Claire in Iowa Territory
Paris Anderson, Velva Campbell
Harlow S. Clark
Illustrated by Velva Campbell Precious Child (Provo, UT), 1994.
Suggested retail price: $5.95 (US)
A note about audience: These books seem to be aimed at girls about 8years old and up. Claire is a good deal older, 12 in Book I, 14 inBook II, older in each book, though the cover drawings make her seemyounger, as does the Book V cover drawing, which looks a little like adoll.
These books would probably appeal to the same audience as The AmericanGirls series, though they don't contain an appendix with historicalinformation. There are a lot of good details within the stories, like thedescription of a spider, an iron kettle with three legs and a flat lid,and the description in Book V of building a sod house. The details add alot to a well-told story.
The story, each book about 90 pages, follows a family from "LanarkCounty in Upper Canada (now called Ontario)," into the wildernessacross the river from Nauvoo, into Nauvoo, and back into thewilderness to find a place to create their civilization anew, that is,from civilization to peril to civilization to peril. Peril tocivilization is a theme in these stories, but a subtle theme, becausethe stories are about perils in a small group of families, not thewhole Church. Still, the families' perils come because they havechosen to unite themselves with a particular civilization.
The first peril happens because the Nicols are in the Church, but notamong the church. Separated physically by the river from doctors ormidwives, Claire's pregnant mother faces a difficult delivery alone. (Mybrother pointed out at Christmas that in KJV usage it is the mother thatis delivered, from the travail of pregnancy and birth--see Luke 2:6)Butthat's not what the story is about, it's more the background againstwhich Claire proves herself.
Each book deals with a particular problem children and young adults facein moving away from their parents and toward adulthood, from how to earnyour parents' trust to how to get someone to fall in love with you, andthe obstacle in Book I is Claire's parents' fears for her health.
The prologue, repeated with some variation in each book, tells how theNicol family joined the Church and came to Nauvoo. Claire and her twin,Marie, got scarlet fever at age 6. They survived, due to the father'sprayers, but Marie's heart was weak, and she died two years later afteroverexerting herself on Grandpa's farm. Hearing the Mormon missionariespreach some time later helped the family recover hope of being withMarie again, and they have moved to Zarahemla, across the river fromNauvoo.
Claire's parents worry that she might overexert herself, that her heartmay be no stronger than Marie's, so her problem is how to convince themshe's healthy enough to run a foot race in Nauvoo's Fourth of Julycelebration. She figures a way to prove her health, through defying herparents' fears, but her mother's pregnancy gives her a better way.
In Book II, the family has saved up enough to afford the move to Nauvoo,where Claire goes to work in the Mansion house, which means One MoreRiver to Cross isn't the first, or even second, third or fourth novel(if you count a novel as a single binding of pages under one cover,though by Poe's definition each of these novels is a short story able tobe read at one sitting) to have Jane and Sylvester Manning and Grandmamaas characters. Indeed, Claire's problem is that she's never seen a blackperson, and she's afraid of Jane. This problem is resolved by the end, ina scene where Jane and Claire grieve together, washing the blood stainsout of Joseph Smith's white shirt. The line drawing of that shirt hangingon the clothes line with its eleven bullet holes in the front (three inthe back) is simple and haunting.
In Book III, Claire and her father have parallel problems in preparingfor Christmas and preparing to leave Nauvoo. Claire's problem is how tohave enough energy to create Christmas presents, storybooks, for herbrothers Jacques and Clairence and for Sylvester Manning, and get herwork done during the day. Papa's problem is how to build a wagon in thecold of winter. He solves that by building it in the cabin, but makes awrong measurement, so how is he going to get it out? And there's BrotherBeck, Claire's piano teacher from Book II, acting strangely, ordering alot more from the store than he can use.
Book IV echoes the problems in Books I & II, a problem pregnancy, and howwe have to discard our prejudices to survive. After leaving Nauvoo inwinter, Claire is travelling through Iowa Territory with Nathan and PollyMaughan. Polly is pregnant, and Nathanhas gangrene in his hand because he improperly set a broken arm.
Sr. O'Brien, the midwife, helps Polly, but can't help Nathan: "I wishI knew what to do to save those fingers, but I have the gift ofmidwifery, so the Spirit instructs me only in matters that have to dowith childbirth" (pp. 33-34).
A few paragraphs later she rebukes Nathan for saying he can't be cured.
& & & & "If the Lord is, indeed, the creator, then certainly He knows how torepair His creations."
& & & & "That makes sense," Claire said.
& & & & "If you think healing is not possible, you're forbidding the Lord to workmiracles in your life."
& & & & Nathan stared as Sister O'Brien with a shocked expression.
& & & & "I've never considered that," he said.
