But, seeing as Roberts must still hold some interest (my guess is that he's a favourite amongst profs teaching Canadian lit courses), I went in search of another of his stories. My find? "The Vagrants of the Barren."
"The Vagrants of the Barren" is a decent story, in the "man against nature" vein. It made me think back to Jack London's "To Build a Fire." When I reviewed that story, I remarked that it was different from most survival stories because in those "man must keep his wits about him and not to let his imagination get the better of him" while London implied that a man must have a healthy dose of fear and imagination in order to calculate all the odds stacked against him. Roberts' protagonist, Pete Noel, fit more in line with the witty sort. In fact, the second paragraph (after he awakes to find his cabin on fire) begins,
But being a woodsman, and alert in every sense like the creatures of the wild themselves, his wits were awake almost before his body was, and his instincts were even quicker than his wits.Pete Noel's survival hinged upon calm and craftiness versus fear and response. Also unlike London, Roberts held his cards closer to his chest. London's story relied heavily on foreshadowing, but when Pete slipped further and further into base animal instinct, it was near impossible to predict whether or not this would turn out to be a good thing, the good thing that kept him alive. As in real life survival cases, luck plays a major role. But how Pete survives is just the surface theme. Underneath it, Roberts waxes philosophical about man's evolution from animal. How we remember our animal instincts when necessary and how we keep our humanity in check is the see-saw that balances the story.
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