The Tales of Alvin Maker
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The Tales of Alvin Maker is a series of alternate history novels by Orson Scott Card, published from 1987 to 2003 (with one more planned), that explore the experiences of a young man, Alvin Miller, who realizes he has incredible powers for creating and shaping things around him. It takes place on the American frontier in the early 19th century, a fictional setting based on early American folklore and superstition.
Card creates a world in which many characters have a limited supernatural ability, or "knack" to do some task to near perfection. Alvin Miller, the seventh son of a seventh son, discovers that his knack far surpasses that of everyone else. He can change both living and nonliving matter simply by force of will (hence the title "Maker"). This power comes at a cost, however; not only does Alvin feel a great responsibility to use his power for good, but there are forces that actively seek his death.
Alvin must discover how to use his abilities, and how to apply them for good, while struggling to survive. Along the way, he is helped by a number of people whose knacks are not as strong, but who see in Alvin a way to use their wisdom and abilities to contribute to a greater good. Some people try to misguide him or exploit his abilities for their own purposes.
The stories involve a number of historical events and figures, but this is a creation of alternate history. What was documented as the Colonial United States is divided in the books into a number of separate countries, including a smaller United States. It displays much stronger American Indian influence in its culture and society, between New England and Virginia and extending westwards to Ohio. (New England is a colony of a republican England where the Restoration never occurred.) A monarchy on the Eastern seaboard was founded by the House of Stuart in exile. In addition, many of the historical figures are either presented as caricatures or bear only superficial resemblance to their historical persons. Some of the historical figures are also accorded knacks, such as Benjamin Franklin (not a character, but repeatedly mentioned), who is said to have been a Maker, and Napoleon, who has the ability to make others adore and obey him, and to see others' great ambitions. Famous Native American Indian figures include Tecumseh, who is called Ta Kumsaw in the books. His brother Tensquatawa is also featured, as Tenskwa Tawa. The characters in the book display features similar to the two famous Native Americans. The famous Battle of Tippecanoe, in which both brothers had fought, occurs in the book, although its outcome is different from the historic one. Alvin has characteristics similar to the Mormon founder, Joseph Smith; some of the events in Seventh Son are similar to those of Smith's childhood. Alvin has visions of creating a Crystal City, which is similar to the Mormon settlement of Nauvoo, Illinois. Alvin has had premonitions that he may die after building the Crystal City, which suggests Smith's death in Nauvoo.
Race also plays a large part in the stories, particularly in the way that culture shapes the abilities that people of different groups develop. "Whites" have knacks or cultivated skills that appear to be derived from the folklore and traditions of colonial America and western Europe. "Reds" align themselves with the rhythms of nature but also use blood to perform some of their magic. "Blacks" channel their skills into creating objects of power, in a manner similar to the practices of voodoo.
A recurring theme of the books is the conflict between Creators and Destroyers—namely, Making such as Alvin does, and Unmaking that he confronts.
The author used information from American folklore to create the world featured in these books.
Alternate history characters
- William Blake (as the major character Taleswapper)
- William Henry Harrison
- Andrew Jackson
- Napoleon Bonaparte
- Marquis de La Fayette
- Daniel Webster
- John Adams
- Abraham Lincoln
- Honoré de Balzac
- John James Audubon
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Tecumseh (as Ta Kumsaw)
- Tensquatawa (as Lolla-Wossiky/Tenskwa Tawa)
- Stephen F. Austin
- James Bowie
These are characters who are mentioned, but do not appear.
- Benjamin Franklin: He is described as a "wizard" and also as a possible "maker" himself (Appeared briefly in Seventh Son as "Old Ben.")
- George Washington: Described as "Lord Potomac," who served under the British crown, but surrendered his army (and was subsequently beheaded for treason) in the series' alternate version of the American Revolution.
- Thomas Jefferson: He serves as the first President of the United States in this timeline.
- John Quincy Adams: Serves as Governor of Massachusetts during the events of Heartfire.
Books in the series
- Seventh Son (1987) - Locus Award winner, 1988; Hugo and World Fantasy Awards nominee, 1988
- Red Prophet (1988) - Nebula Award nominee, 1988; Locus Award winner, 1989; Hugo Award nominee, 1989
- Prentice Alvin (1989) - Nebula Award nominee, 1989; Locus Award winner, 1990; Hugo Award nominee, 1990
- Alvin Journeyman (1995) - Locus Award winner, 1996
- Heartfire (1998) - Locus Award nominee, 1999
- The Crystal City (2003)
- Master Alvin (forthcoming)
Short works in the series
- "Prentice Alvin and the No-Good Plow" - poem, published in Maps in a Mirror (1990)
- "The Grinning Man" - short story, published in Legends (1998)
- "The Yazoo Queen" - short story, published in Legends II (2003)
- "Alvin and the Apple Tree" - short story, published in Dead Man's Hand (2014)
- "Naysayers" - short story, published in National Review (November 19, 2015 issue)
- Red Prophet: The Tales Of Alvin Maker - a comic book series
- Alvin Maker Game - a MMORPG - that was in development in 2005, but never published
- "1988 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "1989 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "1990 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "1996 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "1999 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "Orson Scott Card interview - the extended version - New Zealand Listener". New Zealand Listener.
- "National Review Online". National Review Online. 19 November 2015.
- "Hatrack River - eGenesis to Develop Alvin's World as a Multi-player Online Game".