October 10, 2014

Under the Spell of the Yukon by Enid Mallory

A well-written and highly personal biography of Robert Service. Although I'm not a huge fan of his poetry, who can resist a rousing recitation of "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" or "The Cremation of Sam McGee," poems with which my friend Wendy has occasionally regaled our writer's group.

The author persistently tries to get at who this man was - what made him tick. Service was an odd combination of rather shy bank clerk and absolutely crazy adventurer. He mostly got his poems from listening to people's stories, first in Scotland where he was born, then in California and the American Midwest, then on Vancouver Island and finally in the Yukon where he arrived just at the tail end of the gold rush and wrote his most famous works.

He became wealthy enough to live off the royalties from his books of poems, and it was during his early retirement that he took a bizarre trip from Edmonton north through the NWT and finally entering Yukon from the far north. It was a trip that most natives said could not be done, and that he would die if he tried it alone. He survived, gleaning further material for his poetry.

I really liked this book. It is fast-paced, and has lots of nice sharp pictures. It's inspirational because although he was kind of a bland guy, his work was anything but.

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