RARA-AVIS: Re: Libraries

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 18 Jun 2001

Todd wrote:

>Of course, most westerns involving Canada or Alaska have often been
>considered "northerns" in the pulps and their successor media, and may, in
>Canadian libraries at least, be considered simply Canadian literature,
>whether that is likely to be segregated or not I know not.

Sure, CanLit sections exist, though usually in bookstores more than libraries, but don't hold your breath for "northerns" to show up there. Almost every single one of those stories were written by American pulp writers and were often glaringly historically and geographically inaccurate. The "northerns" were to Canadians what the minstrel shows were to blacks.

Real Canadian Lit sections are generally reserved for mainstream fiction & literature by Canadian authors (Atwood, Davies, Ondaatje, Laurence, Richler, blah blah blah). Of course, there is some interest in the sub-genre up here, but like minstrel shows is certainly tinged with irony. (Don Hutchinson's recent collection of pulp "northerns " from the pulps, while all set in Canada, doesn't feature any Canadian authors, as far as I know).

Still, those hard-boiled (or maybe frost-bitten) "northern" stories in the pulp were an interesting sub-genre, to say the least. They were wildly popular in their day, especially down in the States, and their portrayal of Canada in the 1920's and 30's as some sort of ice-bound wild, wild west, broken up only by forests of giant Douglas firs and occasional log cabins, and populated by treacherous lumberjacks (Blacque Jacques Shellacque, anyone?) and heroic broad-chested scarlet-clad Mounties lay much of the groundwork for every misconception Americans still have about this country. I mean, Dudley Doright wasn't supposed to be taken as a documentary. Yet, amazingly, we still get Americans tourists who are disconcerted to find out we don't all live in log cabins and speak with heavy British or French accents, our police don't wear bright red coats or that we have our own currency. And we even still sometimes meet alleged American historical western novelists, often praised for their accuracy, who seem to think nobody really lived up here until after the American Revolution.

It would be almost like Canadians expecting to see slaves picking cotton in Colorado, or to see the Washington, D.C. chief of police wearing a big star on his vest and twin Colt Peacemakers hung low, marching down Main Street alone at high noon for a showdown with some dangerous desperado. Instead of just using his cell to call in the SWAT team.

But how many of you do take out books from the library? I find there's very little in the way of hard-boiled at my local library, though sometimes there's a surprise or two. And they're usually quite good at taking suggestions on what to order.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 18 Jun 2001 EDT