Book Group, Books

Book 113: Dances with Wolves – Michael Blake

This is one of those few books recently that is not involved with a challenge, but I did read it for my Books into Movies book group. Overall I enjoyed the book, the film was so-so and I was incredibly disturbed/upset by the book group discussion.

As usual I won’t talk much about the plot or the characters, but I will give my reactions in three parts 1) the book, 2) the movie, and 3) my reactions to the book group discussion.

The Book
I was surprised I enjoyed the book as much as I did. I would not have gone out of my way to read it, but as usual, I’m glad I read it. It was beautifully written and I thought it captured the magnificence of the open plains and the west before expansion. The story itself was believable, but it was a bit of a stretch. Not knowing much about the time period or the people I can’t say for certain it could have happened or that similar things didn’t happen.

The ending of the novel was good enough that it kept me wanting. It made me smile because of what happened, but didn’t answer all of the questions, especially about the on-coming tide of the settlers from the east. There were scenes that were much more believable and much more emotional than in the film, specifically the scenes surrounding the death of Two Socks and the reunion of Stands with a Fist and Dances with Wolves.

The Movie
Surprisingly it stayed relatively true to the book. In an extended edition they even included more of the scenes from the book so that definitely is a plus in its corner. However, it was THREE HOURS long. It easily could have been cut down by an hour and still had an emotional impact.

The only thing that bothered me about the film, aside from the length, was the love story. I feel like they played up the love story for Hollywood. There was also something about the way Stands with a Fist was portrayed that bothered me – I think it had to do with her not being as dirty or tan as you’d think she’d be if she’d spent her life on the plains with the Comanche tribe. (It also bothered me they changed it from the Comanche to the Sioux, but there was a reason behind this.)

Book Group Discussion
In general I don’t let our discussions at book group get to me and I also rarely haven’t written the blog post by time I go to book group. Last night however, it really got to me. There was a person there who basically said that the Native American’s deserved to die and lose their land because they couldn’t defend it – even though the settlers and governments continuously broke treaties and performed atrocious acts. Eventually he convinced two other people his view was correct.

What upset me the most was that he said that civilization was coming and they had to either adapt to it or get out-of-the-way/die. The only problem was that they weren’t given the opportunity to adapt until so many of them were murdered or forced to flee. He further went on to say that just because we know it’s wrong now doesn’t mean it was wrong then and although I can see the logic in this argument, it doesn’t make it right. He compared the Native American’s to the Irish (even though he was adamant the Irish weren’t white and that they were the one’s fighting the Native American’s) and even to the African American’s. He consistently went out of his way to say it wasn’t the ‘white man’s’ fault – completely disregarding the fact that the white male government of the time period sent whoever to the frontier and wrote the Homestead Act.

I know this isn’t very well written or explained, but it just really bothered me. I think it was the fact that the man who kept talking didn’t acknowledge that many people who came to the US had agency – they had the option, it might have been the lesser of two evils, but it was still an option. The Native American’s didn’t have agency, or they had it stripped from them.

Recommendation: It’s a beautiful novel and a beautiful film. Both the writing and the cinematography I felt captured the expanse and natural beauty of the west. I will say I agreed that this was a utopic view of Native American culture.

Opening Line: “Lieutenant Dunbar wasn’t really swallowed. But that was the first word that stuck in his head.”

Closing Line: “Their time was running out and would soon be gone forever.” (Whited out.)

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14 thoughts on “Book 113: Dances with Wolves – Michael Blake”

    1. Well Blake wrote it as a screenplay but couldn’t get anyone interested and then he met Costner and Costner said to write it as a novel and he’d buy the rights. And that happens after a good while. The novel definitely added a good bit of what was missing from the film.

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    1. It really was. I considered walking out twice but restrained myself. I think what was most upsetting was not knowing if he actually meant it or if he was just saying it to be controversial. I think it’s the first 😦

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  1. I haven’t even seen the movie, sadly, and I had no idea they turned the script into a book. I should probably at least watch it at some point.

    Those kind of discussions, like you encountered in your book club, drive me crazy. I always come out of them replaying it in my mind, finding different ways of explaining it to them that might have convinced them they were wrong. Sometimes you just have to understand that some people are idiotic beyond help, unfortunately. And it’s often the loud talkative ones. I’m sure you weren’t the only one who left frustrated.

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    1. Yeah it’s always interesting to learn the back story behind a novel. Especially when they have an interesting one like this one.

      And I agree that it’s always the vocal ones. If there hadn’t been anyone else arguing on my side I would’ve probably walked out.

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  2. I’ve been meaning to read this. I’ll put it on my list. I can see why the book club discussion upset you. It is hard to believe that people can say such things. I know hindsight is 20/20, but even during the time I think the actions taken by the government and people were not justified. Decimating a people to take their land is not a wonderful way to spread civilization in my opinion.

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    1. When it comes down to it that’s what really got me – not that he was saying it, but that he couldn’t understand that we weren’t blaming them or that we weren’t demonizing them. He just kept pushing forward saying the whites were completely innocent and them or the government couldn’t be held responsible and the natives deserved to lose their land because ‘might is right.’

      It’s sad really, it ruined what turned out to be a really good novel. I hope you like it if you get around to reading it.

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