Historical Fiction May Be More Accurate Than Textbooks
By Joseph Bruchac
Harcourt, 2006, $5.95
After memorizing Columbus' name as the "discoverer of America," we later learned that Pocahontas was passionately in love with Captain John Smith, and saved his life at the last moment. Thank goodness for that great American education.
Joseph Bruchac's "Pocahontas" may be historical fiction, but it's a great deal more accurate than most textbooks.
A Native American, Bruchac gleans wisdom for his book from his heritage as well as such resources as the journals of John Smith; Edward Maria Wingfield's "A Discourse of Virginia", Edward Wright Haile's "Jamestown Narratives: Eyewitness Accounts of the Virginia Colony"; "The Complete Works of Captain John Smith"; and "The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture," by Helen C. Roundtree. With the ammunition of thorough research and a passion for the story, Bruchac authentically retells history.
Alternating between Pocahontas' point of view and Captain John Smith's, the reader is introduced to the fears, lifestyles, and misunderstandings of both peoples.
While Pocahontas watches in bewildered fascination, the "Coatmen" decide to establish their camp in one of the most uninhabitable areas, full of mosquitoes and infertile soil.
Captain Smith takes careful notes on the savagery of the natives, and misunderstands their culture of taking or exploring guns and other objects left by the settlers.
He and the other settlers misinterpret their curiosity and aggression. Pocahontas longs for peace: "Hearing them cry, I wondered again why it was that men had to fight one another. I do not like war. Wars are like those Four Wind Giants. They only seek to eat the people."
The Indians favor Smith because of his bravery in battle. When he is ultimately brought before Mamanatowic, Pocahontas' father and leader of all the tribes, he believes that Mamanatowic is preparing to have him killed.
As Smith is pressed to the ground, his face on large stones, Mamanatowic pronounces, "On these stones those who have done great wrong are executed Now your revenge will be my revenge You will be reborn as a member of my own family." Pocahontas runs joyfully to Smith to welcome him as a member of the family.
There you have it, then. Indian culture was misunderstood, and Pocahontas was actually just excited about getting a big brother.
It's not the most exciting story, and the journals can be a bit dry, but don't you think it's worth wading through to get to the truth?
Now if we can just get to the bottom of the inconvenient rumor about the Vikings and that Leif Erickson chap
Charlene Vermeulen is a former Moore County teacher now homeschooling her children.
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