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Thursday, 19 January 2017

Grey Owl Redux

Image result for pic Grey Owl

If I could find the energy, I'd do a long piece here on the Boyden affair, with reference to Grey Owl. The Boyden fiasco has finally sufficiently piqued my interest in Grey Owl to borrow his book, TALES OF AN EMPTY CABIN, from the Marmora Library. Reading it it's hard to believe anyone ever took him seriously as a First Nations author. Even the persona he presents as the narrator doesn't seem to be claiming First Nations status . . . but I guess all the pics of him in a long feathered headdress make up for his 'misrepresented' authorial voice ;  )  I've only read the first 4 or 5 chapters, but they're all really corny and very, velly British in voice and viewpoint. While reading I keep imagining Boyden decked out in similar Grey Owl head gear  :  )-

On a personal level I feel bamboozled learning Boyden has less documented First Nations heritage than I do! So far as I know I may not have any First Nations DNA, but I do have a high profile documented ancestor, Charlotte (nee Johnston, Oge-Buno-Quay), the wife of Arch Deacon William McMurray (on my mother's side, she was a McMurray - when I buried her 2 years ago there was the stern visage of Arch Deacon McMurray hanging in the hallways of St. John's Anglican Church in Ancaster).

It was just a few months ago that I finally broke down & bought Boyden's THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE at the Bookworm in Madoc. I thought I was reading a fictionalized account of current First Nations life as presented by an authentic First Nations author. I wouldn't have bought and read his book if I'd known he was just another boring white dude from north TO who was Grey Owling! I think there's a huge difference between writing a fictionalized account of a real historical time period when you are genuinely living in that period versus if a writer is presenting himself/herself as someone who has lived and genuinely experienced that lifestyle, but isn't genuine.

Of course time, as is usual with literature, sorts things out. Brit author Hari Kunzru, in his novel MY REVOLUTIONS,  wrote a fictionalized account of the hippie era in Great Britain. I find this acceptable - it's a fictionalized account of a real time, but one which the author wrote about several decades later, and of a life style he obviously hadn't experienced first hand. I do appreciate that Kunzru credited my EEL PIE DHARMA as a source, and there are more than a few similarities between his main character and myself (including his protagonist's first name), but I most definitely wasn't a member of the angry brigades ;  )-   If I'd been able to stay in the us of a I might have become a white panther, tho - scary thought!

Anyway, Boyden's books will find their deserved place in the canons of CanLit based on whatever literary merit they have as appropriated fiction, rather than as a fictionalized account of a life truly led. Be interesting to see if anyone is reading Boyden in over half a century like Grey Owl - I'm enjoying Grey Owl's work in a very different way than a reader would have in the 1930s.  

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