Scott O'Dell Walter Havighurst - Essay

Walter Havighurst

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The King's Fifth] a small party sets out to search for fortune, with a Zuni girl as their guide. In the vast country that would become Arizona they see terraced adobe cities whose people worship the sun, marvel at the huge Abyss which in time would be called the Grand Canyon, and find treasure that inflames their passions and eventually destroys them.

How the seven travelers are reduced to two—Esteban and Father Francisco—is a harsh narrative illuminated by the beauty of the enormous land and the simple integrity of the Indians.

Although the story pits white men against red men, and Spaniard against Spaniard, it is not simplified into a contest of the good against the bad. The worst men here have qualities of courage and occasional kindness, the best have lapses and limitations. Esteban de Sandoval is a wholly believable lad, vulnerable to the glitter of gold as well as to the charm of Zia, the Zuni girl, and the beauty of earth and sky. Generally the Indians are better people than the white invaders, but they are not idealized. Even the captivating Zia, with her tinkling bells and her love of Spanish horses, is a native girl rather than a heroine.

When Esteban is left alone, to bury the priest and dispose of the treasure, the story reaches a crisis of decision. His hard-won realization of false and enduring values is a part of the maturity that comes from the arduous adventure. His trial and its outcome carry him further into manhood.

There is sound history in this colorful and dramatic tale of the Conquistadors, though the shifting narrative will require close attention from younger readers, and the book is appropriately adorned with some beautiful maps and illuminations by Samuel Bryant.

Walter Havighurst, "Gold, Glory, and God," in Book Week—World Journal Tribune, December 18, 1966, p. 13.