Sunday, February 11, 2007

Reader's Diary #230- Dillon Wallace: The Lure Of The Labrador Wild (up to "Michikamau Or Bust")

Newfoundlanders, at least those from my generation, all have a slightly different high school and junior high experience from the rest of the country. Like most Canadians, we studied Shakespeare, Lord of The Flies and Anne Frank: Diary of A Young Girl. But there were a handful of books common only to us; Cassie Brown's Death On The Ice, Harold Horwood's Bartlett: The Great Explorer, and Dillon Wallace's The Lure Of The Labrador Wild. Yet oddly, I missed that last one. I don't remember if I had gotten sick, if the teacher simply ran out of time in the school year, or what exactly happened, but I missed it. So 13 years out of high school, it's time to catch up.

To be honest, I had forgotten about this book. It was only when The Woman Who Mapped Labrador: The Life and Expedition Diary of Mina Hubbard was nominated for the province's prestigious Winterset Award that I had heard of it in years (Mina was the wife of Leonidas Hubbard, the explorer featured in Lure of The Labrador Wild). I decided then that I'd go back and read Leonidas' story before tackling the other.

Written by one of Hubbard's travelling companions, Dillon Wallace, this is the story of three men as they set off to map and explore the interior of Labrador back in the early 1900s. Having been written back then as well, the book shows its age; sometimes the vocabulary and even grammar seem dated. However, the language is not archaic by any means and I think most people would still consider it an easy read.

For the most part, I am enjoying it. Hubbard and Wallace were from New York (the third was George Elson, an outdoorsman from James Bay) and to read about a couple of men so compelled and intrigued by the province is interesting to say the least. Though I can't help but feel at times like I'm siding with nature when it comes to their struggle. It's hard, I admit, for me to get into the heads of these early ecotourists. The people of Labrador at the time, rarely (if at all) travelled to the parts to which they were headed. The Labradorians lived where they did out of necessity, not in such pursuits of these two men. In fact, they avoided those spots out of necessity as well, they were dangerous. The idea that they were there to map the area comes across as merely a guise, an excuse to set forth (and get financing for) a rather ill-conceived adventure.

It's also a little hard to find a lot of sympathy when Wallace pompously derides some of the people living along the coastline:

"Steve was a characteristic livyere, shiftless and ambitionless."

While this particular individual may have indeed been shiftless and ambitionless, it felt unfair that Wallace seemed to making generalizations, generalizations which I suspected were based more on his (Wallace's) values than on truth. My theory was confirmed a little later upon reading Wallace and Hubbard's meeting Joe Lloyd. Joe Lloyd, as he is described, was an intelligent Englishman who chose not to return to Europe after apprenticing aboard a fishing vessel.
"At last he married an Eskimo woman and bound himself fast to the cold rocks of
Labrador, where he will spend the rest of his life, eking out a miserable
existence, a lonely exile from his native England."
Joe apparently had made the mistake of asking of news about England. This request impressed upon Wallace so much that he could think of few things "more pathetic than that old man's life up there on that isolated and desolate island [Big black Island]". The thought that this man chose to live in Labrador and may have found true love, didn't occur to Wallace. He asked about England, surely this proved how meaningless his life had become.

Such comments have thus far made it hard to sympathize for these characters as they bumble through the woods, getting lost and tortured by black flies. This doesn't mean that I'd not care about people dying simply because they were offensive, but so far in the book, death hasn't really made it's presence felt (though I am aware of the tragic ending). Once things are looking bleaker, I'm sure I'll be rooting for them, but for now bring on the bugs.


Rattling Books said...

You might be interested to know that Rattling Books, an audio book publisher out of Tors Cove, Newfoundland, produces an unabridged audio version of 'Lure of the Labrador Wild,' and many other fine Newfoundland works. Since one of your interests is 'adding to my mp3 collection,' this should be right up your alley! Check out for our catalogue, or for our blog, which has free listening clips and excerpts.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Even though the characters may be unsympathetic and the language dated, this book, or the subject of this book, sounds fsacinating. I can relate somewhat to the mapmakers, as to me Labrador is a vast unknown - fascinating, but I know next to nothing about it.

John Mutford said...

Kudos to you for what you do. I checked out an audio clip from your site. I have to admit I've never been a "books on tape" sort of person, I'd rather read them myself. However, I appreciate that they exist for those people who are into them. Listening to the clip, I still think I'll stick to the book. It's hard for me to give up on my own intonations and impressions for those of an actor. Speaking of which, while I've been a fan of Jody Richardson's work with Thomas Trio and with Fur Packed Action (loved their theme song), I wasn't crazy on his narration. To be honest, I thought it seemed a little overacted (but again, maybe this comes from my inexperience with recorded books). Plus, I'm not sure his St. John's accent (with those ever-so-light "t"s) were all that convincing as Dillon Wallace- wasn't he a New Yorker? That said, I hope you keep on doing what you're doing.

John Mutford said...

Yes Barbara, it is. A friend of mine sent me my copy, with a note inside that said "Worst Gift Ever!". He reluctantly got it for me after seeing it on my wishlist- he remembered reading it and despising it in highschool. I wonder if it may have been his teacher's fault?