Haig-Brown, Roderick L(angmere)
Roderick L(angmere) Haig-Brown 1908–1976
British-born Canadian author of fiction and nonfiction for young adults and adults.
Like his father, who published a book on wildlife and fishing in 1913, Haig-Brown loved nature. It was a subject he knew thoroughly from his studies and experiences living and working in wilderness areas. At the age of seventeen, Haig-Brown emigrated from England to the Pacific Northwest, where he worked as a professional hunter, logger, trapper, and guide. In 1934 he settled at Campbell River, British Columbia and divided his time between hunting, fishing, observation of the land and its animal life, and writing. The nearly twenty-five works of fiction and nonfiction that Haig-Brown has written reflect his appreciation of the beauty of his adopted country. His nonfiction, particularly those works on angling, rivers, and fish, are considered his greatest achievements.
As a writer, Haig-Brown sought to share some of the great pleasures he had experienced in years of fishing, hunting, and observing wildlife. He was unquestionably successful; his A River Never Sleeps and Return to the River are classics of naturalist literature, unusual in their poetic descriptions. Like many of his other books, these describe nature with drama and authenticity and recreate the feelings and thoughts evoked by Haig-Brown's close contact with its beauty. While full of practical instruction and information for outdoorsmen, Haig-Brown's nonfiction is often read for its literate and inspired accounts of the calm and comfort to be found in nature.
Most of Haig-Brown's fictional heroes reflect his love and respect for the land. Themes of friendship, courage, trust, growth, integrity, and strength are explored against a wilderness setting. Timber, an acclaimed adult novel, is the story of the friendship of two young men who face great physical danger each day in their work as loggers. Considered sensitive and realistic, it is also a portrait of men reacting to the elemental beauties and dangers of their environment in the face of challenge and change. Haig-Brown's popular young adult novels Starbuck Valley Winter and Saltwater Summer pursue similar themes.
Haig-Brown sought to challenge his readers as well as to entertain them. His excellent critical reception is an indication that he was successful on both counts. He is acclaimed for the poetic dimension to naturalist writing and his well-constructed prose. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 69-72, and Something About the Author, Vol. 12.)
The Times Literary Supplement
[Pool and Rapid: The Story of a River] is a nature-story of a decidedly original kind. By making a British Columbian river the central object of his narrative, Mr. Haig-Brown has ingeniously avoided one of the principal difficulties with which authors of this class of work have to contend. A story written round the life of an animal is almost compelled to falsify Nature to some extent by endowing the creature with a too human mentality. Personality conferred upon an inanimate object, on the other hand, is at once recognized as a harmless literary convention, which leaves the author free to adhere strictly to the truth in dealing with the living accessories to his picture. The story of the Tashish river begins, quite frankly, with a fascinating piece of Indian mythology to account for its creation, and the stream is everywhere treated as a human soul with a markedly feminine temperament…. This treatment, applied to an animal, would amount to an intolerable piece of "nature-faking," but here it is unobjectionable, since it cannot mislead. The life in the water and beside it, of the salmon, the bears, the beavers, the deers and the birds is left to be described with all the accuracy of a keen observer who knows what he is talking about and is under no temptation to distort his facts. Much of the charm of the book is due to such descriptions, though a large element of human interest is also contributed, through the introduction of the first settler...
(The entire section is 459 words.)
The Times Literary Supplement
In his preface to Panther … Mr. Haig-Brown anticipates a possible criticism: "this story of a panther is too bloody, there is too much killing and cruelty in it." He answers that a panther is not "cruel": it kills for food or from sexual jealousy, because so to kill is the law of its being. And Mr. Haig-Brown's Ki-Yu is entirely a panther, not at all a four-legged philosopher. A more reasonable criticism is that the life story of an animal, when the author sternly resists the temptation to make the animal think and speak in human terms, is scarcely sufficient to fill a book. And a story written quite objectively can never be so enthralling as one which has in it a strong subjective element.
Perhaps, from the story-teller's point of view, it would have been wiser to establish a more definite human background. But the book undoubtedly has its fascination: it is a genuine piece of nature study based on long and accurate observation of the Vancouver Island panther (or cougar) and of its habits….
Story-telling apart, Mr. Haig-Brown gives his readers much curious and interesting information about panthers' ways.
"Shorter Notices: 'Panther'," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1934; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 1709, November 15, 1934, p. 794.
(The entire section is 214 words.)
