RARA-AVIS: Re: Northerns

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@colba.net)
Date: 20 Jun 2001

Todd wrote:

>Sorry, Kevin--didn't mean to hit a sore point! When I think of northerns, I
>tend to forget about the Dudley Do-Right stuff in favor of the northerns
>written by folk who knew what they were talking about and weren't afraid to
>write so, from Jack London onward.

Well, not really a sore point, more like a tender spot that people keep stepping on...

You 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.

London was the exception. And he didn't really write for the pulps -- he died in 1916 -- before what most of us consider pulps existed. And from what I've read and heard, most of those guys who did subsequently write northerns for the pulps (and certainly the ensuing
"successor media") got most of it wrong. Their entire research seemed to consist of reading CALL OF THE WILD and WHITE FANG and Robert Service's poems like THE CREMATION OF SAM McGEE and THE SHOOTING OF DAN McGREW, and disregarding the context. More likely, though, most of their research consisted of reading each other. I mean, this was the pulps. Who had time for anything else? It wasn't uncommon for pulpsters to write in several genres simultaneously. "Hmmm...Tuesday it's romance, Wednesday it's flying aces, Thursday I have that Northwest Mounted story to finish..."

But you claim the ones you read were accurate. Who were some of the writers who knew what they were writing about? I'm not being facetious -- I really want to know. I know Frederick Nebel wrote a series about a Mountie named Tyson for NORTHWEST STORIES, and that writers like Talmage Powell, Lester Dent and Hugh B. Cave also wrote northerns, but they're all pretty hard to find. Were they any good? Are there any collections out there of this stuff, besides Don Hutchinson's book, SCARLET RIDERS? I wouldn't mind reading a few more of these. As fantasy some of those stories are pretty good, even if, as historicals, they leave much to be desired.

But what really got me a bit antsy was your assumption that Canada and Alaska are somehow synonymous, and especially that Canadian libraries would consider pulp (regardless of its accuracy) written by foreigners, just because it was about Mounties and Gold Rush desperadoes, to actually be Canadian literature. It would be like having Carter Brown's P.I. fantasies classified as American literature. Talk about bamboozled....

Still, for those of you who like northerns, here's a great little story I just heard a while ago, that was evidently all over the Klondike a hundred years or so ago. To access Canada's Klondike, most of the would-be prospectors/speculators/con artists/whores and thieves had to enter via Alaska, of course. Upon entering Canadian territory, the wide-open lawlessness of the Alaskan frontier ended. The Mounties were in charge, and wouldn't let anyone enter who didn't have the required supplies, and to keep out undesirables. When a member of the notorious Soapy Smith gang found his way barred from entering Canada (due to his lack of supplies), he asks the Mountie who had stopped him, "What would happen if I just decided to shoot my way in?"

The Mountie thinks for a moment, and then hands the man a pistol.
"Start shooting. That's the easiest way to find out."

Sounds sorta like a scene from one of Hammett's Op stories, eh?


Kevin Burton Smith The Thrilling Detective Web Site http://www.thrillingdetective.com
New fiction from Lori Stone, Peter Parmantie, John Samony and Anthony Rain. Plus the second story arc of Tim Broderick's Odd Jobs. -- # To unsubscribe from the regular list, say "unsubscribe rara-avis" to # majordomo@icomm.ca. This will not work for the digest version. # The web pages for the list are at http://www.miskatonic.org/rara-avis/ .

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 20 Jun 2001 EDT