by Frederick Manfred
When I was a kid, my parents used to drop me off at Blue Mounds State Park in Luverne, Minnesota, near the confluence of that state, South Dakota, and Iowa. Not only were the park’s pink, quartzite cliffs spectacular, but in the distance I could see buffalo grazing, and nearby was the futuristic-looking (this was the 1960s) home of a real curiosity: a man who wrote books for a living, name of Frederick Manfred.
So it was with a mix of nostalgia and intrigue that I recently picked up Manfred’s Lord Grizzly, a National Book Award finalist in 1955 and the story of Hugh Glass, a real-life mountain man who survived a bear attack and subsequent abandonment in 1820s South Dakota – not far from my Blue Mounds stomping ground.
Lord Grizzly invokes that long-ago land of Indians, grizzlies, mountain lions and buzzards, but Manfred recreates it to a fault. The book reminded me of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain with its endless depictions of wilderness flora and fauna – nirvana for naturalists and American West fans, I’m sure – but not my cup of tea. Old Hugh’s cumbersome crawl across the Midwestern Plains had nothing on my tedious trek through 100 pages of riverbeds, sunsets, and prairie-dog villages.
The plot is about Glass’s quest for revenge on the men who left him for dead, but the theme is man’s struggle between his desire for freedom and the bonds of society. Manfred seemed to prefer the former; for me, those daylong prowls in his Blue Mounds backyard were wilderness enough.
Blue Mounds State Park: my childhood playground and Manfred’s backyard.
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