“The Naming of Albert Johnson” is based on a mysterious, silent, and real person known to millions in the early 1930’s as the Mad Trapper of Rat River. (Wiebe published a novel in 1980, The Mad Trapper, that amplifies this story.) After he shoots a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the trapper becomes the object of a relentless chase. He becomes the first man in history to cross the forbidding Richardson Mountains in the dead of winter. No one ever discovered his real name, but he came to be known as Albert Johnson. Johnson is a self-exiled, wordless, solitary figure who shuns any human contact. He survives by his skills as a trapper in the Northwest Territories. When a Mountie, who is investigating thefts from Indian traplines, approaches him, the trapper shoots without hesitation. The pursuit is on.
Wiebe tells this first-rate adventure story from Johnson’s point of view, a clever strategy, for it increases the likelihood of reader sympathy with the lone villain, who might otherwise be without dimension as character. The villain turns out to be no ordinary mortal. Words do not define him, but an indomitable will and force do. He pits himself against a large posse of Mounties with more than forty dogs. They dynamite his cabin, but he escapes.
With superhuman courage and strength he outruns them through mountain passes where no human has ever ventured in winter. With animal cunning he outsmarts the dog teams, the...
(The entire section is 474 words.)