Friday, May 16, 2014

Marvelling at the legacy of Farley Mowat


Our Hero writes in the National Post . . .
The recent death of Farley Mowat at 92 sparked heartfelt reminiscences and stirred up old controversies. But the most interesting question, going forward, concerns legacy. Some of us contend that Mowat was a giant. For starters, we cite numbers: 45 books, 60 countries, and (ballpark) 15 million
copies sold. But if, as a writer, Mowat was a Gulliver in Lilliput, and not just commercially, then surely he left a legacy? He must have established or advanced some literary tradition? Profoundly influenced younger Canadian writers?
The answer is an emphatic yes. Born May 12, 1921, Mowat energized not only the Baby Boomers, my own generation, but younger writers. Before going further, a clarification: as a Canadian, Mowat is often linked with Pierre Berton, who was born ten months before him. Both were prolific, larger-than-life personalities published by Jack McClelland. Both wrote mainly nonfiction.
But Berton, who cut his professional teeth as a journalist, became famous for sweeping Canadian histories: The National Dream, The Invasion of Canada, Vimy, The Great Depression, The Arctic Grail. Contemporary Canadian historians who achieve readability while tackling big themes are working in a tradition established by Berton and Peter C. Newman (The Canadian Establishment, Company of Adventurers). Think of Margaret Macmillan and Paris, 1919, or of Christopher Moore and 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal. Think of such military historians as Tim Cook, Mark Zuelke, and Ted Barris.
Farley Mowat did not write history. He took a keen interest in prehistory, in archaeology and legend, and so produced West-Viking and The Farfarers. But looking back at his long career in context, we discover that Mowat was Canada’s first writer of creative nonfiction (CNF). . . .
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