Thomas B(ertram) Costain Charles Lee - Essay

Charles Lee

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Here is Thomas Costain at his best, in a well-constructed novel…. "High Towers" has something for all: historical solidity, biographical interest, glamour. It is rich with learning, alive with adventure.

Its larger enchantments deal with the fabulous Le Moyne family and the growth of the French Empire in North America during the early years of the eighteenth century. Within this framework Mr. Costain offers a satisfying quantity of love stories, excitations and intrigues. The gaudiness of certain of his effects does not depend on specious spectacle; the dazzle is inherent in the tale. He fictionalizes history; he does not fabricate hysteria. He writes of human beings, not of supermen and hussies.

It is true that he will now and again detour the reader to a footnote, making him unnecessarily conscious of the midnight oil. This is less true of his occasional parentheses …, and on the whole his researches are well-integrated with the text. The result is a story swirling with incidents, comic, tragic, agitating, but always entertaining….

"High Towers" is a skillfully wrought entertainment. Even its clichés, like that of the mother who cannot reveal herself to her daughter, are expertly managed. There are memorable scenes—Pierre battling the plague, Phillippe befuddling a group of scalp-minded Indians, Jean working with destiny amidst the mud and tents of New Orleans. There is matter, too, for the thoughtful, on love, duty, happiness, money, and even in connection with the more beneficent aspects of imperialism and conquest. But most readers will be grateful for Mr. Costain's double sorcery: he erases the headlines of the hour as he creates a spell of yesteryear.

Charles Lee, "Empire-Builders in the Wilderness," in The New York Times Book Review, January 2, 1949, p. 5.