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X. MULLEN, JR REVIEWS DONNER - REED TRAGEDY
Tragedy, a historical novel by Ted Davidson, gives the readers the
opportunity to walk alongside the doomed pioneers and shiver with them
in their makeshift huts and tents in the 20-foot-deep snow.
Davidson centers his narrative on James Reed, who with George Donner founded
the expedition, and William Eddy, who lost his family but rescued many
Other characters, such as the Breen family members, aren't as well developed.
In all, though, Davidson takes the reader on a trek through history and
into the minds of the main characters. Readers walk with the doomed pioneers
across plains, deserts and mountains towards the lake that today bears
the party's name.
his research, Davidson became obsessed by the nuts and bolts of the events
and by the characters' reaction to unexpected trouble.
story confirms my belief in the amazing potential of ordinary people when
they encounter incredible situations,' he said. 'People are capable of
accomplishing extraordinary, often superhuman things, both admirable and
atrocious, to survive.'
Davidson said he became interested in the Donner Party during a snowshoe
hike in the Sierra in the 1950's when an unexpected snowstorm stranded
his own party.
'We got to a cabin and it stormed like crazy; the snow was reaching the
peak of the roof after a couple days,' he said. 'I wondered what it must
have been like for the Donners and the other families.'
He said he tried several times to write a screenplay but finally decided
the scope of the story was too big for a two-hour movie.
'Maybe a 10-hour miniseries would do it justice,' Davidson said. 'There's
an incredible range of emotions, circumstances, impossible odds, love
and hate, life and death, madness and murder, cannibalism and survival.'
Such conflicts can be found on every page of Davidson's novel. The reader
witnesses a group of travelers who begin with high hopes and soaring spirits.
Unforseen events wear them down and an unmapped 'shortcut' places them
at the rear of the emigration of 1846 and at the mercy of early Sierra
Tempers flare, guns and knives are drawn, parents chose between feeding
their own broods and sharing with the children of others. Every bad thing
that could happen to a wagon train happened to the Donners.
About half the 87 party members died before reaching California and some
of them-such as Charles Stanton-gave their lives to help the others. For
Davidson, the message of the tragedy is not despair, but hope.
'These people faced insurmountable odds and some of them survived,' he
said. 'I doubt if the people living in our culture today could have done
the same. To me, this is an incredible story that couldn't possibly be
true and yet it is.' ....
In Donner-Reed Tragedy, Davidson gives readers a seat around the
campfires and takes them over the snowbound peaks of the Sierra Nevada.
He makes us privy to the escalating conflicts that doomed half of the
party, and the heroism that saved the survivors. The reader follows bloody
footprints in the mud and aches as children starve, mothers weep, and
salvation is hampered by a wall of snow.
If you want facts, study history; if you want to live the story, read
fiction. In his novel, Davidson goes beyond the archives and tells the
truth about the nightmare and the redemption of the unfortunate emigrants."
X. Mullen Jr., Senior Reporter, Reno Gazette Journal,
Author of The Donner Party Chronicles: A Day-by-Day
Account of a Doomed Wagon Train: 1846-1847
Frank Mullen was discussing Ted's novel with him, Frank excitedly
commented on the potential of turning Donner-Reed Tragedy into a movie.
Then Frank paused and sadly observed that, "Hollywood has never
done justice to the Donner Tragedy." Immediately Ted revealed
that he has a completed screenplay for an 8- to 10-hour miniseries,
which has yet to be produced. Both the novel and screenplay have the
same title and treat the same details.
WALTER REVIEWS DONNER - REED TRAGEDY
Davidson has "done what writers need to do. . . created a real nail-biter.
. . taken one of history's great tales and set it in a dramatic structure
that manages to maintain the stress and the tension that is required of
solid dramaturgical craft. . . . What a tale! It confronts life and death,
love and hate and every other corner of the human condition. . . . I am
sincerely and enormously impressed with this grand effort. It is truly
a feast! There's a curious metaphor to describe this particular
tale dealing as it does with, among other things, cannibalism. . . . I
did truly get caught up in this tale."
Walter, Author, Professor,
Department of Film and Television
University of California, Los Angeles
ANDERSON REVIEWS DONNER - REED TRAGEDY
manager of the gift store at Sutter's Fort State Historic Park, I have
reviewed many books about the Donner Party. Most of them are works of
academic research, and while factual, to the average reader they are about
as interesting to read as the phone book. Then there are the fictionalized
accounts, which are more fiction than fact. Then I read Donner-Reed
Mr. Davidson has used his talent as a screenwriter and his skill as a
researcher to give us the best of both worlds: a book that is both a gripping
and accurate account of one of America's most misunderstood and
sensationalized events. I truly enjoyed this book.
I was skeptical before I started reading it because so much has been written
about the Donner Party, but I really liked it....With all the things I
had read before, I had never realized how important Reed was until I read
Sutter's Fort Trade Store
Sutter's Fort State Historic Park
PATE REVIEWS DONNER - REED TRAGEDY
Tragedy is wonderful! Ted Davidson accurately brings the Donner Tragedy
to life in a way that no one has done before. I love it. It's destined
to become a classic."
Pate, Administrative Specialist
Fort Bridger Museum
Fort Bridger, Wyoming