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Argall: The True Story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith (Seven Dreams #3)

4.1  ·  Rating details ·  195 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
From the National Book Award-winning author of Europe Central - a hugely original fictional history of Pocahontas, John Smith, and the Jamestown colony in Virginia

Watch for Vollmann's new work of nonfiction, No Immediate Danger, coming in April of 2018

In Argall, the third novel in his Seven Dreams series, William T. Vollmann alternates between extravagant Elizabethan langu
Paperback, 746 pages
Published November 26th 2002 by Penguin Books (first published 2001)
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(showing 1-30)
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Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
May 14, 2012 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Powhatans everywhere
Recommended to Nathan "N.R." by: Black Gowns
Opechancanough [Powhatan] “He Whose Soul Is White.” “This kind King.” -- John Smith, who was his captive and who later humiliated him by extorting corn from him at gunpoint. Half-brother to Powhatan, Werowance of Pamunkey, and in time Powhatan’s successor. This cunning, dissembling enemy of the English orchestrated two massacres of the colonists, the first in 1622, the second in 1644, after which he was captured and murdered in an English prison. Had the Indians won, he would be remembered toda
Nov 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: seven-dreams
”In this vain world all must sooner or later sink to ooze, laugh’d Argoll. Pride’s the merest weed, like love; Mufkaiuh’s a weed; all weeds do wilt, but ne’er mind; upon the slime new weeds will grow.”

Come back, come back

We all know this story, so why tell it again? Happy histories haunt hollow heads. The Disney corporation’s 33rd animated movie employs lush swaths of color. Pokahuntiss’s complexion is not pockmarked. She is lithe and curvy and one imagines the animators masturbating while dwell
Jul 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is one sumbitch of a book.

In every sense of what that means. It's longer than its 700 pages. Dense. And written in the vernacular of the time. So it takes both concentration and commitment.

And this is not the Disney version of Pocahontas. No smiling blue birds cavort around her singing face. It's brutal and cynical and ironic. True? Hell, I don't know. The author equivocates in endnotes. But it reads true. And slaps you in the face with that possibility. Mostly it insists that you think.

Without touching on Bill's own snark in his self-review, I can't help feeling a little down about the sentiment I've seen expressed about this book. Horrible, bloated, impenetrable - mock-Elizabethan English making it all but unreadable. Color me surprised that it's actually the most tightly plotted, deeply characterized, and diversion-free of the first four published volumes of the septology. In terms of stylistic and formal risks, it's far more conservative than The Ice-Shirt and The Rifles. A ...more
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is a novel of unrelenting frustration, sadness, bitterness. It also has more than a tinge of naive hope, idealism, and ambition that is unfortunately mired in the all-conquering ooze of history. The setting is what I've decided to term a "far-fetched time" when reality was extremely improbable. We witness the collision of English desperadoes with Virginian tribes, especially the Powhatan and allied tribes, as both sides demonstrate a great capacity for atrocity, duplicity, and blind idiocy. ...more
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Forgive the lack of review, which is something this novel deserves. Please see the wonderful reviews already up here. I did feel there were some sections where my interest and enthusiasm waned a little, and some sections which felt as though he simply felt the need to re-tell some of the stories he had uncovered in his reading, regardless of their relevance. My least favorite of the three dreams I have read so far, but still an incredible work.
Jun 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's not surprising that Argall is one of William T. Vollmann's most neglected books. The fact that it was my second Vollmann read was a complete fluke, really. After devouring The Rifles, I went to Hastings looking for more Vollmann. By all that is proper in this world, I should not have found anything by Vollmann in that store, except perhaps an overstock copy of Europe Central. Instead, I found a hardcover first edition of Argall. I picked it up without a second thought - not realizing that i ...more
Nov 12, 2008 marked it as to-read
I've read Vol.1 (Ice Shirt) and Vol. 2 (Fathers and Crows). Vollman is so Scary-Brilliant. God help me I feel myself drawn to the beautiful-brilliant looking, but massive book. The Prose Style looks dense, archaic and beautiful. Although this doesn't look like a fast read, I think I'll be reading this in the next several months. \

Hmmmm....this was written approx 3 1/2 years ago so several "months" didn't happen i guess. I'll get to it.

