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On Sale: August 07, 2013
Pages: 192 | ISBN: 978-0-8041-5101-6
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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When John Cameron Butler was a child, he was captured in a raid on the Pennsylvania frontier and adopted by the great warrrior Cuyloga. Renamed True Son, he came to think of himself as fully Indian. But eleven years later his tribe, the Lenni Lenape, has signed a treaty with the white men and agreed to return their captives, including fifteen-year-old True Son. Now he must go back to the family he has forgotten, whose language is no longer his, and whose ways of dress and behavior are as strange to him as the ways of the forest are to them. A beautifully written, sensitively told story of a white boy brought up by Indians, The Light in the Forest is a beloved American classic.


Chapter 1

The boy was about fifteen years old. He tried to stand very straight and still when he heard the news, but inside of him everything had gone black. It wasn't that he couldn't endure pain. In summer he would put a stone hot from the fire on his flesh to see how long he could stand it. In winter he would sit in the icy river until his Indian father smoking on the bank said he could come out. It made him strong against any hardship that would come to him, his father said. But if it had any effect on this thing that had come to him now, the boy couldn't tell what it was.

For days word had been reaching the Indian village that the Lenni Lenape and Shawanose must give up their white prisoners. Never for a moment did the boy dream that it meant him. Why, he had been one of them since he could remember! Cuyloga was his father. Eleven years past he had been adopted to take the place of a son dead from the yellow vomit. More than once he had been told how, when he was only four years old, his father had said words that took out his white blood and put Indian blood in its place. His white thoughts and meanness had been wiped away and the brave thoughts of the Indian put in their stead. Ever since, he had been True Son, the blood of Cuyloga and flesh of his flesh. For eleven years he had lived here, a native of this village on the Tuscarawas, a full member of the family. Then how could he be torn from his home like a sapling from the ground and given to the alien whites who were his enemy!

The day his father told him, the boy made up his mind. Never would he give up his Indian life. Never! When no one saw him, he crept away from the village. From an old campfire, he blackened his face. Up above Pockhapockink, which means the stream between two hills, he had once found a hollow tree. Now he hid himself in it. He thought only he knew the existence of that tree and was dismayed when his father tracked him to it. It was humiliating to be taken back with his blackened face and tied up in his father's cabin like some prisoner to be burned at the stake. When his father led him out next morning, he knew everybody watched: his mother and sisters, the townspeople, his uncle and aunt, his cousins and his favorite cousin, Half Arrow, with whom he had ever fished, hunted and played. Seldom had they been separated even for a single day.

All morning on the path with his father, crazy thoughts ran like squirrels in the boy's head. Never before had he know his father to be in the wrong. Could it be that he was in the right now? Had he unknowingly left a little white blood in the boy's veins and was it for this that he must be returned? Then they came in sight of the ugly log redoubts and pale tents of the white army, and the boy felt sure there was in his body not a drop of blood that knew these things. At the sight and smells of the white man, strong aversion and loathing came over him. He tried with all his young strength to get away. His father had to hold him hard. In the end he dragged him twisting and yelling over the ground to the council house of the whites and threw him on the leaves that had been spread around.

"I gave talking paper that I bring him," he told the white guards. "Now he belong to you."

It was all over then, the boy knew. He was as good as dead and lay among the other captives with his face down. He was sure that his father had stayed. He could feel his presence and smell the sweet inner bark of the red willow mixed with the dried sumach leaves of his pipe. When dusk fell, a white guard came up. The other soldiers called him Del, perhaps because he could talk Delaware, the strange name the whites gave the Lenni Lenape and their languages. True Son heard Del tell his father that all Indians must be out of the camp by nightfall. From the sounds the boy guessed his father was knocking out his pipe and putting it away. Then he knew he had risen and was standing over him.

"Now go like an Indian, True Son," he said in a low, stern voice. "Give me no more shame."

He left almost at once and the boy heard his footsteps in the leaves. The rustling sound grew farther and farther away. When he sat up, his father was gone. But never before or since was the place his father was going back to so clear and beautiful in the boy's mind. He could see the great oaks and shiver-bark hickories standing over the village in the autumn dusk, the smoke rising from the double row of cabins with the street between, and the shining, white reflection of the sky in the Tuscarawas beyond. Fallen red, brown and golden leaves lay over roofs and bushes, street and forest floor. Tramping through them could be made out the friendly forms of those he knew, warriors and hunters, squaws, and the boys, dogs and girls he had played with. Through the open door of his father's cabin shone the warm red fire with his mother and sisters over it, for this was the beginning of the Month of the First Snow, November. Near the fire heavy bark had been strewn on the ground, and on it lay his familiar bed and the old worn half-grown bearskin he pulled over himself at night. Homesickness overwhelmed him, and he sat there and wept.

