C. S. Lewis distinguished between factual history and history stories told to instill virtue in those who hear them. James Daugherty's biography Daniel Boone is the second kind of history, less about the data of Boone's wildly adventurous life, and more about his legendary humility, bravery, and unconquerable spirit.
This is undoubtedly one of the most action-packed books ever written. Every two or three pages (and frequently more often than that) Daniel Boone fights Indians, or escapes from them, or wanders into the wilderness to hunt and trap, or explores unknown regions of the new American West, primarily the beautiful land that would come to be called Kentucky.
James Daugherty writes Daniel Boone like poetic saga or Medieval epic, but for American readers. The language is both homespun and grandiose, earthy and heroic, describing Boone's exploits in larger-than-life terms. Daugherty also illustrates, with many colorful lithographs that literally show Boone striding across mountain ranges, building forts, and fighting his enemies.
No one is weak or dishonest, unless they're bad. But even the bad guys are mostly noble and powerful, the good guys have continent-sized chests and muscles like the Mississippi River, the woman are round-limbed and lusty, and the earth itself is huge, unyielding, and mysterious. There is room only for the gods, goddesses, and mythic beasts of the early American West.
There are real dates, characters, and events grounding this brief biography in reality, but even these are couched in mythic terms, such as the description of Abraham Lincoln's grandparents who accompanied Boone into Kenucky. His meeting with John James Audubon is a little less tall, but even then we get the sense that Boone's hunting prowess may be somewhat exaggerated.
Daniel Boone forged a highway for the new nation of the United States of America through constant exploration, Indian fighting, and pioneering. Daugherty portrays all this, though of course Boone's stride was as long as any other man's, his brood of children came about in the normal way, and his skills as fighter and trapper were learned rather than innate.
Some readers may be put off by an evident pro-America propagandistic bent in Daugherty's narrative. While he is mildly jingoistic at times, he never portrays the Indians in less than a sympathetic light, and the America he celebrates is one of democratic ideals and independence. Such sentiments were in high demand in 1940, shortly before official U. S. involvement in World War II.
Children need heroes untainted by darkness and evil. They should, of course, understand that all people are sinful and in need of Christ's salvation, but they also need figures of the past to imitate and respect. The Bible-reading, wilderness-taming, mighty Daniel Boone of James Daugherty's imagination is just such a hero. Highly recommended.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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