Book Review Extract: Chris Kohler’s Final Fantasy

The cover of Chris Kohler's book Final Fantasy V from Boss Fight Books.

Image courtesy of Boss Fight Books.

Disclosure and Disclaimer

My thanks to Boss Fight Books for sending me an advance copy of this book for the purpose of review.

The Review

In his book Final Fantasy V from Boss Fight Books, Chris Kohler artfully combines the story of a blooming ’90s otaku with that of the development of the “Lost Final Fantasy”. Kohler manages this blend of stories largely by shifting between them in a way that makes each inform and enrich the other…

You can find the rest of the review at NSCZach.com.

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Thoughts on the exclusivity of the Zelda Wii U demo

Nintendo’s big E3 event starts tomorrow: Tuesday, June 14, 2016. But they still have to announce something that I’ve been eagerly awaiting since they announced how Zelda-heavy their presence at the show will be.

No, it’s not voice acting.

Nope, I’m not waiting on a confirmation of being able to choose your gender in the game.

I’m not even all that worried about how many dungeons may or may not be in the game.

What I’ve been waiting for is word from Nintendo that the demo of Zelda Wii U wouldn’t just be limited to 500 “lucky” gamers who can get to the New York Nintendo store in time.

Every article I’ve read about this since the news broke a few weeks ago has angered me. It’s downright pissed me off. This move strikes me as being terribly exclusionary.

Nintendo’s streaming the game is fine, but games aren’t movies. I don’t want to just see what Zelda Wii U looks like. I want to experience the game for myself — even if it’s just a demo. And Nintendo has the ability to let everyone play that demo — not just people who are able to give up their time and a few days’ pay to be able to camp out in front of New York City’s Nintendo store to be the first 500 people in line. Nintendo could let everyone who has a Wii U play the game.

And doesn’t letting a wider swath of people play the Zelda Wii U demo make more sense than giving only 500 people able to get to a very particular place outside of E3 a chance to try it?

Zelda isn’t some obscure underground game like Splatoon was before it was released. Hell, before Splatoon hit store shelves you could play a time sensitive-demo in one of a few “Global Testfires.” Likewise, and i nthe midst of the Zelda franchise, the Triforce Heroes demo included a time-sensitive window for co-op play. So if Nintendo is worried about A Zelda Wii U demo languishing on the Wii U, there’s no need — they could open it up for a few days during or after E3 and then take it down. It has been done before.

Besides, Zelda Wii U doesn’t need 500 loud voices. And, really, how many of those 500 people at New York City’s Nintendo store are going to be big name youtubers or game journalists? If there won’t be that many, then the press generated from the event will be minimal. But, if there are a ton of personalities among the 500 people playing, then the average Nintendo gamer is effectively being cut off from experiencing the demo first hand.

At this point in the game’s pre-release existence, after delays and rumours and announcements and teasers, Nintendo doesn’t need to convince an anointed few that Zelda is an amazing game to play (to play — not just to watch (unless that’s central to the NX’s “new way to play”)), they need to reassure just about all of their fans (most of whom are Wii U owners) that this game will be worth the wait until March 2017. Not that it looks like it will be worth the wait. But that it actually is worth the wait. And the best way to do that is with a widely available demo.

Now, unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to watch most of tomorrow’s event live. So if Nintendo does, Oprah-like, tell everyone to turn on their Wii U’s and that they all get the demo, I’ll miss it.

But such a show of openness seems unlikely. It seems that Nintendo has forgotten how successful pre-release demos can be. The Splatoon testfires generated a great deal of buzz for the game, and a demo for Zelda Wii U would help to clarify the hype that already exists for Zelda Wii U and build it up even more. To me, this focus on two cities in the States also suggests that Nintendo has also forgotten that most of their fans don’t live in LA or New York, or even the United States.

What do you think of how Nintendo has chosen to deliver the Zelda Wii U demo? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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The relationship between grammar and romance (Grammarly Sponsored Post)

I’m a huge fan of Shakespeare and Chaucer, the poetry and prose of old. Why? Because to me their writing, and the writing of others from their eras, is eloquent. This eloquent quality of older writing isn’t too surprising. But not because older writers are necessarily better writers.

Older writing tends to have this extra layer of eloquence because the difficulty of getting together the materials and resources needed for making books meant that you couldn’t just publish anything — what you turned into a book had to be carefully considered and planned out. And, of course, the same attention needed to be paid to what you wrote if you wanted it to last through the centuries.

