Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Reading: Part One of Susan Cooper's GHOST HAWK

Editor's note, November 3, 2013: Discussion of this book over on the Heavy Medal blog started on October 15th. There, you'll see that some readers have read this post and are waiting for me to provide documentation of errors/inaccuracies in the book. As you read, you'll see where I've inserted updates regarding such inaccuracies. Some of what I object to is not a factual sort of thing. A good bit of what is wrong with Cooper's book has to do with imagining of Native culture, with that imagining rooted in romantic and biased views of Native peoples. These biased views are of several types. Indians as mystical. Indians as animal-like. Indians as stoic. Indians as tragic. Those--and others--are part of this book, which is a white lament of what happened to Native peoples. For me, that lament is first-cousin to those who wish to honor American Indians with things like mascots, or those who love movies like Dances with Wolves. For my additional writings on Ghost Hawk, see:

Friday, June 14, 2013: Susan Cooper on Ghost Hawk: "The only major liberty I've taken is..."
Tuesday, October 15, 2013: Where would we be without whites who like Indians?  

And read Elizabeth Bird's review, too: Review of the Day: Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper.

Below is my first post on Ghost Hawk, posted on June 5, 2013.


On Monday, June 3rd, I received (from a colleague) an advanced reader copy of Susan Cooper's Ghost Hawk. My thoughts, as I read, are in italics.

Primarily a writer of fantasy, Cooper has a great deal of stature in children's literature. One of her books won the Newberry Award, and her series is much acclaimed. As such, she's got some built-in credibility for her writing and people will be eager to read Ghost Hawk. The question is, though, does she have the depth of knowledge, or did she do the research necessary, to give readers a book that doesn't lapse into stereotypes? 

We'll see. Below, I am sharing my chapter-by-chapter notes for part one of the book. In some cases, I paused and did some research that I share right away. In some places, you'll see I'm still digging.

Ghost Hawk opens with two epigraphs. The first is from Roger Williams and is dated 1643. Williams tells not to be proudful because "thy brother Indian" was made by the same God that made the English. That Indian, the epigraph says, is just as wise, fair, and strong as the English man. 

The second epigraph is a verse from Woodie Guthrie's song, This Land is Your Land. 

Why, I wonder, did Cooper choose those two? It was, by the way, rather patronizing of Williams to assume that his God made Indians. How does he know it didn't happen the other way around, with the Indians god making the Englishmen?! And what is the rationale for choosing Guthrie? Was Cooper giving readers a heads-up with the Guthrie song, perhaps, that someone (Cooper?) thinks the land doesn't really belong to the Indians? Is she defending her right to own land? In the Author's Note, she writes that "Seven years ago I built a house on Little Hawk's island" where she "listened to the land, and to its past" and decided to write the book. What is the name of the island? Is it one that the Wampanoag people lost to land-hungry Europeans? Is its ownership contested today? 


Chapter 1

Spring or summertime. A man approaches a small bitternut hickory tree and gives it "a respectful greeting and explained what he was about to do" (p. 6). Then, he puts a stone blade in the 'v' of two branches of a young hickory tree and tightly binds the two branches above the blade. Over time, the branches will fuse, enclosing the stone. This is the way that a man makes a tomahawk for his son. This particular blade is precious to the man because it was part of the tomahawk used by his grandfather and father until the handle broke. As he returns to his canoe, he uses his bow and kills three ducks for the feast celebrating the birth of his son. the closing words of the chapter are:
"I was that son. Because Flying Hawk was my father, the name they were giving me was Little Hawk" (p. 6).
My thoughts: I spent a few hours trying to find information about that technique of putting a stone blade in a tree, and so far... nothing about that, specifically. I did find an old text that describes how the branch of a young tree could be bent around a stone blade and then then the branch tied to itself beneath the blade. And, I learned that hickory is a very hard wood and because of that, it is a great for tool handles.

Regarding the names Cooper gave to her characters...  How names are given is important, but rarely portrayed correctly. I don't know who the tribe is yet, so can't say much other than that Cooper's choice of Little Hawk fits within a mainstream expectation of how Native people give names.

Speaking to the tree also fits a mainstream expectation in which Native peoples live within an ethical framework in which they see themselves as part of a web of life rather than having dominion over the earth. While that ethic is valid, there's a tendency for writers to overdo it when they imagine living a life with that ethic as part of ones daily life. It is helpful to think of a character who is a devout Christian. That information could be established up front, and need not be reiterated on page after page.   

