danceswithwolvesthumbYes, this is an old one, so most folks who are interested have probably seen the film, though fewer may have read the novel from which it sprang. I have to begin with a “disclaimer” of sorts and tell you that I have always said this would be the perfect film if it were not for the parts when Kevin Costner speaks. If you have seen it, you will understand how that would change the film. I have never really understood his popularity as an actor and generally feel that when I am watching him I am watching Costner reading lines in the same monotone voice, not an actor presenting a character. He apparently liked the book so much he wanted to share it with the world and he did a wonderful job of directing it. I have wondered what it would be like with another, possibly unknown, actor.  But, it is an extraordinary story and the film is beautiful [photography, setting, soundtrack, etc] so I have seen it many times over the years, at least in bits and pieces when TNT replays it [over and over]. The first time I watched was under pressure by a housemate who said I had to [despite my anti-Costner-film stance] and I was literally struck with awe. So, years ago I picked up a copy of Michael Blake’s first novel [paperback published after film with pic of KC on cover] at a thrift or Friends of the Library sale. It has sat on the shelves and moved around for awhile, so the Lit Flick Challenge seemed like a good time to read it already.

To summarize: Civil War Lieutenant John Dunbar of the US Army is stationed to Fort Sedgewick, an outpost on the mid-west Plains, actually around modern Colorado. When he arrives the fort has been abandoned and he is essentially alone in the wilderness. He has supplies, ingenuity and guts and he manages to forge a relationship with a lone wolf and a nomadic band of Comanche. In the space of less than 6 months he relinquishes his American identity and is assimilated into his new tribe, becoming Dances With Wolves.

In reading the novel, I was able to picture most of the scenes in the movie again though it has been a few years since last viewed. Fortunately, the author also wrote the screenplay, so not much plot is altered and many passages, including the monotone narration, are verbatim. Blake did a honorable job in presenting several points of view, from both cultures.  A couple of characters from the tribe got cut out of the screenplay, and most were abbreviated. I wish the film had expanded on the female protagonist Stands With a Fist a bit more, though I do understand time constraints. She was the more interesting character to me, as the American “captive” turned Comanche. I qualify that word because as a young girl who survived a Pawnee attack on her family homestead, the tribe picking her up on the prairie really rescued her, but the term “captive” is used in the novel.  She is more developed in the novel. We also get more insight into the minds of Kicking Bird and Wind in His Hair, the two main male characters from the tribe.

One thing that nagged at me throughout my reading was that I could not quite place where they were. When you view the film you are treated to sweeping views of the Dakotas. The tribe is Sioux and much of the dialogue is in Lakota {one of my best impressions on first view was how authentic the language and dialogue is, far different from earlier versions of native language in most American films- yes, this means captions, but reading is good for you}. The novel is about a Comanche tribe, though, who were located further South and the directions given of the forts, etc place them more in Kansas/Colorado area. So I was a bit confused, because although I am no expert, I was sure I was remembering the Sioux culture in the film. Now, this may be nitpicky and I do not know how actual Lakotas and/or Comanches feel about it [tho I am sure there was a variety of opinion over the film in general], but it seems wrong to me to change such a fundamental element. Some people may not think there is a difference, but there is, especially in historical references. Apparently the switch had something to do with the herd of buffalo available in SD.

That is the biggest discrepancy between the film and novel, though I will be a spoiler and tell you that the ending is differentish too. If you have neither seen nor read Dances With Wolves, do yourself  a favor and read it first then watch the film [which should be viewed by any film buff]. Then you can enjoy the story without having Costner’s voice in your head the whole time like I did.

PS: On a search found this info about a sequel being made w/out KC… some people think this is a bad thing.

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