Monday, February 14, 2011

Walking to Gatlinburg

From inside the front cover of Howard Frank Mosher's Walking to Gatlinburg-

“…a heartbreaking odyssey into the heart of American darkness”

When I first read this book was about a young man who walks through the mountains during the Civil War, I wondered if it was similar to Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. And although both books have a very lyrical style and the storylines sound familiar, they are entirely different novels. I quickly became immersed in the story of Morgan Kinneson, a Vermont teenager who journeys from the mountains of home to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Howard Frank Mosher is a gifted storyteller who writes about a landscape he knows well, the Appalachian mountain chain. Walking to Gatlinburg is about a journey on many levels. First, the journey of Morgan to find his brother, a doctor who went missing after the battle of Gettysburg. Second, as a coming of age novel and Morgan’s journey to grow up and find what he truly believes in. And lastly, his journey to find love, both for his fellow man and for an escaped slave girl named Slidell.

What makes this more than just a wilderness adventure story, are the compelling characters Morgan meets along the way. Mosher calls his villains “psychopathic terrorists,” an apt description of the five escaped convicts who follow Morgan trying to get a stone with mysterious markings. Chasing Morgan are: “a slave killer, a child murderer, an unfrocked minister, and a disbarred army doctor …practicing vivisection…”

The Kinneson home is the last Underground Railway stop before Canada and Morgan’s adventure starts when Jesse, a former slave in his care, is murdered. Each character Morgan meets has a symbol that is echoed on a rune stone given to him by Jesse. In his trek south, Morgan meets up with an interesting array of characters, including French Voyageurs, a dying gypsy and his weeping elephant, Caliph, Mother Bremman, who lives in a tree house and a miller, his wife and daughter who turn out to be ghosts. He also spends some time with a Quaker family, pacifists who make a gun for Morgan. Just before he meets Slidell, a runaway slave with whom he falls in love, Morgan hallucinates a conversation with a tortoise. Finally, he meets Barbary Allen, an Appalachian woman who gives him the final clue to reach his brother Pilgrim.

Vermont filmmaker Jay Craven has turned three of Howard Frank Mosher’s books into movies, including: A Stranger in the Kingdom, Where the Rivers Flow North and Disappearances, to some critical success. Although the library does not own any of the movies, I will be keeping an eye out for them, as I enjoyed the slightly fantastic, quirky characters drawn by Mosher.

1 comment:

  1. The three movies mentioned above are now on order. They should be available on DVDs to check out from the library within a couple of weeks.