Soul Catcher is a tragic, eye-opening novel about the mistreatment of Native Americans and one man's vengeful attempt to even the cultural score. First published in New York in 1972 when the American Indian Movement (AIM) was just hitting its stride, the book has received surprisingly little critical or popular attention and, in fact, is currently out of print. This may have more to do with the author's other books, however, than with the quality of Soul Catcher. Frank Herbert, known worldwide as the author of the immensely popular novel Dune and its sequels, is revered as one of science fiction's greatest authors; Soul Catcher was his first and only non-science-fiction book that concerned Native Americans, a fact that might have turned off his readers and critics.
Still, the book warrants reading. In the story, Charles Hobuhet, a Native American university student who becomes possessed by the spirit, Soul Catcher, kidnaps David Marshall, the thirteen-year-old son of a powerful politician. Hobuhet has the intention of killing David in revenge for the wrongs that have been visited on Native Americans. He also faces an internal struggle between his tribal identity and the identity that he has acquired in the white—hoquat—world. At the same time, David learns more about his captor's Native American beliefs and way of life, and the two develop a relationship. The powerful themes, which include Native-American religious beliefs, sacrifice, and the meaning of innocence, collectively help to underscore the centuries-old plight of the Native American.
Frank Herbert was born on October 8, 1920, in Tacoma, Washington. After attending the University of Washington, Seattle, from 1946 to 1947 Herbert continued working as a reporter, photographer, and editor, work that he had started doing in 1939 at the age of nineteen. Herbert pursued his journalism career for thirty years with many West Coast newspapers, including the Glendale Star (California), the Oregon Statesman, the Seattle Star, and the San Francisco Examiner. During this time, Herbert also worked a number of odd jobs and began to sell his first science fiction. His first short story was published in 1952, and his first novel, The Dragon in the Sea, was published in 1956.
Although these initial efforts introduced Herbert to science fiction audiences, it was his second novel, 1965's Dune, that immediately established Herbert as one of the masters of the field and that spawned a series of books, starting with the sequel, Dune Messiah (1970). Dune was the first book ever to win both the Hugo (1966) and Nebula (1965) awards, science fiction's two highest honors. The book was also one of the first science-fiction novels to address ecological issues, inspiring other writers to do the same. In 1970, Herbert's interest in social issues led to his joining the World Without War Council, and in 1971, he served as a consultant in ecological and social studies for the Lincoln Foundation. The same year, he moved to a six-acre farm on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, where he developed an ecological project that demonstrated how people can maintain a high quality of life while using minimal natural resources.
The next year, in 1972, Herbert published Soul Catcher, one of his few non-science-fiction stories. Still, through its study of Native-American religion and way of life, the book addressed the theme of ecology that is present in many of his science fiction novels. Following Soul Catcher, Herbert wrote more than ten more novels, including four in "The Dune Chronicles" series, which culminated with 1985's Chapterhouse: Dune. Herbert died on February 11, 1986, in Madison, Wisconsin.
Soul Catcher begins after David Marshall, the thirteen-year-old son of newly appointed United States Undersecretary of State Howard Marshall, has already been kidnapped. This fact is revealed through public statements, news stories, and notes from the kidnapper, Charles Hobuhet, a university student who is now referring to himself as Katsuk. Hobuhet-Katsuk says that he has taken David as a sacrifice for all of the Native-American innocents who have been murdered by whites. After this choppy beginning, the story then jumps back to the events preceding the kidnapping, including David's preparation for his trip to the Six Rivers Camp and Hobuhet-Katsuk's possession by Soul Catcher. Interspersed with these descriptions, more news stories and statements comment on the kidnapping, a technique that Herbert uses throughout the novel.
A Midnight Journey into the Forest
When Katsuk kidnaps David, he does it by tricking him into thinking that David is taking part in a ritual to become Katsuk's spirit brother. When they have journeyed far into the forest surrounding Six Rivers Camp, Katsuk ties David up and lets him know that he is going to be killed as a sacrifice. He also forces David to use the name "Hoquat," the name that Katsuk says his ancestors had given to David's ancestors when they first settled in North America. In his first attempt to be rescued, David drops his handkerchief on the ground outside the cave where they shelter the first morning, and a helicopter sees it.
Katsuk realizes what David has done, but instead of being angry, he admires David's resourcefulness. He tells David that Raven, a powerful bird spirit, has hidden them from the helicopter, a fact that is demonstrated for the reader when Katsuk remembers the incident. Katsuk, satisfied that Raven will keep an eye on David, unties the boy. The two set out walking again, and David prays for a helicopter. Meanwhile, Katsuk begins to notice the change in David as David follows Katsuk's lead and adapts to wilderness life, learning the proper times to eat, drink, and rest. At one point, Katsuk proves that Raven will hide them from searchers, when a helicopter flies by and a flock of ravens hides David and Katsuk from sight.
On the second day of walking, Katsuk notices that some hikers have passed through and commands David to go hide behind a log. From his position, David watches as Katsuk encounters a hiker (Debay) and kills him so that he cannot report their location. David is horrified at the murder and tries to run away, but Katsuk easily catches him, knocking him out in the process. When David wakes up, Katsuk forces him to hide again while Katsuk conceals Debay's body. Two nights later, David has a spirit dream that tells him he will be granted a wish when he is ready. They talk about Katsuk's religion. The next day as they are walking near a meadow, Katsuk feels the presence of his people who hold a sing that night to lure Katsuk into their camp. Although some of his people—his ex-girl-friend, Tskanay, and his great uncle, Ish—are in the camp and try to stop Katsuk, they are no match for Katsuk's power, which Ish realizes.
Tskanay, on the other hand, does not believe that Katsuk is anybody other than Charles Hobuhet. When Katsuk puts David in her care, she encourages the boy to run away. David tries to take the trail that Tskanay has pointed out, but in his efforts to avoid the many ravens on the trail, he veers off and gets lost, getting soaked in the process. Eventually, Ish finds him and takes him back to the camp. David meets Katsuk's aunt Cally, who puts him in a tent and has him take off his wet clothes for her to dry. Tskanay comes into the tent to see David and gives him food to eat. In an attempt to take away David's innocence, the quality that Katsuk has told them is necessary for the sacrifice, Tskanay steals David's virginity. However, it does not work, since David's shame at the act proves his innocence even more and binds him tighter to Katsuk.
Katsuk Is Shunned
That day, the entire tribe, around twenty people, has a meeting, at which Katsuk tries to garner their support. However, while they agree that they will not try to stop him, they do not agree with Katsuk's plan. Instead, they say that if Katsuk kills David, Katsuk will be just as bad as whites. Later that day, as they are sheltering in an old mine, Katsuk tells David that he will not kill him unless David asks him to. Katsuk plays a song on a willow flute, during which he starts to feel ill. He thinks that his people have tricked him into offending Cedar, a tree spirit, and that he has been infected with Cedar sickness as a result. David falls asleep while Katsuk prays to Cedar. When he wakes up, he and Katsuk leave the mine and head up into the frigid forest region near the timberline. David is freezing, but Katsuk seems fine in his loincloth and moccasins.
While David dozes on a riverbank, Katsuk prays for and receives the spirit wood that he needs to make his bow. He gets ready to start cutting the wood into a bow but gets a sign that using a hoquat knife on the wood will remove its power, so he throws David's knife into the river. A few days later, he makes a knife out of obsidian rock. When David finds out Katsuk threw his knife into the river, he says that he hopes Katsuk's Cedar sickness kills him, and he hits Katsuk with a rock. Katsuk begins using his new obsidian knife to carve the wood into a bow, and David asks if he can help him. Katsuk sees this as a sign that Soul Catcher is starting to prepare David to ask for his own death.
Hope and Sickness
While Katsuk is busy carving the bow, David escapes. Katsuk follows him, stopping to make an arrow from a cedar tree that he finds. That night, David finds shelter and makes a fire in the way that Katsuk has taught him, and the next day, he begins to have hope that he will get away. That evening, Katsuk, who is noticeably sick, finds him. His sickness gets worse as the night goes on, and he falls into feverish dreams. When he wakes up the next day, David brings him water and food. Katsuk asks why David is not running away, since it was he that gave Katsuk Cedar sickness, but David tells him he is crazy and that he does not want to leave Katsuk while he is sick. Katsuk gets better, and in one of his dreams, Raven tells him to go downstream, where he finds a search party that is looking for them.
The next day, Katsuk announces they will be staying in their shelter. Katsuk is silent, contemplating the meaning of the sacrifice he is about to perform, and his extreme quietness prompts David to ask him questions. Katsuk interprets the questions as further proof that David is preparing himself for the sacrifice, but Katsuk waits for David to ask him for his death. David wakes up when he hears the search party coming and is excited that he is about to be rescued. However, he is also anxious for Katsuk to leave and hide before they catch him and kill him or throw him in jail. Katsuk says that he cannot leave until he has delivered his message, and David tells him to do whatever he needs to do to deliver the message but to hurry before the searchers find him. Katsuk takes this as his sign that David is asking for his death and kills him with the bow and arrow he has constructed. Shortly thereafter, the search party finds Katsuk with the dead boy in his arms, chanting a death song for his lost friend.
Dr. Tilman Barth
Dr. Tilman Barth is one of Hobuhet's professors in the University of Washington anthropology department, who comments on Hobuhet and his beliefs.
Cally is Hobuhet's aunt, and she wants him to save his life by releasing David, even though she is proud of her nephew for the kidnapping.
Vince Debay is the hippie hiker whom Katsuk kills in the forest with David's knife, an act that encourages David to make his first escape attempt. Although Debay recognizes Hobuhet from an anthropology class that they have shared, he thinks it odd that Hobuhet is dressed in traditional Native-American garb, a fact that makes him nervous.
Charles Hobuhet is a graduate student who becomes possessed by a spirit, kidnaps David Marshall, and ritually sacrifices him as a way to pay back white society for all of the Native Americans they have killed and mistreated. It is the rape of his sister by white loggers and her subsequent suicide that sends him into madness. The madness causes him to go into the forest, where he is possessed by Soul Catcher, a powerful spirit who instructs him to kill an innocent, and where he gets the spirit name of Katsuk. One night, he uses his status as a camp counselor at Six Rivers Camp to lure David away from his bunk, claiming that he is going to make David his spirit brother. Katsuk takes David deep into the forest, then ties him up, and reveals his plan to sacrifice him. Meanwhile, Katsuk has left a number of notes that illustrate the knowledge he has gained in his anthropology degree, his hate for the hoquat—white—world, and his desire to regain lost land and customs. These notes are very angry and often draw on legends from his people.
Katsuk himself draws on the power of legendary spirits such as Soul Catcher, the powerful spirit that possesses him, and Raven, who helps him to hide both him and David from helicopters and search parties. Throughout the story, he prays to many of these spirits, as well as to Alkuntam, the supreme god of his people. After David has his own spirit dream, Katsuk suggests that he pray to Alkuntam. The spirits are both a source of strength and anguish for Katsuk, who faces the internal struggle that results from his beliefs. Katsuk sees a spirit inside David and believes they are engaged in a battle. When Katsuk becomes sick, he thinks that David has infected him with Cedar sickness by encouraging Katsuk to make an arrow from a cedar tree. He also relies on the strength of his spirits to kill a hiker, who could expose their location. Katsuk and his captive eventually form a relationship, which Katsuk sees as a spiritual link. When Katsuk is sick, David takes care of him, and when he gets better, Katsuk thinks that Soul Catcher is helping David's spirit guide the boy to his destiny. When David speaks to him, he starts to hear a hidden meaning, which eventually leads to his belief that David is asking for death, a necessary prerequisite to this traditional sacrifice. Because of this, Katsuk kills David in a ritual sacrifice, with a special bow and arrow that he has made. When David dies, his connection to the spirit world is closed, and Katsuk is just a man again. He is proud of David for his sacrifice and chants a friend's death song for him.
