“They moved along in the bobbing, springy gait of a family that followed the woods as some families follow the sea.” In that first sentence Conrad Richter sets the mood of this magnificent epic of the American wilderness. Toward the close of the eighteenth century the land west of the Alleghenies and north of the Ohio river was an unbroken sea of trees. Beneath them the forest trails were dark, silent, and lonely, brightened only by a few lost beams of sunlight. Here the Lucketts, a wild, woodsfaring family, lived their roaming life, pushing ever westward as the frontier advanced and as new settlements threatened their isolation.
Richter has written, not a historical novel, of which there are so many, but a novel of authentic early American life, of which there are so few. It is the primitive story of Worth Luckett, the hunter, and of Jary, his woman; of Genny, Wyitt, Achsa, and Sulie, their woods-wild children; of the bound boy and the Solitary and Jake Tench; but principally of the oldest girl, Sayward Luckett, whos people as far back as she knew had always been hunters and gunsmiths to hunters, but who, through the quiet, growing, and yet tragic oppression of the trees, turns her back at last on her life as a hunter’s child and becomes a tiller of the soil.
This novel of great lyrical beauty and high excitement tells the story of the transition of American pioneers from the ways of the wilderness to the ways of civilization. Here is the true American epic. Here is the raw adventure, swift and cruel in its episodes; but here too is the poetry of loneliness. Here is a portrait of frontier life as it really must have seemed to the pioneers. Here in short is a masterpiece by the man who gave us The Sea of Grass.