& & & & "Well, you should. If you only had faith, the Lord would sendservants -- perhaps angels -- who know how to heal gangrene."
& & & & "She's right, Nathan," Claired said. "I'm sure the Lord would heal yourhand, if you asked."
& & & & "Listen to the child," Sister O'Brien said. "From the mouths ofbabes...."
& & & & "Aye," Nathan said.
& & & & "Just remember," Sister O'Brien continued, "not all angels look likeangels. Don't let your pride stop you from accepting help from an angel."(pp. 34-35)
But of course, a little later Nathan almost does let his prideinterfere, when the angel turns out to be an Indian woman named PrettyShield.
"Everybody knows Indians are build differently," Nathansaid. "Surgeons at the university in Edinburgh dissected the body ofan Indian, and they couldn't even recognize the organs. Everyone knowsthat, lass. It was in all the papers." (pp. 56-7)
Well, Nathan prays to overcome his pride. (The line drawing on p. 60of Nathan praying for an angel behind the wagon, looks like anallusion to the painting of George Warshington praying at Valley Forge-- but I'm not sure what the point of the allusion is.)
Pretty Shield sets his arm properly then gives Claire the gift ofhealing. Pretty Shield's granddaughter Mary, gives Claire thiswarning:
"My grandmother says this is Great Mystery you feel inyour hands. It is to be used for healing. Great Mystery does notbelong to you. It does not belong to anyone and connot becontrolled. You are a river through which Great Mystery flows. If youstart to think you control Great Mystery, the river will dry up, andGreat Mystery will no longer flow" (pp. 77-8).
Besides its echoes of Joseph Smith's comments about the priesthoodonly being able to flow "without compulsory means" (D&C 121:46) thispassage echoes Paris Anderson's own experience. I interviewed him inJan. 2002 (the day Isaac Babel's daughter was on the Diane Rehm Showtalking about her new collection of her father's stories) and hetalked about his work in massage therapy, particularly with reiki,which involves the flow of energy around the body, and jin-shin, avariant of accupressure. "Reiki is probably the most mysterious andpowerful way to work. Put your hands on the body and get out of theway. Let what happens happen," he said.
(Tangentially, Book IV's discussion of death suggests an interestingquestion. In some Native American traditions people do not speak thenames of the dead. How do people raised in those traditions do templework, and what are the implications of asking someone from such atradition to speak the names of their dead in the temple? That wouldbe a very interesting story.)
Book V takes the characters to Winter Quarters, and Claire trys toattract a boyfriend, so a good part of the book is comedy ofmanners. The other part deals with mustering the Mormon Batallion, andParis told me this is where he got the idea for The Recollection ofPrivate Seth Jackson, Mormon Battalion, Company D, which I'llreview separately.
& & & & Claire followed Captain Allen's gaze to a boy seated on the ground inthe front row. It was Lot Smith who was staring back with a powerful,insolent glare.
& & & & I wonder if those two are going to meet again as foes sometime in thefuture, Claire thought. Maybe Captain Allen is thinking the same thingGoliath thought when he looked at David.(p. 82)
There follows a debate about whether Nathan Maughan or anyone shouldjoin the batallion, which mirrors a debate in Seth Jacksonabout how to respond to batallion commanders who hate Mormons.
& & & & Jane Manning shook her head slowly.
& & & & "Nathan," she said slowly, "even if every Mormon man joined thebatallion, it still wouldn't prove loyalty to the government. The Federalgovernment is corrupt, and almost every member of it is so spineless hewill ignore the truth if the truth is unpopular. "Mark my words," shesaid, shaking a finger, "whether we provide a batallion or not theAmerican government will yet send an army with cannons to destroy us."(p. 46)
& & & & "According to the Book of Mormon," Papa finally said, "the only type ofwar that can be justified by Heaven is a defensive war. That means a warin which we are fighting to protect our families, our lands, or religion.In the war with Mexico we would be attacking the lands home and familiesof the Mexican people, which is quite the opposite. I say this war isunrighteous and the powers of Heaven will not come to our aid in anunrighteous war."(p. 48)
Claire doesn't develop this idea, doesn't show what happens to/ with / because of the Mormon Batallion, but the theme of attackingpeople's homes and religion is important elsewhere in Anderson's work,particularly in Tough Luck: Sitting Bull's Friend, which I'llalso review separately.
The world of Claire, and Seth Jackson, and Tough Luck, and ofAnderson's memoir, "On Growing Up Tough," (Irreantum 3:2, Summer 2001)makes me want more, such as the republication of Waiting for theFlash. I wish Paris Anderson's hands well in their work.
Harlow S. Clark
© 2003 Harlow S. Clark < email@example.com >