Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Buckskin Brigades - Chapter 13 - Let's Retcon the First Four Chapters

This chapter really starts out on the wrong foot.

Throughout the winter, the girl Bright Star

Yellow Hair is usually referred to as Yellow Hair by the narration, but he's never called "boy," he's either a man or a young man.  Saddling his love interest with a diminutive feminine pronoun is at best insulting, or at worst an indication that he's courting someone a few years younger than he should be.

had been suffering from the growing conviction that it was her action that had driven Yellow Hair to accept the mad plan of the Grand Council.

My first response is to change Bright Star's name to States-the-Obvious, because after all she did wind up Yellow Hair before the meeting in Chapter 4.  But what's this about accepting the "mad plan" of the Grand Council?  They just voted to continue trading their furs with the men to the north for guns they could use to resist the invaders from the east, and to kill "Fork-Tongue" on sight.  It was Yellow Hair who suggested sending someone (him) to learn the ways of the Kitchi-Mokan.  Could States-the-Obvious' guilt be causing her to misremember things?

Time after time she had spoken of it to canny old White Fox and even though he assured her that Yellow Hair had been wholly under orders and had neither advanced nor seconded the scheme except to obey it, Bright Star, each time, uneasily remembered the fury into which she had goaded Yellow Hair.

No, everyone is remembering Chapter 4 wrong.  It was Yellow Hair who advanced the scheme, and enough of the others seconded it to send him, alone, on this badly thought out mission.  And while they were discussing this, they mentioned that Bright Star was probably listening to the whole thing from the lodge door - White Fox even addressed her during a speech.  So what the hell?

Guess it wouldn't do for the protagonist's girlfriend to not be worried and guilty while he was gone.  Hopefully Remembers-Things-Wrong won't get the idea to go looking for Yellow Hair with her six-year-old sister in tow.

We get more about what happened between Yellow Hair accepting the mission and actually leaving on it, which the author wasted no time on in Chapter 5 but for whatever reason has decided to cover now, in the middle of Yellow Hair's big action scene.  After the Grand Council, Yellow Hair avoided Bright Star, which led her to believe that he had "forgotten her completely, taking it for granted that Long Bow would become her husband."  I have looked and looked, and can find no mention of this Long Bow before this chapter.

The narration unnecessarily explains that she is wrong and "This was in no wise [sic] the case," and Yellow Hair still had every intention of claiming Bright Star as his sits-beside-him woman.

But a man

Not a boy.

of Yellow Hair's active temperament does not long brood over the problems of love.  Instead of thinking, he acts.

Yeah, we noticed.

His whole strategy of life is built around the basic belief that furious motion will overcome the most weighty intrigues.

Which is why Yellow Hair is currently pinned down in a trading room, trying to fend off two forts' worth of men all by his lonesome.

It was action to go away to the fort of the Nor'Westers.  It was galling inaction to stay still and argue with a youth of considerable wealth.

Wait, who?  Bright Star?  Or is his rival Long Bow rich by Pikuni measures, making this a classic tale of a poor boy from the fringe of society competing with the proper rich kid for a girl's affections?

Yellow Hair's departure and the spectacular nature of his mission, encompassing as it did the welfare of the entire Pikuni people, gave him an opportunity for which all men of courage pray. He was sacrificing his own interests and perhaps even his life for the good of all---and there is nothing more glorious than that.

Yes, yes, let's all bow down and worship the fearless, heroic Yellow Hair.  Let's not reflect how his "selfless" mission is largely an attempt to win Bright Star's esteem (just like Yellow Hair's enthusiasm for killing Tushepaws back in Chapter 1), or wonder once again why this vital task is being entrusted not only to one warrior, but a hot-headed rookie at that.  Or question how much praise Yellow Hair deserves if he's already given up on the "understand the honkies" part of his mission.

Anyway, Bright Star passes the winter convinced that she's sent Yellow Hair to his death, and when the chinook sweeps the snow from the plains, geese return north, and the buffalo start drowning trying to cross the thinning ice so that their brown corpses dot the riverbanks for miles(!), Bright Star worries that Yellow Hair should've returned home by now.  Because how long could it take to learn everything about an alien people, anyway?

So one morning she grabs Magpie the hostage-slave and tells him to get two of Yellow Hair's horses and one of his saddles, promising him some new moccasins if he's a good boy.

"If you mean to help Yellow Hair, I need no reward except to accompany you."

"You're very brave, Magpie."

"Anyone is brave when you smile."

Adorable.  Magpie lies to the horse herd guards so they fetch the steeds, then lies to White Fox about needing Yellow Hair's gun and saddle so he can bag an antelope, then takes them all to the village outskirts.

Presently Bright Star came to him. She had substituted leggings and shirt for her beaded elkskin dress and, at a hasty glance, appeared to be an extraordinarily handsome Pikuni warrior. She was slender and supple and the cool dignity of her face made her appear far wiser than her twenty summers.

A twenty-year-old girl.  No, I'm not dropping that, I'm still annoyed.

