The Public Interest

American epic: then and now

Nathan Glazer

Winter 1998

NOT long ago, the remarkably productive Michael Lind published The Alamo: An Epic.  It is truly, perhaps surprisingly for our day, an epic poem, long—281 pages—as an epic should be, with an additional 70-page essay on the epic in general and the suitability of the Alamo as a subject for an epic, followed by a glossary and chronology. One reviewer, in the New Leader, tells us that the number of such long poems about America is increasing.  The reviewer in the New York Times was Garry Wills, who is perhaps even more productive than Lind, and the author of, among many other books, very good ones on the Declaration of Independence and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, both epochal if not epic statements. Wills was an appropriate reviewer not only because of his knowledge of American history, of ancient Greek, and of the arcana of versification but also because he was on the verge of publishing a book on John Wayne, who might himself, perhaps tongue in cheek, be considered an epic figure. And John Wayne had himself directed a film on the Alamo, and a book on the making of the film calls it “the making of the epic film.”

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