Chapter 2

Little Hawk is now eleven years old and his dad takes him out to the site of the hickory tree where he had bound that stone blade on the day of Little Hawk's birth. In the eleven years that passed, the two branches fused and became one, above the blade. Flying Hawk cuts the tree down. Before he does, though, he gives a pinch of tobacco to the tree's spirit, and Little Hawk says "Thank you, my brother" (p. 9). 

My thoughts: This giving of tobacco...  Some tribes use tobacco to make offerings, but would it be done before cutting down a tree? I don't know, but Cooper's use of tobacco and thanking the spirit of the tree definitely fits within a mainstream expectation of what Native people do/did. I initiated some discussion on child_lit about Ghost Hawk. Emails I got from Charlotte, in particular, are helpful in thinking about this aspect of Native spirituality. As I noted above, Native peoples see themselves as part of the world rather than dominant over it. That sensibility pervades life. Cooper, however (and many writers who over-do this spirituality) do it only in response to an act of taking. When they have a character taking something, they pack that taking with this "thank you, my brother" kind of activity and dialog. As Charlotte said, when that happens again and again, it takes on a caricature rather than a view of the world. 

The tomahawk will be made by wintertime, when it will be time for Little Hawk to "be taken deep into the woods, blindfolded, for the three-month test of solitude that would turn me into a man" (p. 9).

My thoughts: Three months? Dead of winter? Eleven years old? I did several searches on various combinations of Wampanoag, manitou, boy, and vision. When I used "Wampanoag vision quest" I found a book by David J. Silverman called Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity, and Community Among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha's Vineyard, published in 2005. It has information that supports some of what Cooper says. Specifically, boys did vision quests at adolescence, but, I've traced Silverman's sources and am not finding a specific age or duration of this test. I'm also not finding any reference to a blindfold. I've sent emails asking for help on this three-month-test-of-solitude.

Chapter 3

In their longhouse, Little Hawk's mom and sister are getting him ready to head out for that three-month test of solitude, which is also called his "proving time" (p. 10). His sister, Quickbird, is a tomboy. We learn that there are three other boys in the village who will also be sent out on this test. The other three are named Leaping Turtle, White Oak, and Spring Frog. 

My thoughts: Names, again... I wonder (here I am being snarky) why these three boys don't have "little" in their names like Little Hawk does? Does the naming convention Cooper used for Flying/Little Hawk not apply to everyone?   

Little Hawk's mom and sister plan to give him several items to take with him, but Flying Hawk glares at them. He is only supposed to take a boy, an axe, and a knife. With these things, he will "come back a man" (p. 14). 

Little Hawk and his dad go to a sweat lodge where they "sit naked in the hot steam" (p. 15). Sometimes whole families go there to sweat out "the dirt on our bodies" but this time, it is just the men, and they're going to sweat out "the fears in our minds" (p. 15). 

My thoughts: Sweat lodge as family bathing? I don't think I've seen THAT before! But---I'm checking on it.

The day after the sweat, Flying Hawk gives Little Hawk a knife with a metal blade. Such knives are rare. It was made by the white men. The three-month test of solitude starts out with Flying Hawk putting a blindfold on Little Hawk, and then handing him one end of a long deerskin strap. With the leash, Flying Hawk leads him into the forest for a long time (no mention of hours/distance) and then removes the blindfold, hugs him, and takes off. Because some snow has fallen already (it is early winter), they wear snowshoes.

My thoughts: The blindfold part of this whole thing adds to my skepticism of it being something anyone would actually do, especially to an eleven year old boy. Course, I need to do some research to see if I can find anything that supports what Cooper describes.

Alone in the forest, Little Hawk is not afraid. He likes to be alone. He remembers a story about him as a two-year old. He'd wandered off and people had looked for him all day. They found him beneath a maple tree they'd set up to tap its sap. He'd eaten the sap in the birch bark bucket and was waiting, mouth open beneath the tap, for more of the sap. "For some time after that I was called Little Maple, because--they said, making my poor mother cross--I had chosen to be suckled by a tree instead of a woman" (p. 21).

My thoughts: Changing his name, even in jest, as Cooper does here fits within the mainstream notion that Indian names are given based on something near in the proximity of the child. There's lot of crude and insensitive jokes about naming out there. Cooper isn't being insensitive but it is ignorant.

