Category Archives: 1970-1979


David Madden. Pleasure-Dome. Indianapolis, IN: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1979.

Desperate to get his little brother Bucky off a chain gang, Lucius Hutchfield attempts to rescue his brother from his misdeeds. Newly released from reform school, Bucky got caught for passing a string of bad checks. Now Lucius has taken responsibility for talking Bucky’s way out of a whole mess of trouble. Lucius tracks down each of Bucky’s ‘victims’ and negotiates that Bucky will make restitution (eventually – he notes the loophole of not arranging a deadline), if they will drop charges. Lucius is training to be a teacher, but his true passion rests in writing. Stories bubble up from within Lucius’s mind. His story-telling urge is now put to the test as Lucius must learn to twist his words to benefit Bucky’s case. However, the antics of their older brother Earl, a dedicated con man, is a corrupting influence on Bucky.

In the midst of trying to redeem Bucky, Lucius learns of old Zara Jane Ransom, the sole resident of the Blue Goose Hotel, in the small town of Sweetwater. Zara purports that in her youth she was Jesse James’s lover. The novel then transitions to Lucius convincing Zara to share her stories of Jesse James. Lucius is intent on using her recollection to inspire a story for publication in Harper’s Bazaar. After settling on cash payment in exchange for her memories, the pair meets for three sessions and Zara shares the details of her possible (but unproven) relationship with Jesse James and another man, Davis Woodring, who was interested in gaining Zara’s attention. While Lucius transcribes the story, he becomes acquainted with Hart Woodring who is obsessed with a beauty named Sabra Van Ness, and dangerously intrigued by Lucius’s story of Zara and Jesse James.

Novelist David Madden presents a character-driven story with a balance of humor and pathos. The novel opens conversationally, from Lucius’s perspective, as part of one long, winding quest that meanders around two major stories filled with a number of different plotlines and characters. The Southern influence is prominent; Madden includes dialect and an intense level of detail. The novel is set in Tennessee and North Carolina during the 1950s. Pleasure-Dome is a sequel to Madden’s earlier work, Bijou (1974), although Madden considers Pleasure-Dome as a sequel in the loosest sense of the word. In an interview, Madden explains that he originally conceptualized the novel with five separate story lines, which he later cut down to two for length. Read more here and here in a series of interviews compiled by the University of Tennessee’s Newfound Press. In Pleasure-Dome, Madden tackles concepts of truth and reality versus myth and illusion through the Lucius’s story-telling.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.


Filed under 1970-1979, 1979, Madden, David, Mountains, Watauga

Lights, Camera, Novel: Alexander Key’s Escape to Witch Mountain.

If you’re in the right age bracket, you might remember Escape to Witch Mountain from your childhood. Which format and version you recall depends on your generation. Novelist Alexander Key first wrote the book in 1967. Key began his career as a well-known illustrator who eventually transitioned into writing. His writing can be described as science fiction for kids. Key was born in Maryland and spent many years in Florida before moving to the mountains of North Carolina with his wife and son. A fan page on Key says that he and his family made the move after they “decided Florida was growing too fast.” Much of Key’s work is currently out-of-print. Escape to Witch Mountain is one of Key’s best known titles. The book tells the story of orphans Tony and Tia who possess supernatural gifts and are on the hunt to figure out their origins before the evil Lucas Deranian reaches them first.

In 1975, Disney released a film adaptation of the novel directed by John Hough, which, at the time, became one of their most popular live-action movies. The movie follows the basic plot from beginning to end with some noticeable modifications. First, the setting was relocated from the East coast to the West coast, where the movie was filmed. In the novel, Father O’Day helps the children on their quest and protects them from Deranian. In the movie, O’Day plays the same role, but his character is a widower named Jason O’Day. Deranian is the central villain in the novel, whereas in the movie he becomes ancillary to his mastermind boss, Aristotle Bolt. The child actors who play Tony and Tia aren’t perfect physical matches for their book counterparts who are supposed to look unearthly with their olive-skin and light hair. Instead, they look like wholesome child actors.

The movie’s portrayal is much lighter and more innocent: Miss. Grindley is kinder and Truck, a bully at the orphanage, is much less threatening. Yet the most surprising change is Tia speaking. Muteness is a major feature of her character. In the novel, Tia is seen as an oddity because she does not speak out loud. Instead, she carries a pad and pen around to communicate with other people. She is able to converse with her brother telepathically.

Disney created a sequel called Return from Witch Mountain in 1978, also directed by John Hough. The same child actors, Ike (now known as Iake) Eisenmann and Kim Richards, reprized their roles as slightly older Tony and Tia. Bette Davis and Christopher Lee starred as the movie’s villains who hoped to manipulate the siblings’ powers. Four years later, Disney released yet another sequel, Beyond Witch Mountain with a new director. By this time, the original Tony and Tia has grown out of the roles and were recast. The plot appears to pick up from after the original 1975 Escape from Witch Mountain adaptation and it ignores the story-line from the 1978 Return from Witch Mountain. This second sequel was created as a pilot for a possible TV series. But since no networks expressed interest, no other episodes were filmed.

