Hello, this is Karen Madorin from Logan, Kansas, sharing her insights into John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield War for High Plains Radio Readers. Like any book worth reading, this one generates a gazillion not necessarily related ideas. One of those is what is a Milagro?
When Nichols wrote this novel based on his own experiences, experts in the publishing business told him he’d have to change the title so it didn’t have a foreign term in it. Naysayers explained the reading public didn’t buy such books. He didn’t follow their directions. Now plenty of people have enjoyed it and learned that Milagro means miracle.
In the Hispanic culture, Milagros are traditionally small charms representing different body parts, livestock, heart shapes, and other symbolic prayer requests. Petitioners buy or make these tiny icons of tin, wood, wax, silver, and even gold. Believers might wear them as little charms to remind themselves of their supplications or they may place them near statues of saints who represent their particular petition.
The curious can shop for them online or travel to a region where these popular folk charms are available in local markets. >From childhood on, I’ve enjoyed examining boxes full of them in Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Juarez, and California stores. I love running my fingers through hundreds of them and listening to their tinny tinkle. They remind me to hope for the best.
On visits to northern New Mexican chapels, I’ve seen them dangling near saint icons or placed at the feet of these saint statues. In Chimayo, the source of healing soil, I examined not only tiny Milagros displayed in the foyer but also no longer necessary crutches, braces, walkers, breathing machines, and other evidence of miracle cures.
Readers might consider the book The Milagro Beanfield War itself a Milagro. John Nichols and reviewers certainly never expected it to become a classic, let alone the inspiration for a Robert Redford movie. It’s developed a cult following that’s kept it before the public for nearly 50 years. Ageless themes, including a Great Plains chronic need-water replenishment-- make it as relevant today as it was in 1974. Nichols takes readers to an arid land and uses unlikely heroes to overcome impossible conflicts in the quirkiest fashion.