Little Hawk sets out walking. He promptly falls into a tangle of greenbrier vines and hurts his ankle. He makes a shelter beneath the vines and builds a fire. He is hungry, and remembers his grandmother, Suncatcher, teaching him how to dig roots. He thinks he'll dig greenbrier roots but then remembers he's supposed to be fasting. He decides to dig the roots up anyway and save them for later, when he can eat. 

Chapter 4

Little Hawk wakes, thinking of his grandmother. She is a member of the tribal council. She had not been home the day Little Hawk left because she was with his older sister, Southern, at the "women's house" (p. 27) where women go when they're menstruating (on page 12, Cooper called this "moontime bleeding.")

My thoughts: Some tribes use "moon" but "moontime bleeding" is not something I remember reading or hearing about. In my research so far, "moontime bleeding" pulls up New Age items.

Several days pass. Little Hawk gets hungrier and more tired, but he's got to fast until the Great Spirit sends his Manitou to him. One night he wakes in his shelter and finds that it is covered with deep snow. He is cold and scared and starts to cry, but since "a man does not show weakness, ever" (p. 32), he forces himself to howl instead, like a coyote. He falls into a "trance of despair" and in that state, his Manitou comes to him. It is an osprey, or, a fish hawk. It tells him to "stop this" (presumably the despair), and that it will show him his strength. Little Hawk flies into the sky with the osprey. As they fly, the osprey tells him many things "that I may not tell to you." 

My thoughts: I so badly want to quit reading this book. Ah well. This is stoic-Indian for sure. Or, stoic-male! 

Little Hawk wakes up, pushes the snow away, and sees a red-tailed hawk and knows that his Manitou sent that hawk and that he must follow it. It leads him to a pond, and, a deer trail. 

Chapter 5

Little Hawk waits for the deer to come by on the trail. He breaks his fast by chewing on pine bark. He cuts branches to make a bed in a little cave nearby the pond. In the cave he finds a cache of acorns and uses them to sets snares to catch squirrels. He cooks the greenbrier roots and eats them slowly. When he wakes up the next morning, there's a squirrel in his trap. He kills and eats it, working its hide for later use. 

My thoughts: He doesn't do any kind of prayer for the squirrel. In fact, what he does think kind of flies in the face of a reverence for the earth and its creatures: "Perhaps I had caught him with one of his own acorns, but he would save me from starving" (p. 38). 

He sees a lone wolf but manages to scare it away. Little Hawk is getting weaker without foot and then, he sees two deer. He wounds one and spends several hours tracking it. When he finds it, he sees that the lone wolf got to it first and is eating it. He yells at it, it turns on him, and he shoots it. It is wounded and takes off. Little Hawk gives thanks to the Great Spirit, his Manitou, and the spirit of the deer. He breaks the skull open with a rock so he can get the brain, which he'll use to tan the deerskin. He skins the deer, cuts off one of its legs, hauls the brain/skin/leg back to his cave and goes back for more meat.  

That night at his cave, he is "very tired and very dirty" and thinks about the sweat lodge. He cleans up with snow, makes a fire, cooks some meat, and goes to sleep. Over the next few days, he understands that the squirrel and the deer and he himself have a "part in a long harmony of things, a balance" and that is why his people send the boys out on this "solitary voyage of learning" (p. 46).

Chapter 6

One day when he's out, the wolf goes into the cave and eats Little Hawk's deer meat. He and the wolf fight. He kills the wolf but gets a deep gash on his face during the fight. He has to honor the wolf by burying it, which he does. He remembers one of his grandmother's bark remedies for cuts, finds some of it, and uses the squirrel skin and some sinew to make a bandage. He must find more food, too, so makes a hole in the frozen pond below his cave. His first catch is an eel. In pulling it out of the hole, his knife falls into the hole, gone forever. 

A few days later he sees the stars dancing in the sky (something his father showed him) and interprets that as a sign that he should make ready to return home. He imagines his return, and then after awhile, heads home.

Chapter 7

He runs into the center of the village but there is nobody around. He stumbles over a body (covered in snow) and then runs home. Inside, he finds his grandmother. She's weak, and tells him that the white man's sickness has killed everyone. Little Hawk figures out that the sickness was brought into the village by his father, who had traded with a white man for the knife he had given to Little Hawk. His grandmother grows stronger. One day, the flap door opens wide, and Leaping Turtle is there, wondering what has happened.

