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Sender: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
From: Mac Donnell Rare Books <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Wed, 13 Nov 2019 19:22:34 +0000
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What you quote about black slave catchers sounds like speculation to me: 
"there were surely black slave catchers."
That sounds like somebody wishing it was true. It might be true, but I'd 
like to see some citations. I have no doubt that white slave catchers 
may have coerced free blacks to lure slaves, or that slaves betrayed 
fellow slaves, etc., but I'd appreciate citations in the historical 
record of black slave catchers. Are they reported in contemporary 
newspapers, slave narratives (which are frequently highly 
fictionalized), or court records?

However, if they existed, even in small numbers, that still doesn't 
justify insertion of a fictional character into Tubman's life.

As for the film, I made no "demands for pure historicity at all costs." 
I listed things that would not be objectionable like invented dialog, 
wrong dates, costume and hair-style errors, and the like. But making up 
a character is junk. The film may be an exciting drama, a compelling 
story, and finely wrought fiction, but as history it's junk. If you 
don't like the word "junk" then how about Twain's favorite word: 

I may go see the film and praise it for all kinds of reasons, but 
historical accuracy will not be one of them.

Twain studies have long suffered from the mixing of historical facts 
with myths and legends and folklores. Folklore, legends, myths, fairy 
tales, and hoaxes have value, but let's not confuse them with historical 

Which version of Twain's The Mysterious Stranger do you prefer? The 1916 
edition or the MTP edition?

Mac Donnell Rare Books
9307 Glenlake Drive
Austin TX 78730

You can browse our books at:

------ Original Message ------
From: "Hal Bush" <[log in to unmask]>
To: "Mac Donnell Rare Books" <[log in to unmask]>; 
"[log in to unmask]" <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: 11/13/2019 12:57:46 PM
Subject: Re: [External] Re: new film Harriet

