Frank Waters Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his long fiction, Frank Waters wrote a number of books that combine history, ethnography, mythology, and speculative essay. All of these are centered in the American Southwest, and all deal, in whole or in part, with American Indian subjects. Of these, Book of the Hopi (1963) comes closest to ethnography in the strict sense, being the actual Hopi versions of their mythology, ritual, and belief, which Waters recorded from the words of tribal spokesmen. Masked Gods: Navaho and Pueblo Ceremonialism (1950) covers analogous material in relation to the Navajo and Pueblo tribes, and contains substantial sections in which these traditional beliefs are compared to the teachings of the Far East (particularly Tibetan Buddhism) and with the findings of nuclear scientists.

Pumpkin Seed Point: Being Within the Hopi (1969) is a personal account of Waters’s three-year residence among the Hopi, while he was compiling material for Book of the Hopi. Mexico Mystique: The Coming Sixth World of Consciousness (1975) treats the history, myth, and science (particularly calendrical) of Mexico. Mountain Dialogues (1981) is more eclectic in style, a series of essays ranging in subject matter from the relation of mind and matter to the bipolar symbolism reflected in the land around Waters’s New Mexico home.

Waters’s three biographies all deal with Western subjects: Midas of the Rockies: The Story of Stratton and Cripple Creek (1937) is the biography of Winfield Scott Stratton, and To Possess the Land (1973) is the biography of Arthur Rockford Manby. The Earp Brothers of Tombstone (1960) is based on the recollections of Virgil Earp’s third and last wife, Allie Earp, and material from Waters’s own research.

In 1946, Waters published The Colorado as part of the Rivers of America series (Farrar and Rinehart), and in 1964, an art monograph, Leon Gaspard. From 1950 to 1956, he was a regular contributor to the Saturday Review with reviews of books about the West. Numerous periodicals contain his essays on ethnography, history, and literary criticism, as well as a few short stories.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Frank Waters gave the American Southwest its finest and most complete literary rendering. In both his fiction and his nonfiction, he sought to give literary vitality to the spirit of place imbuing that section of the American continent and to show how this spirit variously affects the different peoples who live there, finding its expression in mythology, lifestyle, architecture, and ritual, all reflecting, in their different ways, the “vibratory quality of the land itself.” Whether he portrays life by presenting the facts of history (as in his nonfiction) or in the symbols of his novels, or whether he writes about the mythological realm that occupies the zone between the two, his work captures the deep resonance of his locale and thus the significance of place to people’s development.

Waters is probably best known for his work on and about American Indians, and he was one of the few writers whose work earned the respect of both the literary establishment and the American Indian communities. He was also one of the few writers who could work successfully both in ethnography and in prose fiction. His firsthand knowledge of the Indian tribes of the Southwest and his deep respect for their traditions and their connections to their locale made it possible for Waters to write about these matters without romanticism, and thus to reveal not only the rugged dignity of their lives but also the value of their wisdom.

Thus, The Man Who Killed the Deer, Waters’s most popular novel, has long been recognized as a classic in the literature on the Native American, just as Book of the Hopi is a landmark in ethnography. In the late twentieth century, the relevance and quality of his other work resulted in a greater degree of recognition, made tangible by the republication of much of his fiction.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Adams, Charles L., ed. Studies in Frank Waters. Las Vegas: Frank Waters Society, 1978-1990. Contains a number of excellent critical essays.

Blackburn, Alexander. A Sunrise Brighter Still: The Visionary Novels of Frank Waters. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1991. Chapters on each of Waters’s novels, with an introduction that surveys the writer’s purposes and his career and a conclusion arguing that Waters is a major American writer. Includes detailed notes and extensive bibliography.

Deloria, Vine, Jr., ed. Frank Waters: Man and Mystic. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1993. Memoirs of Waters and commentaries on his novels, emphasizing his prophetic style and sense of the sacred. Also provides criticism and interpretation of Waters’s work, looking specifically at Waters’s place in the history of mysticism in literature and Western literature.

Lyon, Thomas J. Frank Waters. New York: Twayne, 1973. Analyzes Waters’s themes and artistic style. After sketching Waters’s life, Lyon examines his nonfiction, showing him to be a writer of ideas with a sacred theory of the earth and Hopi mythic values. Lyon also discusses his minor works, the children’s biography of Robert Gilruth, his book reviews, and his essays on writing. Contains a chronology, notes and references, a selected annotated bibliography, and an index.

Waters, Barbara. Celebrating the Coyote: A Memoir. Denver: Divina, 1999. A memoir by Waters’s last wife. She discusses her life with him and her grief at losing him.