Chapter 8

Little Hawk, Suncatcher, and Leaping Turtle live together. One day the boys see smoke to the west of them. There's a break in the smoke, followed by a puff of smoke, and then two more breaks/puffs. The people in the village to the west of them are using smoke signals to talk to them. "Three smokes--remember? It's the greeting for anyone who sees it. Three just means 'I am here'" (p. 83). They decide to respond. One puff means danger, two puffs means come, four means I am coming. They choose to send three smokes but get no response. Darkness falls and they return to the house.

My thoughts: Aha! Smoke signals! And these ones even have the code!!!!! You could interpret my use of many exclamation points as me alternately rolling my eyes and laughing aloud at how ridiculous this is. I'll look, though, to see if I can find some old sources that give that code... It will be useful to see what Cooper's source for this is. In the meantime, the National Museum of the American Indian has a book called Do All Indians Live In Tipis. In it, there's a section on smoke signals

Suncatcher thinks the two boys should go to that village without her. She can't make a journey because the cold had "done something bad to her feet" (p. 84).  Little Hawk saw that the skin was very dark and tight.

My thoughts: Apparently, Suncatcher got frostbite before Little Hawk returned to the village. But, several days have passed by this point in the story. Wouldn't they be needing medical care? And, she's the one who knows how to do things... why is she not taking care of her feet?!

Little Hawk and Leaping Turtle decide to make a litter so they can carry her. They also decide to bury the body Little Hawk tripped over, which is that of Suncatchers brother, Morning Star, who was a medicine man. Before they start out for that village, however, three men from there arrive: Hunting Dog, Wolfchaser, and One Who Waits. One Who Waits is the sachem. They've built a new village and someone from Little Hawk's village is at the village, but they won't say who it is. When they all get there, Little Hawk sees that it is his little sister, Quickbird.

Chapter 9

Quickbird recounts the last days in their village. Morning Star told her to go to the other village because "The gods are angry with our people here." Listening to her, Wolfchaser agrees about the gods being angry and thinks they should pray that the anger of the gods is satisfied.

My thoughts: Sounds like Christian theology... a god who punishes his people... 

Suncatcher disagrees with the idea that angry gods would do this. She says the plague is from the white men and that it kills Indians, not white men. Wolfchaser thinks that perhaps the gods aren't angry with the white man. One Who Waits tells them that the white men came on a ship. Little Hawk remembers that he heard the story of this ship. 
"South of here, not far from the Pokanoket village of Sowams, where our great sachem Yellow Feather lived, a trader from across the sea had invited a number of our people aboard his ship and suddenly, for no reason, had killed them all." (p. 94)

My thoughts: Finally! Cooper gives us the name of a tribe! Yellow Feather is Massasoit, but I'll need to do some research to see who that trader was. All this angry-gods stuff also fits within the mainstream expectations of a primitive people. These Indians think they've brought these troubles onto themselves. They're to blame. 

In the weeks and months that follow their move to the new village, they hear a lot about the white men. The people in the village, including Spring Frog (he ended his test at their village rather than his own) work hard to build houses and get winter stores of food ready. Wolfchaser seems to be sweet on Quickbird. As time passes, they get ready for a deer drive. A deer drive is a technique in which deer are herded into an enclosure where they are more easily shot. 

My thoughts: I never heard of a deer drive and will need to look it up. 

As they wait for the drive to start, Little Hawk and Leaping Turtle talk with Wolfchaser. He tells them that his father (One Who Waits) has gone to Sowams because Yellow Feather has called all the sachems together. "Many white men have come in a big boat--not just traders, but whole families. Yellow Feather is not happy; he would like them to go away" (p. 99-101). 

My thoughts: I've pulled up the transcript for "After the Mayflower" from the PBS We Shall Remain series. Its consultants are amongst the top Native and non-Native scholars in the country. Reading the transcript, I learned that there was a plague from 1617 to 1619 but that nobody knows what exactly it was. Historian Neal Salisbury says that sickness was usually interpreted as the invasion of hostile spiritual powers. Not---as Cooper tells us---as gods that are angry. 