See Charles Hobuhet
See David Morgenstern Marshall
Agent Norman Hosbig
Special Agent Norman Hosbig of the FBI's Seattle office is the agent assigned to lead the search for Hobuhet and David. He mistakenly believes that Hobuhet has taken David underground in the city and as a result does not concentrate all of his men in the forest. He thinks that Hobuhet is insane and ignores the sacrifice references in Hobuhet's notes, treating David's capture as a standard kidnapping.
Janiktaht is Hobuhet's sister, whose rape by white loggers and subsequent suicide spark Hobuhet's madness, which in turn leads to his possession by Soul Catcher. Hobuhet has raised Janiktaht in the absence of their deceased parents and loves her very much.
See Charles Hobuhet
Mary Kletnik, also known by her tribal name of Tskanay, is a young Native American who tries to spoil Hobuhet's plans for sacrifice. Tskanay is Hobuhet's ex-girlfriend, and she had hoped to marry him. She is upset when she sees that Hobuhet is too far gone to get married and tries to help David escape. She becomes even angrier when her attempt to steal David's innocence by stealing his virginity—which she thinks will make David an impure sacrifice—does not work. Although she is very Americanized and does not believe in the spirit world anymore, she starts to believe when Hobuhet demonstrates his power.
David Morgenstern Marshall
David Morgenstern Marshall is the thirteen-year-old kidnap victim, who gets ritually murdered by Charles Hobuhet-Katsuk. In the beginning, David is excited about going to the exclusive Six Rivers Camp, where he hopes to see real Indians and learn survival skills. He gets more than he bargains for, when his status as the son of a powerful politician makes him the target of Charles Hobuhet, one of the camp counselors. Hobuhet lures David out of his bunk one night and takes him into the woods, where he makes David call him Katsuk and where he gives David the name Hoquat—the same word that Hobuhet's ancestors used to describe David's ancestors. David tries many times to attract the attention of rescuers or to escape, but it is no use. He is constantly thwarted by the ravens that are summoned by Katsuk's power.
Katsuk chose David for his innocence, something that he demonstrates both in the simplicity in his letters home to his parents and in his conversations with Katsuk. Katsuk tells him in the beginning that he is going to kill David as a sacrifice to even the score between whites and Native Americans, but as they develop a relationship, David thinks that maybe he will survive. At one point, Katsuk tells David that he will not kill him unless David asks him to, and David feels even safer. David feels guilty over the way that his ancestors have treated Katsuk's ancestors, a feeling that is magnified after Tskanay talks him into having sex with her, in an attempt to destroy his innocence. However, this act only binds David to Katsuk more tightly. It is this connection that makes it easier for Katsuk to find David when he escapes. It also prevents David from leaving when he has the chance—instead staying to nurse Katsuk through his sickness. When David hears the search party coming for him, he is worried for Katsuk's safety. In his attempt to help Katsuk escape, he unwittingly gives Katsuk permission to kill him. His last thoughts before he dies are of shock and betrayal.
Mr. Howard Marshall
Mr. Howard Marshall is the newly appointed United States Undersecretary of State, a status that leads to Hobuhet's kidnapping and sacrifice of his son, David.
Mrs. Marshall is David's mother, who is worried about him bringing a knife to Six Rivers Camp; this is the same knife that Hobuhet uses to kill Vince Debay.
Old Ish is Hobuhet's great uncle on his father's side, and he is one of few who try to stop Hobuhet. After Ish and his people sing in the forest to lead Hobuhet to them, he tries to raise his rifle at Hobuhet but is too scared by the spirit he senses in Hobuhet, which he correctly identifies as Soul Catcher.
Sheriff Mike Pallatt
Sheriff Mike Pallatt is the head of the local law enforcement and leads the search party that finds Hobuhet and David. Pallatt knows about Janiktaht's rape and realizes that this is what caused Hobuhet to go mad. Unlike Agent Hosbig, Pallatt must make do with a very small search party, which he concentrates on the uncharted wilderness area. Pallatt is angry that the news media has pitted him against Hosbig by saying there is a battle to see who will get credit for the case. Pallatt says that his first concern is saving David, and Hobuhet, if he can. In order to do this, he and his deputy camp without a fire so that Hobuhet will not know they are coming. However, it is not until David makes a fire while Hobuhet is sick that Pallat finds their location. Shortly thereafter, Pallatt and a large search party find Hobuhet with a dead David in his arms.
Mrs. Parma is the Marshalls' servant, a woman from India who makes David very uneasy. Before he leaves for camp, David wonders if his "Indian" counselors will look like Mrs. Parma.
Ranger William Redek
Chief Park Ranger William Redek provides the news media with information about the difficulty of the search and the potential dangerous effects from being in the cold weather.
See Mary Kletnik
Mistreatment of Native Americans
In Soul Catcher, Katsuk and others make some very overt references to the struggle between Native Americans and white people in the past. This is his stated reason for sacrificing David: "I want your world to understand something. That an innocent from your people can die just as other innocents have died." Through his captivity, David, an American boy who knows nothing about Native Americans before he goes to camp, learns more than he wishes about the treatment his ancestors have given Native Americans: "His people had stolen this land. He knew Katsuk was speaking the truth…. He had even sinned as his ancestors had, with a woman of these people." Katsuk also notes other ways in which early Americans mistreated his people, such as giving them blankets infested with smallpox: "You hoquat have used sickness blankets on us before." The knowledge of these offenses against Native Americans weighs him down: "David felt himself hostage for all the sins of his kind." Even Sheriff Pallatt, who heads one of the search parties, acknowledges the bad treatment that Native Americans have received at the hands of whites: "This is what comes of sending an Indian to college. He studies how we've been giving his people the s—ty end of the stick. Something happens … he reverts to savage."
Native-American religion is another key concept in the book. As Katsuk demonstrates, Native-American religion is rooted in respect for nature, which provides the way of life for his people. Throughout the book, Katsuk prays to various spirits, many of which represent natural forces. For example, Raven, named for the birds he commands, serves as a guardian to Katsuk, protecting Katsuk and David from sight when helicopters fly by, as Katsuk proves to David: "The helicopter was high but in plain sight…. An occupant would only have to glance this way to see two figures on the high rock escarpment." However, the helicopter does not see them. Shortly after the helicopter flies away, David sees why, when "a single raven flew over the rock where David lay, then another, another."
Katsuk also acknowledges his reliance on other aspects of nature, such as when he prays to Fish, the spirit who controls fish, for forgiveness, when he kills a fish for him and David to eat. The spirits also plague Katsuk, as when he gets sick and attributes it to Cedar sickness, which he believes he has gotten from not praying enough to Cedar. Not all spirits are based in nature. Soul Catcher, the powerful spirit that possesses Katsuk, does not have any specific correspondent in nature. However, when Soul Catcher possesses Katsuk, he does it through the stinger of a bee, another symbol of nature. Even those Native Americans in the story who do not actively practice their religion often remain respectful. When Katsuk walks into the camp of his great uncle, Ish, and his ex-girlfriend, Tskanay, Ish realizes that Katsuk has been possessed and backs down from trying to stop Katsuk: "Don't catch me going up against a real spirit. Soul Catcher's got that one."
Katsuk lets the outside world know in one of his notes that "I take an innocent of your people to sacrifice for all of the innocents you have murdered…. Thus will sky and earth balance." In the beginning, Katsuk reinforces, both to himself and the outside world, that this sacrifice is symbolic in nature. However, occasionally, his thoughts slip to the rape of his sister and her subsequent suicide, at which points the sacrifice becomes a revenge killing. And eventually, the two become one and the same, as he equates his sister's death with all of his ancestors' deaths. Katsuk blames the need for the sacrifice directly on the loggers who raped his sister: "They had killed Janiktaht…. They had killed Vince, growing cold up there on the trail…. All killed by those drunken hoquat." Katsuk further notes that although Vince's death is not a large enough sacrifice to send a message and even the score, he will still serve as "a preliminary sacrifice, one to mark the way."
As David becomes a captive of Katsuk in the forest, he starts to learn the Native-American methods of survival. Katsuk notices the change early on: "When it was time to drink, he drank. Hunger came upon him in its proper order. The spirit of the wilderness had seeped into him." After a week with Katsuk, David knows that grubs are "juicy and sweet" and is not above looking inside a stump and "searching for grubs in the rotten wood" when he is hungry. In modern society, eating grubs is not necessary or in many places acceptable. It is David's ability to cast off these modern ways that help him to survive. Likewise, when David escapes from Katsuk and spends a night on his own, he uses the techniques that Katsuk has shown him to make a fire for his shelter:
With a slab of cedar notched by pounding with a stone, with a shoestring bow to drive the tinder stick, with pitch and cedar splinters, ready at hand, he persisted until he had a coal, then gently blew the coal into flame which he fed with pitch and cedar.
Topics for Further Study
- Research the American Indian Movement, which began in the late 1960s, and write a short biography about one of the movement's principal leaders, focusing on this person's background, beliefs, and societal goals. Compare these with the background, beliefs, and societal goals of Charles Hobuhet-Katsuk in the novel.
- In the novel, David Marshall comes to enjoy the types of food that his Native American captor eats. Research other types of traditional foods that Native Americans ate before the arrival of Europeans and compare these foods to the types of foods that Native Americans eat today. How has the changing physical, cultural, and social environment over the last several hundred years affected the way that Native Americans get and prepare their food?
- Research any one of the historical battles between the United States military and a Native-American tribe. Outline the causes of the conflict and the outcome of the battle. Using this information, write one journal entry from the perspective of a Native-American brave and one from the perspective of a United States soldier, the night before the battle begins.
- Living on reservations is one of the few ways in which Native Americans can preserve their traditional way of life in the United States today. However, reservations are also plagued by high rates of alcoholism, gambling, and other problems. Research the history of reservations and discuss how and where these problems first began to arise, as well as any current efforts that are underway to address these issues.
- Throughout the story, Herbert employs a number of fake news stories that comment on the action. However, there is no news story at the end, after Hobuhet-Katsuk has killed David. Write a fake news story that could have gone at the end of the novel, which comments on this ritual sacrifice of David and the reactions that it produces in the community.
Katsuk makes it known to everybody—his people, David, and the outside world—that David must be an innocent to make a proper sacrifice. There are several points in the story when the boy's innocence is threatened. When Katsuk kills the hiker, he sees David's terror over realizing that he will be next: "Hoquat must not let this awareness rise into his consciousness. He must know it while denying it. Too much terror could destroy innocence." Later, as David starts to adapt to his circumstances and gain appreciation for Hobuhet's way of life, he realizes that Katsuk has eaten a spirit and is surprised by this Native American way of thinking: "David sat up, wondered at such thoughts coming all unbidden into his mind. Those were not the thoughts of childhood." However, though he is beginning to have more adult thoughts, they are not enough to spoil his innocence. Even when Tskanay seduces him, the act of sex is not enough to spoil his innocence, because he feels shame, a quality of innocence. Also, as Katsuk notes to Tskanay when David tries to protect her from being hurt, "You tried to use him against me … and he still doesn't want you hurt. Is that not innocence?"
