Thursday, February 26, 2009

Books by Walter D. Edmonds

Two nights ago I gave a lecture at Westfield State College. Among the books I discussed is The Matchlock Gun, by Walter D. Edmonds. Doris Seale's review of the book is at the Oyate site. I urge you to click on over there to read it. She describes the book, and notes, too, that it gained new life when it was chosen for the "We the People" bookshelf project sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities/American Library Association.

I'm thinking about the book today because last night I watched a film with my daughter (a sophomore in college). She's taking a film class. Screenings for this week include Drums Along the Mohawk. (I'm in New Haven, doing research in the Bienecke, and spending time with Liz, too.) As we drove to my hotel last night, she asked if I wanted to watch a film with her. She told me the title and started reading the accompanying info on the movie box. It reads "Based on the best-selling novel by Walter D. Edmonds..."

So I did spend the late evening last night watching Drums Along the Mohawk. It's came out in 1939. Very early in the film, Peter Fonda takes his bride, Lana, to his homestead. It's a stormy night, there's a lot of flies, and she's pretty unhappy. They go inside his cabin, he lights a fire, and then leaves to tend to the horse and wagon outside. While he's gone, an Indian comes into the cabin.

Lana turns away from the fireplace, sees, him, and starts screaming and races to the farthest corner. The Indian has been walking toward her, holding his gun, a blank expression on his face. Hubby comes in and tries to shake some sense into her, eventually slapping her, which stops her hysterics. He tells her that the Indian, "Blue Back" is helpful, friendly, a Christian. Blue Back calls out "Hallelujah" more than once during the film. Helpful and friendly, he warns the colonists when Indians are "on the warpath."

Doing some research on the book, I see it on a lot of book lists, especially for accelerated readers. I wonder how the book is used? With older children, books with biased presentations of Native people can be used to teach about perspective, but I wonder if its being used that way...


jpm said...

Matchlock Gun is one of those very, very toxic books that probably would have passed into well-deserved oblivion if not for the boost from "We the People". So maybe we could interpret that fact as evidence that the book is being used by an agency with government funding to maintain the dominant colonialist narrative of white supremacy. Intentionally or not -- but considering that good books with more realistic, positive images of Native people were available for the "We the People" committee to include, they couldn't have chosen a worse set of images of Native Americans if they were trying.

Rob said...

What did you think of the movie? I thought it was better than some of the Westerns I've seen. The Indians were stereotypical, but at least they weren't all evil.

Naturally I wouldn't recommend this movie for use in the classroom. Nor the book, based on your description of it. Not unless the goal was to dissect the stereotypes in American fiction.

P.S. It was Henry Fonda, not Peter.