The Light in the Forest Film Details
Overview: A young white man who spent his whole life raised by Native Americans is sent to live with his birth family and must learn to fit in with people he was taught to hate.
Review: I confess that Conrad Richter’s “The Light in the Forest” is one my all-time favorite books which I have literally read over a dozen times. So my opinion of Walt Disney’s film is heavily influenced by my love of the book. Richter’s novel is set in 1764 colonial America when the Ohio tribes were forced to return all their white captives in order to ratify a peace treaty with the British. Among these captives is 15 yr old True Son who was born John Butler and abducted by Delaware Indians from his Pennsylvannia home when he was four. True Son was adopted into the tribe and during the course of his eleven year captivity ceases to believe that he’s a captive, forgets his real family, and views himself as an Indian. He also learns to hate all white people. Yet despite these views and his love for his Delaware home and family (which are the only ones he knows), he’s forced to return to the family he was born into. He rebels against this with his whole being. He regards his real family as abductors. Even worse, he finds himself related to men who butchered a village of peaceful Christian Indians. True Son dreams of escaping this white prison and returning to his beloved life as a young god in the forest. Eventually, circumstances created by racial hatred cause True Son to find himself rejected by the two worlds that have laid claim to him. It is deeply moving and sad novel of a young man torn apart by the claims of blood and loyalty. So how well did Disney’s film capture the message and tone of Richter’s novel? It didn’t. To put it bluntly, this movie is a complete butchery of Richter’s novel. It starts off badly with a cheesy choir singing a song entitled “The Light in the Forest” during the opening credits and it gets a whole lot worse. James MacArthur with his stocky frame and curly light brown hair is physically wrong to play the part of the lithe, dark, and black-haired True Son. Also, he did not have the acting ability to capture melancholy sadness and hostility of the character. However, these are quibbles when it comes to the main fault of the movie- sanitizing and/or completely doing away with the entire theme of racial hatred which is the central subject of the novel. True Son knows that he was born white, but he loathes how white people live. He knows that some of his white relations are virulent racists (the character Uncle Wilse is a murdering butcher of Indian women and children) and later is confronted by the fact that the Delawares are not guiltless of committing atrocities. Of course, all this heavy stuff was too much for a 1950’s Disney movie so it is not touched upon. However, that leads to the question- why did Disney buy the film rights if they were not going to address the main point of the novel? So if film abandons the central focus of the novel then what is it about? Basically, the movie has a made-up, syrupy teen romance replacing all the dark elements of the novel. Upon his return to his white family,True Son is befriended by a lovely indentured servant girl and a gentle romance starts to bloom (ignoring that in the book True Son finds white girls unattractive in comparison to Indian girls and wants nothing to do with them). True Son escapes to his Indian family, but then decides he liked being with white people after all and returns to his blonde girlfriend. It is a far cry from the novel’s ending: a forlorn teenage boy alone in the forest with tears filling his eyes and asking: “Then who is my father?” Maybe I am being overly harsh on this film. On its own merits, its a well-made piece of Disney escapism. But as a film version of a beloved novel it is an insult.
Duration: 83 min
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Family, Romance, Western
Also known as: Свет в лесу,Das Herz eines Indianers,Den hvide indianer,The Light in the Forest,Lueur dans la forêt,Johnny, l’indiano bianco,Światło w lesie,Den vita indianen,Una luz en el bosque,開拓者の血,Ena fos sto dasos,Den hvite indianer,Não Renego o Meu Sangue,La luz de la pradera,Lumina din padure,Het lich in’t woud,O Tratado dos Moicanos,Uma luz na floresta,Svet v lesu,Western Perlen 12 – Das Herz eines Indianers,Fulgor en la espesura,Rebelle de la prairie