Over a decade later, in 1995, Disney remade Escape to Witch Mountain as a made-for-TV movie. The movie shared some elements with Key’s story, like orphaned siblings with powers (renamed Danny and Anna). Most of the TV movie departed from the original plot though, for instance Danny and Anna are initially separated. Finally, in 2009 Disney produced its latest rendition, called Race to Witch Mountain with Dwayne Johnson, AnnaSophia Robb and Carla Gugino. Like the 1995 adaptation, Race only shares some passing similarities to Key’s novel and the 1975 film. Adolescent Tony and Tia were remodeled as teenaged Seth and Sara. As the years passed, it seems that each revision departed further from the original, maybe as a means to refresh and modernize the story, while still maintaining essential characters and motivations.

Escape to Witch Mountain and its many adaptations are nostalgic classics. Alexander Key’s novel is available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog and has been previously blogged on here. The film and TV adaptations are not available through the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog. If you’re local to the area, Escape to Witch Mountain (1975) and Race to Witch Mountain (2009) are available at the Chapel Hill and the Durham Public Libraries and could make an interesting back-to-back screening of two adaptations thirty-four years apart.

Sources consulted here: The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s BooksJenny’s Wonderland of Books blogLos Angeles Times (on the child actors from the 1975 & 1978 films), New York Times, Roger Ebert, TCMTCMDb, Thru the Forgotten Door: Into Alexander Key’s Magical Worlds (Alexander Key Fan Site, hasn’t been updated since about 2004), Wikipedia (Alexander KeyEscape to Witch Mountain — Novel, Escape to Witch Mountain — 1975 Film, Return from Witch Mountain, Beyond Witch Mountain, Escape to Witch Mountain — 1995 Film, Race to Witch Mountain), The Witch Mountain Experience (Fan Site, hasn’t been updated since about 2007)

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Filed under 1970-1979, 1975, 1978, 1980-1989, 1982, 1990-1999, 1995, 2000-2009, 2009, Children & Young Adults, Key, Alexander, Mountains, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Science Fiction/Fantasy

Alex Haley. Roots. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1976.

This blockbuster novel, and the television mini-series made from it, are widely acknowledged as the sparks that ignited the genealogical craze in America in the 1970s.  It also started a national conversation on topics that had been off limits for most Americans–slavery and race.

Working from his own family’s history, Alex Haley tells the story of Kunta Kinte and his descendants.  Kunta Kinte’s early life in Africa, his capture and sale to slave traders, and the horrific sea voyage to America hold the reader’s attention for the first third of the book.  In America, Kunta is sold to a plantation owner in Virginia.  As the years go on, Kunta attempts escapes, but freedom will not be his.  Yet Africa remains alive in his mind, and he passes words and stories of his homeland on.

The scholar Michael Eric Dyson, writing in the introduction to the thirtieth anniversary edition of Roots says that the novel “helped convince the nation that the black story is the American story.”  It is also a North Carolina story.  Kunta’s daughter Kizzy is sold to a cockfighting ne’er-do-well in Caswell County.  That man rapes Kizzy, fathering her only child, “Chicken George” Lea. George works with the master’s birds and becomes so valuable to the master that George is allowed to bring his love, Matilda, onto the farm.  Their family grows, but the master’s bad bet at a cockfight breaks the family apart. George is sent to England and the rest of the family is sold to a more prosperous plantation in Alamance County.  There they remain until after the Civil War, when the family moves west into Tennessee.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC-Chapel Hill Library catalog.

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Filed under 1970-1979, 1976, Alamance, Caswell, Historical, Piedmont

Doris Betts. The River to Pickle Beach. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

In the turbulent summer of 1968, Jack and Bebe Sellars take over the management of Pickerel Beach on the North Carolina coast. Hoping for a peaceful, easy summer, their plans are disrupted by the arrival of several difficult people, including a violent, racist former Army buddy of Jack’s. The story, though written in third-person, is told from the alternating viewpoints of Bebe and Jack, with the events of the summer triggering memories of their past together. Throughout the novel, the racial violence and volatile national political struggles never seem far from the surface.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC Library Catalog.

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Filed under 1970-1979, 1972, Betts, Dorris, Brunswick, Coast

Daphne Athas. Entering Ephesus. New York: Viking, 1971.

The Bishop family has fallen on hard times. Forced to leave their large and comfortable house in Connecticut, they move to the small, provincial town of Ephesus, a fictional Piedmont town based on Chapel Hill. In the midst of the chaos of relocating and adjusting to life in the south, the lively Bishop daughters — Irene, Urie, and Loco Poco — are just entering adolescence. Their thoughts and observations enliven the novel, which is set amidst depression and war in the 1930s and 1940s. There is a small community named Ephesus in Davie County, but this novel is clearly set in a Piedmont college town. Entering Ephesus won the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for the best work of fiction by a North Carolinian in 1972.

Check this title’s availability in the UNC Library Catalog.

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Filed under 1970-1979, 1971, Athas, Daphne, Historical, Novels Set in Fictional Places, Orange, Piedmont