Apparently, though, even if the written word is easier to publish than ever before, a little written eloquence still goes a long way in romance. Particular in online romance.

Recently, Grammarly teamed up with eHarmony and ran a study to see if there was any correlation between grammar and people’s success on the dating site.

To carry out the study, Grammarly looked at 10,000 of the matched couples that eHarmony’s matching algorithm put together. Out of those 10,000 matched couples, half pursued a relationship and the other half did not. All of the men and women in this sample of 10,000 couples answered questions with long form answers, and Grammarly’s software analyzed these answers to generate their findings on spelling and grammar. In the end, proper grammar won out over even confidence when it came to what both women and men looked for in the matches that the site made.

Here are the study’s findings in infographic form (courtesy of Grammarly):

An infographic from Grammarly and eHarmony showing the relationship between good grammar and spelling and romantic success.

So, based on these findings, it looks like even though our world is wrapped in a blanket of written, printed, and digital words, the quality of those words still matters. Even in the dating world.

As to why grammar should be a factor in finding romance, well, my guess is that proper grammar reflects on a person’s intelligence, attention to detail, and overall awareness. And, since spellings became normalized in the 1700s, maybe proper spelling in particular suggests to prospective partners that those who use it are aware of the rules of the social world and are therefore more likely to come out on top.

Whatever the reason behind the importance of spelling and grammar for successful online dating, as you go forth in your romantic endeavours today, tomorrow (Valentine’s Day!), and any day, remember that confidence is important, but more important still is knowing when and where to use “whom.”

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The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past comic a triumph

The cover art for the collected edition of Shotaro Ishinomori's The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past comic.

Introduction

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is one of my favourite games of all time. But I don’t remember if I’d read the comic as it was serialized in Nintendo Power when I was a kid or not. We had a big gap in our Nintendo Power subscription for a reason that I no longer remember, after all. But, thankfully, I didn’t need to hunt down a string of old Nintendo Power issues to read this comic when I was given a newly run print edition of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past comic as a gift.

Summary

A Link to the Past is the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) instalment of the popular Legend of Zelda series of video games. In the game you play as Link, a young boy who travels the land of Hyrule and a hidden dimension known as the Dark World on a quest to stop evil from overrunning Hyrule. As far as gameplay goes, this game was something of a return to form for the series, since its basic mechanics are much more similar to The Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) than those of The Legend of Zelda: the Adventure of Link. Gone are the side-scrolling and experience point systems of the NES sequel and once again there’s the exploration of a huge map in a 3/4 top down view.

Story-wise, A Link to the Past sees Link first gathering the relics required to unlock the sacred Master Sword so that he can fight against the evil wizard Agahnim. Unfortunately, this battle ends in something of a draw and Link is thrown into the Dark World, a place that has been warped by the evil heart of the game’s main villain: Ganon.

In the Dark World Link uses the items and skills he’s acquired on his quest so far to retrieve the 7 crystalized maidens (the last of which is Zelda herself) so that he can destroy the seal on the fortress where Agahnim is now hiding. Having done so, Link faces off against Agahnim once more, only to have the wizard reveal that he has been Ganon the whole time. Link then faces Ganon in a final showdown in which he defeats the brute and brings light to the Dark World and restores peace to Hyrule through the sacred power of the Triforce.

All of that probably sounds all right for something that you’ll be mostly playing through instead of reading through. So then how does the comic book tackle this very “single player” sort of story?

Simple. Shotaro Ishinomori just made up more story.

Making a Video Game into a Comic Book

One of the strengths of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past comic is that there really isn’t much deviation from the path that you take in the game. Link still goes and finds the pendants to reach the Master Sword, and then he still rescues some crystallized maidens so that he can ultimately save Zelda, face Agahnim, and fight Ganon. The differences between the game and the comic come in when Shotaro Ishinomori adds in a small cast of support characters.

So, instead of following Link alone as he goes from place to place saving and slaying, more emphasis is placed on Link as the unlikely hero. In the comic, Link is portrayed as the boy who is thrust into the role of hero without really knowing the first thing about sword fighting or ancient evils.

But, thanks to the team that Ishinomori adds into the story, the burden of improving and learning all of these things is taken off of Link’s (and the reader/player’s) shoulders.

So, for example, when in the game the player would have to just look at the in-game map and find the next dungeon, Ishinomori has the team tell Link through the same sort of telepathic stones featured in the game.