Once againa, this looks both daunting and brilliant so I may
Jesse K
Jul 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2009
In lieu of reading both side by side, which may have been a worthy venture since they have many parallels, I opted to dabble with the first 60 pages of Imperial (procured a day before release) and then launch back into Argall so as to finish it in order to gain cleanse my queue for the lengthy read to come with Imperial.

Argall is quite a bit better than the other Seven Dreams books published so far. By narrowing his scope to two primary characters, Vollmann managed to broaden the effect of his s
Alexander Weber
Jul 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Argall! The third of the seven dreams, and the fourth that I've read. By now I'm fully committed to this series, as every book has been solid, and very different in style. So far The Rifles stands as my favourite book of the series, and also my favourite book by Vollmann. It also may just be my most favourite book.

I would rank Argall as possibly my least favourite of the four dreams, but note that I still really liked this book. It just so happens that Fathers & Crows was incredible, and The
Benito Jr.
Feb 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Weighing only a little less than his latest book Imperial, Argall is Vollmann's 746-page retelling of the "true story of Pocahontas and Captain John Smith -- though by "true" Vollmann refers to what he calls a "Symbolic History", and that the facts contained within are "often untrue based on the literal facts as we know them, but whose untruths further a deeper sense of truth." I can't claim to be any good arbiter of the ethics behind this, only to note that it's fiction, after all, and that Smi ...more
Nov 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Vollmann is a brilliant writer. He has taken a story that is mostly known to us as a feel good fable of settler-native first contact and deftly shown us it's murky underbelly.
Vollmann is also an excellent historian, able to use his source material not only to enlighten the reader in the finer details of the players, but also do it in period language. no small feat.
Argall's one fault is the enormity of the detail Vollman puts on each page, but only in that it's not as delightful a read as it wou
Jul 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Extreme. & wonderfully written with much wind mostly in the sails & tacting here to there with a master's nautical precision.
Brent Hayward
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
80%, on the Vollmann scale anyhow, which is like ten times the rating scale of mortal books. William the Blind wrote this massive novel in old English, probably to challenge himself or stave off boredom, and that decision made me struggle and need to remain alert at all times, so one star out of five is lost. As grim as its predecessors in Seven Dreams, Argall follows the establishment of Jamestown, Virginia, by the British, and the shitshow that soon unfolds around it. Every nasty trait of huma ...more
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Vollmann ends up crafting a narrative just as saccharine and insipid as those he snarkily distances himself from; I'd genuinely argue that you can learn a lot more history from the Disney movie than this *ROMANNCE HISTORIKALL* or whatever. It occasionally redeems itself - and this is why it's superior to Europe Central - in the raaaaaaaare moments when Vollmann just lets himself be silly, e.g. "He saved himself in the West Indies by eating Oranges and Lemonds."

I honestly think the turning point
Justin Kern
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Pocahantas historical fiction. a brutally honest-yet-fictional interpretation of the Jamestown / John Smith / Pocahantas / Powhatan story.

