#BookReview The Long Traverse by John Buchan #ReadJB2020

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The Long TraverseAbout the Book

Negog, an old Native American Indian, uses his magic to provide Donald, a Canadian boy with visions of seven significant moments in the history and heritage of Canada.

Format: Hardcover (254 pages)                Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 10th November 1941 Genre: Nonfiction, History

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My Review

My Buchan of the Month for December is The Long Traverse. It was unfinished at the time of John Buchan’s death on 11th February 1940 so was completed by his wife Susan and published posthumously in 1941. The book was titled Lake of Gold in the US and Canada. It contains illustrations by John Morton-Sale, whose work also appeared in books by J. M. Barrie and Beverley Nicholls.

John Buchan described the book as a Canadian Puck of Pook’s Hill. The role of Puck in Rudyard Kipling’s original is played in The Long Traverse by Negog, a member of what we would today call the First Nations people. The book consists of eight stories, interspersed with poems, plus an epilogue added by Buchan’s wife based on notes he left for a final story.

20201202_142426-1The first story, ‘The Long Traverse’, introduces the reader to Donald, a young Canadian boy whose interests lie more in Hollywood movies and outdoor pursuits than in the study of Latin, Mathematics or History – as his recent school report shows! The reader also meets Negog, a Cree Indian whose people originated from the southwest corner of Hudson Bay but moved eastward towards Labrador. Negog reveals the concept of ‘the long traverse’, a journey into the past that can be viewed in the ‘Lake of Gold’ when conditions are right and by use of traditional magic.

The story ‘The Gold of Sagne’ captures Donald’s boyish enthusiasm for fishing and mineral collecting and describes his first experience of the visions conjured up by Negog in the Lake of Gold. Donald sees, reflected in the water, scenes showing how his treasured possession, a stone with flakes of gold in it, was passed from hand to hand through the centuries. “He was looking at a motion picture, one without captions. He did not need any explanatory words, for he seemed to recognize each scene and to know precisely what it meant.”

In ‘The Wonderful Beaches’, the setting sun on the water is transformed into a vision of Viking long-ships setting off from Norway, sailing across the Atlantic and arriving in Canada many centuries before Columbus. I liked that when Donald, a little confused, asks “What people came here first?”, Negog replies “My people have been here from the beginning”.

‘Cadieux’ is the thrilling tale of Cadieux de Courville, a coureur de bois or independent French-Canadian trader who travels up and down river trading furs. Donald witnesses an epic journey in which Cadieux and fellow traders are pursued downstream by Iroquois and only a heroic act allows some of them to survive.

In ‘The Man who dreamed of Islands’, Donald has a vision of one of his ancestors who, employed as a voyageurs by one of the trading companies, finds himself drawn to exploration rather than trading. He sets off to find a route through the mountains to the Pacific coast, travelling on foot and by canoe. Donald witnesses the previously unknown result of this expedition which, if true, would predate the exploits of a more famous Canadian explorer.

‘Big Dog’ depicts the skirmishes between two warring Indian tribes, one of which possess horses (the ‘big dogs’ of the title) and the other to whom horses are unknown and who are forced to seek out other means to defend themselves.

‘Whitewater’ is another action-packed story of adventure.  Whilst observing the log drive down river, Donald hears exciting tales from the loggers of navigating white water rapids by canoe or raft.  These trigger a vision of an Orkney man, Magnus Sinclair, who has to overcome his fear of water in order to take up a role as a voyageur.  Having learned to swim, the river is transformed for Magnus from a menace to a ‘playmate’ and he undertakes an epic river journey westward.

In the final story, ‘The Faraway People’, Donald listens avidly to dinner table stories of ‘secret and wonderful things in the very far North’ and witnesses evidence of the existence of a fabled ancient race.

In my earlier blog post introducing the book, I mentioned that one of Buchan’s reasons for writing The Long Traverse was his desire to improve upon what he considered the rather dull manner in which Canadian history was taught in schools. The book certainly contains lively scenes of adventure but it seemed to me the stories were more illustrative than factual. For example, I was left unsure which of the characters existed in real life and which were fictitious. Therefore, although The Long Traverse encapsulates the spirit of the country John Buchan had grown to love during his time as Governor-General of Canada, I’m not sure it would help a Canadian pupil pass a history examination! However, I’m sure it would have made an excellent companion to more traditional history books.

In three words: Spirited, imaginative, adventure

Try something similar: The Last Secrets by John Buchan

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John BuchanAbout the Author

John Buchan (1875 – 1940) was an author, poet, lawyer, publisher, journalist, war correspondent, Member of Parliament, University Chancellor, keen angler and family man.  He was ennobled and, as Lord Tweedsmuir, became Governor-General of Canada.  In this role, he signed Canada’s entry into the Second World War.   Nowadays he is probably best known – maybe only known – as the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps.  However, in his lifetime he published over one hundred books: fiction, poetry, short stories, biographies, memoirs and history.

You can find out more about John Buchan, his life and literary output by visiting The John Buchan Society website.

Buchan of the Month 2020


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