Thursday, July 21, 2011

Reader's Diary #737- Kevin Cannon: Far Arden

In Pierre Berton's Prisoners of the North I was introduced to Vilhjalmur Steffansson, an Arctic explorer who set out to find a mysterious race of so-called blond Eskimos, the last of the northern Aboriginal groups to have contact with white men. The Inuit he found he referred to as the Copper Inuit, and for a while the world was intrigued, as we often are with mysterious places and people, fictional or real.

I doubt, however, that Kevin Cannon heard of Steffansson or the Copper Inuit. In fact, beyond looking at a map of high Arctic islands, it would seem Cannon did absolutely no research on Nunavut or the people who live there.

Far Arden centers around a man named Army Shanks who, along with a few others-- friendly and otherwise, hope to find the mythical land of Far Arden, a tropical paradise somehow still uncharted and somehow located in the Canadian Arctic.

When Annie Proulx wrote the Shipping News, I admit calling it out for its Newfoundland inaccuracies. Likewise, when Kevin Patterson wrote Consumption, I did the same for its inaccuracies of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. Yet, I not only forgive Kevin Cannon for his, I actually appreciate them.

First off, nowhere on the book Far Arden or on the publisher's website does it say that Kevin Cannon has ever been to Nunavut or even done a lick of research. It says, rather, that "Kevin Cannon lives in the near-Arctic Climes of Minneapolis, Minnesota." Proulx and Patterson (or their publishers at any rate) insisted on writing their experience with their respective locales on the book jackets as if to add to the authenticity. It backfired. If they were in fact in Newfoundland and Nunavut for any length of time their blatant mistakes are unforgivable. Cannon, on the other hand, doesn't even try to get it right. But that's the charm of the book. It's so over the top and crazy that it works.

This is Nunavut fictionalized to the extreme. There's a Boothia College larger than any of the Arctic College campuses combined. The waters are all patrolled by the Royal Canadian Arctic Navy (RCAN). People not only live on Devon Island but there's a pub called the Sombre Moose. There's a traveling circus like something out of Pinocchio. People use expressions like "I should dress up like a Baker Lake hooker." And I could go on.

But Far Arden isn't just fun for the Nunavummiut (or former Nunavummiut) checking to see what the hell Cannon's done to the place, but it's wild fun even for those with about as much knowledge as Cannon himself. The story is fast paced and crazy and the "sound effects" for lack of a better term are hysterical. Whenever someone does anything, Cannon insists on narrating that action right there in the same panel. It begins subtly, with a "punch!!!" So far no different than many action comics, right? But it quickly spirals from there. "Pant! Pant!" becomes "listful kick" becomes (my personal favourite), "throw up a little in mouth."

It's ridiculously silly, the artwork has a lot of crosshatching but is otherwise very simplified (it reminded me of Simon Bond's work in 101 Uses for a Dead Cat), and the ending feels somewhat rushed, but for all that I still think Cannon managed to get something right about the Canadian Arctic. Were it not for many of our early explorers having almost as ridiculous expectations of what they were to find and the kinds of adventures they were sure to have, Nunavut, for better or worse, would not be the reality it is today. For that reason, I'm happy to include Far Arden in my list of reads for the Canadian Book Challenge.

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