ORDEAL BY ICE
Volume 17 Number 5
Three major works about the Canadian North have been reviewed by CM in the last three years. Peter Newman's Company of Adventurers ¹ and Caesars of the Wilderness ² have the Hudson Bay Company as their subject. Pierre Berton's The Arctic Grail ³ tells of the quest for the North West Passage [sic] the North Pole. While both these men are authors first and historians second, they have earned reputations as readable and respected writers on historical subjects.Farley Mowat is another such writer. With People of the Deer and The Desperate People, he brought to popular attention the plight of our indigenous northern people. Ordeal by Ice (Volume I of the Top of the World Trilogy) is not quite as readable as any of these books, for it is a collection of excerpts from the original publications of the explorers. Only a dozen brief introductions are in Mowat's own words. The accounts are (obviously) incomplete and the earlier stories are difficult for young readers because of the dated English. Of course, this reviewer has access to a major library, and has the time and interest to enjoy reading the complete accounts. For those who are not so privileged, the Top of the World Trilogy would be a good buy, especially if all three volumes could be obtained. Mowat's aim was to show the virtues of the "... tough unflinching, physically competent and daring animals" that these explorers were. He hints that we, like the best of them, should recognize our unity with the earth, and the "... innate strength derived from struggle with physical adversity, to which we owe our ascendency over all other forms of life". If you want an anthology to sample the flavours of the original authors, then this popular, revised edition of the 1960-73 trilogy will provide both the satisfactions and the limitations of a wine-tasting, with the vintages carefully selected by one who has a good understanding of the northland and its effect on people.
Robin Lewis, Riverdale High School, Pierrefonds, PQ.
¹ Reviewed vol. XIV/2 March 1986, p.71.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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