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B o o k R e v i e w s Unknown. BILLY STEVENS READING A BOOK. Ca. 1910. Black-andwhite photograph. Courtesy of the Museum of the American West, Autry National Center, Los Angeles. 88.125.6. B o o k R e v ie w s 4 1 3 Three Plays: The Indolent Boys, Children of the Sun, The Moon in Two Windows. By N. Scott Momaday. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007. 177 pages, $24.95. Reviewed by Chadwick Allen Ohio State University In Three Plays, acclaimed Kiowa and Cherokee author N. Scott Momaday moves his forty-year exploration of the power of the oral tradition into the genre of stage and screen drama. “The telling of a story and the enactment of a play are closely related,” Momaday states in his preface, “for both are examples of oral tradition. Their vitality is that of the spoken word.” The stage play and the screenplay carry the oral tradition into “our time and place” (vii). Not surprisingly, key figures, narratives, images, and turns of phrase developed in Momaday’s earlier works ofpoetry, memoir, fiction, and nonfiction recur in these new plays. Moreover, similar to many of his earlier publications, Momaday’s new book is highly structured and mixes genre and media. Preceding the text of each play is an iconic image or set of images, a dedication, and a briefhistory of the play’s origin and performance. Less expectedly, Momaday’s three plays share a focus on the extraordinary lives of American Indian children. The stage play The Indolent Boys and the screenplay The Moon in Two Windows confront audiences with legacies of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century boarding schools. Children of the Sun, intended for children, retells the story of the birth and early exploits of the twin culture heroes of the Kiowa. The boarding school plays will be of particular interest to scholars and teachers of American Indian and western literatures. Each is based on particu­ lar historical events. The Indolent Boys, which Momaday dedicates “to those whose stories have fallen beyond reach,” is set in 1891, when three boys ran away from the Kiowa Boarding School at Anadarko, Oklahoma, and froze to death in a winter storm. Through a series of juxtapositions, the drama contrasts the Kiowa community’s intense sense of loss at the boys’ deaths with school officials’ attempts to justify both the specific actions that precipitated the boys’ escape and the school’s larger “civilizing” mission. In the character ofJohn Pai, a star pupil of the school, Momaday creates a focal point of articulate and ironic critique from within the school itself. The Moon in Two Windows, which Momaday dedicates “to all the brave children,” is set in 1912, when Luther Standing Bear (Lakota), one of the first graduates of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, brought his young son east to watch the famous football game played that year between Army (West Point) and Carlisle. In the stands, Standing Bear has a reunion with the school’s founder, Richard Henry Pratt, whom he has not seen in many years. The screenplay juxtaposes this brief encounter with Standing Bear’s remembered childhood: his introduction to Pratt at the age of twelve in 1879, his journey east from the Rosebud Reservation to attend Carlisle, his and other 4 1 4 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e W in t e r 2 0 0 9 students’ experiences there as adolescents. Interesting comparisons can be made with Standing Bear’s own account of these events in his 1928 book My People, the Sioux. Similar to the character John Pai, Momaday’s Standing Bear is the voice of articulate Indian critique and defiant Indian survival. Moreover, The Moon in Two Windows is haunted by the spirit of an Indian child who died en route to Carlisle. Momaday’s screenplay ends with the adult Standing Bear walking with his young son among the graves in the Carlisle cemetery. Some readers have criticized Momaday’s earlier works for seeming to avoid overt engagement with American Indian politics. Few will...


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pp. 413-414
Launched on MUSE
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