>Kevin, thanks for your thoughts. All due respect, but I think calling 
>Harriet (which evidently, you have not even seen yet) "historical junk" 
>is a bit over the top here.  Personally, I think there is a lot about 
>the film that is admirable.  But I believe that your demands for pure 
>historicity at all costs (and otherwise, the film is junk) are unfair 
>to popular film genres like this one.   I guess, as with chicken, 
>swallow the meat and spit out the bones, I guess.
>Your strong rebuke about the black slave catchers is one of the major 
>issues with the film, of course.  Generally, I also dislike just making 
>up a character;  but in historical films, this is a fairly common 
>narrative device.
>But it turns out, since you asked, that black slave catchers evidently 
>did in fact exist (though the numbers were small): as several articles 
>in recent days have documented.  One thing is, featuring this character 
>(although it's not a huge role, but not many lines) does I think 
>presents an even more complex & divided version of African American 
>life at that time.  From an article on Slate (a good article to see a 
>number of historical questions listed):
>Joshua Rothman, the chair of the University of Alabama history 
>department, told me in an email that “there were surely black slave 
>"It would be tricky for such people to operate in the South itself, 
>because in most parts of the South, whites assumed all black people 
>they didn’t know were slaves, and there are plenty of cases of free 
>black people taken into custody, thrown in jail, and sold as slaves 
>themselves. But outside of the South, or even in border states, we know 
>that rings of kidnappers used free black people to lure in their prey, 
>who were far more likely to trust a black person than a white one and 
>who wouldn’t realize they’d been duped until they were en route to 
>being sold as a slave. … And no doubt there were free black people who 
>just decided to do the work themselves and keep all the reward money.
>Manisha Sinha, author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition 
><>, agreed that 
>such people existed but suggested there weren’t many: “There were a few 
>free blacks who were involved in kidnapping rings especially in 
>Northern and border state cities. But they were few and far between and 
>subject to reprisals from a fairly well organized free black community. 
>Many more of course were involved in assisting fugitive slaves and in 
>the abolitionist underground.”
>Dr. Hal Bush
>Professor of English &
>Director of the Undergraduate Program
>Saint Louis University
>[log in to unmask]
>author website:
>From: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Mac Donnell Rare 
>Books <[log in to unmask]>
>Sent: Wednesday, November 13, 2019 11:58 AM
>To:[log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
>Subject: Re: [External] Re: new film Harriet
>The black slave catcher in the film is a made-up character, and from
>what I've read of the film he's not a minor character. That's the
>problem with the film. I doubt many historians would object much to
>things like some made-up dialog, a wrong date, a costume or hair-style
>error, and the like. But making up a significant character is a 
>This does not mean the film can't be enjoyed for it's story or acting,
>but it renders the film historical junk.
>In fact, I question whether there was any such thing as a black slave
>catcher--a free black who chased down escaped slaves--not just a slave
>who ratted out a fellow slave. I challenge anyone to find one in the
>historical record. Making up something that never existed and sticking
>it in the middle of such a film compounds the junkiness.
>What if Spielberg had put unicorns into the street scenes of his 
>film, and made them an important part of the story?
>Mac Donnell Rare Books
>9307 Glenlake Drive
>Austin TX 78730
>Member: ABAA, ILAB, BSA
>You can browse our books at:
>------ Original Message ------
>From: "Hal Bush" <[log in to unmask]>
>To: [log in to unmask]
>Sent: 11/13/2019 9:02:14 AM
>Subject: Re: [External] Re: new film Harriet
> >Kevin and all;
> >  Thanks for the responses so far.  I saw the movie yesterday, it's 
>great and often very moving.  I would definitely recommend it to 
>everyone on the LIST.  It is great to have this version out there, and 
>again, I cannot figure out why there have been so few quality 
>theatrical releases like it?  Frederick Douglass makes a couple brief 
>appearances (I don't think he even has a line!); and I wonder: how can 
>it be at this late date that there has never been a great film about 
>this great American?  Honestly I don't get it -- somebody should call 
>Denzel or someone with clout to do it.  I'm happy to do a screenplay, 
>if so commissioned!
> >
> >Anyway: go see Harriet.
> >
> >Kevin's remark is a common caveat, especially from historian-types 
>like the readers of this LIST.  I get it, and often wonder in movies if 
>a scene or incident narrated really happened, etc.  Think of Selma: 
>wonderful film, but the King people would not allow the speeches to be 
>used (???). So the words in all speeches in Selma are written to sound 
>like King; but are not King's words.  Strange, but true...
> >
> >I've also heard some strong, alternative responses from film people 
>and screenwriters, who feel that what they are doing in historical big 
>screen film making is somewhat less constrained by the "facts on the 
>ground" than purely fictional writing.  So I look at Harriet and I do 
>wonder, are those black slave catchers based on real or imagined 
>characters, or just types?  Are the purported visions and prophetic 
>insights of Harriet (which occur at least 6-7 times, so her spiritual 
>connections with God become in fact a major motif of the movie) based 
>on real dreams & visions she had? You know, Joel chapter 2 - type 
>stuff?  etc.
> >
> >PS: one of the gold standards for the historically detailed approach 
>was Spielberg's Lincoln.  I heard a lecture once by the screenwriter 
>Tony Kushner, about how painstaking Spielberg was about historical 
>fact.  Actually, obsessive: even things like accents, or the ticking of 
>Lincoln's pocket watch.  As a Lincoln aficianado, I actually once 
>published a panel of Lincoln historians, in Cineaste magazine, talking 
>about that movie's historical reality.  All of these great Lincoln 
>scholars agreed on how accurate it was: people like Mark Noll, Allen 
>Guelzo, and Michael Burlingame.
> >
> >Cineaste, “What Historians Think About Spielberg’s Lincoln,” 38.1, 
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >Dr. Hal Bush
> >
> >Professor of English &
> >
> >Director of the Undergraduate Program
> >
> >Saint Louis University
> >
> >[log in to unmask]
> >
> >314-977-3616
> >
> >;!euKmGKuCglU!du9J94WeK3QJCJY_gklhZtjARRqb_-WDmp2Nmb7LvQoHEej5FDF_kdWKHy6jzas$
> >
> >author website:  
> >
> >________________________________
> >From: Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Mac Donnell 
>Rare Books <[log in to unmask]>
> >Sent: Saturday, November 9, 2019 10:16 AM
> >To: [log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>
> >Subject: [External] Re: new film Harriet
> >
> >Speaking only for myself, when a movie is based on a historical figure 
> >do so wish the movie-makers would stick to the historical facts as 
> >as possible. Hollywood is the home of myth, legend, and fantasy, and 
> >a director now and then inserts a historical figure into a
> >non-historical movie, well--no harm, no foul. But "enhancing" the 
> >by inserting a fictional character into the middle of the action in a
> >film centered around a historical figure is misguided and insulting.
> >Even if the drama in the story is somehow enhanced, it is still a
> >disservice to historical truth. Most movie-goers will accept it as 
> >or at least as truthy. The Adventures of Mark Twain comes to mind. 
> >Warner sent crews out to Hartford, Elmira, Hannibal, and other places,
> >where they took hundreds of photos documenting Twain's homes,
> >belongings, etc., but when it came time to film they pretty much 
> >their own research and presented a highly fictionalized version of his
> >life. For decades there was the fake version of The Mysterious 
> >infecting the healthy tissue of Twain's writings. Bad enough that
> >historical evidence was rejected or ignored in favor of movie-maker
> >fictions, but some editors could not resist fictionalizing Twain's
> >fiction. Surely there is a ring in Hell for that.
> >
> >Well, thank goodness the pages of Twain studies are not contaminated
> >with myths, legends, hoaxes, and non-historical blather!
> >
> >Kevin
> >@
> >Mac Donnell Rare Books
> >9307 Glenlake Drive
> >Austin TX 78730
> >512-345-4139
> >Member: ABAA, ILAB, BSA
> >
> >You can browse our books at:
> >;!euKmGKuCglU!f6j9JLEBTADMMXqHhT-tZ-KhgadCZ5TXw87MPgVfsfSLUvdY5zOdZFkrZUHkhqg$
> >
> >
> >------ Original Message ------
> >From: "Hal Bush" <[log in to unmask]>
> >To: [log in to unmask]
> >Sent: 11/9/2019 8:58:22 AM
> >Subject: new film Harriet
> >
> >>folks, I believe some of you will be interested:
> >>
> >>Perhaps this is predictable (it's really, really hard to depict these 
>histories to everyone's satisfaction at the current moment): but the 
>controversy over the new film Harriet is for real (even though it has a 
>full 99% audience-like rating on rotten tomatoes).
> >>& ps: I have encouraged my own students to see it (they all read 
>Uncle Tom's Cabin & Douglass' Narrative this semester):  I'd love 
>hearing anyone's thoughts about the film, as either a teaching device 
>or just an aesthetic/historical account.
> >>
> >>;!euKmGKuCglU!f6j9JLEBTADMMXqHhT-tZ-KhgadCZ5TXw87MPgVfsfSLUvdY5zOdZFkr8B6n7z0$
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >>Dr. Hal Bush
> >>
> >>Professor of English &
> >>
> >>Director of the Undergraduate Program
> >>
> >>Saint Louis University
> >>
> >>[log in to unmask]
> >>
> >>314-977-3616
> >>
> >>;!euKmGKuCglU!f6j9JLEBTADMMXqHhT-tZ-KhgadCZ5TXw87MPgVfsfSLUvdY5zOdZFkr0G3RlwQ$
> >>
> >>author website:  
> >>
> >