When I started to read this book, I was a bit skeptical. I had already read William Steele’s book The Man with the Silver Eyes and had mixed thoughts about it. I thought the same would be true about this book. Boy was I wrong!
It’s September at the Rabun’s cabin in backwood Tennessee. The weather is hot and dry – the kind that Injuns love and often attack during. Over the last few years, the Chickamauga Indians have attacked their settlement and burned all the cabins down every September. The families have almost come to expect ot of ‘em. Expect it and hate ‘em for it.
Finally the news comes – Chickamauga raiding parties have been sighted not far from the Rabun’s cabin. Along with the rest of the families, the Rabuns trundle up to Amos Thompson’s fort. Every year they’ve held off the attack there. They expect to do the same this year.
But problems arise when the Logan family seeks entrance into the fort. Of course, Traitor Logan – that Injun lover and the head of the family – is nowhere to be seen; he’s fighting on the Indians’ side. But what should the settlers do with the rest of the family? Punish them for their father’s sake? Or allow them to enter and perhaps spy for their father? And what about the raiding Indians? Will they finally penetrate the fort, or will the settlers hold them off?
Like I said at the beginning of my review, I had previously read William Steele’s book The Man with the Silver Eyes and had found it to be only so-so. Because of this I was not expecting all that much out of Flaming Arrows. But I found it to be exceptional.
To begin my praises I will quote and affirm what author Jean Fritz said in the Forward to Flaming Arrows.
“Only a skillful writer can tell a story that is true to its times and wind up with a truth that speaks to all times.” [pg. ix]
Flaming Arrows was probably the most thoughtful, developed children’s story that I have ever read. Rather than presenting black and white, easy to solve problems with stereotypical villains, Mr. Steele presented a landscape where moral challenges don’t just come from your enemies; they also spring from your friends.
The theme in this story is fathers and sons: how does the legacy of the father affect the son? In Chad’s case, the legacy is positive. Chad admires his father greatly, looks up to him, is proud of him. When Mr. Robun stands on the side of the Logans, Chad is shocked and of a different mind, but he refuses to show his friends that he disagrees with his father. Although he resents their shunning, he prefers to stand by his father than gain back his friends’ trust by repudiating his father. But at the same time that he is feeling resentful that he is blamed for his father’s actions, he himself is blaming Josiah Logan for his father’s actions.
Josiah has a negative legacy from his father. Because of Mr. Logan’s shiftless, neglectful behavior, Josiah has been forced to function as the head of the household, providing food and looking after his mother and little siblings. Although innocent himself, the settlers view him only through the lens of who his father is and his traitorous ways. They have no interest in allowing Josiah to prove himself. Even Chad feels hatefully towards Josiah until he realizes that not all fathers and sons have the same sympathetic relationship that he has with his father.
Chad stared. He wondered what it would be like to have a father who was a traitor and who wouldn’t even try to feed his family. Wouldn’t even try! Why, his own father would starve to death before he’d let his family go hungry. [pg. 75]
In the end, both Chad and the rest of the settlers learn to value Josiah and the rest of his family, realizing that he has no control over the irresponsible actions of his father. But their prior prejudice very nearly costs the lives of every person in the fort.
In one scene, the fort is attacked. I found it to be exciting, but not gruesome. People are shot and tomahawked, but there is little to no blood described.
In a different scene, the Indians have put a dead white man on display before the village. One of the little boys asks what happened to the man’s head, and later cries because it was cut off.
One young boy displays a ‘madstone’ – a stone taken from the stomach of an animal and which is said can extract venom from a wound. I did a bit a looking around on the internet – it seems people are still arguing about whether or not the madstone really works or not. Some say it is pure superstition; others say its powers have been observed. What can I say?
There was an underlying theme of tough play among the boys at camp. They often fell into wrestling matches with a fervency that seemed outlandish to my mind but probably makes sense to boys. An older boy teases a younger boy about Indians wanting to eat him. The younger boy responds by “accidentally” spilling water all over him.
Amos tells two boys an obvious but harmless tall tale.
‘Dang’ is used three times.
Conclusion. A very worthwhile story addressing the complexities of human relations set during an historical period in American history.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret