Scott O'Dell GEORGESS McHARGUE - Essay

GEORGESS McHARGUE

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The one thing a novel about the Aztec is bound to have is exotica. What with tombs lined with gold, hearts torn palpitating from sacrificial victims, feather banners, temples and palaces, it is hard to imagine an Aztec book that is dull. And Scott O'Dell's ["The Feathered Serpent"] is not dull.

It is the second volume in a series concerning the adventures of young Spanish seminarian Julián Escobar…. In ["The Feathered Serpent"] he is coerced by the greedy and devious dwarf Cantú, a fellow Spaniard, into accepting the role of the much-anticipated Mayan messiah, the light-skinned god Kukulcán.

Not surprisingly, the impersonation proves both hazardous and onerous. The new god incurs the hostility of the powerful priest Chalco and makes a number of ill-advised decisions…. Eventually, Julián and Cantú set off from their Mayan backwater to visit the capital of the Aztec overlords, arriving in time for the confrontation between Cortés and Montezuma.

As a character, Julián has more insight than many conquistadors, actual and fictional…. At the same time, he displays odd vacancies of personality. He seems to have little emotional life, no real curiosity about an alien society and (strangest of all) an implausible lack of awareness of the opposite sex. The result is that, while the book is not dull, neither is it deep or gripping.

Georgess McHargue, in a review of "The Feathered Serpent," in The New York Times Book Review, January 10, 1982, p. 26.