Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"The Light in the Forest" by Conrad Richter

This book -- ohhhh, this book.  I hadn't read it in many years, but boy howdy, once I got into the first chapter, I had a tough time putting it down.  In fact, I read it in little over a day, and have just been trying to find time to blog about it since then.

True Son was adopted by the Lenne Lenapi tribe when he was four years old.  He's grown up as an Indian, and considers himself to be such.  But, thanks to a new treaty, all white captives must be returned to their blood relatives, including True Son.  He hates his white family and their ways, and sullenly takes a long time to behave even a little the way they want him to.  But he does start to assimilate at last, until his best friend, Half Arrow, comes to visit.

Disney made a movie version in 1958 that starred James MacArthur as True Son, with supporting turns by Fess Parker, Joanne Dru, Jessica Tandy, and Joseph Calleia.  When I was a little kid, I would look at the VHS cover of the movie at the library and wish I could watch the movie, but my parents never checked it out for some reason -- possibly because my mom was usually the one who went to the library with us, and she didn't share my enthusiasm for stories of Indians and frontiersmen.  So I didn't see it until after I was married, and I liked it a great deal, though I recall that it differed quite a bit from the book, especially the ending.  I haven't seen it for a long time, but I just got it on DVD this past week and look forward to rewatching it now that I've read the book again.  I'll probably review it on Hamlette's Soliloquy when I do.

I've long been fascinated by stories of people getting captured by American Indians.  But most such stories usually focus on the capture, and then whether or not the captive escapes or decides to join the Indians.  The Light in the Forest is very different because it instead deals with what happens when someone does assimilate and then is parted from their adopted family.  Richter seems to favor the Indian way of life, but he does a good job of portraying both whites and Indians as humans, capable of goodness and evil both.  This isn't one of those "all the Indians are noble and the whites are greedy" stories, nor is it the "all the Indians are savages and the whites are pure and innocent" kind either.

Particularly Good Bits:

The boy stared with loathing at the pants and jacket.  They were symbols of all the lies, thefts, and murders by the white man.  Now he was asked to wear them.  You might as well ask a deer to dress itself in the hide of its enemy, the wolf (p. 35).

How could life mean anything to you if already your people had killed you in their minds? (p. 112)

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG for non-detailed descriptions of violence and for a really great discussion where an Indian explains to a white man why the phrase "God damn" is senseless from his point of view.

This is my 48th book read and reviewed for the Classics Club.  I think I will finish my 50-book challenge by the end of the year!!!

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