By Tom Mayer
There’s real magic in John Hood’s new novel, Mountain Folk. Actually, make that magics, plural.
Hood, an educator, writer, political columnist and foundation executive who has reported for the likes of the Wall Street Journal and National Review, turns to speculative fiction in a debut novel that never strays far from his historian roots.
Combining elements of folklore and fantasy, Native American and European legends, Hood melds a world of fairies and other fantastical beings with the story of our nation’s founding — real life characters such as Daniel Boone and George Washington not only populate but interact with the fanciful world — centered on a fairy ranger who can move between human lands (the Blur) and his own, without the aid of magical protection.
In the Blur, this makes Goran a rarity and he uses his gift to befriend certain humans — the novel opens with an introduction between the fairy and Boone, who can see and communicate with him — but soon finds himself increasingly at odds with superiors and others in the fairy nations when he is ordered to assist in crushing the American Revolution. Just because a land is magical doesn’t mean things are all Kumbayah.
But beyond the epic fantasy itself, the best magic in Mountain Folk is the sorcery that will make early American history accessible to a wide swath of ages, tween to adult, who would otherwise eschew the subject. Not since John Jakes’ The American Bicentennial series has the story of our nation’s founding been so engaging and approachable.
With such a project, sidestepping cultural appropriation and stereotype will always be a deft dance, and Hood — a reporter at heart — manages to avoid those tremors here. The result is an enjoyable beach — rather, mountain — read that musters up the best of scholastic fiction.
John Hood: “Although my novel has many non-human characters, I actually use them to illustrate the inescapable realities of human nature. We are all fallen creatures. We yield to temptation.”
John Hood: “There are many explanations for fairy belief. It’s reassuring to believe good and bad events aren’t just random. That powerful forces are at work, magical forces to be tapped or propitiated.”
John Hood: “Ideas do have consequences. But they are contingent on factors beyond the substance and soundness of the ideas themselves. Human beings aren’t calculating machines. We're storytellers.”
John Hood: “We need histories, novels, films, music, and art that embrace a common American creed, that celebrate its inspiring past & boundless future. We need more stories of heroic Americans.”
John Hood: “We should make greater use of fiction to teach fact. Weaving historical content into fiction with strong characters and compelling plots makes it easier for readers to recall and interpret facts.”
In this column for dozens of newspapers, author John Hood describes the book’s themes by referring his days in 4-H. The four “H”s in Mountain Folk include history, heroes, heritage, and human nature.
This story — broadcast on Fox 8 and other TV stations — describes John Hood’s use of original videos to promote Mountain Folk characters, themes and settings, such as the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road.
On this edition of John Miller’s popular show, John Hood describes the genesis of Mountain Folk — and explains how characters from folklore and epic fantasy can convey important historical truths.
During this 15-minute interview with CJ host Mitch Kokai, John Hood cites the examples of Animal Farm, Brave New World, and The Lord of the Rings to show how fiction can depict abuses of power.
In this hourlong show, John Hood talks about researching Mountain Folk, using fiction to explore historical themes, and the monsters from European & Native American folklore featured in the book.
In this 17-minute appearance on Tom Lamprecht’s radio show, John Hood talks about his transition from nonfiction to fiction and his use of folklore magic to depict key moments in American history.