The Tales of Alvin Maker Essay - Critical Essays

Orson Scott Card


In the Tales of Alvin Maker, Orson Scott Card recasts American history, offering an alternative political and social structure. England’s king lives in exile in the American South, a land rich with regal plantations. In New England, the bondage of Puritanism endures. The middle colonies form an amalgam of New Sweden, the Dutch colonies, and a state for the Iroquois.

This alternative political structure, however, is painted almost incidentally. It is at the level of personal power where Card’s efforts are most pervasive in bringing to life a new reality of American frontier. People actively exercise folk magic “knacks,” gifts of manipulating nature such as casting hexes, dowsing, seeing into hearts and minds, and, in the case of the most powerful, controlling the elements of Earth and society. The books center on the most gifted possessor and exerciser of these powers, Alvin Maker.

As in Card’s other books, in the Tales of Alvin Maker, the gifts of personal creation and power are centered in an immensely gifted young man who works at great personal cost to redeem his people. Like Ender Wiggin in Ender’s Game (1985), Speaker for the Dead (1986), and Xenocide (1991), Alvin devotes himself to healing individuals, families, community, and culture. His work of salvation is not without a price: As his gift grows, Alvin becomes aware of its pain and cost as well as its blessings.

From the beginning of Alvin’s life, the Unmaker works to destroy him. As a boy, Alvin drives the buzzing threat of the Unmaker away with little acts of creation. Turning his powers to use against his sisters in a boyish prank, Alvin learns a difficult lesson that...

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