On Nathaniel Philbrick's "Mayflower" & Evan S. Connell's "Son of the Morning Star"

Nathaniel Philbrick is on a roll: Several years ago he won the National Book Award for In the Heart of the Sea (2000), about the wreck of the whaling ship Essex, which was staved in by a whale in the 1830s and became the impetus for Melville’s Moby Dick. (Melville is believed to have actually met the captain, Owen Chase, who survived the shipwreck and impossible long journey in a small boat to shore, a saga marked by the sailors having to cannibalize the dead, and even kill the living, to survive.) A couple years back Philbrick’s Mayflower came out and didn’t get quite the attention of In the Heart of the Sea, but it’s an outstanding book of early American history, especially the history of European immigrants clashing with Native Americans. The main focus of the book is King Phillip’s War, its causes, events, and aftermath, which is essentially the first volley in three centuries of Indian Wars. Mayflower makes a great bookend for Evan S. Connell’s Son of the Morning Star (1984), which is nominally about George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. But Son encompasses most of the Plains Indian Wars of the late 19th century. Both books have a rhetorical angle that suggest ‘it didn’t have to happen this way,’ and both books are good at setting the events in historical context. Evan S. Connell is also a knockout novelist, most famous for Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, novels that seemed well ahead of their time. 
There’s an eerie symmetry to the timing of King Phillip’s War (1676) and the Battle of the Little Bighorn (1876), with the Revolutionary War (1776) sandwiched between: Flash forward to the end of the Vietnam War (1976). It makes you wonder what 2076 will bring: The end of the Chinese War?
From a 21st century perspective, the gruesome violence of 17th century Massachusetts is shocking. It seems that beheading was a common occurrence. There’s always someone getting his head chopped off and placed on a pike. At the end of the war, King Phillip, a Pokanoket (Indian tribe close to Plymouth) sachem or leader, is killed, his head chopped off, and placed on the gates of Plymouth, where it stood for twenty years. It seems pretty common for the unlucky in this conflict to be burned alive, torn apart by dogs, drawn and quartered, or tortured. 
This horrific violence puts me in mind of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and The Road: When I first read Blood I thought it offered an exaggerated, over-the-top vision of the Texas/Mexico border violence of the 19th century. I later learned that McCarthy did a good deal of research about the Glanton gang. This is lifted from Wikipedia: “Much of the book is based on Glanton gang member Samuel Chamberlain‘s My Confession, which has been criticized as unreliable, but Blood Meridian is historically accurate in general, and includes numerous references to contemporary occurrences.” I now think it’s more accurate than not, as brutal as it is. When I first read The Road I thought it had that similar outrageousness, projected onto a future apocalypse. Considered through the lens of 17th century violence, perhaps The Road is also more “accurate” than we would like to believe.

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