And, for those instances when Link faces an enemy that’s particularly tough, Ishinomori has introduced Roam. Roam is a character who’s an older and much more experienced fighter who has some relation to Link as a fellow descendant of the Knights of Hyrule who comes in and saves Link.

Since he has these supports and doesn’t need to become the powerhouse that players almost inevitably become by the end of the game, Link’s shortcomings in the comic are usually used for slight comedic effect. But because we don’t see Link becoming as powerful as he gets in the game there’s never a sense that he can handle himself all by himself. So, when Link’s up against incredible odds (as he inevitably has to be every now and then — this comic is still a shonen hero story), there’s still quite a bit of tension and excitement around the question of how he’ll get out alive.

Getting out Ahead of the Games

What’s really remarkable to me as a fan of the Zelda series, though, is that some of Ishinomori’s ideas come up in later Zelda games. The best example of this is the team that Link has working with him to stop Agahnim and, ultimately, Ganon.

In just about every Zelda game there are a few characters that you interact with regularly, but it’s not until (and since) Twilight Princess that you have an actual team of people who act as an organized resistance to the evil looming over the world and who are dedicated to giving you direction and advice.

This comic, (aside from the 80s cartoon segments in the Super Mario Bros. Super Show), is also the first time that Link’s accompanied by a fairy who helps him along his way. Since the comic’s original copyright is for 1991, the same year the game was released, and Ocarina of Time wasn’t released until 1998, it definitely seems like Ishinomori was the first to bring a few ideas to the series that have since become iconic.

A Word on the Art Style

The art in this comic isn’t particularly anime-esque as is the case with the manga versions of the other games in the Legend of Zelda series. Instead, it’s got a slightly more Western feel to it (though it’s still tinged with the playfulness of Akira Toriyama and the colourfulness of Studio Ghibli). I think that this look gels quite well with the story, since it complements the series’ roots in a mix of European and Japanese romances (in the old sense of the term) and lore.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the strength of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past comic is just how well Shotaro Ishinomori managed to take a video game with a fairly generic story, add a few elements, and make something that’s somehow more archetypal and more relatable.

The addition of the support characters like the team that helps direct Link (made up of the old sage Sahasrahla, a woman and child from Kakariko Village, and an inventor) and the mysterious fighting ace Roam somehow elevate the archetypical hero’s journey story found in every Zelda game just from being generic to being something enticing and compelling. That is what, I think, makes The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past comic stand out as such a great re-imagining of the game.

If you’re a Zelda fan or just enjoy a ripping heroic yarn, pick this one up. If you’re a major Zelda fan or really interested in fantastical adventure stories, you’ll probably keep it around for quite a while.

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The Crying of Lot 49: Great read, but a little dated

Introduction

I read Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 for two reasons. David Foster Wallace, one of my favourite authors, listed Thomas Pynchon as an influence. And, one of my best friends recommended this book specifically as a kind of Pynchon sampler since The Crying of Lot 49 comes in at 152 pages, while most of Pynchon’s other works are at least four times that length.

With this in mind, I think there are two important questions that need answering:

1) Will I read more Thomas Pynchon after having had a taste?”

and

2) Did I like The Crying of Lot 49?

My answer to the first question is a definite “Yes!”

But my answer to the second questions starts off with a hesitant “Well…”

A Summary

Let’s start with a summary. The Crying of Lot 49 is about a woman named Oedipa Maas being summoned to co-execute the estate of her late ex-lover Pierce Inverarity with his lawyer Metzger.

Pierce was a tycoon in the truest sense of the word, a man who owned land all over California, had business holdings throughout the city of San Narciso (in which most of the story takes place), and who was fabulously wealthy. Period.

But. Thankfully. The Crying of Lot 49 isn’t about an ex-lover and a lawyer going through items and lots and arranging appraisals and keeping records. Instead, Oedipa starts to notice an image popping up around her after she’s summoned to co-execute Pierce’s estate – a curious symbol that she tries to figure out for the rest of the book.

This attempted unravelling takes her on a journey around southern California as she tracks down people and places related to a long forgotten but possibly still active secret organization. As people start to vanish and change around her she begins to wonder: is this all just a practical joke that Pierce used his deep pockets to set up? Is it a bunch of coincidences? Or, has she actually stumbled onto something bigger than herself that’s been brewing under the surface of society since before the Civil War?

Pynchon’s Influence on Wallace and Writing Styles

Having read The Crying of Lot 49 I can definitely see where Wallace was influenced by Pynchon. Both writers, even when using just a few hundred pages of words, make those pages dense.

