tay john and icefield

Posted: August 13th, 2013





Tay John and Icefield (Synopsis)

Tay John

Many people are in no doubt familiar with popular Canadian literary works such as “Barometer Rising”, “Roughing It in the Bush”, “Duddy Kravitz” and “As for Me and My House”, but Tay John stands out as a classic. Tay John is a book by Howard O’hagon that was published in 1939. Howard does well to combine mythology, realism and legend from west India into the story, and chooses to use the Rocky Mountains terrain. A point to note is that Tay John is not the kind of book that one reads from one point to the other with interesting readings happening in between them. Rather, it is intended to endow the reader with bits and pieces of the plot. The book is a kind of puzzle or mystery that keeps the readers backtracking between chapters or keeps them guessing to the end.

Howard examines the idea behind what defines a myth or a legend and how an ordinary man’s life can be perverted or altered as it develops from one person to the other. In this regard, Tay John is the main character in the book and his role comes out rather contradictory. The book revolves around him but then goes silent for a few chapters without mentioning him. As a character, one could say he is developed properly. How the readers perceive him depends on how they interpret his life as well as the mythical status he is bestowed. Additionally, Howard applies a number of vivid images for the reader to see: from how Tay John is born, his reaction to loosing card games, his fight with a bear, to his final fat. Ultimately, Tay John is book that keeps the reader perusing back and forth through chapters to connect mind perceptions.


Icefields, similar to its counterpart, is written in an early setting in 1898 by Thomas Wharton. The book begins with Doctor Edward Bryne taking a slip on a glacier and sliding into a crevasse. He is rescued immediately but is left puzzled at a figure he saw, or fantasized as the figure in the ice resembles an angel. This part hence sets a unique premise for the novel. Interestingly, the author chooses not to give the angelic theme too much attention. For common readers, it was an expectation that this kind of experience set the stage for a spiritual quest by Bryne or religious ardor. Surprisingly, the author does contrary and Bryne does not develop any interest to this phenomenon.

This case, hence summons further investigations by the reader, which eventually reveal that the angelic theme was used as an anchor of glorious and powerful mystery. When this is considered in that school of thought, it plays the role all too well. Bryne is given the character of a lonely soul that is distant and cold. He chooses to detach himself from activity and lives alone as the story winds up. Similar to the setting, Wharton applies a cool and crisp prose. He uses minimum fuss to tell the story and does quietly. He also writes certain portions of the story in present tense, which I thought was distracting. The emotional coolness associated with the protagonist produces a particular muted tone. If this was a film, then the camera would have been rolling in soft focus, never resting on a particular feature.


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