When David is kidnapped, Katsuk lures David outside by telling him that they are going to do "a ceremony of spirit brotherhood." When David realizes that he has been kidnapped by Katsuk, he is terrified: "All the horror stories he'd heard about murdered kidnap victims flooded into his mind, set his body jerking with terror." However, as they make their way through the forest, captor and captive start to develop a relationship, and David begins to lose his fear of being killed. In fact, Katsuk feels "a bond being created between himself and this boy," and wonders if it is possible that they "were really brothers" in the spirit world. Although Katsuk feels it is a spiritual bond, relationships between captor and captive have been known to blossom into something resembling friendship. This bond is strengthened to the point where, when David has a chance to escape, he chooses instead to help nurse Katsuk back to health: "I couldn't just leave you. You were sick." When the search party is almost there, David tries desperately to get Katsuk to run and says that if they catch him, "I'll tell 'em I came of my own free will," even though he has not.
The state of Washington setting is crucial to the story, as it provides a realistic venue for David's kidnapping. Six Rivers Camp is poised on the edge of a huge, uncharted wilderness. Even Chief Park Ranger William Redek notes the difficulty of finding somebody in this area: "we know there are at least six small aircraft crashed somewhere in there. We've never found them…. And those aircraft aren't actively trying to hide from us." Besides being big and secluded, the forest is also the place where Katsuk's powers are their strongest, which he notes when he says that he is not afraid of the search helicopters: "All that lived wild around him helped and guarded him. The new voice of the wilderness spoke to him through every creature, every leaf and rock." For David, the setting is a challenge and provides an appropriate background for his change. In the beginning, he feels that the forest is a place that is "so utterly foreign to the sounds, sights and smells of his usual life that he tried to recall things from other times which would fit here." However, it is only when he begins to work with the forest, not against it, that David learns how to survive, and he matures, gaining a new respect for the Native-American way of life.
In the beginning of the novel, Herbert uses several mini chapters that include news stories, statements, and notes from Katsuk. This is a very overt style of exposition—the process by which readers gain information they need to understand the story. This blatant exposition prepares readers for the story they are about to hear. However, when the actual plot progresses and the reader is drawn into the events in the forest with David and Katsuk, the exposition is more subtle. Herbert still uses mini chapters, but now they serve to pull readers out of the story, letting them know: what is going on with the search for David, Katsuk's philosophies, and the views of Katsuk by other people. These outside perspectives do not prepare readers for the story, but they do enhance their reading of it.
In the beginning of the story, Herbert gives several different accounts of the kidnapping and then goes back to the events leading up to it. At this point, Herbert is invoking a sense of dread in his readers, who know what is coming. After this point, however, Herbert changes dread for suspense, as he leads readers along, making them guess whether David will live or die. When Katsuk is successful in hiding them from the helicopters by calling on Raven, David starts to realize that Katsuk's powers are for real: "He had the eerie sensation that the birds had spoken to Katsuk in some private way." As a result, David starts to lose hope. However, shortly after this, David makes his first escape attempt, giving both him and the reader some hope that he may survive: "He was running all out now. There was nothing left to do but run." David's escape attempt is cut short when Katsuk comes out of nowhere, catching "the running boy in full stride." The boy's hopes, like the reader's are dashed, at least for now.
Throughout the rest of the story, Herbert employs many more events like this to raise readers' hopes up and send them crashing down. This uncertainty becomes very suspenseful, as Herbert makes it unclear what the outcome is going to be. Katsuk's people try to stand up to him but fail. Tskanay tries to render David an impure sacrifice by sleeping with him—"You're a man now, not a little innocent Katsuk can push around"—but the act only binds him tighter to Katsuk. The ultimate moment of suspense comes at the end of the story, when David can hear the search party coming and thinks he is going home. He tries to encourage Katsuk to leave before the search party catches him, and Katsuk takes the boy's language to mean that he is asking to be sacrificed. For readers, it becomes a race to see if David will be killed by Katsuk or saved by the search party, whose flashlights can be seen "coming through the trees across the river." The slowness of Katsuk's actions increases the suspense of the moment: "Katsuk faded back in the shadows … set the bowstring … nocked the arrow … drew the bow taught … released the arrow." These actions take place at an excruciatingly slow pace over a few paragraphs, and it is only when the arrow flies "into the boy's chest," killing him, that the suspense Herbert has built up throughout the novel is finally broken.
American Indian Movement (AIM)
In the late 1960s, Native Americans in both Canada and the United States, reacting to centuries of oppression and mistreatment by whites, began to organize and protest in many isolated regional events, and in 1968 four men established the American Indian Movement (AIM). However, as Vine Deloria, Jr. noted in his book God is Red: A Native View of Religion, these smaller events "inspired Indians across the continent to defend their rights, but what was needed was some national symbol, a rallying point, that could launch a national movement." In 1969, Native Americans got their wish. After a convention in San Francisco to discuss Native-American issues, the Indian center where tribal representatives were meeting caught fire and burned to the ground. Realizing that there were no government funds to build a new Indian center, a group of Native Americans, supported by AIM and calling themselves the Indians of All Tribes, seized Alcatraz, the infamous island-based prison, which had lain empty since 1964, and demanded that the government give them leave to turn the defunct prison into a cultural-educational center.
The majority of the group was university students, like Charles Hobuhet in the novel. In fact, in Soul Catcher, Special Agent Hosbig of the FBI mentions that Hobuhet is "a university student" and then ties this into the Alcatraz event: "we've reason to believe he was an Indian militant. He's going to demand that we cede … Alcatraz or set up an independent Indian Territory somewhere else." In a statement issued from the Indians of All Tribes in February 1970, they said that they had learned that "violence breeds only more violence" and that because of this, they had "carried on our occupation of Alcatraz in a peaceful manner, hoping that the government will act accordingly." With nationally recognized protests like Alcatraz, the American Indian Movement (AIM) picked up speed.
Native Americans in Higher Education
In the book, Herbert indicates that it was the wish of Hobuhet's people that he get an education. When Katsuk meets his people in the forest, he informs the old man, Ish, that he is there to "show them that my spirit is all powerful." This is not what Ish had hoped for, however: "The old man sighed, said: 'That sure … isn't why we sent you to the university.'"
One of the ways in which Native Americans tried to adapt to life in the United States in the twentieth century was by attending American universities. They were aided in this attempt by government programs such as the Higher Education Grant Program, established by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1948 to provide educational grants to Native Americans. By 1972, nearly 12,500 Native-American students were receiving $15 million in educational funds. However, like Hobuhet, not all Native Americans wanted to learn in American universities, for fear of losing their heritage. As the Indians of All Tribes noted in their statement, "One of the reasons we took Alcatraz was because the students were having problems in the universities and colleges they were attending…. We wanted our own Indian university, so that they would stop whitewashing Indians."
Native-American Women's Groups
Several groups provided support during the American Indian Movement. Two of the most effective groups were the North American Indian Women's Association (NAIWA), founded in 1970, and the Women of All Red Nations (WARN), founded in 1974. The NAIWA was sponsored by the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and its main goal is exposure for Native-American women across the country, as well as improving communication at both the personal and tribal levels.
WARN, on the other hand, has a slightly different history. Because Native-American women were largely ignored by outsiders—who mainly punished men during the American Indian Movement—the women took the opportunity to band together for their own causes. WARN was founded to address issues among Native-American women, including ending violence against women and increasing educational opportunities. WARN also works with other women's organizations to help improve life for all minority women and provides support on general Native-American issues such as protecting Native-American land and government.
Hippies and Rebellion
In the novel, Katsuk runs into Vince Debay, a hippie, while Debay is hiking through the forest. Debay's hippie status is identified by his "long hair" and by the marijuana that he offers to Katsuk. In his essay, "Youth Protest and the Counter-culture," Timothy Miller notes some of the different types of hippies in the 1960s and early 1970s: "Some hippies were escapists who simply favored withdrawal from the prevailing culture; others proposed much more active opposition." Given Debay's easygoing, laid-back attitude, he seems to belong to the former group. In either case, Katsuk is not impressed by Debay's form of protest, as he notes after he has killed the hiker: "Vince had judged his own people harshly, had shared the petty rebellions of his time." Katsuk calls these rebellions, "petty," because they pale in comparison to the type of protest that Katsuk is performing.
Compare & Contrast
- 1970s: Aided by events like the seizure of Alcatraz, the American Indian Movement gains national recognition. Many Americans, newly aware of growing Native-American activism, initially advocate forced assimilation.
Today: Through the continued efforts of organizations like the Women of All Red Nations (WARN) and a renaissance in Native-American art and literature, the issues of Native Americans are given more exposure and sympathy.
- 1970s: Some Native Americans, especially those who are older, choose not to join the American Indian Movement, having gotten used to an American way of life, often on a reservation.
Today: While some Native Americans still live on reservations and try to preserve their heritage, others live in modern suburbs and work in a variety of professional and skilled American trades.
- 1970s: Hippies and other members of the counterculture glorify nature and a natural way of life, which they see as an escape from corporate America and other areas of the establishment.
Today: Overworked Americans in corporate America often get away from their hectic lives by taking vacations to natural areas, in some cases taking part in survival camps or other nature programs that teach them how to live off the land.
As in other Herbert novels, Soul Catcher emphasizes ecological, or environmental, preservation. In the novel, this idea is expressed through the Native-American way of life, certain aspects which David Marshall becomes used to, and even begins to enjoy, during his captivity. At the time the novel was written, environmental preservation was a hot topic. In 1970, two years before the book was published, President Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in large part due to the failure of existing environmental protection laws. Although their duties would eventually encompass a wide range of environmental issues, the EPA's first task was to administer the 1970 Clean Air Act, which sought to reduce air pollution from motor vehicles. As a result of the EPA's efforts, automobile manufacturers began to install catalytic converters in their vehicles, which significantly reduced air-pollution emissions in the next two decades.
Herbert is a hugely popular author, mainly due to the success of his second novel, Dune. Soul Catcher, on the other hand, is almost a non-event as far as critical and popular readers are concerned. Published in 1972, the book has since fallen out of print. However, even when it was in print, the book received very little critical attention. In 1974, G. Robert Carlsen notes in the English Journal, that the "book builds with spellbinding intensity" and that it is a "moving story." However, while Carlsen also briefly discusses some of the plot elements, in general, one searches in vain for anything more than a line or two about the book. Even in these cases, the book is sometimes talked about for what it is not, rather than for what it is. Take, for example, the comment by David M. Miller, in his 1980 book, Frank Herbert: "Soul Catcher is neither science fiction nor fantasy."
In his entry on Herbert in Science Fiction Writers, Willis E. McNelly notes that the book's non-science-fiction status "both puzzled and irritated many" early reviewers. McNelly further notes that, while the book "contains many of Herbert's customary technical devices and is really quite similar to his science fiction," early critics still had difficulty "addressing" the novel, and as a result, "initial reviews of the novel were mixed." Herbert is famous for his science fiction novels with fantastic elements, like Dune, so novels that fall into other categories, like Soul Catcher, were not widely acknowledged because they deviated from Herbert's style.
