Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Reader's Diary #970- Patrick White: Mountie in Mukluks

Though Patrick White is credited as the writer of Mountie in Mukluks, it is essentially the memoirs of Bill White (no relation), told in Bill's perspective, about his adventures as a mountie in 1930s Cambridge Bay, a small town in Nunavut. Not to downplay Patrick's contributions, he compiled the interviews and stories of Bill into a seamless and coherent tale.

In many ways, Mounties in Mukluks reminded me of another arctic autobiography I read a couple of years ago, Ernie Lyall's An Arctic Man. Both were somewhat rough around the edges sort of men with a low tolerance for b.s. and a healthy respect for the Inuit.

It is somewhat ironic that the book is called Mountie in Mukluks. While Bill did serve his time in the north as an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, most of his stories tell more about his time hunting and spending time with the locals. Were it not for a couple of anecdotes to the contrary, you could almost forget that he was there as a mountie. Admittedly, he only wanted to go north for the trapping and once he moved back south he shortly resigned from the RCMP. Yet for all that, and for all the times Bill scoffed at the exaggerated tales of Sam Steele and other brave, heroic mounties that "always get their man," the publishers still seemed to go that route with the title, I guess figuring that's what sells. To the publishers credit, on the website synopsis, they do refer to him as "one of the most un-cop-like cops."

Whereas readers may not get a lot in the way of policing stories (they will get some), what they will mostly get is a story about a man learning to appreciate and respect another culture, to question his own culture, and learn something about himself in the process. Not that Bill would have put it in such touchy feely terms. He uses "damn" the way teenagers today use the word "like."

Another similarity to Ernie Lyall, however, dragged the book down somewhat. Lyall seemed a little too preoccupied with refuting "facts" and stories written by Farley Mowat, Bill White seems at times too hung up on Henry Larsen. Henry Larsen was an explorer and long time commander of the RCMP vessel St. Roch, the same ship that took Bill north and where the two men first met. Bill spends too much time contradicting Larsen's achievements and stories, even going as far as suggesting that Larsen stole some of Bill's own anecdotes and passed them off as his own. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen; I see no reason why I should trust one of these men over the other, and the overly focused bitterness dragged the book down occasionally. Another small quibble, possibly lies with Patrick White's transcription. He says in the foreword that sometimes Bill referred to the Inuit as Eskimos, but that Patrick chose to keep it consistent with the more acceptable in modern parlance, Inuit. However, Inuit refers to more than one person, whereas Inuk is the singular. Anyone without that knowledge would not have noticed, but when he consistently writes things like, "...an Inuit named..." it starts to grow irksome.

Still, Bill White's personality sells the story. It's strong and opinionated, perhaps not everyone's favourite voice, but it's a genuine voice. Memory being what it is, I'm sure there must be some facts that are off here or there, but there's still a sense on what his experiences must have been, and more importantly, what they meant to him.

1 comment:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

The editor really should have caught the inconsistencies in grammar, but it still sounds like there were some interesting characters involved. And I like the alliteration in the title.