Wampanoags were especially devastated by this plague, and the Narragansetts, who did not get that plague, set upon them while they were vulnerable. In 1620, an English ship lands. On it is Miles Standish and many families. They enter Patuxet, an abandoned village that was hit hard by the plague. Colin Calloway says that the English think that God killed its inhabitants to make way for them (the English).  Jill LePore says that Wampanoag's view this ship of people different than others because they've brought families, which means they're not there to make war. Through the winter, Massasoit watches the small group in the village they've called New Plymouth. He thinks they could be allies for them in their struggles against the Narragansetts. 

The group stops talking about the white families when the deer come towards them. They kill 23 deer. The share for their village is 14. Swift Deer, who is in charge of the drive, cuts off the tongue and left hind foot of each deer as an offering. He calls out a prayer of thanks to Mother Earth and the deer spirit. 

My thoughts: So.... what will they do with the other nine deer? And what is this business of cutting off the tongue and the left foot? Why the left foot???!!! Remember what I said earlier about exclamation points...  

When they get back to the village, there's a traditional celebration of the hunt. They sing, dance, and eat. One Who Waits is back from meeting with Yellow Feather, and he seems uneasy. A few days later, One Who Waits is visiting Suncatcher. He tells Suncatcher and Little Hawk that Yellow Feather has decided to offer help and friendship to the white men, "now that our pleas to the spirits have not sent them away." One Who Waits also says that Yellow Feather does not enjoy war, and that the Wampanoag, weakened by the plague, are paying tribute to the Narragansetts. Little Hawk asks what the white man wants, and One Who Waits replies "I think our father Yellow Feather fears that they want the land" (p. 103). 

My thoughts. So, their spirits are again leaving them hanging. Prayers unanswered, the only recourse is to make friends. Again---this praying stuff makes me very skeptical. But the history itself is correct. Massasoit did make that treaty, and the white man did want the land. 

Chapter 10

Springtime brings the fish run when herring, shad, and bass rush from the sea into the rivers to spawn. The villagers head to the streams. They catch so many fish that Quickbird complains that they all smell like fish and she can't wait to get back to the village and the sweat lodge to clean up. 

My thoughts: Again---sweat as a way to get cleaned up? Gotta check on this. I was talking with Jean Mendoza about this, and she asked an obvious question. They were at the river! Why couldn't they get cleaned up there, in all that fresh running water?! 

As they fish, the villagers see One Who Waits and Swift Deer walking from the camp towards the river with a group: "there were some strangers with them: an important-looking warrior wearing an ornate beaded headband with an eagle feather, and three others" (p. 106). Two are white men and one is a five year old boy. They gather round.  "Swift Deer and Wolfchaser came forward to join us; Swift Deer was very wet, and shook himself like a dog" (p. 107).

My thoughts: Oops. That's a bit confusing. Swift Deer was in the river? Or in the camp? I'm thinking he was in the river and that's why he was wet. But... shaking like a dog to rid himself of the water?! COME ON, SUSAN COOPER!!!  

One Who Waits calls out to the villagers "My sons! You remember the one they called Squanto?" (p. 108).  Swift Deer and Wolfchaser greet offer greetings but Little Hawk detects uncertainty in their voices. Squanto is the important man wearing the beaded headband with a feather. One Who Waits goes on to tell them that Yellow Feather wants them to be helpful to the white men because "they are friends of our people. They are in care of Squanto, because he speaks their language" (p. 108). Little Hawk thinks Squanto "clearly knew he was somebody special" (p. 108). Squanto tells them the names of the Englishmen and that he has taught them how to catch eels and how to plant, but wants them to learn how to fish the fish run, so has brought them to watch and learn how to do it. Suncatcher steps forward with bowls of soup for Squanto and the Englishmen, but they decline her offer. Squanto tells them that "The white man is not good at eating our food" (p. 109). 

My thoughts: Was Squanto dressed that way?! And, I wonder if Cooper is going to tell her readers why Squanto knows English? As the historical record shows, he was kidnapped and taken to Europe where he learned to speak English. He eventually made his way back, but his village (Patuxet) was gone. And, he was a troublemaker. 

Wolfchaser demonstrates how they use woven mats to catch the fish. Squanto translates for the Englishmen. The little boy wanders off to Quickbird and two children that are with her. One of them shows him a toy and they start playing. Quickbird watches them and says "Look how different they are!" and "The same, but so different!" (p. 110). 

My thoughts: Nice touch, to demonstrate the humanity in children, regardless of who they are.

Quickbird decides to teach the white boy their names. She takes his hand, points to herself, and says "Quick bird." Turtledove (one of the children) does the same thing, and "with some difficulty" the boy says "Turtle dove" and then "Bird." 

