________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 19 . . . . May 11, 2007


Panther. (Junior Canadian Classic). [Original title: Ki-yu.]

Roderick Haig-Brown.
Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 1946/2007.
253 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-1-55017-341-3.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Alicia Jinkerson.

**** /4


Ki-Yu was not cruel- no wild animal is cruel, or kind for that matter. When Ki-yu killed, he did so, as do all animals, for one or other of three reasons - because he was hungry, because he was in fear for his life, or because his right to a female was challenged. The question of cruelty did not enter into the matter at all, simply because only man is cruel. And Ki-yu was pure animal.

In the preface of Panther, a novel originally published in 1934, a critic protests that this book is "bloody and cruel" and should be "kept from many children." If anything, this criticism will only captivate and intrigue youth! The above excerpt is Roderick Haig-Brown’s very sensible rebuttal.

Set on Vancouver Island, this is a story about a cougar called Ki-Yu and his life, from conception to death. The names of the various animals portrayed within these pages are simply ways to differentiate and to describe particular creatures. The animals are not given personalities or human characteristics.

     The wild animals depicted in this novel are kept as raw and natural as possible. There are a few exceptions, and in one scene Roderick describes the hatred a particularly mean old cougar feels towards dogs and its desire to kill out of pure hatred rather than for survival. Animals may vary in size and temperament and the experiences which shape their disposition.

     The human characters are incidental and all admirable, their characters minutely depicted in stark contrast with the wild animals that populate the story. David Milton, a local man who hunts cougars for a living, is the human character that emerges the most often throughout the novel. Haig-Brown describes him in a delightful manner, his physical attributes taking on deeper meanings, revealing his true character:

He was a slender dark-eyed man, nearly forty years old though he seemed hardly more than thirty. His face was clean-shaven and pleasant, with a fine straight nose and a good-natured mouth and chin; but it was entirely dominated by his dark eyes-clear, keen, tolerant eyes that told of endless patience, of a calm, good-natured acceptance of the queer things his life forced upon him.

     Throughout the novel, the inevitable questions are: Will Ki-Yu battle a man? Will a man be killed in this novel by a cougar? The depictions of the killings are brutal and graphic, and such a scene might certainly alienate many readers.

     Man and animal face off, and for once, the outcome is unexpected. This isn't an epic tale of a hunter's quest to make the big kill or to avenge the death of a loyal hound. It reads more realistically as the tale of a life and death of a cougar. The story defies the happy endings, or divine justice, that popular culture has trained us to expect from children's nature stories. Often the wild animals clash so brutally that limbs are snapped by the force of jaws. The slow and feverish half-starved decline of a wounded animal is not skipped over either. At times, the book seemed long, the terrible reality of survival becoming bleak and too much to sustain reading. However, without even realizing it, one learns a great deal about the natural life of cougars and other creatures of the forest. The little tidbits about how cougars find mates, hunt, travel and co-exist with other animals reveal the knowledge of the author. For this, Haig-Brown credits five years in the forest and 14 months in the acquaintance of a real life cougar hunter.

     There are many haunting scenes in this novel: animal pitted against animal as a wolverine kills a den of cubs, and in another scene as Ki-Yu faces off with a hungry bear who is scavenging his kills. In another stirring chapter, wolves attack David's dogs, killing one, and, as David wildly makes his way out of the woods in the growing darkness with two shells left in his rifle and a gut full of fear, the wolves stalk him. The setting is intrinsically interwoven with the plot in a powerful way but never described in an overbearing or dull manner. Children will appreciate the sparsely populated wilderness that Vancouver Island once was.

    Thrilling and bloody, deliciously suspenseful, Panther will appeal widely to reluctant readers and those desiring an escape the everyday and the mundane of urban life.

Highly Recommended.

Alicia Jinkerson is a children's librarian with North Vancouver District Library.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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