Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Roy Simpson Marsh, il. Clifford Schule (cover)
1958, Macrae Smith Company

Of the moose he had shot several days ago, only enough remained to supply two more meals, so he kept on the alert. They made better than forty miles that day because the load was now light and the snow well packed. All were famished, so Tom fed the dogs the remainder of the meat, feeling confident that tomorrow he would reach the Eskimo settlement at Point Manning.

Musher and trader Tom Fay is summering in western Alaska when one of his sled dogs, Sue, has a litter. He keeps only one pup, the cream-colored male he names Moog. When the pup is old enough, he joins and then leads Fay's team on the long trade route between Eskimo settlements, "from the mouth of the Yukon north to Point Barrow, and east along the Arctic Ocean to the Mackenzie River in northwestern Canada." But Fay's route is interrupted this year by a near-fatal attack on a friend, and his subsquent pursuit of the villain, a pursuit which takes him into a blizzard and lands him aboard an ice floe.

The observations of the dogs is warm and sympathetic, with much detail and interest. When Tom replaces Moog's aging mother, Sue, on the team, she's bewildered.

For a moment or two, looking puzzled, she simply stood and stared at her offspring. He, of all dogs, was taking her place. Slowly, her lips lifted in a snarl, and she lunged at Moog's neck. Although he saw her coming, he remained still and allowed her to bite, but her blunt, worn-down teeth only pulled out a mouthful of hair. He could have ripped her to shreds. Ordinarily, he would have escaped her snap, but not today. He was taking her place, and he acted as if she was entitled to one hard bite - to some expression of retaliation.

The story plods a bit in places, as might be expected from a narrative where most of the time, the protagonists are walking long distances. But there are frequent exciting battles and encounters with danger, and many violent, bloody fights between Moog and various creatures, and furious arguments between Tom and recalcitrant natives.

Marsh has a typically great white hunter approach to women and non-whites, summing up women by their appearance (fat or slender) and general motherliness, and the natives as either shifty or noble. To his credit, he does have a noble variety protest at Tom's use of 'Eskimo' and supply the name "Inuit." Though since Tom's been trading among these people for eight years, you'd think he'd have figured this one out by now. Tom's perception of the natives is that they are a perfectly nice alien race - which actually does have some truth to it. The American trapper and the Inuit villagers are from hugely different societies, awkward though Marsh's comments sometimes are to modern readers.

A dated but still engrossing adventure story starring a dog and his master. Very mid-20th century, but with a genuine, modern affection for dogs.

Moog (Eskimo for 'Strong One') - Saint Bernard/Malamute cross
Sue - Saint Bernard, Moog's dam

Other Books by Author
Rusty (1961)
Kang (1962)
Tundra, Arctic Sled Dog (1968)

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