The lack of critical attention and support could also be due to the fact that it is "a novel about the American Indian," which is all Don D'Ammassa had to say about the book in his 1986 Herbert overview article in Science Fiction Chronicle. Of course, the Native-American theme alone would not necessarily prevent the book from being reviewed. In fact, for the past few decades, works about Native-American culture have become increasingly popular. As historian Wilcomb E. Washburn noted in his chapter in The Cambridge History of the American Peoples, Volume 1: North America, Part 2, this literary renaissance in Native-American writing began around the same time as the American Indian Movement: "For purposes of emphasis the year 1969 can mark the formal recognition of this phenomenon in the United States." As Washburn says, this was the year that Scott Momaday, "an Indian and professor of English at Stanford University, received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel House Made of Dawn."
However, Momaday, and the other popular authors of Native-American literature who followed in his footsteps, has something that Herbert did not—a Native-American heritage. Although Herbert's book champions the Native-American cause, Herbert does not share the background of these other authors. This fact, when coupled with Herbert's overwhelming success in a different genre, may have caused many critics to pass over Soul Catcher. McNelly notes, however, that this fact may change in the future and that maybe the book "has yet to achieve the preeminence that a few readers have claimed for it. It is perhaps still seeking its audience.
Ryan D. Poquette
Poquette has a bachelor's degree in English and specializes in writing about literature. In the following essay, Poquette examines the reasons why Herbert uses a disjointed narrative in his novel.
Soul Catcher is a shocking story, which grabs the reader on page one and does not let go until its tragic conclusion. Through the characters of Charles Hobuhet-Katsuk and David Marshall, the reader is drawn into a captor-captive tale, in which the captor is hard to hate and the captive is easy to love. In fact, throughout the story, the two develop a relationship that makes the ending even harder to bear. The book has many contradictions, from the modern helicopters that search in the primitive wilderness to the conflicting attitudes toward the characters. The biggest contradiction, however, is Herbert's use of a disjointed narrative, which he uses to complement the action and add to the characterization.
From the very beginning of the novel, readers realize that there is something different about this book from most other books. The first chapter is only a few paragraphs long—a mini chapter—and is followed by three more chapters that are about the same length. With the exception of the first mini chapter, which narrates Howard Marshall's reaction when he finds out his son, David, has been kidnapped, the other three chapters consist entirely of public statements, news stories, and notes about David's kidnapping, which has already happened at this point. Starting with the fifth chapter, which begins with the sentence, "On the day he was to leave for camp, David Marshall had awakened early," Herbert jumps to the past, before David has been kidnapped, and begins to tell the actual story, in chapters that are usually much longer. Herbert jumps between the mini chapters and normal chapters throughout the rest of the book, in most places alternating one mini chapter with one normal chapter. It is a very obvious technique that Herbert is using, so the reader knows that the author must have good reasons for using it. In fact, this is a common narrative style for Herbert. In this story, he uses it to comment on the action and add to the novel's characterization.
In their entry on Herbert for Dictionary of Literary Biography, Robert A. Foster and Thomas L. Wyner note the fact that "Herbert usually employs a fragmented narrative structure, in which relatively brief episodes are introduced by quotations from invented works." On a similar note, in his entry on Herbert for Science Fiction Writers, Willis E. McNelly says that the novel "contains many of Herbert's customary technical devices."
As in other Herbert novels, the mini chapter is often used to comment directly on the episode that follows it, as in an example near the beginning of the novel, when a news story reports that the grief-stricken "mother of the kidnap victim arrived at Six Rivers Camp … yesterday." This contrasts with the episode that directly follows this mini chapter, which describes the conversation between David and his mother on the morning that he is to leave for Six Rivers Camp. His mother is worried about the knife that David's father has gotten him, even though David tells her he needs it "to cut things, carve wood, stuff like that." His mother is unconvinced, but eventually she relents and lets him take the knife. However, she transfers her dislike for the knife to the camp itself, calling the camp "awful." For the reader, this is a powerful contrast, seeing the mother arrive at the camp where David has been kidnapped and then flashing back to her discussion with David, in which the reader sees her hesitation in letting David go to this "awful" camp.
However, in other cases, the mini chapters also serve to complement the action by "setting up" information that does not ultimately "pay off" until later in the novel. The best example of this also takes place near the beginning of the novel, in the mini chapter where Katsuk announces to his people that he has "done all the things correctly." He goes into detail about the items he has used on the "sacrificial victim," including the "consecrated down of a sea duck." He says that "It was all done in the proper way." In a normal novel, these confessions would serve as a clear foreshadowing of David's death and would tip the reader off to this fact. However, because Herbert is using such a disjointed narrative style and jumps around in his use of time, as he did in the beginning of the book, only the most perceptive readers will recognize that the author is using the past tense, "done," implying that the sacrificial act has already taken place at the time that Katsuk makes this announcement.
In the next chapter, when Katsuk and David stand upon a trail, Katsuk opens his pouch and removes "a pinch of the consecrated white duck down." He thinks to himself that "It must be done correctly" and uses the down to write his name upon the earth, a necessary prerequisite to David's sacrifice. In this way, as in the previous example with David's mother, the mini chapter comments on the episode that follows it. However, unlike the reference to David's mother, which does not appear again in the book, the duck down is referenced again in a few more places. But it is only at the very end of the book that the mini chapter pays off in the reader's mind. In the final scene, the suspense of the book reaches its height as the reader wonders if Sheriff Pallat and his search party can save David from being sacrificed. After David is killed and the suspense is broken, Herbert offers one final detail in the last line of the book. At this point, Katsuk is sitting with "Hoquat's body in his arms," while "The white down of sea ducks floated in the damp air all around them." This line links back to the mini chapter at the beginning of the novel, in which Katsuk lets his people know that everything "was done in the proper way."
Herbert also uses the mini-chapter commentaries in one other way. Foster and Wyner note that Herbert generally uses a fractured narrative because he is "Less concerned with plot and characterization than with setting and ideas." However, in Soul Catcher, Herbert deviates from this practice somewhat, because he puts as much emphasis on characterization as the other aspects. The characterization, however, is developed in two ways. First, readers learn aspects of Hobuhet-Katsuk's and David's characters as they follow the two characters on their journey, through the longer episode chapters. This is the normal way that readers learn about their characters, through the actual story itself.
However, in Soul Catcher, Herbert uses the mini chapters to introduce many characters that are not found in the actual narrative. In a normal disjointed narrative of this size, these extra characters would decrease readers' understanding of the characters, since they would steal attention away from the two main characters and force the reader to think about other characters, other subplots. But in this book, there is very little information given about these additional characters, which are generally used for the sole purpose of offering outside perspectives of either David or Hobuhet-Katsuk. As a result, the outside world remains very distant, and the reader is forced to focus on David and his captor, who become the two most prominent characters.
Sometimes, these additional characters offer contradictory perspectives. This is true for Hobuhet-Katsuk. For example, in one of the first mini chapters, Dr. Tilman Barth, Hobuhet-Katsuk's old professor, is introduced. "I find this whole thing incredible," says Dr. Barth. "Charles Hobuhet cannot be the mad killer you make him out to be. It's impossible." Dr. Barth's other mini chapter statements also involve Hobuhet-Katsuk and, in fact, serve as some of the few positive views of David's captor. Likewise, Sheriff Pallatt notes in a mini chapter that Charlie's sister was a "good kid" and that Hobuhet has "raised her almost by himself" since their parents died. For this reason, Pallatt is sympathetic about the sister's rape and subsequent suicide, saying that "I'm not surprised Charlie went off his nut." Later on, in another mini chapter, Pallatt also expresses his desire to help Hobuhet: "All I want is to save that kid—and the Indian, if I can."
These positive, or at least supportive, views are important to the narrative, especially since most other statements in the mini chapters are negative. David's father says: "Our Indians were well treated…. The man who took David must be in sane." Likewise, FBI agent, Norman Hosbig, is cold and stereotypical. Hosbig believes that Hobuhet is either "mentally deranged" or "pretending insanity." He also refuses to believe that the note Hobuhet-Katsuk left was anything but a "ransom note" and sticks doggedly to his idea that Hobuhet is an "Indian militant" who is going to demand "an independent Indian territory" in exchange for David. This is all that Hosbig knows from his experience. The contradictory viewpoints are intended on Herbert's part. If Hobuhet-Katsuk were depicted only as a crazy person or a lawless militant, the author would be leading his readers to choose one of these ideas as their viewpoint. Instead, Herbert does not give any easy outs. Readers must read all of the accounts of Hobuhet-Katsuk, from both himself and others, and make a decision for themselves as to whether he is evil for his actions.
When it comes to David, however, Herbert does lead the reader into a decisive judgment. David is the good innocent, plain and simple. This is shown in the main narrative, with the way David handles himself during the kidnapping. He feels ashamed at his ancestors' actions, he is embarrassed when he has sex with Tskanay, and he chooses to stay and help Hobuhet-Katsuk get better, even when he has a chance to flee. This characterization of David is strengthened through the depictions of David in the mini chapters. In David's letter home from camp, he uses the short, journalistic-style sentences that an innocent child uses to describe something to someone, in this case his parents: "I am having a lot of fun…. A man from camp met me there. We got on a small bus. The bus drove for a long time. It rained." These short sentences are free from any pretensions or ornamentation whatsoever. They are simply the writings of an innocent who writes about what he sees. Likewise, David's teacher says, "He's a very good student, considerably ahead of most in his form…. David is very sensitive … the way he studies things." Herbert uses these mini chapters to underscore the pure goodness and innocence of David. With this picture of David in mind, the sacrifice at the end becomes even more painful and tragic.
In the end, Herbert inspires an extreme feeling of uneasiness in the reader, who has just witnessed the horrible death of a true innocent. By contradicting his entire narrative with a second narrative thread, which exists in mini chapters that break up the main narrative, Herbert helps to underscore the fact that the issues surrounding Native Americans are complex, a little chaotic, and not easily solved.
Source: Ryan D. Poquette, Critical Essay on Soul Catcher, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
Witcover is an editor and writer whose fiction and critical essays appear regularly in magazines and online. In the following essay, Witcover discusses myth and religion in Frank Herbert's novel Soul Catcher.
Frank Herbert is justly famed as the author of one of the greatest science fiction epics ever written, the classic Dune series. The most popular and successful book in this series was the first, also called Dune, but readers who stop there, with the thrilling victory of Paul Atreides, a.k.a. Muad'Dib, over his evil enemies, thus fulfilling the ancient messianic prophecies of the Fremen of his adopted planet, Arrakis, and the secret genetic engineering program of the Bene Gesserit order, miss an extraordinary reversal of fortune for the immensely likeable young hero. In the next two novels, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune, Herbert boldly and systematically traces Paul's downward path from liberator/messiah to hated tyrant to blinded outcast to mad prophet while simultaneously presenting the journey of his son, Leto, in the opposite direction, with the son not only becoming a more absolute tyrant than his father ever was but finally renouncing his humanity in favor of a monstrous godhood from which Paul had recoiled in horror.
Many readers of Dune—who, as Herbert fully intended, had become deeply attached to the charismatic and sympathetic figure of Muad'Dib—recoiled in a kind of horror themselves from the fate to which Herbert subjected him. As critic Timothy O'Reilly notes in his book Frank Herbert:
In the Dune trilogy, Herbert portrays a hero as convincing, noble, and inspiring as any real or mythic hero of the past. But as the trilogy progresses, he shows the consequences of heroic leadership for Paul, his followers, and the planet. Anyone devoted to the heroic ideal is apt to be devastated by the conclusion of the trilogy.
