Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Review of The Champlain Road by Franklin Davey McDowell

Franklin Davey McDowell's novel The Champlain Road won the 1939 Governor-General's Award for Literary Merit. It's a historical novel set during the war of the French and Hurons against the Iroquois during the 17th century. The Jesuits hoped to create a friendly (some might say puppet) Christian Huron state to support New France.

McDowell romanticizes the war as a desperate and doomed struggle of the French and their Huron allies. It focuses primarily on a few important characters: Godfrey Bethune (commander in chief of the mission effectively), Father Rageneau (the head of the mission), and Diana Woodville (an English woman who grew up as a Mohawk, and later joins the French/Huron alliance). McDowell tells a tale of love and war set in the early 17th cenutry. This is not to imply that the novel is without merit, merely to state that it falls more in the Sir Walter Scott genre.

One of the most striking aspects, is the complexity with which McDowell treats the aborigines. Although, they are not the focus of the novel, certain characters play highly significant roles. There are no simple stereotypes either of noble savages or primitives. While the French often express condescension toward the first nations, the narrator remains ambiguous. I think it is fair to say that this is a novel more based on individuals than types.

I could continue this blog post at length, but I have already delayed long enough. The Champlain Road is a well-written adventure novel that proves to be quite a page turner. It is fine entertainment, and while the plot may offer little original or exceptional, it is a very enjoyable book through and through.

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