Characters don’t so much move through the world in The Crying of Lot 49 as they experience emotions or events or thoughts or discoveries and those experiences alone carry them from physical place to physical place. The emphasis in this book is definitely on the interiority of Oedipa and as such, we’re implicitly told not to worry about too much outside of her perceptions of and reactions to things. There is a reality of actual events out there, but this is much more a book about living in and seeing as a particular character in a particular situation. Since this is a short book, this implicit conceit works quite well.

But, I think that Wallace outshines Pynchon when it comes to making the thicket of words accessible.

Pynchon’s thickets are so dense and similar that they seem more like ornate, but manufactured shrubbery. Wallace’s thickets, on the other hand, are hearty but nonetheless have a natural weave to them. And, once you find this weave, you can easily work your way through his thickets of words.

To put it another way, the dense passages in the Crying of Lot 49 read like something out of a literary noir novel, set pieces that say different things but nonetheless seem monolithic, while Wallace’s denser passages are like his characters’ streams of consciousness, unintelligible if you’re just skimming them, but recognizable once you get to know them.

Matters of style aside, I found Pynchon’s story of a largely academic hunt for the secret society’s origins and story quite fascinating. It’s not often that you read about someone going to a professor or a director for information about arcana and actually get strong, quick characterization that pulls you along. I was also thrilled to find some original songs in the book, care of a Beatles-like band called The Paranoids. It’s really neat how, even in such a relatively short book, Pynchon brings out so many elements that breathe life into the world of San Narciso and the life of Oedipa Maas.

An Ending?

I’m still not sure how I feel about the book’s ending, though. It finishes just as 2010’s Inception finished, with the biggest question that the story rose on the cusp of being answered, and so it’s not really a story about what it’s been about the whole time. It’s really more of a study in a character, a kind of roller coaster named Oedipa Maas, that you step on to, ride through its circuit, and then step off of without much of a conclusion except for the one that you draw yourself.

This is a fine way to end a novel that’s so concerned with a character’s inner life, and that obviously is trying to be something that the reader relates to, maybe even trying to be a metaphor or analogy for the moment of revelation that we all wait for at key moments in our lives.

But I can’t help but feel like this ending is a little disjointed with the rest of the book. The book’s plot follows the pattern of introducing a problem, working towards solving that problem, and then letting the search for a solution lead to other problems and situations. This pattern, to my mind, been the bread and butter of sitcoms for so long that its presence here, in a book that’s so much more about challenging the norms of narrative and expectation, feels wrong.

Having been published in 1966, I realize that my feeling that The Crying of Lot 49‘s ending is disjointed is largely the result of the order in which I’ve consumed culture, but I think that it’s the truly great works of literature and art and video games that defy the order of culture and stand above it.

Stepping back from that implication that The Crying of Lot 49 doesn’t rise above the culture around it, maybe a better approach to figuring out if I liked it would be to ask if The Crying of Lot 49 approaches this sitcom formula in a way that’s better than your average sitcom.

The book definitely does it in a much more dramatic way, with an ending that definitely caters more to the curious mind than the punch-line seeking funny bone, and with a deeper dive into the intellectual side of a topic than most sitcoms can ever hope to make. Also, by virtue of its being a book and Pynchon knowing his way around the medium, it’s also much more adept at capturing a character’s self than television ever will be as it currently is. But is that a point for The Crying of Lot 49 or one that’s moot because of the difference in media?

Conclusion

Ultimately, I think that The Crying of Lot 49 is a great way to get a taste of Thomas Pynchon (though having read none of his other stuff, I can’t say if it’s the signature taste). I think I’ll definitely read other Pynchon novels, too, but I don’t think that this one is a keeper.

So, if you want to get a sense of Thomas Pynchon’s style, go ahead and pick up a copy of The Crying of Lot 49. But I think the library’s a better bet for it than the bookstore.

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A raucously fun game: Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime

The box art for the North American release of Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime.

 

Introduction

Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime is what I would call a hidden gem for the Nintendo DS. I found this game on the discount rack at a Zellers when Zellers was going out of business here in Canada. It was among the Petz and licensed games.

Intrigued by the Dragon Quest brand and promise of an action adventure game in the franchise, I took it. Thankfully, it turns out that I didn’t take hot garbage from that rack (in this case, anyway).

The Rundown

Rocket Slime is an action adventure game set in the Dragon Quest universe. You play as a little blue slime — the classic early monster from most of the main Dragon Quest games. But, you’re not playing as a slime who’s trying to avoid destruction at the hands of a wet-behind-the-ears hero, instead you’re fighting as the hero in your own slime-centric story.

