Encounters with the Archdruid describes three journeys McPhee made in the late 1960s with David Brower, at that time executive director of the Sierra Club, and three of Brower’s antagonists: Charles Park, a mineral engineer; Charles Fraser, a resort developer (who regards all conservationists as druids “religious figures who sacrifice people and worship trees”), and Floyd Dominy a builder of gigantic dams. He wrote of a controversial issue that is still a controversy today. This consisted of the question “Is Glen Canyon Dam a good thing or a bad thing?” The person in this essay who opposes this dam is the former director of a Sierra Club, David Brower.
In the beginning of this essay, McPhee gives background on both Brower and Dominy. There are certain elements in this description that show where McPhee revealed how he agreed more with Brower. First of all, McPhee started describing their backgrounds with that of David Brower. Also, John McPhee introduces Brower in a formal, more descriptive manner than he does with Dominy’s introduction. Floyd Dominy’s name is introduced by just being thrown into a sentence, whereas Brower’s name is introduced in a complete, descriptive sentence. To clarify, a statement by McPhee, “He developed this strategy before finding his protagonist, the arch-spokesman for wilderness preservation and former director of the Sierra Club, David Brower”, demonstrates how he formally introduces Brower rather than Dominey.
McPhee carefully writes this story using a method called en media res, which he uses by starting the story in the middle of the river trip, then jumping back to the beginning where Dominy and Brower are at the dam, and continuing the story where he feels that the reader needs to read about the travels of Dominy and Brower.
McPhee starts the story when Dominy and Brower are 130 miles into their journey down the river. This is an example of the element of writer vs. reader, because McPhee is trying to take control of what you read and comprehend by showing only piece of the story at a time and the reader must gather all the information and put it together like a puzzle, building the picture that McPhee is trying to get you to see. I feel that McPhee is on both sides of the spectrum, at least that is what I got from the picture I saw when I put the puzzle, McPhee designed, together.
Second element used in this story was beauty vs. sense. This came up in the story when the two men, Dominy and Brower, first started arguing about whether or not dams are needed for the survival of mankind in the southwest region in America. The controversy in their conversations was if the beauty of the river and the surrounding landscape was more important than using common sense and building a dam some that the people in that region can live comfortably because of the water supply and hydro-energy. McPhee uses this battle between beauty and sense because it makes you think, is the worth of the river’s beauty more important than the comfort of the people that live on this land.
Third element used in this story was nature vs. man. This element is illustrated in the story when Dominy and Brower travel through the rapids. McPhee shows the reader another side of the river that is pictured to be beautiful, peaceful, and magical but yet at the same time the river becomes life threatening, scary, and an evil living creature. So now the reader sees another side of how McPhee feels about the dam issue, because first the river is being saved because of its beauty and peacefulness but now it is life threatening to whoever tries to indulge themselves in the beauty of the river.
The final element in this story is man vs. man. This element is used in this story to show McPhee’s indecisiveness between whether or not he feels that dams should be built to comfort the needs and wants of the people living in this region of the country. McPhee uses both men’s views on the building of dams in this region to express his own views without owning up to them. While Dominy and Brower argue and throw shots at one another about who is in the wrong about the whole dam issue is just another way that McPhee hides behind both men to show his feelings.
With no doubt McPhee is a brilliant writer; he captures the true essence of the seriousness behind building dams to be used for personal wants and needs. McPhee is not trying to let the reader plainly see his views on the situation but he makes you wonder what he is thinking to find where you stand on the subject.