The Light in the Forest – Conrad Richter (1953)

The Light in the ForestThis title is the story of a young white boy who is captured by a First Nation tribe at an early age and grows up in their culture. A decade or so later, the boy (now 15) is traded back to the white settlers and to his original family, and naturally, there are all sorts of cultural clashes that occur as they all try to make the transition. What’s notable in this book, I think, is that it was written with a sympathetic viewpoint towards the First Nation people (even though the vocabulary refers to the group as “savages”). The overall view is that the FN people are equal to whites which was not a common perspective in 1950’s white America. The story does veer awfully close to the “Noble Savage Beast” idea, but generally speaking, the tribe is presented in a positive light.

What I also appreciated was the non-predictable story line. I had expected “Boy raised in tribe, leaves tribe for original white family, does not assimilate and goes back to happiness with tribe family”, but it’s much more twisty and turn-y than that and I did not predict that ending. I’d be interested in sitting in a typical high school (or perhaps junior high) classroom when this is discussed to hear what the students think.

Richter and his wife were living in Pennsylvania before they moved to New Mexico in 1928 for his wife’s health (compare with Mildred Walker who moved west in 1926). Richter had grown up chatting with the descendants of pioneers and so was familiar with their stories and history, and the story seems pretty true to form.

This was a very quick read, so I read it all on one Sunday afternoon and enjoyed it. It’s definitely a “high school read” (in terms of basic literary discussion), so it was ok. Richter wrote other work, one novel winning the National Book Award and another winning the Pulitzer Prize so he must have other more in-depth work out there. I’ve not heard a lot about this name though. Another name for the TBR at a later point methinks.

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