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THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY II. FICTION (List III)l E. -K. BROADUS I will not say that « Grey Owl's" Sajo and Her Beaver People 'is the best Canadian "novel" for 1935-though what with the inability of anybody in these days to define a (t novel," I might be tempted to go even th~t far. But I will say that; whatever category Sajo belongs in, it-is, as far as my reading goes, the best work of the creative imagination, in the field of fiction, produced in Canada in 1935. Sajo, I grant you, is a "mere" tale for children. Sajo is written in what you may call, if you like, a H simplified" style. Well, I don't baulk at that. If this tale of Sajo were phrased in the artful artlessness of, let us say, Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses) it would leave me cold. But Grey Owl's artlessness is indigenous, natural, primitive. It is not merely lucid. It becomes at times prose poetry. Sa}o is the story of Gitchie Meegwon (Blg Feather) an Ojibway Indian, his daughter Sajo aged eleven, his son Shapian aged fourteen , and two kitten beavers. The beavers get lost from their parents. Big Feather finds them near death from starvation, and takes them to his home as pets for the children. The beavers adapt themselves to this alien environment, and develop person':'" alities. Now, beyond duck-shooting over defunct beaver-dams on Alberta sloughs,' and watching the delightful pranks of beavers on mountain lakes in the good old days before the Canadian National smeared Jasper Pass with tourists, I confess that I know nothing about the "Little People." But any reader of "Grey Owl's" earlier book, Pilgrims of the Wild, will remember that "Grey Owl" has a most delicate art in describing the ways of these intriguing quadrupeds. There is no artificial humanizing. He is content to tell you what he has seen beavers do. On the strength of that, you are welcome to humanize and psychologize their behaviour as much as you like. - Big Feather, reduced to pennilessness, has to sell one of the lThe material in square brackets has been added by the Editor. For it Mr. Broadus is in no way responsible. The books in question were not supplied by their publishers tiU after the essay had gone to press. 368 LETTERS IN CANADA: 1935 beavers to the UZoo" of a city down south, in order to finance his trapping expedition. (I am a little uncomfortable about this. I don't think he would, in whatever emergency.) Left '(on their own," Sajo and Shapian realize that the remaining beaver is lonely and unhappy) and decide to get somehow to that mysterious city, get that beaver back, and restore the companionship. How they. do it-little primitive strangers in an utterly confusing modern world-makes a story which is the quintessence of H Grey Owl's". art. They are kindly folk, these northlanders-and even these city people-who help the dazed Indian children on their way. If you have been reading modern fiction, and have become a little bored with the nasty specimens of human nature which the avid drag-net of the novelist manages to assemble, I suggest these pages of (( Grey Owl's," with their ever-so-briefly etched characterizations , as a palliative. And if you suspect me of exaggeration in saying that II Grey Owl's" prose becomes at times prose poetry, read the description of the Indian Chiefs dance when the two little beavers come hqme.2. * * In the quality of his prose, Mr. Morley Callaghan is inferior to (C Grey Ow1." The give-and-take of talk in They Shall Inherit the Earth is appropriately plain, .colloquial, and vigorous. It is also very deftly managed. But when Mr. Callaghan debouches into descriptive 'passages (whether of scenery or state of mind), his English seems to me to be groping for something that it cannot quite grasp. Not from indifference, lack of artistic intention. Indeed, there are a number of descriptive passages, especially in the early pages of They Shall Inherit the Earth, in which I suspect Mr. Callaghan...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 368-389
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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