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Kids' Activities: Resource

Jane Lind presents ...

The Northern Imagination

A Study of Northern Canadian Literature

By Allison Mitcham

Theme: Resource Books on the North—The Environment

The Northern Imagination

The basic premise of this volume is that the North with its wilderness is what makes our country distinct. In fact, the book takes this thought even further to suggest that if the Western world could listen, the North has much to offer that can save contemporary North American culture from itself because in the North that there is still space for human beings to live in hope and to pursue their dreams.

The author finds the roots of these ideas in French and English literature by Canadian novelists and poets. Not only do these writers tell us that we have much to learn from the Native people of the North, but from the wild creatures who also live there. Margaret Atwood has called the animals martyrs. They are sacrificed to satisfy our needs and greed--our compulsive drive to "civilize" every corner as we push our highways and shopping malls farther into "unused" land, home to the wild creatures.

In the Native cultures animals are the kin of people--their own flesh and blood. Non-Native writers (Farley Mowat in Never Cry Wolf, Gabrielle Roy in La montagne secrete, Fred Bodsworth in The Sparrow's Fall, to name a few) incorporate this reality into both fiction and nonfiction. In all honesty, the average white person is likely to perceive this idea as a putdown, whereas for the Native people it is an honour and a source of pride.

However, the author is not putting forth a sentimental view of the North by any means. Both English and French authors have written about the isolation of the north and the ensuing violence. The extremes of the North's landscape, its unrelenting, fierce atmosphere provokes characters to act out of whatever evil is in them, as for example, in Andre Langevin's Le temps des hommes.

For Yves Theriault, both love and violence are facts of life in the development of his characters. He "... explores such contemporary issues as the function of the wilderness in a twentieth century context, the necessity of solitude for self-knowledge, and the role of love and art in the regeneration and expansion of human perceptions. Above all, Theriault seems concerned that we stop short in our head-long pursuit of material goals ... before all opportunities for choice ... vanish with the impending destruction of the wilderness." (p.91)

from the
Theme Catalogue and Teaching Guide for Children's Books
written for Penumbra Press by Jane Lind
© Jane Lind

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