- Into the Wilderness Dream: Exploration Narratives of the American West, 1500–1805 ed. by Donald A. Barclay, James H. Maguire, Peter Wild (review)
- Western American Literature
- University of Nebraska Press
- Volume 30, Number 1, Spring 1995
- pp. 108-110
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- Additional Information
108 Western American Literature fractured”that this noted author and photo-essayistwas hospitalized with chest pains and handed a lifetime prescription for digitalis. Nichols’s latest book, a lovely photo collection, is one product of his efforts to simplify and purify his existence. Admitting that his days often “still reek of personal contradictions and self-destructive impulses,”Nichols nonetheless has succeeded in treading the planet “with a lighter step . . . trying to mitigate even the smallest” harmful acts—trading his truck for a reconditioned bicycle, adopting a healthier diet, constantly conserving water and electricity, recycling most everything, buying only used clothing, even writing first drafts on the backs ofjunk-mail pieces. The color photographs in Keep It Simple are an elegant testimony to that success. Mainly close-ups of the commonplace—leaves, rippling water, a bit of rubblestone foundationwork, a bicycle bell—Nichols’ photos reflect a man very intentionally scaling down and back on life. Although a few are much more encompassing shots—a lone soul on a snow-covered stretch of high desert, a canyon sharply cut by late afternoon shadows—the photographs powerfully illustrate Nichols’realization there is “no need to seek hyperbole in order to praise the earth.” KeepIt Simpleis no mere coffee table book. Quite the contrary, in the short (fourteen pages) prose section that opens KeepIt Simple, Nichols makes it very clear that he has avery specific agenda, namely to convince people to do as he has done—to simplify their lives, to ease their assaulton the planet, and to stop talking about pollution and take positive steps to eliminate it. Acknowledging that he may be ridiculed for his idealistically “fabricating utopias in the sky,” Nichols argues “that it’s only by making attempts at such a utopia that any future will exist at all.” A thoughtful, beautiful book, Keep It Simple sounds a quiet, tranquil, difficult-to-ignore call to arms to defend the environment. ROBERT HEADLEY Southern State Community College, Ohio Into the Wilderness Dream: Exploration Narratives ofthe American West, 1500-1805. Edited by Donald A. Barclay, James H. Maguire, and Peter Wild. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1994. 398 pages, $45.00/$17.95.) This fascinating anthology of excerpts provides unsettling perspectives on any tidy theories about the development of American cultural studies. Assem bling awildly diverse mosaic of “historical”materials to illustrate the formation of fundamental patterns in American narrative, Into the WildernessDream both demonstrates broad continuities in American writings about the “West” and deconstructs any easy generalizations about them. Explorations such as these depend upon reliable and imaginative guides, Reviews 109 and fortunately for the reader the editors provide an expansive overview of difficult terrain. As the title suggests, the editors frame their presentation of these materials to reveal the most fundamental archetype associated with American writing—the quest to fulfill dreams in the wilderness. And the extensive editorial commentary on the myriad ways this theme is developed— at once informative, witty, and entertaining—constitutes one of the strengths of the collection. Introductory essays to each of the thirty-three narratives provide historical context, but they also highlight archetypal patterns of storytelling that connect these essentially protoliterary accounts to enduring features ofAmerican literature: Whatwe have assembled rises above the dustypages and sparkles with the force of literature: we see—feelingly—what it was like for explor ers to enter the unknown lands of the American West, lands dreamed aboutfor centuries. We also find familiar stories, patterns ofnarrative, and types and archetypes. We recognize them because either by direct influence or because the western environment repeatedly shapes a certain pattern of experience, transformations of these literary de signs have appeared in the more recent literature of the nineteenthand twentieth-century West. To travel from the lofty perspectives of the editorial introductions into the narratives themselves, however, is frequently to find oneself stumbling through chaotic yet vaguely familiar dreamscapes, encountering enigmatic places and events in which motivations and location are essentially conjectural. Partially, this is the result of an editorial decision to immerse the reader as completely as possible in the reality of the explorers themselves, without introducing familiar guideposts to translate their reality into ours: “We have refrained from providing...