The extremity of changes that Herbert puts his characters—and readers—through in the course of these books is very much a conscious choice: a recurring theme in all his work is the inevitability of change and the desirability of aligning oneself and one's culture as far as possible with the inevitable forces of change rather than seeking either to hold them back or to rigidly control them; either of these choices, in Herbert's fiction, is likely to unleash destructive forces on both the personal and cultural level. The virtue Herbert holds highest is that of awareness or consciousness (not to be confused with sheer intelligence); characters like Paul demonstrate a level of consciousness far above and beyond that of normal human beings. This hyperconsciousness is almost always marked by the ability to simultaneously perceive multiple realities or interpretations of reality, which, in its highest form, includes the ability to enter empathetically into the experiences and mindsets of others. As a result, either willingly or reluctantly, these hyperconscious characters, who often walk a fine line between transcendent genius and madness and who remain, despite all their advantages, fallible human beings, tend to become powerful leaders, messiah figures to their people. Yet in the process, they unleash forces they cannot control and that seek to control them and that often succeed in doing so in whole or in part. In an interview with Vertex magazine, Herbert spoke of the Dune series as "a treatment of the messianic impulse in human society" and compared that society, in a characteristic metaphor, to a living organism. Seen in this way, a messiah figure like Paul Muad'Dib is either a virus or a genetic mutation in the larger organism. Both can be spurs to healing, adaptation, and evolution. Both can also be fatal.
A dynamic of fiercely contending interests is the norm in Herbert's fictional ecologies. His aim as a writer is not to resolve these conflicts or even judge between them but to compel his readers to evaluate for themselves and make up their own minds. Herbert is not an overtly moralistic writer; he generally does not tell his readers what to think or feel. This is not to say that he doesn't have an opinion or preference himself for solutions to the complex moral, psychological, and emotional situations he presents in his books. On the contrary, but, in keeping with his training as a journalist, Herbert presents the complexities as objectively as possible, without stacking the deck, then trusts the reader to make an informed choice. A judgment is expected, but it is the reader's to make. In order to make it, Herbert's readers, like his characters, must raise their consciousness. O'Reilly aptly observes that Herbert's novels are "training manuals for exactly the kinds of consciousness they describe."
Of course, it is impossible to be completely objective, especially in such an inherently subjective medium as the novel, and Herbert, despite himself, often does subtly, or not-so-subtly, stack the deck. Indeed, a schematic didacticism may be his greatest weakness as a writer; it is a weakness always lurking in his work, though generally counterbalanced by depth of characterization, vitality of intellect, complexity of plot, and that page-turning quality that is the mark of the most skillful fiction. Herbert's faith in the intelligence of his readers is rarely shaken, and he seldom fails to follow his fictional ideas to their logical conclusions, even when those conclusions are likely to be unpopular or unpleasant.
This is nowhere truer than in Herbert's novel Soul Catcher, where rigorous extrapolation of the initial idea leads to a conclusion so viscerally unpleasant as to be repugnant. Of the twenty-one novels that Herbert published in his career, twenty are science fiction; only Soul Catcher—published in 1972, midway between the publication of Dune Messiah and Children of Dune—falls outside the genre. As critic David M. Miller notes in his book Frank Herbert, "Soul Catcher is neither science fiction nor fantasy"; it is, he adds, "an anomaly in Herbert's canon." Yet in some ways it is the most characteristic novel Herbert ever wrote. Again quoting Miller:
Soul Catcher does not add to Herbert's earlier novels in the sense of being something new; rather, it steps away from the buffers and props that assured his success in the world of science fiction…. What remains is essential Herbert, without ploy or pretense.
What is Soul Catcher if it is neither science fiction nor fantasy? Is it a realistic novel? It can certainly be read that way. On a purely realistic level, the novel is a thriller/horror story recounting the kidnapping of thirteen-year-old David Morgenstern Marshall, son of a U.S. Undersecretary of State, by Charles Hobuhet, a graduate student in anthropology, who is also a member of the Quinault tribes of northwestern Washington state. After evading his pursuers for two weeks in the wilderness, Hobuhet—deranged with grief over the recent suicide of his younger sister, following her brutal rape by a gang of white loggers—ritually murders his innocent captive in revenge not only for her death but for the deaths of all Native Americans killed by whites over the centuries. As Hobuhet states in a note left behind after his abduction of David, "I take an innocent of your people to sacrifice for all of the innocents you have murdered."
In this reading, Hobuhet is either a terrorist or a madman (or both), his aim a horrific conflation of personal revenge and grandiose fantasies of a messianic mission to "create a holy obscenity" and "produce for this world a nightmare they will dream while awake." In other words, Hobuhet murders David for the publicity it will bring to the twin causes of justice for his sister and justice for Native Americans, believing—with that naivete peculiar to children, terrorists, and madmen—that the publicity will somehow bring about meaningful change, waking up Native Americans and white Americans alike, albeit in different ways and to different ends.
But such a reading, while defensible on its own terms, is only part of Herbert's design. A purely realistic interpretation of the novel forecloses any judgment of Hobuhet other than terrorist/madman; it would take a sick or perverse individual to view this Hobuhet, whatever the justice of his cause, as a hero of any kind and the cold-blooded murder of a thirteen-year-old boy as justified in any way. What would be the point or challenge to such a novel for a writer of Herbert's distinctive ambitions and interests? No, just as in the Dune series, Herbert has larger aims here, and they lie beyond the borders of realistic fiction, in the mist-shrouded realm of the visionary, that space of altered, higher consciousness that is the birthplace of myth and religion. To fully understand Soul Catcher, to earn the right to pronounce informed judgment on Hobuhet and his sacrifice of David, rather than simply condemning both with a knee-jerk reaction, readers must, like prophets or shamen, raise their consciousness enough to cross the borders of the realistic and enter the visionary realm. There the possibility—though not the certainty—exists that Hobuhet is in fact a hero, his sacrifice of David an act of supernatural potency that will bear fruit in the worlds of myth and everyday reality. In order to judge, readers must set aside their normal sympathies and moral standards and entertain these fantastic and morally complex possibilities with an open mind. It is not an easy task, but Herbert will use all his considerable skills as a novelist to make it possible.
Before turning to an examination of the visionary realm and a reading of the novel in those terms, it will be useful to give a brief taste of the cultural climate in which Herbert wrote Soul Catcher. The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the rise of the American Indian Movement, or AIM, a Native-American civil rights organization dedicated to both redressing the historical wrongs done to Native Americans by the United States and its racist white power structure and reclaiming the lost and/or stolen cultural heritage of Native-American nations and tribes. In 1972, the same year that Soul Catcher appeared, AIM led a march on Washington, D.C., that culminated in the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In February 1973, local Sioux activists invited AIM to take command of an occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, site of the last major armed conflict between the United States and Native Americans, a brutal and shameful massacre perpetrated by federal troops in 1890. The 1973 occupation would last seventy-one days and again feature armed conflict between Native Americans and the United States, represented this time by local and federal law enforcement and units of the National Guard, with casualties on both sides. The novel—whose plot of kidnapping and murder must seem all-too-believable to readers in the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center attack and the 2002 murder of journalist Daniel Pearl by terrorists in Pakistan—would have seemed more like a cautionary tale to readers in the decade of the 1970s, though by no means an impossible one; in fact, it would have seemed less so with each passing year. The fact that history has given Soul Catcher a retrospective verisimilitude very much like the prophetic quality occasionally encountered in (and more frequently ascribed to) science fiction is a striking though deeply lamentable bit of tragic irony.
How does a visionary novel in the sense suggested above differ from a fantasy? If the ritual murder of David is invested with supernatural power, doesn't that mean magic is at work? If so, how does that make Hobuhet any different from a wizard? First of all, there are different types of fantasy novels. Some, like the Harry Potter books of J. K. Rowling, feature an escape from the "real" world into one where the usual physical rules or laws are replaced by magical systems. Others, such as J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, take place in magical worlds that either have no connection to the "real" world whatsoever or a tenuous one only: for example, the fantasy world is set in the distant past (Tolkien) or in the far future (Terry
What Do I Read Next?
- Sherman Alexie's Reservation Blues (1996), published by Warner Books, features the story of Coyote Springs, an all-Indian Catholic rock band from the Spokane Reservation in eastern Washington. Mixing Native-American mythology and rock 'n' roll, Alexie depicts the individual struggles of the band members as they embark on a national tour.
- Former professional basketball player Larry Colton spent more than a year on the Crow Reservation in Montana, observing Sharon LaForge and other members of the Hardin High School girls' basketball team. Colton's unflinching story, Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn, reveals that many social conditions such as alcoholism, drug abuse, and low self-esteem continue to plague reservations—and often act as a barrier to success, athletic or otherwise. The book was published by Warner Books in 2000.
- In the story, David Marshall is kidnapped by a Native American. Although this was a rare occurrence in the late twentieth century when the story takes place, it was more common in the previous two centuries. Captured by Indians: 15 Firsthand Accounts, 1750–1870, edited by Frederick Drimmer and published by Dover Publications in 1985, collects some of the firsthand stories from these early American captives.
- Herbert is known worldwide for his epic science fiction novel Dune, originally published in 1965, which featured the struggles of young Paul Atreides, a messiah-like duke on the desert planet of Arrakis. After he is overthrown by the previous regime, Atreides is cast into the desert to die and must rely on his inner strength, as well as the knowledge of the native tribe of Fremen, to survive and reclaim his throne. The book was reprinted in a twenty-fifth anniversary edition by Ace Books in 1999.
- In many of his novels, such as Dune and Soul Catcher, Herbert demonstrated his political, ecological, and philosophical beliefs. In The Maker of Dune: Insights of a Master of Science Fiction, published by Berkley Publishing Group in 1987, editor Tim O'Reilly collects several essays from Herbert that elaborate on these beliefs.
- Although the majority of books featuring Native-American issues are by Native Americans, Herbert is not the only nonnative to write about these issues. Another prominent example is Tony Hillerman, who has gathered a wide readership for his mysteries featuring Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, two Navajo Tribal Police officers. In The Ghostway, originally published in 1984, Chee uses his struggles to decide whether or not to leave the tribal police and the reservation for a position with the FBI. At the same time, he must use both his knowledge of his heritage and police procedures to track down a killer and a missing girl.
- Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (2000), published by Pocket Books, features elements similar to those found in Soul Catcher. In the story, a young girl is separated from her family on a nature trip in Maine and becomes lost in the wilderness. While her family, the police, and others form search parties to try to find her, she survives by learning to live off the nature that surrounds her. Meanwhile, she constantly battles her fear of the supernatural forest monster that hunts her by imagining that her favorite baseball player, Tom Gordon, is there guiding her.
- Native-American storytelling has a long history, rooted in oral tradition. In Coming to Light: Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America (1996), published by Vintage Books, editor Brian Swann collects many of these oral stories, songs, prayers, and orations. Each of the pieces in this large anthology is accompanied by an introduction from the translator, which explains the meaning behind each selection, as well as how it was spoken or sung in its time. The literatures represent more than thirty different cultures, including Inuit, Aleut, Iroquois, Lakota, Navajo, and Zuni.
