August 03, 2010

Sacagawea inspired comic-book guy

In Ten Days on the Road, Part One, blogger Greg Hatcher describes a vacation he and his wife took in the Pacific Northwest:The Adventures of Lewis and Clark was one of the first--possibly the first--books I ever owned, back when I was seven years old. That was one of the books I learned to read on, and the story of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery made a huge impression on me, in large part due to John Severin's breathtaking illustrations. He made it all look real and believable in a way that a great many kid's books didn't then (and still don't today).

Fort Clatsop, the camp at the mouth of the Columbia River where the expedition wintered in 1805 before turning back home, is very close to where we were staying in Seaside. I'd pestered my parents into taking me there once, when I was eight years old, but I didn't really remember anything about it and I wanted to be sure and go back this trip.

After exploring Fort Clatsop, Hatcher discusses Sacagawea:And, of course, there was the gift shop. Lots of postcards and stuff, but also a fairly extensive library of books about Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. I had a vague hope that perhaps my beloved children's history book with those amazing Severin illustrations would be there, maybe in a new edition, and I could pick up a copy for Phenix--but no such luck. We resolved to keep an eye out for it for the rest of the trip, though.

There were, however, a number of books about Sacagawea, the young Shoshone bride of the expedition's guide, Charbonneau.

Sacagawea was an extraordinary young woman, and it's not really surprising that she continues to fascinate historians. I already told you the park ranger's characterization of the Corps as being 1805's version of the Special Forces, and how rough the expedition had it at Dismal Nitch. Now imagine coping with all that when you're a twentysomething Native American girl with only a vague grasp of English and carrying a newborn baby on your back.

Hatcher ends up getting Marion Tinling's Sacagawea's Son for a friend's daughter.

The interesting point is how something you read as a child sticks with you your entire life. For Hatcher, it was a book about Lewis and Clerk with comic book-style illustrations. Decades later, he's still writing about adventures in pop culture: comic books, novels, movies, etc.

For me the milestones were The Wizard of Oz, Robinson Crusoe, the Tom Corbett adventure Stand By for Mars, and various books on astronomy and dinosaurs. Oh, and my Hopi kachina coloring book. You can sort of see that I'm still working in these areas, using my childhood inspirations.

The kicker is: What if we gave today's children Native comic books, children's books, or DVDs? What if that was their seminal inspiration? Would they go on to mock and stereotype Indians, to deny them their rights? Or would they become champions of Indians and other oppressed people? There's no way to be sure, but I'm guessing the latter.

For more on Sacagawea, see "Sacagawea" in Castle and 2nd Sacagawea Dollar Reverse Unveiled.

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