The game opens with the Plob, a gang of all sorts of monsters from the Dragon Quest games run by Platypunks, trying to get their hands on an artifact of great power called the Warrior Flute. In their attempt to find this artifact they destroy the capital of the country of Slimenia with a powerful tank, and capture all of its citizens save for you. So, it’s your job to go around the game’s various settings solving puzzles, fighting monsters, and freeing your fellow slimes.

Controls

The game’s controls are pretty simple. There aren’t any complicated combos, and the only actions you need to remember on the field are that “A” jumps and hovers, while “B” throws things that you have stacked on your head. But, to get things on your head in the first place, you’ll need to “elastoblast” things.

This special attack is easy to pull off: just hold down “A” and then press the direction that you want to fire off in on the D-Pad.

If any of those moves sound complex, don’t sweat it. You’ll be jumping, throwing, and elasto-blasting so much in this game that using them quickly becomes natural and nearly instinctive.

Though part of these control’s instinctive feel comes from the game’s featuring areas that are all designed in largely the same way.

General Design

This game features seven areas, and each includes a certain puzzling element that you’ll need to solve to fill in the map and to save every slime you can. But, within each area, these elements are more often repeated and made slightly more challenging rather than being rearranged or innovated on to build on the initial challenges found in each area.

A Favourite Feature: Tank Battles

Adding a welcome element of variety to the game are tank battles.

These fights are kind of like Dragon Quest-style puns on classic mech battles. They’re fairly ridiculous real-time battles in which you fire all manner of items (from rocks to chests, to swords, to meteors) from an upper and a lower cannon on your tank while your enemy does the same.

But, as part of these battles being real-time, the ammo you and your enemy fire have to make it through the air between your two tanks before they can do any damage. So you can block incoming fire with your own ammo, just as your opponent can with theirs.

During this fight, you also have to bring the ammo from dispenser chutes found around the inside of your tank to the cannons to load them up. As such, you need to watch your opponent’s fire to look for chances to block or intercept incoming attacks as well as openings for your own barrages. This extra need for tactics makes tank battles much more interesting than Rocket Slime‘s regular combat.

These special event fights also require a bit of forethought and planning as your tank can only carry 30 pre-loaded pieces of ammo which are cycled through over the course of each tank battle. Also, after a certain point in the game, you can bring a few of your fellow slimes on board as crew members who can perform various actions.

As icing on this incredibly destructive cake, once your opponent’s tank is out of HP you need to rush in and destroy its engine. Of course, you do this by breaking into the engine room and hitting the heart-shaped core with an elasto-blast.

Sound

Like most Dragon Quest games before and after it, Rocket Slime‘s music is excellent.

That said, though, there isn’t a new track for each area, or even for each boss. But, with a kind of retro charm, the songs that are repeated throughout the game are put together in such a way that they never become grating.

So long as you’re okay with things that are “charming.”

Overall Aesthetic

A huge part of Rocket Slime‘s aesthetic is a kind of wide-eyed wonder and happy-go-lucky sense of humour that really comes across in the upbeat nature of the music and the goofy voice sampling that’s sprinkled into a few tracks. Not to mention the puns — once again true to the Dragon Quest franchise.

In fact, almost every character’s name in the game is a pun involving a slime-like quality and a title or cultural reference. Just about every item also has a pun in its description or a kind of bright British proper-ness that works uncannily well with the music.

Gameplay and Replayability

The main part of Rocket Slime (the game proper, if you will) isn’t very long.

I clocked 15 and 1/2 hours finishing this game, likely because I went and rescued every slime and dabbled a little bit in the game’s tank battle coliseum. I can’t say that I’ll be replaying this game any time soon, but it’s definitely the sort of game that you can pick up and play through a chunk of a little mindlessly. Then there are other parts where you need to pay a little more attention so you can figure out how to reach the next slime or rare item that you can craft into new items with the game’s alchemy system.

Because of this mix of mindlessness and awareness, I think that Rocket Slime is a fair bit more replayable than most action adventure games. The fact that much of the game requires you to explore to find new routes and to collect all the slimes really builds up the sense that these areas hold secrets even when the area map’s been completely filled in.