Brooks's Shannara series); more generally, the connection is a metaphorical one. Such fantasies may be pure escapism, religious or political allegories, satires, works of high and serious art, or admixtures of these things. But whatever they are, they are situated at sharp angles to the "real" world; even in the case of allegories or satires, this sharp divergence, which need not take place at every point as long as it occurs at (at least) one significant point, serves to bring differences and similarities into starker relief. Such is not the case with visionary novels. While the magic in a fantasy novel goes against the structure of the "real" world, operating beyond or outside the normal order, visionary novels reach toward a power that invests the "real" world, though often invisibly and secretly. The presence of this power may be known only to a select few or forgotten by all. This power is not magic but the very basis of reality; thus, visionary novels generally are not set at sharp angles to the "real" world but rather lie over or behind it; they permeate the "real" world at every point, just as God is said to do, and they are no more about magic than is the Bible. It is in this sense that Soul Catcher may be thought of as a visionary novel, or, more accurately, as a novel employing visionary strategies. It neither seeks nor offers readers (or its characters) an escape from the "real" world; on the contrary, its goal is to awaken readers (and characters) to the real nature of the "real" world.
Throughout the novel, Herbert calls attention to the interpenetrating layers of the visionary and the real. Every character, every event, exists simultaneously in two worlds, on two levels. Hobuhet takes the name of Katsuk, a Quinault word meaning "the center of the universe"; to David, he gives the name Hoquat, a Quinault word meaning "something that floated far out on the water, something unfamiliar and mysterious." Hobuhet/Katsuk sees himself as occupying, and in many ways as being identical with, the fixed point around which the universe revolves, while David/Hoquat is everything that surrounds him at the limits of his perception. Hoquat is not only the name that Katsuk gives to David, it is the name that the Quinault gave to the first whites who appeared on their shores; thus, the relationship between Hobuhet/Katsuk and David/Hoquat is, in microcosm, the relationship between all Native Americans and whites.
Hobuhet receives his mission from his spirit guide, or Tamanawis, which takes the form of a bee whose sting is the trigger that raises his consciousness to a mystical awareness, evolving him from the human Hobuhet into the more-than-human shaman/warrior Katsuk, "who will set this world afire." David, too, in the course of his ordeal, comes to recognize the truth of the interpenetration of the worlds of everyday reality and myth:
There were two problems, or one problem with two shapes. One involved his need to escape from the crazy Indian, to get back with people who were sane and could be understood. But there was another part of this thing—a force which tied together two people called Katsuk and Hoquat.
It is important to note that Katsuk and Hoquat, the center and the circumference, together make one thing: the universe. The growing mutual recognition between captor and captive that they are somehow a single thing is an important element of the novel. "Katsuk felt a bond being created between himself and this boy. Was it possible they were really brothers in that other world which moved invisibly and soundlessly beside the world of the senses?" David, too, becomes aware of the bond he shares with Katsuk and comes to trust him. While the Stockholm syndrome is plainly in operation—that is, the psychological process by which a kidnapping victim comes to identify with his or her kidnapper—on the visionary or mythic level, David's recognition is no delusion. Yet this awareness of brotherhood, which both characters come to share, will not move Katsuk to pity; he will not spare his brother Hoquat's life; indeed, the sacrifice becomes all the more potent and sacred because of their brotherhood:
Katsuk thought: Any man may emulate the bee. A man may sting the entire universe if he does it properly. He must only find the right nerve to receive his barb. It must be an evil thing I do, with the good visible only when they turn it over. The shape of hate must be revealed in it, and betrayal and anguish and the insanities we all share. Only later should they see the love.
These are eloquent words, and they may well move readers to sympathy for Katsuk. Indeed, Herbert takes considerable pains to make Katsuk an eloquent and sympathetic character. Again and again, despite Katsuk's repeatedly stated intent to murder David, and despite numerous small cruelties of speech and action, readers find themselves liking the man. Even after Katsuk murders an innocent hiker in cold blood, as a kind of warm-up exercise for the execution of David, readers are loath to label him a monster. This is all the more incredible given the fact that Herbert takes equal if not greater pains to render David sympathetic. Of course, a reader's sympathies will almost always be engaged by an underdog, a child, an innocent victim. But Herbert presents David as a truly exceptional boy: he is brave, intelligent, and compassionate. Though he has been infected with the casual and unexamined racism of his culture, he is himself no racist and even comes to recognize the justice of Katsuk's cause: "Guilt filled David. He thought: I am Hoquat. His people had stolen this land. He knew Katsuk was speaking the truth. We stole his land."
Everything readers take for granted about the way that fiction works, everything that exists in the unwritten contract between reader and author, persuades that Katsuk will, in the end, spare David's life. When he does not, readers more than share David's fleeting sense of betrayal as the arrow enters his breast; they feel betrayed by Herbert. And yet, Herbert has not lied. He has not cheated. He has played fair throughout the book. The shock that strikes us at the end of the novel is the same shock that Katsuk is delivering to the connected yet separate worlds of Native Americans and whites. The question is, does the sacrifice succeed in doing what Katsuk intends? What exactly does Katsuk think his sacrifice of David will accomplish anyway?
Katsuk may be mad, but there is method in it. A graduate student in anthropology, Hobuhet is deeply knowledgeable about myths and rituals, not only those of the Quinault culture, but those of cultures from other places, other times. Hobuhet is filled with rage and hate following the rape and suicide of his sister. He longs to take revenge. Yet he cannot do it. Why? Is it because he is weak? Or afraid? No. The reason Hobuhet does not take revenge on the whites who raped his sister is that he recognizes the futility of it. He could kill those men, but would that make a real difference? Would that change the culture in which whites have the power to rape and murder Native Americans both literally and figuratively? It would not. And yet the hatred, the rage, the desire for revenge remain.
Hobuhet's training as an anthropologist comes to his rescue. A symbolic act can provide an outlet for these emotions and desires. What kind of symbolic act? A ritual, of course. But what kind of ritual? Hobuhet cannot answer that question. But Katsuk can. And so Katsuk is born from the sting of a bee. And it is to Katsuk, not Hobuhet, that Tamanawis speaks:
You must find a white. You must find a total innocent. You must kill an innocent of the whites. Let your deed fall upon this world. Let your deed be a single, heavy hand which clutches the heart. The whites must feel it. They must hear it. An innocent for all of our innocents.
For Hobuhet to kill the rapists of his sister would be a futile and selfish act of personal vengeance; it would not bring his sister back or change the world. Yet for Katsuk to sacrifice an innocent as commanded by Tamanawis, "the greatest of spirits," would be a ritual act of impersonal atonement that could redeem the past and change the future of the world. Hobuhet has created Katsuk to take the vengeance he cannot; yet to disguise the personal nature of that vengeance, he turns it into a ritual of universal, mythic redemption. Such sacrifices bridge the gap between the real and the visionary, breaking through the walls that separate the world of timebound history and the world of timeless myth. But Katsuk cannot simply make up a ritual of his own. There would be no mythic power in such a sacrifice. What makes a sacrifice sacred and potent is the fact that it has always existed, that it enacts—or, rather, reenacts—a timeless action given by divine powers to human beings. The sacrifice of the innocent white must follow the traditional form if it is to have any meaning. Yet the Quinault tribes did not practice human sacrifice; there is no such ritual among the Quinault. Again, Hobuhet the anthropologist comes to the aid of Katsuk the warrior/shaman. The Pawnee tribe, although culturally and linguistically distinct from the Quinault, did practice human sacrifice. And so Katsuk will adopt the Pawnee rite to his own purposes.
The Pawnee ritual involved the sacrifice of captured maidens to the god they called Morning Star. The victims were held in comfort and treated well until the appointed time for the sacrifice, when they were hung on a timber scaffold and pierced with arrows. In Pawnee mythology, the union of the gods Morning Star and Evening Star had produced the first human being, a girl, whom Morning Star placed on Earth to engender the Pawnee people. Thus it was deemed necessary to return a girl to Morning Star in thanks for the god's sacrifice of his daughter.
Katsuk chooses a boy instead of a girl, but the quality of innocence remains of paramount importance. Yet the Pawnee sacrifice that lies behind Katsuk's sacrifice of David is an indication that David, is, among other things, a stand-in for Hobuhet's innocent sister; the sacrifice of David is a recapitulation of the rape and murder of the sister, raised to a mythic level. Hobuhet wants the death of his sister to mean something. He seeks not only retribution, not only transcendence, but the forgiveness of the guilt he carries for not having prevented her death and for not having avenged it.
Yet Herbert is playing a complicated game here. For David's middle name, Morgenstern, means "Morning Star." The name ties him explicitly to the Pawnee sacrifice; he is, in a sense, a born victim. But there is another level of mythic allusion at work. The name also alludes to a passage in the New Testament's Book of Revelation: "I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star." (Rev. 22:16.) These words are spoken by Jesus Christ. By "root and offspring of David," Jesus is identifying himself as a descendent of the Jewish king; by "bright and morning star," Jesus is alluding to his death and resurrection, by which sacrifice (in the mythology of Catholicism) he has taken away the sins of the world and shown human beings the path to salvation and eternal life.
In the Pawnee sacrifice, the victim was no scapegoat. The girl was not killed as the bearer of the sins of the Pawnee, thus cleansing them from sin. Nor was she killed as a retributive act, as the embodiment of the sins of the enemies of the Pawnee, from whom she had been stolen. Her death was a mimetic act, a repetition on Earth of a creative sacrifice made at the beginning of time in heaven. It ensured the fertility of the Earth and the continuance of the Pawnee people in the here and now, not in the afterlife.
The role that David plays in Katsuk's sacrifice is closer to that of Jesus. David is innocent. He is a scapegoat; that is, he is the symbolic embodiment of the sins of the whites. He will also carry Hobuhet's guilt. And, like Jesus, he is of the "root and offspring of David"; that is, he is Jewish, a fact entirely overlooked by Katsuk, who, in his fanatical obsession, doesn't see the irony in holding a Jew responsible for the genocide of Native Americans. Yet there are important differences. Jesus willingly and consciously embraced his sacrifice, but that is not true of David. David is manipulated into an agreement that he remains ignorant of making, an agreement that exists only in his murderer's mind. Hobuhet/Katsuk is trying to force together two mythologies that are profoundly, radically different. For all his insistence that he is following the traditions of his people, in fact he is not.
But that doesn't mean his new, hybrid ritual must necessarily fail. Perhaps the violent fusion of Native-American and Judeo-Christian mythologies can spark a new mythological order on heaven and on Earth. Perhaps David's death can serve a purpose, can really be the "artistic act" that Hobuhet/Katsuk envisions: "a refinement of blood revenge, a supreme example to be appreciated by this entire world." Yet if such were the case, Herbert would provide some indication of it in the novel. He does not.
For David, there was only the sharp and crashing instant of awareness: He did it! There was no pain greater than the betrayal. Hunting for a name that was not Hoquat, the boy sank into blackness.
This is not sacrifice, but murder. There is no redemption, no resurrection, no renewal. When the search party catches up at last, they find Katsuk "cradling the dead boy like a child, swaying and chanting the death song one sang for a friend." This poignant image cannot erase the bloody fact of what has taken place; instead, it underscores the horror, exposing the banality at the heart of Hobuhet's breathtaking madness. What is shown is not the boundless and all-inclusive embrace of the universe, such as might occur in the aftermath of a successful sacrifice, but the tragic and meaningless result of one man's pathetic delusion. Thus does Charles Hobuhet, a particularly chilling example of what Herbert called "the messianic impulse in human society," take his place among the intelligent monsters of fiction.
