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James A. Michner’s Texas Essay, Research Paper

James A. Michner s: TEXAS

A Comparative Review

In this magnificent historical novel, James A. Michner skillfully combines fact and fiction to present one of our most expansive and diversified states. Spanning nearly four and a half centuries, Michner begins with the first Spaniards to explore parts of present day Texas, Cabeza de Vaca and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and continues on to the emergence of Texas as one of our most powerful states.

Michner s use of historical fact is extremely accurate in his portrayal of events in Texas history. Particularly when he writes of the fight for Independence from Mexico. Michner only strays to fiction in an attempt to illustrate to the reader what the lives of early Texans must have been like. His characters interact with actual historical figures and create very believable scenarios of the events depicted in his novel.

One Scenario in particular is the Battle of San Jacinto. This is a historical event which ended in a decisive victory for the Texas Army and Independence for Texas. Michner s depiction of this battle is very accurate except for two important points. In his novel, Stephen F. Austin is sent to destroy a ferry owned by a former lover, Mattie Quimper. This was to prevent the Mexican Army, under the command of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, from crossing the river and give more time to the Texans to prepare for the inevitable battle. This incident is fictional, but it is similar-

to another factual event. At San Jacinto, General Sam Houston sent one of his men to destroy a bridge crossing the San Jacinto River. This was to prevent reinforcements from joining Santa Anna s forces, which were already on the Island.

The second point which was fictional ,but was based on an actual event, was the capture of General Santa Anna. In Michner s novel, a bumbling Yancy Quimper, comes across a half naked Santa Anna, who was trying to evade capture by hiding in the trees.

Quimper, being a coward, nearly shoots himself in the process. This alerts another fictional character, Otto MacNab. MacNab takes Santa Anna into custody and presents him to General Houston. In actuality, a Texas Army Sergeant captured Santo Anna the day following the battle.

Michner includes these fictional characters as part of a sub-plot designed to keep the reader interested in what is a purely military campaign. He remains true to historical facts and only adds fiction to color his amazing storytelling abilities. Michner s novel is a story of an inspiring fight for freedom and statehood. It is a story of the soldiers, settlers and outlaws caught up in their young homeland s stormy quest for freedom.

Hollywood recognized Michner s amazing storytelling ability and based a mini-series on his novel, TEXAS. The film version of this novel is narrowed down to the Texans historic fight for independence. Beginning in 1821, with Stephen F. Austin and continuing to Texas statehood.

Directed by Richard Lang and narrated by Charlton Heston, the film version is packed with as all-star cast of characters. Patrick Duffy portrays Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston is played by Stacy Keach. Randy Travis, Rick Schroeder, John Schneider and

David Keith play various fictional and historical characters. Their performances are very inspiring except that of Duffy. His portrayal of Austin leads one to believe that Austin was very unsure of himself and of the direction Texas should take.

The movie progresses through the Texans defeat at the Alamo and the narrator, Heston, only mentions other important conflicts during this period. Most of the battle scenes in this movie were taken from another film, The Alamo, starring John Wayne. Finally, at San Jacinto, Lang remains true to Michner s version of the battle. However, Lang s film version was poorly edited, again using borrowed battle scenes. The battle scenes he did make were short and relied heavily on the use of slow motion to extend the time of the film battle.

Overall, the movie was entertaining if not saved by fine acting and the historical context of the plot itself. However, the film does not compare to Michner s attention to detail and awesome storytelling. Essentially, Lang is not able to capture the grandness of Michner s novel. But in Lang s defense, it would be a daunting task indeed for anyone to recreate on film such a fine novel without leaving out some important aspect.

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