My thoughts: I guess we ought to be, in our minds, thinking that the Wampanoags are speaking in their own language, and as such, it would be hard for the little white boy to enunciate turtledove or quickbird in the Wampanoag language. Without the actual use of those names in the story, that learning-of-names seems a bit odd to me. 

The boy then taps his own chest and says "John." John then looks around and sees Little Hawk and the scar on his face (from the wolf attack). John reaches up to gently touch the scar. He wants to know Little Hawk's name. He listens to it, and then and says "Hawk."

Again---the use of English translations for their names rather than their names makes this learning of names awkward. 

Quickbird has given Turtledove and Little Fox some pellets made from the boiled-down maple sap. Little Hawk gives some to John. John's father comes over, and Little Hawk detects a sour, unwashed smell about him. John points to Little Hawk and says "Hawk," and then Squanto comes over and leads them on their way. The villagers insist on giving them two baskets of fish.

In the sweat lodge where they've gone to get rid of the fish smell, One Who Waits tells Little Hawk, Wolfchaser, and Swift Dear that Squanto knows English "by living in their country. He and some others were carried there in a boat to become slaves, and he was there for some years before a white man from a different tribe brought him back again" (p. 112). When he got back, he found the plague had taken most of his village. He is "useful to Yellow Feather, because without him we could not talk to the white men" (p. 113). 

My thoughts: Good to see that Cooper does tell her readers why Squanto knows English, but I don't know what to make of the white man from "a different tribe." 

The fish they took is to be used as fertilizer for their corn. Swift Deer says that the corn they're going to plant was stolen from the Nausets. Wolfchaser says he'd heard the corn they took was from a village where the Nausets had all died of the plague. One Who Waits tells them its time to leave the sweat lodge so others can use it and get clean, too. 

Chapter 11

The new village grows as more families move to it. Little Hawk is glad of that because it means more children to scare crows, raccoons, woodchucks, and jays away from the fields. The children are taught that they must never kill Brother Crow "because it was his ancestor who brought mankind the corn and bean seeds in the first place, one seed in each of his ears" (p. 116).

My thoughts: Crows have ears? I really don't know much about birds. I need to see what I can find out about Wampanoag traditional stories about crows. 

Little Hawk and Leaping Turtle return to the old village twice. Once to get a birchbark canoe they had made there the year before, and a second time to do Suncatcher's bidding, which was to dig "a memory hole" (p. 117) in honor of the people who died in the village. A memory hole "was a round hole about a foot deep, lined with stones, and now that it was there it would be kept open by generations of people to come. These memory holes were all over our land, on our trails; they were the record of the people who lived before us, and of what happened in their time" (p. 117). 

My thoughts: Memory holes? I gotta look that up! Added to Heavy Medal blog on October 17, 2013; added here on November 3, 2013: Memory holes. I do have an answer on that one. When I called the Mashpee Historic Preservation office in June, I asked specifically about memory holes. The woman I spoke with said it sounded like something from Philbrick’s MAYFLOWER. So, I got a copy and found memory holes on page 105. The woman was rather derisive in referencing Philbrick’s book. I remembered that Indian Country Today (ICT) had run an article about a forum on the book, and that I’d pointed to their article, so I went back into my site to find it. My link doesn’t work right now because ICT is redoing their website and not all of their items are archived/available yet, but I was able to find the article in its entirety at another site. Here’s the link: The article does not specifically address memory holes, but I think it is fair to say that the response to the book casts a lot of doubt on Philbrick’s book. I haven’t read it, but from the reviews, it sounds a lot like he did what Cooper tried to do.

Bearclaw, a friend of Swift Deer's, has been keeping watch on a white settlement nearby the Massachusetts tribe. He's on his way to give Yellow Feather a report. The people in the settlement are not doing well and the Massachusetts are using some of them as laborers in exchange for food. One Who Waits asks Bearclaw to give his greetings to Yellow Feather and hopes that he is well, but Bearclaw says that Yellow Feather is not well. 

All year long, the people have been talking about the treaty Yellow Feather made with the English. There is a lot of unrest. Disagreements abound, including ones Squanto incites between Yellow Feather and the English.

My thoughts: I recall that Squanto does this sort of thing... He's definitely an opportunist. 