Source: Paul Witcover, Critical Essay on Soul Catcher, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
Hart has degrees in English literature and creative writing and focuses her writing on literary themes. In this essay, Hart looks at Herbert's hiker-murder scene to uncover hidden connections between the hiker and the protagonist.
Frank Herbert's Soul Catcher was published in 1972, during the heyday of the hippie movement. Although his book is not dated by the inclusion of a hippie-type young man hiking through the woods, the significance of the character of Vince Debay might have carried more weight in the 1970s, when young hippie-types were prevalent on college campuses. Today, Vince's character might represent a young environmentalist or a pot-smoking follower of the Grateful Dead. In the 1970s, however, reader might have seen something more complex in Vince's character and thus something more significant happening between him and the protagonist Charles Hobuhet-Katsuk. They might have understood that this scene represented more than a chance encounter between two young men who, at one time, were college classmates.
Herbert prefaces the scene of Katsuk and Vince's meeting in the forest with an editorial statement that Katsuk had previously sent to the University of Washington's student newspaper. In his statement, Katsuk refers to some of the inspirations of the hippie movement during the 1960s and 1970s, such as the fight for civil rights, but he also accuses the young people of hypocrisy: "You say you would risk anything to achieve equal happiness for all. But your words risk nothing," he wrote. The young people's beliefs, Katsuk held, were "fragmented," because they did not see their own "self-imposed limitations." He continued: "You exist in constant tension between tyranny and victimization."
During those turbulent decades of the 1960s and 1970s, many young college students were caught between tearing down the beliefs of their parents and trying to create new philosophies of their own to replace them. American culture had a relatively short history, so looking backward through time provided the young rebels with very little inspiration. Their American ancestors, for the most part, had come from Europe and Africa, countries that were too far removed from them and therefore did not provide the kind of answers that they were looking for. What developed in this void was a tendency among some youth to look to Native-American culture for answers. There was hope that the Native-American traditional culture might provide a possible alternative to their own lifestyles. Books that explained various aspects of Native-American philosophy and traditional culture such as Black Elk Speaks (originally published in 1932), Carlos Castandeda's Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968), and Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1971) were widely read and taken to heart, as many young people adopted personal interpretations of Native-American lives and tried to emulate them. The long hair and the wearing of braids and headbands were a direct reflection of more than just a rebellion against the stereotypical teenager of the previous generation. It was also an expression of camaraderie with the Native-American people, albeit a somewhat romantic version, as most youth had little, or no, contact with contemporary Native Americans. Their visions of Native-American life had little to do with the problems of alcoholism, unemployment, and a loss of culture and land, as Herbert's character Katsuk and his people were experiencing.
So when Katsuk notices Vince bounding down the wilderness trail, he sees a lot more than just a former classmate. Vince, in many ways, represents the hippie movement. He is described as a young man with long hair "bound at the forehead by a red bandanna," which gave him a "curiously aboriginal look." In other words, Vince is portrayed as a pseudo-Indian, or "wanna-be." He might "curiously" bear the look of a Native American, but even David, the thirteen-year-old captive, can see that there are wide gaps in Vince's disguise. First, Vince walks in a marijuana-induced stupor, glancing "neither right nor left," unaware of his surroundings and of the imposing danger that awaits him, so unlike the way that Katsuk moves through the forest. Vince also walks with "a stiff, heel-first stride that jarred the ground," announcing his presence, disturbing the quiet of the forest. In contrast to Katsuk's stalking movements, Vince stomps through the forest. Hence, he plays out Katsuk's reference to the "tension between tyranny and victimization." Vince walks through the wilderness as if he owns it, unaware, and unequipped to deal with, the vast danger that is about to pounce on him in the form of Katsuk. For his part, even David realizes that Vince is incapable of saving himself. Something inside of David comprehends that Vince, maybe even more than David himself, is not a savior but rather is yet another victim.
Just prior to Vince's appearance, Katsuk had "felt an odd fear that he would find his secret name carved some place." As he looked around at his surroundings, he wondered where this name might appear. What form would it take? "He wondered if there were any thing in these mountains with the power to set his universe in perfect order once more." Shortly after this statement, Vince shows up. The connection between these two events makes it obvious that in some way Katsuk relates to Vince. Could it be that the name that Katsuk is looking for is written all over Vince? Wasn't Katsuk, at one time, just like Vince? When Katsuk first sees Vince in the woods, he recognizes him, but "it bothered him that he could not name the face." Vince, on the other hand, remembers Katsuk, or rather he remembers him as "Charlie." "We were in that Anthro Three-hundred class together," Vince reminds Katsuk when they finally face one another. Both had been students at the University of Washington. Both had taken upper level anthropology classes, both had been interested in studying people and culture. Both were searching for new definitions of themselves, rejecting many of the beliefs of their parents.
However, that was the old Katsuk, the "Charlie the Chief," as Vince calls him—the white man's description of him. Katsuk had embraced that definition of himself, had tried through an institutionalized educational program to learn about his culture and the white society around him. But just as he had recently taken off the clothes of the "white man" and donned his own traditional costume, Katsuk had also eliminated that version of himself. Vince, therefore, represents not what Katsuk is but rather what he had been. If his name were truly written on Vince, then that name had slipped into the past, and Katsuk's not being able to put a name to Vince's face was proof of it.
Although Katsuk does not immediately remember Vince, he does see something in Vince that immediately angers him. In Vince are "all the defeats of his people. Their sobs and oaths and lamenting echoed within him, a swarm of unavenged shadows." If Katsuk had once been like Vince, then he too was a cause of his people's sorrow, or his people's defeat. In order to be rid of that self-image, Katsuk therefore had to do more than change his clothes and try to alter himself. He had to get rid of Vince. This is the only explanation for why Herbert had Katsuk murder Vince. Why couldn't Katsuk have hidden, like he had ordered David to do, and allowed the hikers to pass by, including Vince? Why did he purposely expose himself to, and confront, Vince? Part of the answer might be explained by the fact that Katsuk was on a mission; and he was obsessed by it. Sometimes his rational thoughts were obscured by his emotions. At other times, he was like an animal, reacting to events on instinct rather than on intellect. He did not want to classify himself among those whom he referred to, in his editorial essay, as people who say they "would risk anything to achieve equal happiness for all" but would never act on their statements. "Words," Katsuk had written, "risk nothing." The old Katsuk might have been a man of words, but the new Katsuk was a man of action; and his instincts told him that he must kill Vince.
Vince is nervous when Katsuk approaches him. He's not sure why, but he suddenly senses that he is out of his familiar element. He cannot bring Katsuk back to the more recognizable, and lighthearted, "Charlie the Chief." Katsuk is in a place that Vince can only relate to as a game or as a set of an old Western movie in which Katsuk is the "Indian," and Vince is the settler fighting for his land. When Vince finally realizes that he has in no way impressed Katsuk and, in fact, might have actually insulted him, he tries to apologize. Even in his asking to be forgiven, Vince has no idea how deeply the offense has actually penetrated Katsuk's psyche. He is not aware of what the true insult is. Surely it has little to do with Vince's inability to recognize that Katsuk is definitely not playing a game. However, maybe it has everything to do with Vince's comment about "Indian" and "settler." Didn't that relationship sum up the whole grievance that Katsuk holds? The history of white people dealing with the Native population, in Katsuk's mind, is a relationship of tyranny. As Katsuk's sister had been raped, Katsuk believed that all Native people had also been raped by the white settlers.
At this point in the story, Vince makes one final attempt to bridge the widening chasm between himself and Katsuk. "You want a little grass?" Vince asks Katsuk. This statement is an ironic twist on the familiar scene in a typical Hollywood cowboy-and-Indian movie in which a Native man offers a white man a peace pipe. The irony does not impress Katsuk, who wants nothing to do with making peace over a shared smoke. However, Vince's gesture illuminates the difference between the two characters. Vince's offer is sincere but, in Katsuk's mind, it is insignificant. Sharing a smoke with this white man would be like putting a bandage on one's body to remove a cancer. When his offer is rejected, Vince tries to evaluate his position in the encounter. So he asks: "What are you doing here?" Katsuk's answer only deepens Vince's fear. Katsuk tells him that he is searching "for a deformity of the spirit." Without completely understanding what Katsuk is referring to, Vince finally senses the danger he is in and tries to slip away, but it is too late.
After murdering Vince, Katsuk does a strange thing. Earlier, upon first catching sight of him, Katsuk had criticized Vince for carrying an overloaded backpack. "You have not yet discovered that having too much is no better than having enough," he scolds. However, after burying Vince's body, Katsuk not only takes Vince's backpack, he also puts on Vince's clothes. "Katsuk wore clothes taken from the dead hiker's pack: jeans that were too tight for him over the loincloth, a plaid shirt. He still wore moccasins and the band of red cedar bark around his head." In this passage, Herbert cements the connection between Katsuk and Vince. The murderer has taken what material symbols remain of his victim. He wears Vince's jeans, covering his own traditional costume. He dons the plaid shirt; and although he does not wear Vince's red bandanna, his own headband is the same color as Vince's. Thus immediately after killing him, Katsuk takes on the appearance of Vince. Almost as if memorializing his victim, for a short period of time, Katsuk pays homage to him in wearing his clothes, in using his sleeping bag, in eating his food. A little later, he discards all physical remnants of Vince, re-convinced that the things of the white man are sapping his strength.
Although the two men shared a similar background and a linked fate, they also were dissimilar in significant ways. Vince had risked his life by entering the forest, but he did so without fully understanding the dangers that were waiting for him. He entered the woods, more as an escape, much as he used smoking pot as way of temporarily leaving things behind. Katsuk, however, went to the woods deliberately, consciously aware of every step. He had a mission by which he believed he could avenge his people, and he was willing to risk his life on it.
Herbert neither condones nor explains Katsuk's behavior, especially in this scene between him and Vince. He simply places the two men in full view of one another and describes the action that unfolds, almost as if he, himself, were merely viewing it. The battle between the two young men that ensues from this encounter could be described as an ancient one—a clash of cultures; a clash of beliefs; a clash of misunderstandings. However, Herbert suggests that this conflict might have been something entirely different than it first appears. He implies that it could be interpreted as an interior struggle, fought not between two men but rather between two disparate definitions of self.
Source: Joyce Hart, Critical Essay on Soul Catcher, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
DeFrees is a published writer and an editor with a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Virginia and a law degree from the University of Texas. In the following essay, DeFrees examines the universality of a story rooted in the genre of science fiction.
Soul Catcher is a meditation on anger, on what happens when anger has no outlet. It is, in this way, an unwitting metaphor for the root of all terrorist acts: voiceless rage. Katsuk, the self-given Native-American name Charles Hobuhet adopts after denouncing the evils of modern society, is an emblem of a man driven mad—in both senses of the word—by long-standing injustices, by the ridicule he has endured all of his life for being of Native-American descent, and by the history of violence perpetrated against his people, and more specifically, against Katsuk's sister, by white men. Soul Catcher covers a time period of ten days, from the day Katsuk abducts David Morgenstern Marshall, a thirteen-year-old boy, until the day Katsuk kills David. In that short span of time, the reader learns about the reasons for Katsuk's actions, about the young boy's changing attitudes about his captive state, and about the outside world's reactions to the kidnapping. Author Frank Herbert uses an omniscient narrator to present a variety of points of view, moving the narration from character to character to tell the story from different vantage points. Herbert assiduously shies away form judging his characters; instead, he allows the reader to decide who may be right and who may be wrong, and whether, in the end, that line may be less clear than it first appears. Soul Catcher follows an unforgiving story line—it is the story of anger spun out of control, leaving a tragic aftermath for mourning and the opportunity to examine what may have led to the tragic turn of events.