Ellen Lewis Buell
["Ki-Yu: A Story of Panthers," published in Britain as "Panther,"] is a superbly written biography …; but it is also a story of the wild life of the northern forests told with the veracity of a man who has known this life for a long time; and who can translate the majesty as well as the cruelty of the eternal struggle for existence among animals into vivid, swinging prose….
It is [the] long-drawn-out duel between man and beast which is the backbone of the narrative, and it is a fitting conclusion that neither wins….
The conviction of the story is augumented by the author's objective treatment of his subject. With the woodsman's realism he wastes little space in conjecture on animal thought, but relies on his knowledge of habit and instinct to portray the panthers hunting, killing, playing or roaming in that apparently aimless wandering which has such sound instinct to guide it. The book is, unfortunately, too long. It would have been more effective in condensed form, as much of the detail is repetitious, adding little to the original concept of the tale, so that the attention slackens at intervals. Nevertheless, it is, on the whole, a fine and vigorous story, which should appeal equally to sportsmen and older young people.
Ellen Lewis Buell, "The New Books for Boys and Girls: 'Ki-Yu: A Story of Panthers'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1935 by The New York...
(The entire section is 244 words.)
J. R. de la TORRE BUENO, JR.
There have been men before now who wrote of the Pacific salmon, especially of the chinooks and their amazing cycle of life…. R. L. Haig-Brown tells it again in "Return to the River"; and to this reviewer's knowledge not one of his predecessors has brought to the telling such a knowledge of the subject, so broad a vision, so fine a feeling for the mountains and waters of the Pacific Northwest, or prose of such magnificent simplicity and beauty…. [His] is a book practically perfect. If Henry Williamson's English counterpart, "Salar the Salmon," found its readers by thousands, Mr. Haig-Brown's audience should be counted by tens of thousands. No sportsman, no nature lover, no conservationist, no person sensitive to the grandeur and sweep of the process of living, can read this book without being profoundly moved.
It is, quite simply, the story of the life of one particular fish, a female chinook, whom the author identifies by naming her Spring….
An ordinary enough story, to be sure….
Yet, as Mr. Haig-Brown tells it, Spring's story is neither simple nor ordinary. There is not a single aspect of the fish's life with which he does not deal thoroughly, giving you all the details of how Spring feeds and grows and moves at each stage of her development, of the dangers she meets and how she is saved from them through a combination of luck and hair-trigger instinct; giving you a fine picture of the work...
(The entire section is 422 words.)
Raymond R. Camp
There is gallantry in sacrifice for an ideal. When such sacrifice is made by a reasoning human we term it heroism, but when performed by an unreasoning fish we pass it off lightly under the heading of instinct.
No one who reads Roderick L. Haig-Brown's "Return to the River" will deny the gallantry of the Chinook salmon….
The book is much more than the mere tale of a salmon, for Mr. Haig-Brown has not neglected the dramatic values or the human equation. The contents are as far removed from scientific text as the Chinook is from the bullhead. It is enhanced by the author's ability to bring out what might well be termed the romance of the commonplace.
So pleasantly and easily does the story run, you are somewhat surprised at its conclusion to realize that you have learned quite a bit about Chinook salmon, the waters in which they live, and the men who seek them for recreation, profit or study.
There is, hidden in the story, a sharp knife for those who have gutted our natural resources for gain and who have had neither thought nor concern for the future….
No one will classify as "dull" the story of Spring, the Chinook, for through the factual material there is a wide tracery of imagination. The birth, escapes, travels and ultimate death of Spring, all stressing the unity of purpose that enables the fish to return to the very pool in which it was spawned, form a...
(The entire section is 281 words.)
Joseph Henry Jackson
To say that ["Timber"] is never dull is the sheerest understatement. "Timber" is as exciting as a shrewdly carpentered play. But it is much more, too. Here, set in a natural frame of overwhelming beauty, is a tale of natural men and how they react to natural stresses and strains. Mr. Haig-Brown doesn't go all Rousseau about what he is doing, no. He simply takes pains to discover the thoughts and emotions, the mechanics, so to put it, of the direct, simple man who works not merely with his hands but with all of himself, including his imagination. Having found out something of what makes such men tick, he lets them work out their own stories in a novel in which the physical setting of the forests is important to the author and the reader because it is the most important thing of all to the characters….
