(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Allan W. Eckert 1931–

American novelist, nonfiction writer, playwright, short story writer, journalist, and scriptwriter.

Eckert's works of American and natural history merge fact and fiction to explore the human desire to control and understand the environment. Eckert combines thorough research and technical detail with literary techniques such as stream-of-consciousness and narrative devices to create a type of writing which has been labeled "documentary fiction." He has established a reputation as a writer who makes his subject, no matter how specialized, both palatable and entertaining to his nonscientist or nonhistorian readers.

Eckert's topics often reflect his appreciation of nature and his strong concern with environmental protection. His early books dealt with the extinction of the Great Auk and the once-plentiful passenger pigeon and are underscored, as are all Eckert's books of this type, by his recognition of the natural dignity of animals and his indignation with human carelessness regarding them. These works are written in an informal style, and show his familiarity with the species he describes, due perhaps to his experiences as a trapper, a reporter on outdoor subjects, and a scriptwriter for the television series "Wild Kingdom." Eckert often centers on regional events as the basis for his works. He takes a journalistic approach with these books, relying on interviews, diaries, historical conversations and other records to compose their structures, and using what he has termed "hidden dialogue" to provide the major thrust of the story. Eckert uses this invented dialogue as an aid to describe historical events and to keep the story line running smoothly.

In 1967 Eckert published The Frontiersmen, the first in his open-ended series called "The Winning of America," which also includes his novels The Wilderness Empire, The Conquerors, and The Wilderness War. These works describe the westward movement of the pioneers and explorers as they gained control of the North American continent. They earned for Eckert comparisons with seminal historians Plutarch and Francis Parkman.

With Incident at Hawk's Hill, Eckert synthesized his interests in nature and frontier life to create his most critically acclaimed work. Based on an actual episode from Canadian history, the novel was originally released as an adult title, but found favor among young people and critics of children's literature, who voted it a Newbery Honor Book in 1972. It was criticized for its violence, but most critics agree that its effect is uncommonly powerful. Recently Eckert has ventured into the area of science fiction, but obvious characterizations and overuse of dialogue have kept his attempt, The HAB Theory, from universal acclaim. It is generally agreed that Eckert is at his best when he concentrates on nonfictional subjects, since his uncanny grasp of time, place, and fact, as well as his ability to translate his excitement about his subject into print, makes a painless, appealing way for his readers to learn while enjoying a well-told story. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)