In The True Adventures of Grizzly Adams, McClung effectively sifts through fact and legend to depict a life-sized individual whose love of nature and animals led him to some very unique experiences. The Adams of McClung’s biography did not seek renown and only barely sought fortune. Rather, he was a man driven by inner strength and deeply felt longings. He was a fearless individual who deplored cowardice in others. Adams loved nature and animals but did not sentimentalize them; he saw nature for the ruthless system that it often is, and he accepted an active role in it according to its own clearly set rules. He had no illusions about the risks that he took in hunting and taming some of the largest and wildest animals on the North American continent. Adams treated all of his animals with the respect that he gave fellow humans, a respect that was often unreciprocated. McClung recounts Adams’ close encounters with death and the many seemingly fatal wounds that he endured. Adams’ stamina and physical fortitude ultimately seem to emanate from his rough but firm spirituality.
McClung does not glorify Adams. He attributes to Adams an occasional and se-vere misanthropy, a dislike of humankind so strong that it inspires him to escape civilization completely. The author repeatedly mentions Adams’ penchant for practical jokes; often, they were harmless, but it is clear that Adams just as often overshot the limits of taste and consideration for his peers. Adams is portrayed as a poor businessperson and as a family man who had no difficulty...
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McClung spent many years working with the New York Zoological Society and then the National Geographic Society before turning his attentions to writing. The True Adventures of Grizzly Adams is one of more than fifty books that the author has produced on wildlife and the environment. He has a clear understanding of animals and a devotion to the protection and propagation of nature.
In the acknowledgments, McClung discusses his sources of information on Ad-ams, giving special credit to Theodore H. Hittell’s 1860 biography, The Adventures of James Capen Adams, Mountaineer and Grizzly Bear Hunter, of California, and Richard Dillon’s more recent The Legend of Grizzly Adams, California’s Greatest Mountain Man (1966). He also discusses his constant attempt to cull fact from fiction, to reduce exaggeration and legend to their actual historical dimensions, in rendering Adams’ “true” adventures. This was not always an easy task, as people such as Adams and Barnum were easily given to glorifying the truth, and McClung provides reminders of the speculative nature of many passages throughout the text.
When The True Adventures of Grizzly Adams appeared in 1985, it earned generally supportive reviews. While The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books criticized the writing as awkward and repetitive, it praised the author’s research and notes. Ethel R. Twichell in Horn Book and Ilene Cooper in Booklist both compared the biography favorably with the popular and highly fictionalized film and television series on Adams, noting McClung’s willingness to depict Adams’ brutality. The most positive critique appeared in the School Library Journal, where George Gleason admired the book’s ambiance, use of maps and illustrations, and general smoothness. He wrote that McClung’s account would bring history to life for any true adventure lover.