Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Masterpiece by James Michener

We've started watching again my twenty six and a half hour long VCR set of a 1970s TV series, "Centennial".
In my opinion it's the best TV series ever made, adapted from the book by James Michener, who I see as one of the best and most hard-working writers ever. The amount of research involved in his novels would cause any but the brave to falter!

I wrote about Michener and his natal chart in my early blogging days in late 2006:
"James A. Michener - Aquarian Storyteller".
Michener's style often reminds me of another Aquarian novelist, Charles Dickens (7 February 1812). Others might find this a peculiar thought, but I see the painstaking research and fine characterization, allied to subtle social comment included in their plots, bearing a striking resemblance. Naturally their natal charts contain many differences, but I see Aquarius shining through.

Most of Michener's novels are sagas, "Centennial" is no different. It traces the development of beautiful Colorado, from pre-historic times to what was "the present"-the early 1970s, at the time of Michener's writing. Fact and fiction intertwine as the story swings from days when only Native American tribes, odd-ball woodsmen and trappers inhabited the plains and mountains, to the days of early European settlers, good, bad and ugly. Onward, through a variety of adventures with ranchers, business men and politicians of the 20th century.

The late David Janssen plays the part of ranch owner Paul Garrett, descendant of the character we met in the story first of all, Pasquinel, woodsman and trapper who hailed originally from Quebec. As the saga draws to a close, the words Paul Garrett utters are even more pertinent today, over thirty years later:

"The Earth isn't something you take from without ever thinking about giving back. The Earth is something you protect every day of the year. The river is something you defend every inch of its course. We have to look to the past and get back to some basic principles if there is going to be any future worth having."


I've discovered that "Centennial" was released in DVD format just this summer. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't already seen it or read the book. There are countless familiar faces in the series, some sadly no longer with us, some in the intervening years have become almost household names. A reviewer at Amazon.com remarked, "No one can teach history like James Michener". I agree. He informs while entertaining his audience and, on occasion, moving them to tears.

This YouTube video is one of the final scenes from the TV series. I find it very moving. Country star Merle Haggard, who enters the story briefly in the last episode, as a descendant of one of the original characters, can be heard singing in the background.


The Next President of the United States said...

I'm a huge Michener fan. He can get a little "over" informative and get into too much minutia at times, but I always learn from his works.

Have I ever recommended "The Drifters" to you? It's a Michener book written in the late '60s-early '70s about young Americans and Europeans who go exploring through southern Spain, northern Africa and Nepal in search of the "secrets." I think it's one of his overlooked works.

Twilight said...


Yes, Michener can occasionally be daunting in his detail. In Centennial I was amazed to find that whole chunks had been left out of the very long TV series. It's like three or four books in one really. Maybe another writer would have spread it out into a trilogy of five (as in Douglas Adams) :-)

Michener's head must have been overloaded with facts, considering the variety of subject matter he covered and the amount of research involved - all in days before the internet. He brings to mind that character in an old poem, I think called "The School Teacher"

.....and still they gazed, and still the wonder grew, that one small head could carry all he knew

I wasn't aware of "The Drifters", but it sounds interesting. I'll visit Amazon's 2nd-hand section to see whether it's available.