After a while he was conscious of eyes upon him. When he looked up, he saw the white guard they called Del, standing there in the dusk that to the Indian is part of the day and part of the night. The white soldier was about twenty years old, with red hair and a hunting shirt of some coarse brownish cloth. The bosom stuck out like a pouch from his belongings carried in it. His belt was tied in the back and his cape fringed with threads that in the daylight were raveled scarlet and green. But what affronted the boy was that the white guard laughed at him.

Instantly True Son turned and lay on his face again. Inside of him hate rose like a poison.

"Once my hands are loose, I'll get his knife," he promised himself. "Then quickly I'll kill him."
Conrad Richter

About Conrad Richter

Conrad Richter - The Light in the Forest
Conrad Richter was born in Pennsylvania, the son, grandson, nephew, and great-nephew of clergymen. He was intended for the ministry, but at thirteen he declines a scholarship and left preperatory school for high school, from which he graduated at fifteen. After graduation, he went to work. His family on his mother's side was identified with the early American scene, and from boyhood on he was saturated with tales and the color of Eastern pioneer days. In 1928 he and his small family moved to New Mexico, where his heart and mind were soon caputred by the Southwest. From this time on he devoted himself to fiction. The Sea of Grass and The Trees were awarded the gold medal of the Societies of Libraries of New York University in 1942. The Town received the Pulitzer Prize in 1951, and The Waters of Kronos won the 1960 National Book Award for fiction. His other novels included The Fields (1946), The Lady (1957), A Simple Honorable Man (1962), The Grandfathers (1964), A Country of Strangers (1966; a companion to The Light in the Forest), and The Aristocrat, published just before his death in 1968.


“Rebellion, glowing vitality. . . . The spirit of the wild frontier. . . . An absorbing story, marked by Richter’s uncanny skill in recapturing the atmosphere of the past.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Memorable . . . Richter tells the story with [a] glowing passion for unspoiled nature. . . . It is impossible to doubt the detailed . . . accuracy of the picture.” –New York Herald Tribune

“Good reading for anyone curious about the past of our country.” –The Yale Review
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


Taken hostage by the Lenni Lenape Indians at the age of four, True Son (John Butler) lives among the tribe on the banks of the Tuscarawas for eleven years. When word reaches his village that the Indians must surrender their white prisoners, True Son is returned to his white relatives and a society he no longer knows and cannot understand. At home in Paxton township, he is greeted by his father Harry, his invalid mother Myra, his young brother Gordie, and his Aunt Kate. Missing his Indian parents, John wants no part of this home and family. A stranger to the white man’s ways, he detests their clothing, their language, their homes, and their behavior. Preferring his previous way of life, John baffles his relatives and neighbors. His Uncle Wilse, who has deemed all Indians savages, treats John especially harshly, antagonizing him openly. True Son’s only ally is Gordie.

One day, John meets Bejance, a Negro basketweaver who also once lived among the Indians, albeit a different tribe. Sensing a bond and hungering for some contact with the language he speaks best, John engages Bejance in conversation, only to discover that the man has forgotten all but a few words of the Indian dialect. Bejance does, however, tell John of a man, Corn Blade, who lives on a nearby mountain. This man, says Bejance, can fluently converse in the Lenape language. Delighted, John plots to travel to Corn Blade’s home and speak with him. His plans are foiled, however, when he is caught by his Uncle Wilse. John’s apparent dissatisfaction with his new life and his refusal to adjust to it prompt a visit from the local parson, Reverend Elder, a man whom John immediately distrusts: he recognizes Elder as the captain responsible for the senseless slaughter of a group of Conestogo Indians.

