Sunday, September 26, 2010

Running Themes in the Works of Kenneth Roberts

I have read the vast majority of his major works and am within 100 pages of the end of Northwest Passage. These themes are ones we see in life.

1) Great men of vision are often hampered by lesser clods.

This is true in real life. I find myself amazed by some of the clods who are in upper
management. To say that these people are hacks is just to give these people too much credit. Even a person like myself who has no interest in climbing the chain has to frequently deal with snakes. The cliques protect the mediocre and the incompetent from those with genuine ability. Large structures or organizations are social structures and some of the things I have seen shock me. Yet according to Rogers it should not as this phenomenon runs through his books. Political hacks like Gen Howe, Sir William Johnson and Gen Gage make messes out of the works of visionaries.

Can we be surprised when it happens in our own lives??

2) Sometimes great men are flawed seriously

Benedict Arnold literally shines anytime he is in a scene written by Roberts. We are well aware of the shabby treatment and the almost superhuman courage displayed by Gen. Arnold. Yet turning traitor and the debts run up by his wife are also not the signs of good judgment. In the case of Arnold there is some tragic irony in that his valor and vision laid the groundwork for something he clearly did not want. His actions at Saratoga paved the way for open French aid. Arnold did not want the rebels to become a pawn of France.

Major Roberts is a self promoter, drunk, womanizer, ethically challenged on many levels as well as a great leader and hero. He is brought down by lesser men and his own character flaws. By the time we see him in Oliver Wiswell he is a shell of himself consumed by alcoholism and forever scheming. The real Major Roberts did have a role in the capture of Nathan Hale.

3) Sometimes heroes come in odd places. Oddly, in Northwest Passage the lead character is saved by the strange Indian woman with relatives everywhere Princess McNott. Her skill at learning gossip and persuading the tribes to help the lead and her husband saves the day. Nattanis the Abenaki saves the day and is almost super human in Arundel.

4) The passionate loves of our youths are often ill advised and true love is closer to home.

Life is sometimes strange and Roberts does develop these themes while conveying predictable but excellent stories that are well researched.

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