Leaping Turtle doesn't trust the white people, but Little Hawk has faith in Yellow Feather's wisdom. Winter comes and rumors prompt One Who Waits to call a council meeting. He tells them Yellow Feather had been sick, but was healed by a white man named Winslow. He also tells them about a white man named Standish who invited two Massachusetts warriors named Wituwamet and Pecksuot to eat with him, but that was a ruse. He killed them and three other men. One Who Waits reminds the people that they are aligned with the English, and that the Massachusetts and the Narragansetts have acted aggressively towards the Wampanoag. The English, he reminds them, are their friends, and he also says that the English know that the Wampanoag's are not the same as the Massachusetts and the Narragansetts. Swift Deer asks to speak. Reluctantly, One Who Waits lets him talk, and he tells the people that Standish beheaded Wituwamet and put his head on a pole at Patuxet. The people are upset but One Who Waits tells them that they should not seek war. In the silence, Suncatcher sings a song in which the lines tell Little Hawk to fly in peace. The meeting ends and they all leave.

Chapter Twelve

Leaping Turtle and Little Hawk are chosen to be runners who will carry messages for Yellow Feather. They are now about 17 years old. On the way, they hear the sound of a tree falling, followed by screams. They race to the sounds and find that a white man had cut the tree and it fell on him. 

Another white man is pinned. Little Hawk wants to help get the man out, especially when he realizes that the boy is John, now 10 years old. He raises his tomahawk to cut away at the tree to free the man. At that moment he is shot and killed. 

My thoughts: That is how Little Hawk becomes Ghost Hawk!!! Naming! Again! 

----end of part one---
On to part two, but, based on what I've read so far, I can't recommend Ghost Hawk. 


Anonymous said...

Disappointed to hear that Cooper didn't do her homework for this book. I'm a great admirer of hers, and her books set in Cornwall and Wales have always seemed to me to have a deep respect for the early cultures of those areas. Being British, she has no grounding in pre-colonial American history, but that's no excuse for not doing her research!

The whole sweat-bathing thing seems more Greek and Roman to me. See

Wendy said...

Susan Cooper is American, and so far there doesn't seem to be evidence that she "didn't do her homework". I'm not saying that I know anything about her research process or that there aren't any mistakes or missteps in the book (which I haven't read), but so far we mostly have questions rather than corrections.

Certainly some Native cultures have used sweatlodges for physical cleaning, whether or not it is appropriate for the people in Cooper's book. That same Roger Williams (not that he was an authority) perceived it that way: "They were sweating for two ends: first to cleanse their skin; secondly to purge their bodies, which doubtless is a great means of preserving them, especially from the French disease which by sweating and some potions, they perfectly and speedily cure."

Debbie Reese said...


Here's her bio. I think she is British.

I think what Cooper has done is offer a worldview of a specific tribe that she develops by drawing from different tribes. Just like illustrators who include a totem pole and a tipi side by side, as though they both apply to a single tribe.

And I'll need to study the Williams quote. I've seen it, too, and if it was about the Wamapanoags and therefore appropriate for her to use, note that it while it would support bathing, it does not address the cleanse-fear-from-ones-mind aspect that Cooper says they did in that same space.

I also think that a failing of the research is the sources. In the Author's Note, she says she read "all" the "seventeenth century sources" to write this book. If she had read some of the critical work of this century, she'd know to look askance at some of the seventeenth century sources due to the bias of their authors, and, if she'd read critically in criticism of representation of American Indians in literature, she'd know about inappropriate mixing of disparate tribes. She'd also have had a heads up, don't you think, about smoke signals?!

Debbie Reese said...

I will also take a minute to note that I've started reading Part 2, and, I think it goes over the cliff. In it, the dead Little Hawk oversees the action after his death, and the "Great Spirit" has given him the ability to hear language and thoughts, no matter the language of the person who he is looking upon. His spirit isn't free, we read, because of his violent death.

Why do I think that takes the whole thing over the cliff? Because I think that what she provided in Part 1 about the living Little Hawk and his people is a mess, and going from their living to their spiritual realm is a huge leap into the beyond.

Wendy said...

(Cooper moved to the US in her twenties and married an American, raised children here, has lived here for fifty years.)

I do plan to read the book when it becomes available to me and will revisit then.

Charlotte said...

I haven't read the book yet, but it sounds like the portrayal of the Wampanoag is a somewhat uncritical pastiche. For instance, the blindfold comes from a Dutchman's account of what he saw in New York--different tribe, different place. And as far as I know (I'm a professional archaeologist working in southern New England) smoke signals weren't used hereabouts.

