Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 698
In the Tales of Alvin Maker, Orson Scott Card recasts American history, offering an alternative political and social structure. England’s king lives in exile in the American South, a land rich with regal plantations. In New England, the bondage of Puritanism endures. The middle colonies form an amalgam of New...
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In the Tales of Alvin Maker, Orson Scott Card recasts American history, offering an alternative political and social structure. England’s king lives in exile in the American South, a land rich with regal plantations. In New England, the bondage of Puritanism endures. The middle colonies form an amalgam of New Sweden, the Dutch colonies, and a state for the Iroquois.
This alternative political structure, however, is painted almost incidentally. It is at the level of personal power where Card’s efforts are most pervasive in bringing to life a new reality of American frontier. People actively exercise folk magic “knacks,” gifts of manipulating nature such as casting hexes, dowsing, seeing into hearts and minds, and, in the case of the most powerful, controlling the elements of Earth and society. The books center on the most gifted possessor and exerciser of these powers, Alvin Maker.
As in Card’s other books, in the Tales of Alvin Maker, the gifts of personal creation and power are centered in an immensely gifted young man who works at great personal cost to redeem his people. Like Ender Wiggin in Ender’s Game (1985), Speaker for the Dead (1986), and Xenocide (1991), Alvin devotes himself to healing individuals, families, community, and culture. His work of salvation is not without a price: As his gift grows, Alvin becomes aware of its pain and cost as well as its blessings.
From the beginning of Alvin’s life, the Unmaker works to destroy him. As a boy, Alvin drives the buzzing threat of the Unmaker away with little acts of creation. Turning his powers to use against his sisters in a boyish prank, Alvin learns a difficult lesson that his gift cannot be used in spite or for personal gratification. In Seventh Son, Alvin almost dies because, having promised not to use his gift on his own behalf, he postpones healing himself when no one else can. His powers of healing are extended in Red Prophet as he heals the Red Prophet and the Indian warrior Ta-Kumsaw. These experiences teach Alvin important lessons of human cruelty and redemption. Alvin sees a vision of the Crystal City, a place of peace and unity that he knows he must somehow build, even though the task will not be easy.
Alvin also learns that there are limits to his powers and that, despite his service, others—even members of his immediate family—will actively seek his destruction. Perhaps the greatest lesson Alvin learns in his quest to redeem is that physical making is not as great as discovering, teaching, and inspiring others to become Makers. Alvin says in Prentice Alvin, “The Crystal City isn’t a thing that a single Maker can make. It’s a city of Makers; I got to find all kinds of folks and somehow make Makers out of them.”
Card has said that the Tales of Alvin Maker had their genesis in an epic poem he started to write in college. The poem attempted, under the influence of Spenserian allegory, to retell the spiritual life of Mormon leader Joseph Smith. As many critics have noted, Card is a first-class storyteller, and readers do not need to be aware of Card’s Mormon roots to appreciate his stories. These novels do not proselytize; they are strong narratives that embody deep and ranging truths about the nobility of sacrifice for a worthy goal. From Mormonism, Card derives a scheme of conviction and significance as well as a prototype of a community that seeks to unite and prosper through effort and assistance. Card’s stories transcend the topically religious to become universal.
Each book in the series portrays Alvin’s continuing growth within the context of alternative American history, but each book, according to Card, also emphasizes a specific theme. Seventh Son emphasizes questions of religion, such as the relationship between institutionalized and personal religion and how theological and practical religion interact. Red Prophet emphasizes the treatment of Indians, questioning whether vision and passivity are viable alternatives to war. Prentice Alvin explores the horrors of slavery. Alvin Journeyman asks about the power of women and investigates how the powers of men and women exclude and/or complement one another.