Literature as early as
Shakespeare's "The Tempest" featured Native Americans.
Shakespeare partially based his play on the essays of Montaigne,
who praised Native American society as it was described by
European explorers. Over the years, the European portrayal of
Native Americans has ranged from "savage" to "sage," but always
it reflected the profound ways in which Old World natives were
changed by New World ones. Read on for a detailed foray into what
the fascination has been about, and the resonance early Native
American influence still has today.
What's The Appeal?
The Native American romance emphasizes instinct,
creativity, freedom, and the longing to escape from the
strictures of society to return to nature.
century Victorians increasingly looked down on mixed-blood or
Native Americans because of pseudo-scientific theories of
eugenics and misapplied social Darwinism. The "savages" mystified
the strictly controlled Victorian society, who frowned upon their
openly expressed sensuality and passion for life, nature,
religion and artistry. This mystification caused Native Americans
to be viewed as dangerous, wild and unpredictable. As a result,
much of the era's fiction romanticized Native American
characterswhich paved the way for the popular Native
American romances that flourish as a sub-genre in today's
Both men and women of the culture are represented in
fiction as exotic figures, untamed and possessing a freedom to be
admired and envied. Native American heroines frequently are
depicted as earth mothers or seductresses and represent a
connection to spiritual and sensual realities. while the heroes
often symbolize the "shadow"the imperfectly acknowledged
part of the self that harbors darker desires.
depiction of the Native American character in fiction is as a
wise, all-knowing sage who dispenses wisdom by being connected to
mysticism and spirituality.
The Native American romance hero
or heroine, either historical or contemporary, brings readers all
over the world in touch with distinctly American roots. These
love stories encourage rejection of the past's errors and nourish
respect for the natural world, for dream power, and for the
surviving Native American cultures.
"Romances show that American
Indians weren't savages, but a misunderstood people who were in
the way of the white man's progressa side never shown in
movies or written about in history books." Cassie suggests
Shadows of the Indian by Raymond Stedman.
"There's an idea that the plains
Indians were the Knights of the Prairie. They were romanticized
in much the same way the Knights of the Round Table were."
Kathleen recommends research materialMystic Warriors of
the Plain by Thomas Mailes.
"The 'captured' story is the
ultimate fantasy. Someone you think is a danger can give you a
better life than the one you had. It's also an adventure story.
That's part of the appeal." Colleen keeps it in the family by
suggesting mom Judith E. French's Sundancer's
Appearances of Native Americans in European and later
European-American literature began as early as Shakespeare in
portrayals that ranged from noble savage to eminent sage. Native
American cultures have had a strong impact on Europeans and all
immigrants to the U.S. These books offer a range of perspectives,
tribes, nationalities, and characters, but they have one thing in
common: a fascination with the varied peoples who occupied this
land for thousands of years before the U.S.A. was created.