Dolly Parton and Octavia Butler

Breaking news: Dolly Parton likes Octavia Butler! In her recent interview with the New York Times, when asked about her favorite book she responded: “Not enough folks know what a great book ‘Kindred,’ by Octavia E. Butler, is. It’s kind of tricky to describe but somehow it all works — it’s about race relations and there’s time travel and romance. It’s powerful.” So, there you have it folks. The queen of country music is a fan of Octavia Butler. Suddenly this class’s focus on Butler’s body of work makes sense. (Just kidding, I promise it made sense before too.)

Dolly Parton had been in the news a lot recently. She just released a new Christmas album, “A Holly Dolly Christmas,” and made it into a TV special. More impressively, she apparently donated a million dollars to Moderna, the company that just announced a 94% effective coronavirus vaccine. So, in addition to reading good literature and spreading Christmas cheer, Dolly Parton is also saving lives and ending the pandemic. 

In class last week we talked about how Butler’s characters are often uniquely good people in corrupt and uncomfortable situations. Whether Butler’s protagonists are chosen by God or hugged by aliens, they usually try to do their best to help other, even if it means sacrificing their own well-being. Maybe Dolly Parton is a real-life Butler protagonist in our almost-post-apocalyptic world. It’s likely that she was a good person before she read Kindred, but, who knows, maybe it was Speech Sounds that convinced her to do something about the pandemic. Either way, I think I’ll be spending my Christmas break reading Kindred and patiently awaiting the Dolly Parton funded vaccine.

Also, I’m just realizing now that I already have seven blogposts, but I’m posting this anyway out of love for Dolly Parton. And for anyone who’s interested, here’s Dolly’s interview that I mentioned:


Community Invasion and Spanish Invasion

Time for a history lesson! I promise it connects!

In 1520, the Spanish, under the leadership of Hernan Cortes, conquered the Aztec empire. This conquest was just one step in the European invasion which led to the eventual death of probably around 90% of the Native American population. There’s been a lot said about how a few hundred Spanish invaders were able to take down one of the most powerful empires in the world. Disease was the main reason, but Cortes’s success was also made possible by just how much other Mexicans hated the Aztecs, who had brutally conquered them in recent years. 

But wait, how does a Spanish guy with zero language skills and a limited knowledge of Native American politics incite a massive rebellion? Enter La Malinche. Malinche was an enslaved Mexican woman, captured in childhood, who functioned as Cortes’s interpretor and advisor throughout his conquest. Her understanding of both European and Native American language and cultural practices made her indispensable to Cortes during a period when Europeans kind of had no clue what they were doing. Public opinion in Mexico hasn’t been super kind to Malinche, because she pretty much sold out her own people. But, since she was enslaved, what choice did she have?

I mentioned Malinche in class last time, in relation to Bloodchild, but I saw even more connections between her story and the story of Noah in Amnesty. Noah, like Malinche, was kidnapped and enslaved as a child. Her understanding of both humans and the communities allowed her to mediate between two species, just as Malinche had mediated between cultures. Humans were not a fan of Noah’s cooperation with the communities, just as Mexicans have resented Malinche’s role in the Spanish conquest. 

The stories of Noah and Malinche reinforce one another. By reading Amnesty, we’re able to better understand the sense of realism and self-preservation that may have motivated Malinche during the Spanish conquest. Amnesty also condemns the cruelty of the Spanish invasion. Noah points out how the communities initially didn’t comprehend the pain that they inflicted on their human subjects, while her human captors understood the pain they caused perfectly. The Spanish conquest of America wasn’t an encounter between two species; it was an encounter between human beings. Unlike the invading communities, the Spanish could fully comprehended the devastation and pain that they caused. 

Image: La Malinche