Shortly after the parson’s visit, John becomes seriously ill; the “white doctor’s” medicine cannot effect a cure. Then, one day, two Indians visit John’s home town. They are Half Arrow, his “cousin” and Little Crane, a friend searching for his “white squaw.” That night Half Arrow comes to the Butler house, calling John. John joins Half Arrow and is told that his Uncle Wilse has been responsible for the murder and scalping of Little Crane. Vowing revenge, Half Arrow and True Son attempt to scalp Wilse but have to settle for beating him and cutting off his hair. Later, they cunningly make their way through the forest, back to the Lenni Lenape tribe. True Son is warmly welcomed by his Indian friends and family, especially his father, Cuyloga. His reunion is interrupted by Little Crane’s family, who swear vengeance on the settlers. Half Arrow and True Son join the others in their quest. True Son, as bent on revenge as the others, is at first eager to exact justice. When Half Crane’s family scalps a group of the whites, including a young girl, however, True Son begins to question his tribe’s ways. Soon after, he is forced to act as a decoy, luring a boat full of white settlers close to where the Indians lie in wait to ambush them. At the last moment, True Son shouts a warning, and the ambush is thwarted. That night his tribe meets to decide his fate. Many believe that he should die by fire for his betrayal, but Cuyloga manages to dissuade them. Instead, True Son’s destiny will be to return to the “whites.”Cuyloga and True Son depart on their journey, traveling together until they reach the river. At this point, breaking their bond forever and vowing that they must now look upon one another as enemies, Cuyloga bids his “son” farewell and sends him on his way.


Reading Comprehension Questions

Chapter 1

1. How old was True Son when he was adopted by the Indians? For what reason was he adopted? How many years does he live among the Indians?

2. What is True Son’s reaction when he is told by his Indian father that he must return to his birth family?

Chapter 2

1. Who is Del Hardy? What duty is he supposed to carry out?

2. What is the reaction of the white captives when they are released by the Indians to the whites? What is the reaction of the Indians as they give up their captives?

Chapter 3

1. What is the May apple? Why does True Son wish to eat it?

2. Who accompanies True Son on the trail? What does he give him? Why?

Chapter 4

1. According to Half Crane, what are some of the differences between the white people and the Indians?

2. Why does True Son attack the guard? What advice does Half Arrow give his cousin afterwards? What does the river True Son then crosses symbolize?

Chapter 5

1. What does True Son see after he leaves Fort Pitt that indicates he has entered the “barbarous homeland of his white enemies”?

2. How does True Son act when he meets his birth father? What do you think father and son feel at that moment?

Chapter 6

1. Compare/contrast Del Hardy’s feelings when he returns to the white settlement to those of True Son.

2. Describe True Son’s reunion with his family.

Chapter 7

1. Briefly describe John’s first night at home. Where does he sleep? Why?

2. Describe John’s first encounter with his Uncle Wilse. Why do they argue?

Chapter 8

1. What change does John make in his appearance and daily activities now that he is among the whites?

2. Who is Bejance? Why is John so happy to meet him? About whom does he tell John? As a result, what does John decide to do? Does he succeed? Why or why not?

Chapter 9

1. Describe the circumstances surrounding John’s abduction by the Indians eleven years ago. What effect did his abduction have on his mother?

2. Why does John dislike Reverend Elder? Compare/contrast John’s attitude toward the Indians with that of Reverend Elder.

Chapter 10

1. What is wrong with John? What methods does the doctor use to treat him?

2. Why does Parson Elder’s son visit Harry Butler? What does this young man tell Mr. Butler?

Chapter 11

1. How do the whites treat messages or letters? How do the Indians? Why is John so concerned about letters and messages?

2. Why does John feel the ”white medicine man’s” tactics are of no use? What does John hope the result of his illness will be? Why?

3. Who visits John one night while he is sick? What does this visitor tell John? What do John and his visitor do?

Chapter 12

1. What decision does True Son make the morning after his escape from the whites? What is his only regret about this decision?

2. Briefly describe the journey Half Arrow and True Son take. For approximately how long do they travel?

3. Describe how Half Arrow and True Son ”steal” the trader’s boat.

Chapter 13

1. How do True Son and Half Arrow catch fish to eat?

2. How do True Son and Half Arrow pass their days in the forest?

3. What changes does True Son make in his appearance?

Chapter 14

1. What do the family and village of True Son do when he returns? Who refuses to be a part of this reunion? Why?

2. What do the men of the council decide to do? Why?

3. What are True Son’s initial feelings when he joins the Indian war party? What causes these feelings to change? Why?

4. What role is True Son to play in the attack on the whites? Does he successfully fulfill this role? Why or why not? What are the immediate effects of his actions?

Chapter 15

1. How is True Son greeted when he returns to his “brothers”? What do they do to him?

2. When the council meets, what is it that they are to discuss? What does the council want to do to True Son?

3. What does Cuyloga do? What does he say to the council? What does he tell True Son?

4. Describe the parting scene between Cuyloga and True Son. What does each say? What must each be feeling at this moment?

