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Myth rooted in truth
on 4 November 2013
What makes this book fascinating is the narrative arc it makes between Cynthia Ann Parker's capture by the Comanches in the 1836 and John Ford's greatest film, The Searchers, released in 1956. The Parker narrative may be reasonably familiar to American historians of the West, and Frankel recycles material that is familiar to Fordians. But the putting them together is new, which Frankel has done in a clear, continuous narrative.
In effect this is a 120-year history from the facts of the Indian Wars in Texas to the way they were dramatized, epic-ized one might say, on the big screen in the twentieth century. What is more, my guess is that in writing this narrative, Frankel, who is a journalist, turns up a number of new elements or angles on the story. Certainly, while some of the Ford material is familiar, his account of the logistics of shooting a film in Monument Valley, a long way from domestic comforts, is novel and compelling. And it is good to have Alan Lemay, whose novel the film came from, restored to the picture.
Finally, for a European reader, this is in effect a book of history from an exotic country in so many ways. I am used to history as famous people - so Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln et alii - or `history from below' - how ordinary people lived ordinary lives at the time. But here, the obscure, shadowy Cynthia Ann Parker and her complicated uncle James obsessively searching for her among the Comanches combine a small anonymous story with a big history-making story in which you can watch the truth becoming American myth rooted in truth.
The book reads very well on Kindle, but the photos are inevitably just a bit too small and grey.
Tim Cawkwell ([...]