Friday, February 20, 2009

Fading into Obscurity

I've written about this topic before, but the poignancy of the idea really came home to me last night as I finished The Big Knives by Bruce Lancaster. It's sad to me to see a book slowly fade out of popular culture (only three used copies of The Big Knives are available on Amazon). It's even sadder when the book is historical fiction and the subject of the book is being forgotten - maybe for good.

The Big Knives is the story of George Rogers Clark's campaign into the area that is now Illinois and Indiana during the Revolutionary War. With fewer than 200 men, Clark captured Kaskaskia and Cahokia with no resistance. When he heard that the British commander Henry Hamilton had taken Vincennes (a settlement along the Wasbash River), Clark marched his small army across Illinois in mid-winter to re-take Vincennes. Besides the cold weather one would expect of a mid-winter campaign, Clark's men also dealt with flood waters (sometimes up to their shoulders) and toward the end, a lack of food. Yet Clark apparently had the personal magnetism and leadership to inspire his men to keep going. Thanks to Clark's ability to bluff - and the marksmanship of his Kentucky and Virginia volunteers - within days of the Americans' arrival at Vincennes, Hamilton agreed to unconditional surrender. This gave the young United States control of land area equal to that of the original thirteen colonies. What makes this more impressive is that Clark was only 25 at the time. As the historical epilogue to The Big Knives points out, "Clark's actions in the Ohio Region during the Revolution were vital to the ultimate success of the American cause."

However, as the epilogue also notes, "His country has almost forgotten him." That was written in 1964, and I'm afraid the situation hasn't improved in the 45 years since. Now, maybe my education was inadequate, but I never heard of George Rogers Clark in any of my history classes, high school or college. Granted, I didn't take a course that focused on the American Revolution; surely Clark gets his due in such courses. But I think my point is still valid. For the majority of the American public, George Rogers Clark is forgotten - and I think that's so sad.

Originally, I planned to read this book one time and then get rid of it. It's one my son picked up at a discard sale from his school library, and it's not in the greatest shape (as you might expect after years of service in a high school library!). The book also didn't especially grab me - it had a lot of detail about the business end of the campaign, which was mildly interesting to me as part of the history but which didn't seem all that important to the plot. Finally, I thought Lancaster had some "hero worship" of Clark going on, and that just seemed silly.

Then I Googled Clark to see how much of the story was true and how much was Lancaster's embellishment -- and I found out very little of it was embellishment! Clark deserved the adulation! That changed my attitude toward the book completely. I'm going to keep it, mainly because I want to do my part to keep Clark's memory from disappearing. Maybe someday when my grandchildren are cleaning out my house, they'll find this book, and maybe one of them will read it -- and George Rogers Clark and Lancaster's telling of his tale will live on.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Some Favorite Love Scenes

I'm still plugging along in The Big Knives (and I still think the cover with the woman on it is misleading), but I decided in honor of Valentine's Day I would look back at some of my favorite love scenes. I'm sure I'll think of others as soon as this is posted.

#10 - The Rough-Face Girl by Rafe Martin and David Shannon

Then they heard footsteps coming along the path, closer and closer. The entrance flap of the wigwam lifted up, and in stepped the Invisible Being.
And when he saw her sitting there he said, "At last we have been found out." Then, smiling kindly, he added, "And oh, my sister, but she is beautiful."

This is a picture-book retelling of the Cinderella story, but you develop such sympathy for the Rough-Face Girl that the moment when the Invisible Being acknowledges her as the woman he will marry is very satisfying.

#9 - The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton by Jane Smiley

He could not believe his eyes at...our good fortune right there, big as life. After I put down the poultice and untied the horse, Thomas grabbed me about the waist and kissed me and spun me around. He kept saying, "I can't tell you how sure I was we'd have to backtrack! I didn't see any future her, I was as low as I've ever been, but now...!"
Well, how were we to know? At any rate, it was a splendid thing to feel my husband's arms and hands press against me and to lean into his chest and to hear his joyful voice in my ear, and to look into his face and have him put his fingers into my hair and take all the pins out, one by one, and then pause to put them carefully in the pocket of his shirt. Then I shook my hair out, and it fell to almost the middle of my skirt, and we went inside the cabin.

This is a marriage of convenience between a abolitionist pioneer in Kansas Territory and a plain "old maid" that grows to be more, though the Lidie's telling of their love is very restrained (which, to me, makes it even more intimate). Unfortunately, the marriage doesn't last long; shortly after this scene, Thomas is murdered.

