Volume two of William E Moreau's edited Writings of David Thompson follows on the successes of volume one. It's an impressive book – the product of an impressive and important project. After editing the 1850 version of Thompson's Travels, Moreau returns here to publish more of Thomson's writings: an earlier draft of the Travels, as well as a number of associated texts, including material not included in the final 1850 version, a new introduction and conclusion (which Thomson later discarded), and appendices. What this volume does, then, is reveal Thompson's long and complicated process of composition. We see various stages of revision, differing accounts of the same event, different possible configurations of the whole patchwork of writings that eventually came together in the 1850 manuscript.
In showing us all these parts of the puzzle, Moreau makes the compelling case that we should read Thompson as an artist, a "master storyteller," as he describes him, as much as a traveller who faithfully recorded his observations with scientific attention. Moreau warns us that "we must be prepared to accept that 'fact' in the Travels could have a broad definition indeed." So, for example, using genetic criticism, Moreau shows us [End Page 165] how Thompson's account of certain events evolved through multiple tellings. He points out those places where Thompson, clearly attuned to the arc of narrative structure, shaped his presentation of things. And he shows how the generic flexibility of the travel narrative allowed Thompson to meet the demands of his reading public. But in highlighting Thompson's writerly impulses, Moreau doesn't discount the importance of the Travels and the associated texts as historical and cultural documents; rather, he shows us just how much they reveal about the nineteenth-century world that produced them. This all amounts to a model for respectfully treating problematic early Canadian travel narratives.
Moreau has done an admirable job in editing Thompson's writings and presenting them here: the notes and appendices are clear and informative, and the maps included throughout the book are helpful. As a reader, I most appreciated his introduction because it offers an accessible, synoptic summary of the Travels, describing two movements the Travels take – one chronological and one spatial. I found this helped me remain oriented as I read through Thompson's text. If Thompson's own writing is plodding at times, Moreau's is engaging and animated as he shows himself to be an effective storyteller in his own right. The story he offers in this volume maps Thompson's personal narrative overtop the global narrative in which he was one small part.