5. Remembering the river from Chapter 4, discuss what True Son’s crossing this time symbolizes.

Character Identification

Briefly identify each of the following characters:

• Half Arrow
• Little Crane
• Mechelit
• Thitpan
• Cuyloga
• Quaquenga
• Del Hardy
• A’astonah
• Corn Blade
• Bejance
• Myra Butler
• Harry Butler
• Gordon Butler
• Kate Stewart
• Reverend Elder

Discussion Questions

1. Discuss some of the adjustments True Son must make when he is returned to the settlers. Be sure to comment upon the length of time he lived among the Indians compared to the length of time he lived among the whites.

2. Nature, seasons, and the changes they bring are important to the Indians. Although he lives among the whites, True Son still retains the Indians’ view of these things. Discuss True Son’s concept of nature and the seasons. How do his concepts differ from those of the whites?

3. The Light in the Forest presents many conflicts. One of the most important of these is the conflict within John Butler as he tries to reconcile his Indian identity with his white identity. Discuss this conflict as well as how and if it is resolved. Are there any other conflicts in the novel?

4. Near the end of the book, True Son decides to warn the white settlers of the Indian ambush. Do you agree or disagree with his decision? Discuss.

5. The Lenni Lenape tribe meet in council at the end of the book to decide True Son’s fate. What course of action would you have chosen for him? Why? (Note: Teacher can divide class into sections and have students debate the issue or enact a mock trial.)

6. Imagine that you have been kidnapped, held for an extended period of time, and then returned to your birth family. What emotions would you experience upon your return? What adjustments would you have to make? Can you think of any cases in which a child has been raised by an adoptive parent and then returned to a birth parent? What effect would this change have on the child’s life? The parent’s?

Writing Activities

Imagine that you have been kidnapped by the Indians and are forced to live among them for two weeks. While in captivity, you are able to keep a secret diary or journal. Using the details supplied in this book, write daily accounts of your time living among the Indian tribe.

Throughout the book, white society labels the Indians as barbaric and uncivilized, the settlers as peaceful and educated. In a well-organized essay, agree or disagree with this viewpoint. Be sure to support your position with evidence from the book.

The Light in the Forest is prefaced with a quotation from a poem by William Wordsworth. Write an essay in which you explain the meaning of Wordsworth’s words and their relevance to the events described in the book.

A newspaper reporter must present the facts of an incident in an objective manner. Imagine that you are a writer for a newspaper in John Butler’s town. Write an account of his return to “civilization” and the incidents that follow.


With the aid of research material from the library, investigate the life style of the Lenni Lenape/Delaware Indians portrayed in this book. Report back to the class on their language, food, arts, and religion. Try to discover similarities between the Indian’s life style and our own. Discuss how they have influenced parts of our lives (for example, our language, our food, our arts, etc.).

Visit any nearby museum which offers an exhibition dedicated to the American Indian tribes. Discuss your observations with your teacher and classmates.

With a group of three or four classmates, recreate any important scene from the book. Include the details supplied by the author, adding appropriate ones of your own. Perform this scene in front of your classmates.


Define each of the following words in the context in which they appear in the book. The number of the page on which each word appears follows in parentheses. Note to teacher: You may add or delete words, depending on the reading level of your class.

• redoubts (5)
• stint (9)
• wolverine (9)
• plumb (10)
• palavering (10)
• doughtier 11)
• trussed (13)
• calico (13)
• moccasin (15)
• varmit (16)
• ditties (17)
• Yengwes (17)
• tomahawk (22)
• bandy-legged (23)
• venison (23)
• ominous (25)
• fickle (27)
• slavish (37)
• stockades (37)
• wet-nurse (38)
• subjection (39)
• bombarded (39)
• nigh (45)
• alders (49)
• bolster (58)
• impassive (64)
• odious (73)
• plaited (75)
• savor (83)
• unforded (84)
• untrodden (84)
• cradlers (86)
• snaith (86)
• binding (86)
• shagbark (86)
• gravity (87)
• galls (90)
• unfathomable (95)
• gallipot (99)
• aboriginal (100)
• invariably (105)
• remuneration (106)
• oration (108)
• terrapin (109)
• incomprehensible (111)
• vamoose (113)
• flourish (129)
• ford (130)
• minny (131)
• pungency (132)
• murky (141)
• paroquets (143)
• benediction (143)
• arbutus (146)
• inexhaustible (148)
• vermillion (150)
• fathom (155)
• exultation (157)
• meritorious (164)
• remonstrating (166)
• ambush (168)
• creepers (171)
• reprieve (172)
• thongs (174)
• ordeal (179)
• volition (179)


Teacher’s Guide by Josette A. Bordiga. Ms. Bordiga has a B.A. and an M.A. from New York University and teaches English at the high school level in New Jersey.

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