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Posted January 14, 2013
Ever on the lookout for Canadian authors and/or Canadian content
Ever on the lookout for Canadian authors and/or Canadian content and history, especially from a gay perspective, I came across “Northern Lights,” by James Matthew Green [CreateSpace Independent Publishing , June 23, 2012], and although the author is American this novel fills the latter two categories quite admirably. Moreover, it fits my concept of gay historical fiction to a “T” by giving history a face—albeit a fictional one—to represent those GBLT men and women who lived and loved in another time.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
The story is set in the 1750s against the somewhat neglected backdrop of the so-called “French and Indian War ” (1754-1763) [more about this point below]. It is also the backdrop for James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.” However, in this novel the main character wasn’t merely raised by Indians, he is in fact half-Indian (Métis), and the other half being French. The Métis theme is also one that has been surprising neglected in the past, for few things can evoke the northern frontiers like a band of the bon vivant Métis and Coureurs de bois.
While these elements form the backdrop, and at times provide some exciting drama, the main theme here is spirituality—both Christian and Native. Being part Ojibwe himself, the author has provided some fascinating insights into Ojibwe spiritual beliefs, including Two Spirit culture, as the main characters, Daniel and Rorie, come to terms with divergent beliefs and their sexuality.
I was particularly intrigued, as well, by the scenes involving ‘near death experience,’ for it was a widely held belief among many tribes that the spirit left the body to converse with inhabitants of the “Other Land,” and then returned with messages to “This Land.” In fact, I have used this theme in my forthcoming novel, Coming of Age on the Trail.
I was also struck by the way the author emphasized the reverence and respect Natives held for the environment around them without flogging the point. For indeed, that is how it was. It was a natural as etiquette is today—or was.
My quibbles are minor and technical, and probably wouldn’t even be noticed by anyone who wasn’t a former professor of history, but they stood out for me. The first, as I mentioned above, has to do with the use of the lable “French and Indian War” to describe the conflict. The author does acknowledge that this is an American term, but goes on to describe the Canadian equivalent as “The War of conquest.” Nope—not exactly. English-Canadians refer to it as “The Anglo-French Conflict,” while French-Canadians refer to it as “La guerre de la Conquête” (i.e. “The War of Conquest”.) In a country with two distinct cultures, and an underlying current of nationalism, that is a big deal.
My second quibble has to do with the term “Winnipeg;” as in “Winnipeg River.” Actually, the much later name Winnipeg is an English bastardization of the Cree word “W¿nip¿k (¿¿¿¿)”, meaning “murky waters,” and contemporary maps of the period also show it as such.
That said, this is history as it should be told (and taught): A history lesson that can be absorbed while enjoying a truly enjoyable story. Four and one-half bees.