Michael Blake, who wrote the novel Dances With Wolves in 1988 and later the 1990 screenplay for Kevin Costner's movie by the same name, has now completed a screenplay based on his latest novel, The Holy Road, which is a sequal to Dances With Wolves. The movie is expected to go into production soon.
Simon Wincer has signed on to direct "The Holy Road" for Moonstone, Amicus Entertainment and Double Eagle Films. Costner's production company passed on it a few years back, when Blake was just beginning the screenplay version.
Wincer most recently directed the Steven Spielberg-produced Emmy winner "Into the West." He also directed the Western miniseries "Lonesome Dove."
The project is currently in pre-production. There is no word yet on whether or not Keven Costner will resume his famous role. When asked if he would consider a sequel after the filming of Dances With Wolves, Costner said, "I don't believe in sequels."
Set in the late 1800s, it picks up a decade after solitary frontier man and "Dances" hero Lt. John Dunbar cuts ties to the white world from which he came by getting himself adopted by a Comanche village.
Dunbar gives up his name and becomes Dances with Wolves, a Comanche warrior. He marries a white woman who was raised as a Comanche. Together they have three children, a boy and two girls, in the village.
The Comanches respect Dances With Wolves as a loyal protector of their village and way of life in the face of encroaching white pioneers.
A difficult 'Road'
Anyone who has driven the Great Plains, which is dotted with struggling Native American communities, knows it was a losing fight for the Comanches and other tribes. The ending of "The Holy Road," which tries to stick close to actual history, is inevitable.
The Holy Road in question was the nation's railroad system, the name the Comanches gave the imposing rail line that carried white settlers westward toward their destiny of occupying the West. Hopeless as the Comanches' situation was, Blake said he felt a responsibility to continue their story in his latest novel.
"I'm pretty close to all the characters, and it's difficult, emotionally and spiritually, to write about all that because it's all gone," said Blake, who is white and lives with his own family on a ranch in Southern Arizona.
The character of Dunbar, a k a Dances With Wolves, is really Blake's way of witnessing and understanding what happened on the fast-fading frontier.
"With the sequel, I wanted to be there again, no matter what the consequences would be," Blake said. "I knew it was going to have an ending that was rather bleak."
Focus on Comanches
In writing a sequel, though, Blake said he needed to plow new ground.
"The Holy Road" deals less with Dances With Wolves and spends more time exploring interactions among the native characters, who build tribal alliances and appeal directly to the U.S. government to preserve their lands and livelihood.
One of the criticisms of the first novel, and even more so with the movie version, was that Lt. Dunbar seemed to overshadow the Comanche society he came to respect. Some saw it as a situation of "the white character coming in and kind of out-Indianing the Indians" with his hunting and fighting skills, said Tom Grayson Colonnese, director of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington.
Still, Colonnese said, others have praised Blake's authentic portrayals of Native American life and tribal predicaments, which don't often receive mainstream exposure.
Blake said his goal has been to portray Dunbar as a soldier on the lonely frontier whose nation has forgotten him, who evolves into "a warrior doing his duty" for a community that comes to see him as an ally. His humility is as evident as his heroism.
Whites who were captured by tribes in pioneer days tended to want to stay with their captors, Blake explained. Perhaps they were attracted to the what he describes as the Native Americans' "freedom and lack of encumberance."
"They were living a pretty primitive life," he said, but "that Plains culture had something that was very special. ... It was just simpler."
With his lobbying on behalf of creating a national Buffalo Commons, a game reserve of sorts, Blake is trying to bring some of that culture back.
Never the suit-and-tie type, Blake has known the simple life, too. As a not-so-famous screenwriter in Los Angeles, he penned 'Dances With Wolves' while living out of his car or crashing with friends.
"I didn't have a dime to my name until I was 44," the 56-year-old admits. The success of the movie changed all that.
Blake started writing "The Holy Road" in early 2000, just before his wife, the painter Marianne Blake, gave birth to their third child, Lozen.
Between the first novel and new one, Blake twice battled Hodgkin's disease, which is cancer of the lymph nodes. He's been in remission since 1993.
In May, Blake said his doctors stunned him with news that he also has multiple sclerosis, a potentially debilitating nervous-system disorder. He may have had a low-grade version of the disease for years, but tests are inconclusive.
"The doctors are baffled," Blake said.
Having defeated a life-threatening disease twice before, Blake said the mystery and uncertainty don't scare him. He has just finished writing the screenplay for the film version of "The Holy Road," which may go into production soon. Blake promises a movie shot on "a very large canvas," much like the panoramic "Dances With Wolves."
The 'Dances With Wolves' story is planned as a trillogy
Since Blake has always envisioned his story as a trilogy, there will eventually be a third novel that probably stretches into the 20th century.
Blake said he hasn't determined any of the details yet. Whatever plot developments that novel contains, he wants to improve as a writer in the process.
"Every band's first album is their best album," Blake said. "I don't want that to happen to me."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tyrone Beason, a staff writer for the Seattle Times can be reached at 206-464-2251.
©The Seattle Times Company
Editor's Note: The book version of Dances with Wolves was also about the Comanche people. The movie version, for some reason changed Comanche to Lakota (Sioux). So, is the movie, The Holy Road going to be about the Comanche people as stated in the above story, or about the Lakota, as in the movie version of Dances With Wolves? Seems to me that is two completely different histories, although both tribes had a similar outcome in the end.