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Howard O’Hagan

Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1989. 272pp, paper, $5.95
ISBN 0-7710-9850-2. CIP

Grades 11 and up/Ages 16 and up
Reviewed by E. Robson.

Volume 17 Number 4
1989 July

O'Hagan's novel, originally published in 1939, combines western Indian mythology, legend and realism in the story of a yellow-haired Shuswap Indian from the Rockies at the time of railroad construction. The first chapter portrays a religious fanatic's murder by the Shuswap Indians in revenge for the rape of one of their women.

From the rape came a child, Tete Jaune (Tay John), who grew and led his people to the Yellowhead valley before leaving the tribe to hunt and guide early expeditions throughout the area. The reader learns of his unusual circumstances through the reports of a narrator, Jack Denhem. His periodic encounters with Tay John start when he witnesses him kill a grimly and end with a report of Tay John's bizarre death and mythical return to the earth.

O'Hagan, a former mountain guide and railway worker, wrote a collection of short stories, another novel and a biography of wilderness men before his death in 1982. Tay John was one of the first contemporary novels in Canada. The author examines Christianity, Indian mythology and our progress-oriented society. The landscape and the frontier of the Rockies at the turn of the century play a major role. Although the language is awkward and biblical at times, a compelling story results.

The afterword by Michael Ondaatje assists the reader to understand this novel mixed with legend, mythology, documentary and yarn. Any senior student of Canadian literature or history, mythology or religion could benefit from reading this book.

E. Robson, Winston Churchill Collegiate Institute. Scarborough, Ont.
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