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The Holy Road


The Holy Road

One of the best compliments that an audience can pay to a movie is
to walk out of the theater wondering, "What happens next?" That was
certainly the case with the 1991 Academy Award-winning epic,
Dances With Wolves, which ended with Kevin Costner and a
band of Lakota Sioux traveling up a snowy hillside into an
uncertain future. Although the movie was three hours long, it felt
as though it could go on forever, with the audience wondering where
the story would go from there.

THE HOLY ROAD is the predictable, almost inevitable sequel to
DANCES WITH WOLVES, telling the story of former Army Lieutenant
John Dunbar (adopted into a Native American tribe as a brother
warrior) and his people as they face an invasion of white settlers.
If it does nothing else, THE HOLY ROAD shows how DANCES WITH WOLVES
ended at just the right point; sadly, there is nowhere for the
story to go now but downhill.

THE HOLY ROAD begins 10 years after DANCES WITH WOLVES ends.
Jarringly for fans of the movie, the action takes place in the
Comanche nation of the desert Southwest rather than the Dakotas.
Dances with Wolves and his wife, Stands with a Fist, are now
completely integrated into Comanche life; they have three children
and are leaders of the tribe. But the life of the Comanche is
changing, and the people are divided as to what they should

THE HOLY ROAD tells of the sunset days of the Comanche. Hunters are
shooting the buffalo indiscriminately. Homesteaders are encroaching
on Comanche hunting grounds. "Hair-mouthed" soldiers are seemingly
everywhere to protect the settlers. The new transcontinental
railroad --- one of the many "holy" roads of the title --- has made
its way through to California, necessitating the taming of the
indigenous population. And a group of Quakers serving as government
agents have arrived on the frontier, trying to persuade Comanche
leaders to accept life on the reservation.

This is an oft-told tale, the basis of several generations of
Westerns. THE HOLY ROAD is different only in that it is told
exclusively from the perspective of the Comanche people --- or,
rather, from several different perspectives. Author Michael Blake
separates his narrative into chapters focusing on the lives of
individual Comanches. Wind In His Hair, leader of the "Hard
Shields" warrior group, wants to fight the invaders and throw them
back. Kicking Bird (played in the original movie by Graham Greene)
is at the other end of the spectrum; he is curious about the whites
and is willing to talk peace. The ancient chieftain Ten Bears is
unable to resolve the conflict between these disparate views and
frets about the future of the tribe. Dances With Wolves wants
nothing more than to be left alone with his family, but this is not
a choice that is open to him any longer.

Because Blake's sympathies are wholly with the Comanche, THE HOLY
ROAD plays like a negative print of an old John Wayne movie; black
is white and white is black. The Comanche are consistently
portrayed as noble and reasonable people, at one with the buffalo
and the plains, wanting only to be left alone. On the other hand,
Blake demythologizes and demonizes such cherished Western icons as
the frontier cavalry and the Texas Rangers, portraying them as
bloody-minded hooligans intent only on scalping innocent Comanches.
The white characters are, without much exception, presented as
either vicious savages or well-meaning fools.

THE HOLY ROAD is a good, poignant read, telling an important story
from the perspective of those who were in no position to tell their
own story. It is a book of extraordinary insight and sympathy,
explaining the vast cultural and psychological gulf that separated
the warring forces on the frontier. Unfortunately, very few readers
of THE HOLY ROAD will be looking forward to a sequel once the book
closes. We know, only too well, where the story goes from

The Holy Road
by Michael Blake

  • Publication Date: July 9, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0375760407
  • ISBN-13: 9780375760402