Return of the Captivity Narrative

A trailer for the upcoming movie, Alone, Yet Not Alone, based on the book by the same name. It’s the story of two young (white, Christian) women abducted by Delaware Indians during a raid in the French-Indian War (7 Years War to those not in the US). In a very heavy-handed Christian Culture way, it tells the story of their enduring faith and their ability to maintain their Christian identity in captivity:

1. The narrator needs to clear whatever glop that is out of his throat.

2. The Indians seem to be based more on the orcs from Peter Jackson’s LoTR than actual Delaware Indians. And maybe I’m missing something, but where are the French instigators in this narrative?

3. The line at the 1:20 mark: “Now you become Indian children.” The writer should be smacked for having a Delaware native speak generically of Indians. It’s just as bad as having the father speak of Germany, rather than mentioning one part of the warring princedoms in what we now call Germany.

But more than that, I suspect that line sums up the central fear of the movie: the loss of white Christian identity in the face of the Other.

The Indian Captivity Narrative is an old, old genre. It dates back to the 17th century, with examples like A Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson and Cotton Mathers’s The Captivity of Hannah Dustin. Many of these captivities were real, but the details were given symbolic importance by the authors and the genre became an early American mythology.

The scholar to name here is Richard Slotkin, who described the genre in Regeneration Through Violence:

… a single individual, usually a woman, stands passively under the strokes of evil, awaiting rescue by the grace of God […] In the Indian’s devilish clutches, the captive had to meet and reject the temptation of Indian marriage and/or the Indian’s “cannibal” Eucharist. To partake of the Indian’s love or his equivalent of bread and wine was to debase, to un-English the very soul.

The genre morphed over the years as different threats arose. Catholic captivity, in which young women were sent to convents, were popular among puritans. Later, Mormon captivity narratives in which young women became wives sprung up.

The genre has mostly faded. Luckily for us. I’m not sure I want to see an “atheist captivity narrative.”

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