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moccasin trail

10 september 2023

The less said about Eloise Jarvis McGraw's 1953 Newbery runner-up Moccasin Trail, the better, so I will keep this brief.

Moccasin Trail is in the general Leatherstocking genre of adventure tales about a white man who goes native in North America but always feels the inborn pulse of his white blood drawing him back to civilization and away from savagery. Time was, I would have gotten fascinated at unpacking the appalling ideologies of such books, but fatigue must be setting in, because I can't manage this one.

Our hero Jim thinks and speaks in an eye dialect that was McGraw's (and many another writer's) idea of what a western hero's language should be like. That adds a tiresome linguistic filter to the book's other objectionable qualities.

McGraw is not unaware or disrespectful of Native cultural features and traditions. But the whole book is premised on their rejection, and on the reassertion of racial immanence. Of course it's dated, seventy years' worth, but that does not excuse Moccasin Trail; it was racially suspect when it was published. There are any number of other old books, even culturally appropriative ones, that kids might pick up in preference to this one.

McGraw, Eloise Jarvis. Moccasin Trail. 1952. New York: Puffin [Penguin], 1986. PZ 7 .M47853Mo