January 05, 2010

Indians in the Alvin Maker series

A writer named Laura Gibbs discussed magic and Indians in the first three books of Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker series. Her second essay is especially interesting.

Magic in the World of Alvin Maker:  Seventh Son

Magic in the World of Alvin Maker:  Red ProphetAlvin learns from the Indians Tenskwa-Tawa and Ta-Kumsaw that his knacks are not some kind of personal prowess, but instead derive from the powers of the living land itself. When the Europeans practice their knacks in ignorance of this fact, they are stumbling in the dark, not even aware of what they are doing. This makes the Europeans and their knacks contemptible in the eyes of someone like Ta-Kumsaw, who lives his life in full awareness of the natural order:

These White men with their weak little knacks. These White men with their hexes and their wardings. Didn’t they know their hexes only fended off unnatural things? If a thief comes, knowing he does wrong, then a good strong fending hex makes his fear grow till he cries out and runs away. But the Red man never is a thief. […] To the Red man a knack is like a fly, buzz buzz buzz. Far above this fly, the power of the living land is a hundred hawks, watching, circling. (Chapter 2)
With the help of Ta-Kumsaw, Alvin is able to deepen his understanding of his own powers, going far beyond the tricks he had learned to do with his knacks. As a result, Alvin is able to perceive the greensong and feel a connection with the land itself, much as Ta-Kumsaw and the Prophet are able to do.
And:These magical powers which Ta-Kumsaw and the Shawnees use are part of the natural order; they are what you could call perfectly natural powers, with nothing supernatural about them at all. To the White men, however, the Indians’ powers appear to be supernatural simply because the White men’s magic is itself an act against nature, something that stands outside the natural order and violates the limitations that keep that ecology in balance. Indeed, the entirety of White civilization is seen as an assault on the natural order of things, and Ta-Kumsaw and his brother Tenskwa-Tawa are struggling to drive the White men from the land before it is utterly destroyed:

Hack and cut and chop and burn, that was the White man’s way. Take from the forest, take from the land, take from the river, but put nothing back. The White man killed animals he didn’t need, animals that did him no harm; yet if a bear woke hungry in the winter and took so much as a single young pig, the White man hunted him down and killed him in revenge. He never felt the balance of the land at all. (Chapter 2)
The ecology of magic turns out to be about the ecology of nature itself, and the balance of the living ecosystem. When Alvin leaves Ta-Kumsaw and returns to his family’s home at the end of the novel, he still hears the greensong around him.
Magic in the World of Alvin Maker:  Prentice Alvin

Comment:  If it isn't obvious, Ta-Kumsaw and Tenskwa-Tawa are Orson Scott Card's fictional analogues for Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa ("The Prophet").

I don't know, but I suspect many Indians would endorse Ta-Kumsaw's views above. I.e., Card's take on the differences between Native and Western (white man's) views of nature.

As I've said before, I read Seventh Son and the first few issues of RED PROPHET. Both were good but not good enough to compel me to continue the series.

For more on the Alvin Maker series, see Some Thoughts on Orson Scott Card and my review of RED PROPHET.


Stephen said...

The Alvin Maker series is overrated garbage, sure it has a great concept but the series was ruined because of the unoriginal plots, terrible characters and the mormon propaganda (Alvin is an obvious stand in for Joseph Smith). Not to mention how quite a few the books are dominated by rants about how evil slavery is, which is nothing but really (censored) obvious unless you grew up in Mauritania. Of course Card's books in general are pretty overrated, take Ender's Game (which can be summarized as bad things happen to a little boy who kills aliens by the truck load) and there's the matter of Card's homophobia (gee I wonder why he named those aliens the buggers).


Don't get me wrong, I read authors who have views that I disagree with because I love their work, however I can't Orson's writing or his opinions, the 'man' is like utah; a complete waste of space.

dmarks said...

I've only read two of his books so far. Rob knows what one of them is.

Rob said...

I think Ender's Game and Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus are great. Card's other books range from good to very good. As I discussed in Some Thoughts on Orson Scott Card.