#8 - Judith of France - Margaret Leighton

Already the figures crowding there were growing smaller. Above them all she could see Baudoin Bras-de-fer sitting his horse like a rock in the midst of a whirlpool, by some miracle keeping order in all the confused and desperate haste.
Across the glittering surface of the water their glances met -- and held. Something caught sharply in Judith's throat. A small, desperate voice - was it her own? - was whispering "No! No! No!" to the lift and fall of the oars that were carryng her away. Inexorably the distance widened, nevertheless, and she raised her hand in a hopeless little gesture of farewell.
She saw surprise in Baudoin's face. Slowly, with his bright, intent gaze still holding hers, he lifted his hand to his helmet in an answering salute.

I didn't say they were all happy scenes.

#7 - These Happy Golden Years - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura opened the small package that Almanzo gave her. The white paper unfolded; there was a white box inside. She lifted its lid. There in a nest of soft white cotton lay a gold bar pin. On its flat surface was etched a little house, and before it along the bar lay a tiny lake, and a spray of grasses and leaves.
"Oh, it's beautiful," she breathed. "Thank you!"
"Can't you thank a fellow better than that?" he asked, and then he put his arms around her while Laura kissed him and whispered, "I am glad you came back."

Almanzo, you rascal!!

#6 - The Edge of Time - Loula Grace Erdman

"Well, I must be going. Good-by, Bethany."
He took her in his arms and kissed her, gently, as if he meant to be gone only a little while. Then his arms tightened around her, and he kissed her several times -- roughly, so that she knew that is she said one little word, maybe, or let one tear slip down her face, he might not leave her at all.
She did not say the word, shed the tear.
"Good-by," she said. "Don't worry - I'll get along fine."
She drew back just a little, but enough so that he remembered it was time to go.
He left her there, beside the dugout door. She watched him ride away; she continued to watch him, waving to him each time he turned to look back. And when he had at last disappeared into the vast reaches of the plains, she went back inside. She threw herself down across the bed and cried for a long time. After that she felt better.

This book is not that well-known, but I can see a HUGE influence on my own writing.

#5 - Hannah Fowler - Janice Holt Giles

He thought how it was you learned so much about somebody when you lived with them, things they never even knew themselves, likely, and how it made them so much closer - like a youngun of your own flesh and blood -- sweet, somehow, and kin. Like the way Hannah had of being shy and awkward before folks, sometimes even with him....And for all her bigness and smartness, she liked it best when he was some place handy. She never would say so...but when you got to know her you could tell the difference in the look on her face when she was contented and when she wasn't. She didn't know how her face changed when he came in and told her he had to go off somewhere. Not that she would ever say one word against it. She would get busy and fix him a bait to take...get him ready to go, not even knowing that the shine of her eyes had dulled and a little line between them had puckered. It made him wish he never had to go.

I like this one because it is from the male point of view.

#4 - Ruth 3:7-10

When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man, and he turned and discovered a woman lying at his feet.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I am your servant Ruth," she said. "Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer."
"The Lord bless you, my daughter," he replied. "This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier. You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don't be afraid. I will do for you all you ask."

Ruth took quite a risk, but Boaz is just a really good man.

#3 - The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Elizabeth George Speare

"Hold a minute, Captain!" called a voice. A commotion near the door had been scarcely noticed. "There's a fellow here says he has an important witness for the case."
Every voice was suddenly stilled. Almost paralyzed with dread, Kit turned slowly to face a new accuser. On the threshold of the room stood Nat Eaton, slim, straight-shouldered, without a trace of mockery in his level blue eyes.

What could be more romantic than having the man you love show up to save you from being burned as a witch?

#2 - The Perilous Gard - Elizabeth Marie Pope

"You're not talking," said Christopher. "Go on talking."
"What do you want me to talk of?" asked Kate helplessly.
"I don't care," said Christopher. "Whatever you like. Anything. Only talk."
Kate cast wildly around in her mind for the 'anything,' wishing more than ever that it was her father who was sitting there, her father or Master Roger or the Lady Elizabeth or Alicia. Surely that was the least God could have done for him, the very least.
"Christopher," she blurted out, "do you ever think about food?"

I was charmed by the way Christopher and Kate fall in love by talking. They can't see each other at all, so their whole relationship is built on their talking.

#1 - Forged in the Fire - Ann Turnbull

We heard faintly, from a neighboring street, the nightwatchman's call: "Nine o'clock, and all's well!"
I broke free then. I went to the window and stood with my back to Will, looking out at the yard and passageway. Snow lay thick on the ground, and big soft flakes fell steadily against the window and built up on the ledge, cocooning us.
"If I'm to get home..." I began.
He came and stood behind me, put his hands on my arms, kissed the nape of my neck.
"Don't go," he said. "Stay with me, Susanna. Please."

Ok, so this is traditional romantic stuff. I'm still a sucker for it.