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Edited by Eric Nicol

Toronto, McClelland & Stewart (A Douglas Gibson Book), 1989. 204pp, cloth, $24.95
ISBN 0-7710-6807-7. CIP

Grades 10 and up/Ages 15 and up
Reviewed by Howard Hurt.

Volume 18 Number 1
1990 January

Since Eric Nicol is an inveterate hu­mourist we should expect that he was at least intending hyperbole when he called his collection 'The Astounding Long-Lost Letters." Anybody with an interest in Canadian history will find these letters supposedly unearthed at the University of British Columbia utterly fascinating both for what they say about the settlement of the prairies and for the portrayal of an archetype. Unfortunately, they are phony. The person was real but Eric Nicol concocted all the correspondence.

Although Francis was a son of the famous novelist, his lack of academic talent, his pudgy stature, his tendency to stutter and his partial deafness made the possibility of great success in life doubtful. His immoderate drinking habits, of course, did not help. Never­theless, he had a birthright and his family was able to arrange a career in the administration of the empire, first with the Bengal Mounted Police and then, from 1874 to 1886, with the fledgling NWMP on the inhospitable Canadian prairies.

Unhappily, Dickens did not, as Nicol would have us believe, take the time to send a stream of letters home to the Black Mare Inn or anywhere else. If he had, perhaps he would have provided fresh perspective on the work of the NWMP, life on the frontier, Canadian politics, and individuals such as Sam Steel, Louis Riel and Sir John A. Unfor­tunately, he didn't.

The psychology and motives of a man like Dickens are interesting but, in this case, not as intriguing as those of the "editor." Nicol must have put in hours upon hours of work on these missives. If they had been published as historical fiction they would have been both interesting and useful. As a fake, the book is a liability. How can we ex­pect a grade 10 pupil ten or fifteen years from now to know that this collection of what appears to be primary sources found in his high school is an April Fool's joke? I suppose it is amusing to pull the wool over the eyes of certain experts in the academic community but a book like this, if purchased by public and school libraries, would attract a large "uninformed" readership. The project seems quite bizarre.

Howard Hurt, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.
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