But the lieutenant barely noticed the grass, or the valley and its dimensions. Even the sky, now building with clouds, and the sinking sun, with its miraculous display of cathedral rays, could not compare with the great, living blanket of buffalo that covered the valley floor. – from “Dances With Wolves”

Yes, you read that right – “Dances with Wolves.” As in the movie. Which is somewhat frustrating and somewhat inspiring. This story was originally written as a novel/screenplay in the 1980’s and was rejected repeatedly for both a movie and a novel. However, the author is friends with Kevin Costner – who helped him make it into an award winning movie, which paved the way for the book version to be published (which is actually a bit different than the movie).

There were perhaps seventy dead buffalo scattered like chocolate drops across a great earthen floor, and at each body families set up portable factories that worked with amazing speed and precision in transforming animals into usable products.

“Dances with Wolves” is the Lakota name for Lieutenant John Dunbar – who is sent to an abandoned army camp by an insane military officer as a reward for bravery during the Civil War. Dunbar has always wanted to go out west and serve, and is granted a military commission on the plains. When he realizes he’s alone in his position, he at first tries to serve faithfully and maintain a watch. But as loneliness creeps in, he befriends both a wolf he names “Two Socks” and eventually a band of Sioux Indians that camp nearby. Slowly but surely, Dunbar is assimilated into their tribe. But he knows that his utopian life among the tribe can’t last forever and that eventually he’ll have to face his position as a white soldier.

This book is written with a tone that makes it easy to see how it was made into such a sweeping epic of a movie. You can feel the author’s respect for the Native American tribes and their way of life. We not only read about Dunbar’s transformation, but we experience it alongside him – developing awe at the Sioux’s lifestyle and disgust for how mistreated they and nature were by the white armies. It sounds quite trite, and I know I’ve said it many times, but I highly recommend this book. Even if you’ve seen the movie, I still recommend you read the book – if only to have a chance at Blake’s awesome descriptions for yourself.

“Dances With Wolves” was published as a screenplay in 1990, and as a novel in 1997.