In fact, if I had to compare how I feel about Rocket Slime‘s replayability to another game’s, I’d compare it to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

Rocket Slime doesn’t have as many secrets in it or any equipment to collect like A Link to the Past does, but both games offer a world in which exploration is rewarded and mindlessly stomping a bunch of enemies can easily lead into a sudden surge of interest in puzzling through how to get through a screen or how to get to a slime or item. In that way, it’s a game that’s well balanced between the kind of game you can play while listening to a podcast or watching something streaming and one that demands your attention.

And I think it’s this balanced quality of Rocket Slime‘s gameplay that makes it easy to play for fairly lengthy sessions without getting sick of it. Though another reason for that is that the game is mostly quite easy.

In classic Zelda fashion, you can max out your health at two rows of eight hearts. But only during the final boss did I come anywhere close to getting through even one row of health. Rocket Slime is definitely a very easy game when it comes to combat and health management. If you’ve played games before, you’re probably not going to see the game over screen. At least during the regular game — some of the later tank battles flattened me either because of the enemy tank’s HP or its firepower.

Conclusion

Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime‘s charming presentation, well-balanced (though not very varied) music, fun exploration-based levels, and sometimes surprisingly challenging tank battles make it a game that I think is worth finding. And, if you already have a copy, I think it’s worth keeping.

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Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha

Introduction

I read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha over quite an expanse of time, so I really don’t have a solid impression of it. However, it held together pretty nicely in my head, and I feel like I have a decent sense of it and its story.

Summary

The Song of Hiawatha is an 19th-century epic poem that tells various stories from Black Hawk and other Sac and Fox First Nations’ lore concentrated around an amalgamated character named Hiawatha. The poem follows Hiawatha from his childhood, through his growth to adulthood, and ultimately to his departure from the world, keeping a record of all of the supernatural figures and situations he encounters along the way.

The Importance of Poetry

In particular, I really appreciate the constant rhythm and metre that Longfellow keeps throughout. It’s really quite catchy and you can hear the drums in it. But I’m also kind of carrying this sense that that brings with it a bit of the racism and stereotyping of Longfellow’s day.

But, if you can look past that and see it as a work of poetry, I think Hiawatha‘s a great example of how you can string language together to create a steady and inviting rhythm. That alone makes this book worth reading if you’re looking for some long form poetry.

But, this book definitely shows its age when it comes to stereotypes. Most glaringly to me, is the Christian missionaries referring to the Jews as a “tribe accursed” (XXII.136). And though it seems like Longfellow took care to be sensitive according to the standards of his time, I’m sure there are some inaccuracies or embellishments that the Onondaga and Mohawk would find offensive or at the very least annoying (like changing the original main character’s name from “Manabozho” to “Hiawatha” likely just for the sake of prosody).

The Song of Hiawatha‘s Greatest Strengths

Still, as a cultural work I like Hiawatha because it’s a collection of mythology combined into a single linear tale.

At its heart, the poem is a European take on Onondaga/Mohawk mythology centred around a single hero much like the Greek and Roman myths of Hercules or Mithras.

As such, a single hero embarks on a journey through the natural and the supernatural and meets beings of both types along the way. Hiawatha learns of his powers, meets a wife, frees her from her captor, and then lives happily with her.

But then Longfellow, as if acknowledging the living, breathing heart of this mythology also includes the hero’s exit. But it’s not by sudden death or complicated scheme. Instead, Hiawatha has a vision and acknowledges the coming of the Europeans and the change they’ll bring that makes for a neat nod toward the historical record. Thus, instead of being something that happened in a vaguely connected past or golden age that seems to never have really appeared on record or has been embellished beyond recognition, there’s a clear implication that Hiawatha is a story of what came before the European arrival in the Americas.

Still a Little Problematic

Yet, as much as Longfellow takes the stories around Hiawatha, melds them together with artful words, and puts the whole thing into the frame of a European myth with great skill, I think the poem could be problematic for some. As steady as his rhythm is, and as respectful as he seems to be (as far as I, someone mostly unfamiliar with first nations’ stories and storytelling techniques, can tell), he’s still taking native stories and casting them in a European voice. He’s still appropriating these stories for a European audience. His words’ rhythm acknowledges the stories’ source probably as much as English can, though, and as much as a European man of the mid-1850s could, I think.

Conclusion

So, in short, I think that Hiawatha is a fantastic poem, an excellent retelling of native folklore and myth, but still a product of its time — albeit a sensitively made one.

So, check it out if you’re looking for a 19th-century epic poem that presents mythology and lore in a more engaging way than a summary of characters and events.

Question

Do you think the value of old poems is diminished if it includes problematic bits that would’ve been completely overlooked by the people who first read it?

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