The Corps of Discovery in Fiction and Poetry
The Lewis and Clark expedition is certainly the historical event that launched a thousand books, and I swear most of them are now on my shelves. But in addition to the various editions of the journals and the nonfiction works covering every imaginable L&C related topic, I've collected a fair number of works of fiction and poetry.
One of the earliest fictitious treatments of the expedition was Eva Emery Dye's The Conquest: The True Story of Lewis and Clark, published in 1902. In 1943, Della Gould Emmons published Sacajawea of the Shoshones, which became the inspiration for The Far Horizons, a deliciously awful 1954 Hollywood distortion of expedition history.
But here I feature some of the more recent creative works inspired by Lewis and Clark. These range from a "serious" literary undertaking like Brian Hall's I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company (2003) to a couple works that are downright quirky.
Hall's "novelized" account of the expedition may be controversial to some L&C buffs because he joins the speculation that Meriwether Lewis may have been gay. I heard the author interviewed on NPR, saying that he wanted readers to think about how a homosexual man at that time and place might organize his emotional life.
Hall thought Lewis' invitation to Clark to join the expedition as a co-captain, an invitation that included the line that became the title of the book, was a rather odd thing for a military venture. The author suggests that Lewis understandably hoped his colleague, whom he trusted and admired, would agree to go on this journey and provide a friend's logistical and emotional support. (He does not suggest that Lewis and Clark had any sort of sexual interaction.)
The cover of Brian Hall's 2003 novel featuring a photograph by Edward S. Curtis.
The other interesting aspect of this book is that the author uses very different writing styles to depict the different characters' points of view. I know from looking at readers' comments on Amazon that some people couldn't handle it.
In a used book store in Butte, Montana, I found a little paperback "novel of Sacagawea" that I had not known about before: Streams to the River, River to the Sea, by Scott O'Dell (1986). I haven't read it yet, but the book cover promises "adventure and love" for our "brave Indian princess." According to the back of this book, which is written in first person through Sacagawea's eyes, "My fate led me here, to Captain Clark, a man I am beginning to love -- a dangerous emotion in this perilous uncharted land . . . ."
Princess Sacagawea standing in a birch bark, Hiawatha-style canoe, pointing the way for her buckskin and fur cap-clad compatriots.
The notion of a Clark and Sacagawea love affair is a cliche in Lewis and Clark lore and goes back to the 1940s. People seem very reluctant to give it up, however, despite the lack of evidence.
And speaking of Clark and love, a new "historical novel" by Pat Decker Nipper (2004) presents the story of Clark and Rose, the Nez Perce woman with whom he supposedly fathered a son. The back cover of Love on the Lewis and Clark Trail tempts us with their story:
"Despite William and Rose's attraction to each other, he intended to stay away from her because he knew they had no future together. After spending the winter at Fort Clatsop, on what is now the Oregon coast, however, he changed his mind."
A "charming romance" based on the L&C journals and Nez Perce oral history.
An example of a love scene, after Rose lets Clark win a race on their horses:
"All right, what's the prize?" he teased, as they came to a halt in the lush meadow grasses.It may not be highbrow literature, but I must admit, it is rather fun to see how the various authors portray the personalities and motivations of the characters.
He pulled her from her horse and lay her down in the grass. "I'll take my prize now," he said. She was all too willing to give it to him.
[To be continued . . . . .]