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When the Legends Die by Hal Borland

“When the legends die, the dreams end. When the dreams end, there is no more greatness” A young boy is forced to live in the wilderness with his mother and father after his father killed another man who had been stealing from him. Soon after moving to the wilderness, his parents die and he is forced to live on his own. His name is Thomas Black Bull and he is a Ute Native American. He befriends many of the animals around him, and he lives a simple, peaceful life. He remembers the songs his parents used to sing to him about the roundness of life and the songs about the animals and the sun. All is well until a member of his tribe named Blue Elk shows up and tricks him into coming to the city. He says he wants Tom to teach all of the people about the old ways, but instead he makes him go to school with the other kids. Tom begins to shut down and forgets who he really is. He grows angry towards society as they try to control his life. After his schooling he works at many jobs but gets fired because of his poor performance. Eventually he meets Red Dillon who teaches him all about riding broncos in a rodeo. He becomes an exceptional bronc rider winning many tournaments, but he still feels like a part of him is missing. He thinks to himself: Who am I? Where am I? Where do I belong?


In a novel based entirely on a young Native American and his quest to find his true self, Borland shows the struggles Native Americans had living in or near a society that believes everyone should be like them, and if they aren’t, they should be treated differently. In Tom’s case it is hard to grow up in a society that is trying to change your beliefs when your parents are dead and you have nobody to stand up for you. As he attempts to live in a society that doesn’t accept him, he shows us how one can find their true self by going back to their roots. He shows us that we can have everything in the world and still not be happy. In his case he won many rodeo’s and felt like he was in control, but he wasn’t truly happy.


This book was very enjoyable and it had a great message behind it, because it showed a boy’s struggle on his way to manhood. Although the book shows this in the perspective of an Native American, a similar story can be true for all young boys. The way Borland added adventure to a novel that otherwise would have been a boring story was also important. He presented the message in a way that might not be identical to everyone else’s, but it still can be connected in many ways. Thanks to Borland we get a great story that combines both adventure and a life lesson. I believe this would be a great novel for anyone, but I think it really calls out to young boys in search of their true self. It shows the mental struggle that is involved in growing up and whether you’re a young Indian boy or not, it is easily relatable. It also shows us that although we will always remember our past, we can never change it, and it is the present that truly determines who we are.




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