From the outset of the story, Herbert clearly establishes the work as one of science fiction—it is popularly labeled as a sci-fi novel, for leaps of the imagination are taken almost immediately, demanding that the reader suspend any disbelief. Interestingly, however, nothing that happens in the novel is so far-fetched that it could not happen in society in the present day. By classifying the novel as science fiction, if seems that Herbert is asking his reader to suspend personal values and personal mores in order to delve into the psyches of other humans.
The story is divided into short sections that alternate between viewpoints, relaying the perspectives of a different person or group. The main voices are Katsuk, David, David's father, Katsuk's relatives, David's teachers and counselors, Katsuk's former teacher, the press and the local sheriff's department. The first voice is that of David's father, Howard Marshall, the newly established Undersecretary of State of the United States. Marshall notes that his father before him often hired Indians to work for the family, and paid the Indians wages equal to those paid to other workers. Furthermore, the Indian employees "were well treated. I really don't see how this kidnapping could be aimed at me or my family. The man who took David must be insane." Marshall's logic is incomplete, but it is the first opinion the reader encounters, and first impressions are lasting. Thus, from the outset, Katsuk is presupposed as a "crazy man," rather than as a sane but angry man with a virulent message. Another important thing to note about Marshall's statement is his semantics. He says, "I really don't see how …," which is exactly Katsuk's problem with the "white" society: as Katsuk understands it, white people try to reason everything in legal, logical terms. They try to force reason into visual outlines that work within already established arguments. Katsuk, however, feels the impotence of his rage in the face of the white man's arguments, feels the years of oppression that hand-outs from someone like Marshall's father can only conveniently salve, but never heal. Change must come from a far deeper place within the establishment, and Marshall, in his newly ordained place of power within the government, is exactly the target at which Katsuk aims. By kidnapping the son of an important member of the United States government, and one currently earning a great deal of press coverage, Katsuk's message of hate and revenge can reach the largest number of people.
The voice of Professor Tilman Barth, one of Katsuk's university professors, serves as a counterweight to Marshall's voice. Barth claims that Hobuhet is a gentle man, not a "mad killer," and that the kidnapping "could be a monstrous joke." Barth has respect for Hobuhet, who, ironically, throughout the novel expresses nothing but contempt for all of his university professors and courses. Furthermore, Barth explains that he found Hobuhet to be a bright and eloquent student who expressed himself in such a manner that led Barth to believe that Hobuhet "is capable of great things, as great as any achievements in our Western mythology." In one paper Hobuhet submitted to Barth for Philosophy 200, Hobuhet argues that people in modern society are full of "Words-wordswords, no feelings," and "are always running away from your bodies…. You try to explain away a civilization which uses trickery, bad faith, lies, and deceit to make its falsehoods prevail over the flesh." Later, Katsuk writes on a scrap of paper while at a hideout known as Sam's River shelter:
When I am confused I listen with as much of my being as I can allow. This was always what my people did. We fell silent in confusion and waited to learn. The whites do a strange thing when they are confused. They run around making much noise. They only add to the confusion and cannot even hear themselves.
Katsuk understands the ways of white men; he lived with them and answered to a name that was given to him while living in "white society." He is not an outside observer who criticizes a world he does not understand. Rather, he has lived the life of white men, and finds it uninhabitable and unnatural. During his educational years, Hobuhet witnessed first hand the methods that white people used to undermine the Native-Americans' right to own land and to live peaceably. He read the derogatory methods the white man used to describe the "Indian," and the ways the white men chose, time and time again, to avoid understanding and honoring the Native-American way of life. Soul Catcher is a story for all ages: it outlines the epic story of the taking of the American West by the American government in the nineteenth century, and the attendant usurpation of Native-American land is duplicated in modern United States imperialism with regard to foreign countries. In the novel, after attending the university, Hobuhet worked for a paycheck within the bounds of society, but all the while, his hatred burned, and his heart remained hostile to "the white man." When the chance arose, Hobuhet turned his back on his life within industrialized society, and set out to make the largest statement he could about his anger at the injustices the whites had perpetrated for so long against Native Americans, and in particular against his sister, who, a few months before the events of the novel, had committed suicide after being raped by a brood of white men. Katsuk's carefully planned revenge is not simply a testament to his ancestors—his rage is intimately personal, and it is festering to a bloody boil.
There is, however, a certain extent to which Katsuk's logic falls short in the novel, a crack, as it were, in the pavement of his narrowly carved walk. After a few days in captivity, the innocent, David Marshall, begins to respond to Katsuk's reclaimed way of living in the forest—living in accordance with the rules of nature instead of, as Katsuk had explained in a philosophy class paper, "against nature." Katsuk was angry at white men, and searched for a way to exact revenge on white men for the agony and humiliation they forced his people to suffer. Thus, when Katsuk is stung by a bee during a ritual he created to discover a Native-American name for himself, he claims that the bee is "Soul Catcher." Katsuk believes that the fact that the bee stung him is a sign that he is meant to be a vessel for evil, prompting him to abduct and kill an innocent white person as a ritual sacrifice to boldly show the white men that what they did to his people remains unforgivable. But once captured, David begins to drop the haughty anger that masks his fear, and he grows curious as to the nature of Katsuk and Katsuk's reasons for choosing a primitive life of exile. Katsuk is torn by this change, by his growing admiration for the boy. He "felt a bond being created between himself and this boy." Katsuk harshly dubbs David "Hoquat," a derogatory reference to white men, but by the end of Katsuk and David's journey together, Katsuk feels a solidarity with David, and at one point, Katsuk even thinks to himself, "My brother, Hoquat." The reader watches David morph into an ambassador to modern society regarding Katsuk's argument for simplicity and against wanton capitalism, and Katsuk must work harder and harder to keep his warming emotions separate from his ultimate task—to murder the boy he has come to respect. He repeatedly promises that he will not kill David unless David specifically asks him to; in this respect, the reader is allowed to hold out hope that David will be spared, despite Katsuk's common statement to himself that he must sacrifice the boy. Katsuk seems, above all, to be a man of his word, and there is a conflict between his promise to his people and his promise to David. In the end, in the face of clashing promises, Katsuk must make a decision; he chooses the past, rather than the future, and tricks David into saying that he wishes to be killed. As the authorities are closing in on Katsuk and David, David urges Katsuk to run away, to save his life. Katsuk asks David what he should do about his spirit message, and David, not understanding that the message is intimately tied with his own murder, tells Katsuk, "What message? … I don't care about your message! Send it! Just don't let them catch you!" Katsuk interprets David's response to his own purposes, and falsely pretends that David consents to death. Just before he kills David, Katsuk tells him, "Let all men and all spirits learn of your qualities, Hoquat." He has taught David the vital importance of living in harmony with nature, but he kills David before David can share his new knowledge to "all men," thus in many ways defeating his very purpose. In his anger, he failed to consider that he might also have something to learn.
Soul Catcher is an interesting study of rage, and how rage and lucidity are commingled in such a way that a person truly angry stands on a delicate precipice of sanity and insanity. Hobuhet becomes Katsuk to live out his rage, but his actions are meditative, willed, and precipitous. The novel ends with the slaughter of an innocent boy, and the answers to the reasons behind Katsuk's terrorist act, and all terrorist acts, and the possible means by which such acts might have been prevented, are left to the reader. Whether what Katsuk did was in any way justified by the history of emotional deprecation and economic depression defies simple logic. Nothing Katsuk does or decides occurs without him first consulting the natural elements. Whether or not this method of consultation—a communion with ravens, bees, the woods—marks a sage man living off the land, both spiritually and physically, or a madman, is left to the individual reader to decide. But what is certain is that Katsuk's actions are deliberate and meticulously thought out, and what is also certain is that he follows through with his plan with exactitude and complete success, despite numerous obstacles standing in his path. His own people rise up against him, but because of the strength of his conviction that he has been chosen by his gods to act out this ritual sacrifice, he is too powerful to be stopped. How this sheds light on the "real world" is effervescently clear: conviction is more potent than might, more powerful than idle words, more dangerous than lies. Science fiction here becomes all too real, in the face of Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini, Charles Whitman, Lee Harvey Oswald, suicide bombers, Charles Manson, Cyclops, Hitler—critics may well claim a madness residing in these figures in history, but it is also true that in each case, the act or acts committed were done with dexterous, deliberated planning and extreme precision of thought. There was a sanity, or at least a clear thought process, to the insanity. Katsuk purposely murdered an innocent Caucausian child, a crime far beyond forgiveness in the civilized world. But he did so in strict adherence to his beliefs, and not without painstaking deliberation and sacrifice. With Soul Catcher, Herbert does not pronounce judgment on his characters, leaving it to his readers to provide condemnation or approval, leaving a tangled web of history with no square edges, and no straight answers. In this way, Herbert demands that his reader examine the history behind the events in the story. For it is only by unraveling the past that we can begin to examine the present, and only by examining the present that we may begin to understand and act on the possibilities of the future.
Source: Allison DeFrees, Critical Essay on Soul Catcher, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2003.
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Washburn, Wilcomb E., "The Native American Renaissance, 1960–1995," in The Cambridge History of the American Peoples, Vol. 1, Pt. 2, North America, edited by Bruce G. Trigger and Wilcomb E. Washington, Cambridge University Press, p. 447.
Dubin, Lois Sherr, North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment, Harry N. Abrams, 1999.
This comprehensive book on the history of Native-American jewelry follows thousands of years of Native-American adornment, by region and tribe. The book also covers the symbolism and purpose of the various artworks and features detailed photos and graphics.
Eichstaedt, Peter H., If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans, Red Crane Books, 1994.
This book details the devastating effects of the uranium radiation that resulted from mining on Navajo Indian lands during America's race to construct the atom bomb. In addition to discussing the struggles that Native Americans in this region have faced when seeking compensation for these effects, the book also talks about how this historic tragedy continues to affect Native Americans.
Lewis, G. Malcolm, Cartographic Encounters: Perspectives on Native American Mapmaking and Map Use, University of Chicago Press, 1998.
This book examines the long history of Native Americans and their skill in cartography, starting with the first map that a Native American prepared for the Spaniard Hernando de Alarcó in 1540. The book also discusses the connections among maps, space, and history and examines the maps in light of their importance as archaeological evidence.
Mander, Jerry, In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology and the Survival of the Indian Nations, Sierra Club Books, 1992.
Mander examines the effects that increasing technology has had on society and advocates a return to a Native-American way of life. In addition, he discusses how some Native Americans who try to maintain their way of life have clashed with the corporate world.
McNaughton, Patrick R., The Mande Blacksmiths: Knowledge, Power, and Art in West Africa, Indiana University Press, 1993.
This book uses an anthropological perspective to examine the roles and social context of the blacksmiths of the Mande people in West Africa. These blacksmiths are acknowledged both for their art and the supernatural power they are believed to possess.
Taylor, Collin F., Native American Weapons, University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.
This lushly illustrated book serves as an excellent introduction to the study of Native-American weapons. Divided into five categories of weapons—striking, cutting, piercing, defensive, and symbolic—the book examines North American weapons and armor from prehistoric times to the late nineteenth century. The accompanying text describes the weapons and their roles in tribal culture, economy, and politics.