Thursday, May 07, 2015

Michael Blake 1945-2015


Author Michael Blake passed away last week after an undisclosed illness. He was the author of the novel Dances with Wolves, as well as the screenplay, for which he won an Oscar. I wanted to mark his passing simply because Dances with Wolves is a particular memory for me.

In my freshman year of high school, I missed nearly two straight months of class when, during Christmas break, I came down with bronchitis for the first time. (I've had it four times in my life now.) If you remember me talking about it ever, this was the same Christmas my high school had a walkout over.

In my illness, I couldn't stay awake very often. I'd be up for four hours or so, and then sleep for eight, so I was never reliably up at the same time every day. It was a miserable time, especially considering it was the first winter we spent in the condo we moved into. Electives were picked for me at school because I wasn't there to pick them myself, and missing the first six or so weeks of Freshman English (combined with a failing grade in the previous semester's Speech class, mainly due to extreme shyness), convinced the school that I needed to be in a slower English class for the next two years.

But the consequences were still to come, and the only thing that really held my interest during those short days of sickness was a copy of Michael Blake's Dances with Wolves. It was the perfect book for those weeks--it was very readable and it wasn't overly complicated, which was good, because with a pounding head I couldn't really concentrate on very much.

Dances with Wolves is a fun book, but it's not a deep one. It's sort of a Boy's Own Adventure version of the Old West, a story that takes A Man Called Horse and sands off a lot of the rougher edges. It's eager and unsophisticated, but so what? For a 14 year old kid, it was the story that got him through a rocky sickness at a shitty time in his life. It was a fun read. I don't know if I'd consider it one of my favorite novels, but it was one of the most fun times I ever had reading one.

I just want to acknowledge Michael Blake's passing and say thanks for giving a sick kid the only enjoyment he had that stupid winter of 1990-1991.

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