The thing I really remember about Argall, above all else, was the helpless frustration of John Smith, who is fated to die poor, unless he finds a ton of gold in a land that, let's face it, just does not have any gold. he knows it, we know it, his patrons and sponsors back in england know it - yet, by god, does he try his best. Not the best person, but he certa
Mar 21, 2016 rated it liked it
One of the most impressive things about the Seven Dreams series is that they are actually fun to read; that is, the imitation of period style doesn't get in the way of the great storytelling. The big problem with the Seven Dreams series is that there is just too much. This is even more of a problem with Argall than most as the huge number of pages given to John Smith's back story -- though admittedly likely emphasizing the pathos of his striving in England's strict hierarchy -- weights this book ...more
Apr 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
What a sad story. Vollmann goes deep into the world and the heads of John Smith, Pocahontas, and many others, writing in some crazy sort-of Elizabethan English he came up with. It is something else, this book. It is certainly not romantic. How could it be? Smith was an opportunistic liar, and by today's standards genocidal. At the time, he was one of many who rightly figured that killing the so-called savages was the best way to keep them at bay. And Pocahontas. Her people routinely slaughtered, ...more
Michael Pronko
May 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Reading Vollman is a project, but one worthwhile. I have to set aside a block of time to read the long, dense novels, and have to work hard to read them. This is not bedtime reading, but one where you have to bring a lot of energy to the page. That attention, though, is always rewarded. He slows down the reader to have them consider things in greater depth. Filled with events, characters and language that you will not find anywhere else, I always feel proud to have finished one of his books, it ...more
Apr 24, 2015 marked it as to-read
List of Maps
Argall-Text: The Generall Historie of Virginia (1624)


Gravesend (1348-1996)
A Chronology of the Third Age of Wineland
Orthographic Note

I Glossary of Personal Names
II Glossary of Orders, Isms, Nations, Professions, Hierarchies, Races, Shamans, Tribes and Monsters
III Glossary of Places
IV Glossary of Texts
V Glossary of Calendars, Currencies, Legalisms and Measures
VI General Glossary

Sources (and a Few Notes)
Jun 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
the elizabethian prose was drudgery at first but i was used to it by the end. and it kept you in the spirit of the story through the pages where nothing much happened. all-in-all i really liked the book, though. i came away from the book feeling sorry for both smith and pocahontas, and at the same time wishing the story were really as true as the title suggests.
Jan 04, 2008 added it
As Imperial wanted to be a novel and ended up as a history, Argall wanted to be a history and ended up as a novel. Though the passion read in later works is missing, Argall remains both an impressive exercise in the reverse evolution of language and a get-wrenching voyage through the cruelties of European conquest.
Rider Babbit
Sep 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing!!!! Really enjoyed this book, very difficult to read at times as I often want to avoid the uncomfortable reality of the violent and unjust manner in which the English captured Virginia and her people. Overwhelmingly good history and mood set by author with beautifully illustrative language. Awesome read, I'll miss this book.
May 20, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: invalids, shut-ins
William Vollmann is undoubtedly a genius, stylistically and otherwise. Depsite this, I find his prose tiresomely overwrought albeit occasionally rewarding. The tale of Pocahontas is stripped of its romanticism and related in a historical context in a mountain of purple prose.
OK - i finally gave up. I have read this book all the way through long ago; I started again thinking maybe I would get something more or different this time. Sorry, I could not claim it either time. It is mostly horribly depressing and difficult to read.
Jan 30, 2008 is currently reading it
I actually had to stop reading this well over a year ago. It was beautiful and painful and I had no idea where I was half the time. However, I can't take it off my currently reading shelf. It felt true.
Jul 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
It's ambitious, it's flawed, it's everything you want from a William T. Vollmann novel. It probably holds little appeal for anyone who isn't already a fan of WTV. It's a challenging yet rewarding novel, but it isn't in the same class as The Ice-Shirt or Fathers and Crows.
Bryn Hammond
[on pause]

Here's a mock-review by the author: It made me impatient to start. I own this, I've read #1 The Ice-Shirt and #2 Fathers and Crows.
Feb 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Best of the Seven Dreams yet.
Beth Shields-Szostak
Jun 22, 2010 marked it as to-read
Shelves: signed
1st edition, signed by author
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William Tanner Vollmann is an American novelist, journalist, short story writer and essayist. He lives in Sacramento, California with his wife and daughter.

More about William T. Vollmann

Other Books in the Series

Seven Dreams (6 books)
  • The Ice-Shirt
  • Fathers and Crows
  • The Rifles
  • The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War
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“Thus the protagonist of this Dream of mine is ooze, here and forever call'd Oozymandias the King. 2 likes
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