nauvoo is not only a spaceship, but also a flying temple and a modern Garden of Eden for the Mormons. It is therefore not surprising that motifs are used that are characteristic of the Mormons.

Among them is the huge statue of the angel Moroni on the top of the Nauvoo. But also the design of the command bridge and the temple shown are clearly Mormon. This is particularly evident in the use of brilliant white and light elements, golden decoration and the representation of settlement, which is extremely important for the Mormons.

The statue of the angel Moroni on the top of Nauvoo.
Image via The Expanse Wiki

Although there are also Mormons in Europe, their temples and their general fame belong more to the US area, where they are more numerous and present. Therefore, American viewers are more likely to be familiar with the trumpeting angel Moroni and the bright white buildings of Mormonism.

An angel at the top of a religious building also exists in Christianity and is part of the common decoration of tower tops. Trumpeting angels are also not genuinely Mormon. They always stand for the proclamation of the gospel and the visible and audible spreading of the faith. Accordingly, elevated position, divine being and medial instrument have stood for reach for centuries.

The attachment of such a statue at the head of a mighty spaceship, which is to set off into previously unknown territories, makes correspondingly much sense. Because it is of course also an attempt to missionize beyond the solar system.

In such a context, every form of decoration and architectural design is of course always charged with representative meaning. Of course, such a thing is of no use to the pure functionality of a spaceship. This applies to the fantastic worlds as well as to our real world, because the principle “form follows function” of modern architecture is and remains only pure theory and misjudges the need for representation of people, organisations and institutions and the millennia-old coding of architectural and pictorial meaning.

But back to the “Mormons in Space”: the striking angel statue shows outwardly the task and mission (double meaning of the word intended) of the spaceship. The inner area is dominated by a huge drum that can be set in rotation and thus create an artificial gravity. Through the middle of the drum runs a light path, which represents an artificial sun and makes the fields, which are laid out on the drum wall, agriculturally usable. The Mormons of the series call it their Garden of Eden.

Holographic projection of the interior of the Nauvoo.
Image via

The series also shows a smaller temple room. Whether it is on the Nauvoo under construction or on the Tycho Station that the ship is running is not entirely clear.
But here again the typical design elements of Mormon sacred rooms are taken up: the color white dominates everything, indirectly but nevertheless brilliantly illuminated. Golden elements accentuate the room, everything seems very transcendental, sublime, and just radiant.

A comparison with some temple buildings in the USA shows that this is not an invention of the serial makers. These very modern buildings, always in white, are typical for the Mormons and always show clear lines, geometric basic forms and a somehow crystalline appearance.

Some of the temples also clearly show the same structure as The Expanse in terms of the design of the spires, the gold decoration and the angel statue.

Temple in Washington, D.C., opened in 1974.
Image via Newsroom

The temples of the Mormons can be usually classified into one of two categories: the historical buildings and the modern ones. The modern designs in particular appear quite futuristic and may have been the inspiration for many a science fiction design.

However, Mormon architecture is also received in the fantasy field and serves as a source of inspiration, especially for sacred buildings.

Cathedral of Light in World of Warcraft.
(c) by Blizzard Entertainment

In the Multi Massive Online Role Play Game (MMORPG, it’s getting easier and easier to write) World of Warcraft, one of the most important computer games ever, the Cathedral of Light can be found in the capital of the Alliance, one of the two main conflicting parties. Its design is clearly derived from the Mormon temple in San Diego, as one of the game’s developers confirmed on Twitter.

World of Warcraft, with its special design, already clearly shows this. But in the real-life movie “Warcraft – The Beginning” this becomes even clearer, because there the cathedral is translated into real (well, computer-generated) stone and clearly shows the reference points to the real architecture.

Especially the elongated spires and the general structure as well as the dominant colour white underline this. However, the film version also contains some references to medieval sacred architecture, which are particularly exciting and are intended to create a stronger emphasis on the historicising medieval setting, as is still the case in the genre of fantasy. Mormon architecture alone would not be capable of this.

Warcraft: The Beginning, movie, Cathedral of Light, (c) 2016 by Universal Pictures

An important motive in the Mormon concept of faith is the settlement of new territories. For this reason, the Nauvoo Bridge also features wall paintings that refer to the settlement of the Midwest in the USA in the 19th century. This makes double sense with the function of the spaceship as a settlement ship, of course, and shows an intelligent interweaving of the real religious community with the meaning in the fictional world.

The commando area of the Nauvoo.
Image via Reddit

In addition to the special shape of the real temple architecture, the history and religious content of Mormonism may also have been one of the reasons for their choice by the series makers. Futuristic design and a mood of departure into unknown, new worlds go hand in hand here and create the outstanding depth of the narrated world of The Expanse.

Especially for non-American viewers, there is also an alienation effect created by the unknown architecture and decoration. For an international audience, as in the case of the WoW film, Gothic architecture is then added to characterize the building as sacred.

Either way, The Expanse is one of the most mature, compelling and significant settings in science fiction today. Politics, human behaviour and existential questions are taken up here and treated in a futuristic setting. The book series in particular revolves around these philosophical, political, cultural, and thus human, aspects and encourages reflection. And it is extremely exciting and entertaining.

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