Since it's easy to predict that this will be used in schools all over New England, it's a pity it couldn't have been vetted more aggressivly by the federally recognized Wampanoag tribes. Does Cooper indicate that she talked to them at all?

Althea Teller said...

Funny. I HAVE read the book and find this "review" decidedly off the mark. The criticisms aren't of passage or content in Ghost Hawk, but of other "mainstream" cliches, cliches and stereotypes that are decidedly not evident in the novel.

Moreover, a central theme of the book is the implacability of European genocide in Northern America. You can trade, or you can fight, but the English are going to take your land--all of it. The deep immorality of their doing so rings so clearly that disputes of how to interpret fragmentary and ambiguous historical evidence seem petty and off the mark.

To take one example, not seeing the appropriateness of the Woodie [sic] Guthrie epigraph is hard to understand.

Monica Edinger said...

Debbie, are you going to follow up with those things you are checking out and about the rest of the book?

Debbie Reese said...

Charlotte--Thanks! Your expertise on tribes of that area is especially helpful in pointing out that there are differences amongst them.

Althea--Your comment is evidence that very different readers will have very different responses to a book like GHOST HAWK. You are focused on over-arching themes and don't see misrepresentations of a marginalized population as inappropriate. In that kind of appraisal, the ends justify the means. I disagree. In this case, that approach/defense of the book reinforces the status quo that wishes to put American Indians in the distant past as a wonderful people who were wronged. That approach says 'let's not do that again' but it is another means to objectify a people for the benefit of another.

Monica--Yes. I finished the book on Saturday and have a similar set of questions about the rest.


Debbie Reese said...

There's SO much to write up for parts two, three, and four, that I'm paused to write up one especially troubling aspect of Cooper's book:

Althea Teller said...

don't see misrepresentations of a marginalized population as inappropriate.

Actually I don't see where you document misrepresentations of a marginalized population in the novel. If that's what you mean by that sentence--it's not really clear to me what you mean here.

Again, you seem not to be responding to the book itself, but to other books, other works in other places and, frankly, projecting these other reading or viewing experiences on to this book--even in advance of having read it. There's a Red Queen quality to this review that I think you should be concerned about....

Kathy Isaacs said...

I'm disappointed in this review because I count on you, Debbie, to point up inaccuracies. This time, what you've pointed up are moments where an unfamiliar detail threw you out of the story. At least 12 times, you say you will have to do some research. But I can't find that you have reported on what you've found. When something a writer says throws you out of the story telling, that means the narrative doesn't work for you. But I don't see evidence in your review that there is misinformation that would lessen the child reader's appreciation. There is a great deal in this story that would help child readers form a different, more nuanced understanding of that historical time.

Debbie Reese said...


A few days after I posted about Cooper's book, my father got sick and passed soon after.

I'll pick this up again later but can't do it right now.

Kathy Isaacs said...

I'm so sorry to hear that.
I'll look forward to reading your thoughts when you are ready to post them.

Dr Mom said...

I just finished reading "Ghost Hawk" to my 7 and 9 year old daughters. We were riveted (although the political details did bore the kids a little, and the little one had a hard time keeping all the characters straight.) The book made me cry several times, and it allowed me to share with my daughters a different (if not perfectly accurate in all details) story of America's early history. At least it was a vastly different viewpoint of what they are fed in the classroom, and it garnered a lot of discussion about how history is written by the victors and so on. Yes, I wish the Native American history was *perfectly* accurate, but I can't imagine it's very easy to research the exact truth of what happened back in the 1600s, from either side. I found your dissection of the book to be somewhat snarky, whereas I would hope you could try to be more objective if you are an authority in this area. I think this novel (it's not complete non-fiction, by the way) has many good points, and is a beautiful way to introduce young readers to the realization that America was founded on the murder and displacement of people with long histories on the land. I also like the way Ms Cooper illustrates how the early settlers came here to be freed from tyranny, then began to practice their own on anyone who wouldn't worship as they demanded, or who were of another race. Kids don't always get these perspectives at school.

By all means, point out inaccuracies in the book, (I'd like to know where the facts are fuzzy myself,) but I personally would find your comments much more helpful if you toned down the anger and sarcasm and tried to be more neutral.

Sorry about your father; it's horrible to lose a parent.