It's only at this point that she explains why they're gearing up for a trip - Bright Star had a dream last night of Yellow Hair ill on a square bed with a serpent coiled on his chest, preparing to strike.  Problem is, women aren't supposed to have prophetic visions, so Bear Claws dismissed it, Long Bow said it must've been something she ate, White Fox insisted Yellow Hair could take care of himself, and Lost-in-Mountains admitted he was also worried but said that the weather wasn't right for traveling north.

As a side note, that everyculture website says that Blackfoot medicine men or women received visions that helped them heal their kin, which suggests that sacred dreams are not exclusive to folks with Y-chromosomes.

So Bright Star and Magpie ride north to check on their friend, planning to watch the fort from hiding and signaling him "somehow" to see if they can't convince him to come home.  Though Bright Star worries that may be difficult since he's surely mad with him, Magpie isn't convinced.

"He loves you."

"After I let Long Bow fight with him?

You did?  Um, was that something I missed?  Maybe my copy is missing some pages or something.

Magpie, if you ever love a girl, remember that there is never such a thing as choosing between two.  A maiden may madden you with another man but if she thinks she loves both, she loves neither.

So... Bright Star doesn't love Yellow Hair?

Come, Magpie, before somebody finds out that I have taken pemmican and clothing from my brother's lodge."

As Magpie was no older than fourteen,

Oh good, he's a teenager, so this isn't as miserably stupid as the Chrissie-Bittie situation in Battlefield Earth.

and he felt untold responsibilities to his knight's lady, he would have allowed his tongue to be cut out before he would have communicated her plan to anyone.

I'm choosing to believe that Hubbard is using the knight-squire relationship to describe Yellow Hair and Magpie because it's a familiar metaphor for his audience, and not as a sign of his latent Anglophilic tendencies.

So the two ride north, carefully watching for hostile Cree or whites, and sleeping in turns with one always standing guard over the other.  They make the six-day trek in five days, half a day longer than it took Yellow Hair and White Fox, but still not too shabby.  Unfortunately, their navigation is a bit off - Magpie has never been to Fort Chesterfield, and Bright Star only went once that day the guys placed Yellow Hair under armed guard.  So they end up coming across the site of McGlincy's ambush of Motley's barge.

And also unfortunately, Bright Star is... well... see, the Pikuni, like all Native Americans, are a dark-haired people.  Yellow Hair is the only blond guy she's known (what a happy coincidence there weren't any blond traders at the fort that day she visited).  So she's under the impression that Yellow Hair is the only blond guy in the world.  It's kind of logical.

And triply unfortunately, on his way to demand justice, good old' Motley stopped to bury the dead, but he didn't have time to do a good job of it.  The wolves have dug up the shallow graves near the riverbank, scattering bones and more importantly a "ghost-head," or skull with jawbone still attached (cue chapter title).  And though the owner of the ghost-head was scalped as per McGlincy's ruse, there's still a couple of yellow hairs stuck to it.

Conclusion: Yellow Hair has been killed for some reason, taken to a river a ways from the fort, and scalped!  Bright Star slumps over in shock, Magpie objects that "He---he can't be dead!  He can't be!"  And they go right home.

Yeah.  No effort to spy on the fort in the desperate hope that this is some different yellow-haired skull, no suicidal attempt at vengeance, Bright Star, "Alive in body only," just turns her horse south and goes home with Magpie, expecting that soon she'll have no choice but to marry Long Bow, even though the sources I've consulted suggest that Blackfoot women were allowed to accept or decline marriage proposals.  There's even sympathetic rumbles of thunder to underline their despair.  End chapter.

That was... well.  The main thing is that this chapter interrupts an action scene so that other characters can be put under the mistaken assumption that our hero is dead, but there's no dramatic tension for us or anything.  We're not quite halfway through the book yet, and it's highly unlikely that our beloved hero would be killed off-screen, assuming the author intends to kill him at all.  Even if I'm wrong and Hubbard is willing to kill Yellow Hair without showing us his dramatic death, and even if this chapter is taking place after Yellow Hair's hypothetical defeat at the fort, it seems unlikely that he would be dragged all the way to the river, scalped, and buried.  Maybe we're meant to be worried whether Yellow Hair will ever make it home to win Bright Star's hand, now that she's given up on him?  But why couldn't that wait until, say, after next chapter?

The other thing about this chapter is its confusing relationship with previous chapters.  There's all these allusions to things we just haven't seen - some sort of fight with Broken Bow, Yellow Hair's behavior before leaving for the fort - and what we have seen is suddenly presented in a different way.  It's awfully perplexing, and I know these characters don't have the benefit of being able to flip back to the start of the story to check the facts, but it feels like even in his first novel, Hubbard couldn't be bothered to go back and revise his work.  Like he had an idea for a rivalry between Yellow Hair and Long Bow mid-way through writing the book, and stuck some words describing it in this chapter instead of adding a chapter in the story's beginning that actually contained said conflict, or even a earlier mention of Long Bow for that matter. 

But maybe I'm wrong and that was in no wise the case.

Back to Chapter 12

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