There are several good reasons and one major reason for including this series by Orson Scott Card on our list of the 100 Most Extraordinary Adventures. That reason is that it turns my hometown into a magical fantasyland of adventure and mystery.
This is probably not a big deal for those of you who grew up in major metropolitan areas like Chicago, New York, or Boise. But I come from a small town in Indiana, and it is quite a strange thing to be reading an alternate history fantasy novel and suddenly have it veer into your back yard.
The Tales of Alvin Maker is a 6-volume set from a guy who is probably most famous for science fiction, but can write strong fantasy stuff when he has a mind to. The books take place in the early 19th century, in the wilderness of America populated with pioneers, Indians, and of couse supernatural beings.
Alvin is a young man tinged with such power, who interacts with some of history’s greater and lesser figures as the landscape shifts and changes around him. America is in a time of transition. Settlers are gradually moving West, bringing “civilization” with them as they go and driving out the natives.
I had read the first book in the series and enjoyed it without being aware of its location. It appeared to me as merely “someplace in the wilderness,” and thought nothing of the fact that young Alvin (merely a boy in the first book) has his powers weakened by the presence of water. Covered bridges play a prominent role in the story, and for some reason I never drew the connection between that and the Covered Bridge Festival in southern Indiana that my family and I attended several times when I was a kid.
The second book, Red Prophet, was what really hit me over the head. In it, the Indian warrior Ta Kumseh and his brother The Prophet battle William Henry Harrison for the future of the Red Man. Though Card plays very liberally with the history, this is essentially what my hometown is famous for.
I went to William Henry Harrison High School. Battle Ground was one of the elementary schools in my area, and the actual battle of Tippecanoe was fought only a few miles from my house. Prophet’s Rock is a short distance away, and for many years one of the great tourist attractions was an outdoor amphitheater production of “Tecumseh.” The French Fort Ouiatenon stood nearby, and every year we would go to the Feast of the Hunter’s Moon.
I stumbled across this series much later in life, and to the best of my knowledge, Orson Scott Card is from North Carolina. I had no idea when I completed Book 1 that an entire reimagining of my local history was in store for Book 2, but it was one of the most surreal and awesome reading experiences of my life.
The series stretches on for 6 books, and I admit that it sputters out a little towards the end, but there are some great ideas contained in it. The magic is referred to as “knacks,” and the Indians, Blacks, and White Men all have different styles of powers. It has been a long time since Book 6, The Crystal City, was published. But since the number 7 is so powerful within the stories, it seems likely that we will eventually see a final novel concluding the series.
Next up, #70…