Through the friendship of [Johnny and Slim] Mr. Haig-Brown gives his readers an extraordinarily vivid picture of the life of the logger, of how a logging camp is run, of the week-long sprees when the logger in town is expertly separated from six months' wages by men selling women and liquor, of the shifts in strain and emphasis when a logger marries, of the union organizings, the blacklist, the whole inner life of a trade about which the layman knows very little.
Along with this, Mr. Haig-Brown does something you might easily expect of him if you had read his "Return to the River." A naturalist of uncommon gifts for...
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In part "Timber" is the simple, virile, roughly tender story of the friendship between … two young loggers—a friendship which survives, though narrowly, the strain of their attraction to the same girl … There is something not much short of Homeric in this chronicle of their hard and dangerous and zestful lives.
But beyond this, "Timber" will be remembered as a remarkable study of the logging industry, set down in full and loving detail as only a logger could have done it. One observes in this connection—and not by any means for the first time—how great an advantage it is to a novelist to know what he is talking about, and to know it from honest first-hand experience….
This is what Roderick Haig-Brown does for the men who get out the giant logs from the steep forests of British Columbia. Like other writers who turn to fiction for the first time after notable success in the field of non-fiction, Mr. Haig-Brown is not at one bound so dexterous a story teller as he may well become. There are structural faults in "Timber," moments when dramatic values are lost for lack of a few mechanical tricks. When it comes to description, however, he does not need to yield place to any one. His book has the veritable ring of axes and the smell of fir forests in it.
Margaret Wallace, "Western Loggers," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1942 by The New York Times Company;...
(The entire section is 250 words.)
J. R. de la TORRE BUENO, JR.
["A River Never Sleeps" is] a work of such excellence, such penetration and sureness and knowledge coupled with wisdom, that it stands very near the head of its class. Prediction may be unsafe, but it seems to me we are here dealing with a true classic, a book which will be read, and pondered over, and read again by generations of anglers to come, and always with appreciation and pleasure.
Like many books of substance, "A River Never Sleeps" does not fit easily into any clearly defined category. It is not a book of practical instruction, though it contains much fishing lore. It is not a series of entertaining and exciting fishing stories, though many of the incidents Mr. Haig-Brown treats have these qualities. It is not autobiography, though there is much personal history in it. It is not even a random collection of essays, though much of its content is of that character. It is something of all these, and it is something more besides—the probably unplanned self-revelation of a man who joins curiosity, keen observation and physical activity to a contemplative mind and a true, unsentimental love of nature….
Each month of the year, each remembered scene and incident, suggests to him a phase in the great cycle of nature, and something, too, of the nature of man. These suggestions, rich, wide ranging, and expanded in English of precision and beauty, give "A River Never Sleeps" a broad and lasting worth beyond the range...
(The entire section is 317 words.)
There is something in angling which provokes a host of its partisans and practitioners to write about it. Most of them write very badly indeed, with enthusiasm running lengths ahead of talent. Only rarely does marked literary skill combine with sound knowledge and rich experience to produce a really good angling book, but Roderick Haig-Brown's "A River Never Sleeps" is just that.
The author writes for his fellow-fishermen, and assumes the reader's sympathy for his piscatory approach to rivers, but there is much in this book to captivate those whose interest in nature is more sedentary. The spectacle of salmon migration, for example, loses none of its eternal and elemental excitement when seen through the eyes of a fisherman—especially when the fisherman is as competent a naturalist as Haig-Brown proved himself in his earlier book, "Return to the River."
Haig-Brown came to the Pacific Northwest after a youth well spent in the chalk-stream country of England, and is therefore able to juxtapose the placid, literature-laden waters of [Izaak] Walton, [Charles] Cotton & Co. and the relatively uncouth and unsung rivers of British Columbia and the Pacific Coast.
Geographically, then, this is a "sectional" book—but only in the sense that [Walton's] "The Compleat Angler" is sectional. For the author's feeling for rivers and the sport and fascination they afford is universally shared by fishermen—and...
(The entire section is 367 words.)
J. R. T. Bueno, Jr.
["The Western Angler: An Account of Pacific Salmon and Western Trout in British Columbia"] is one of the few authentic classics of North American angling literature….
Make no mistake, this is an outstanding book, worth the careful reading and prayerful consideration of every sportsman and conservationist—yes, and legislator too….
Those chapters which deal with fishing techniques and methods are first-rate of their kind—succinct, informed, thoughtful and full of suggestion for the prospective angler in western waters, or indeed anywhere else. Other chapters cover the lives of these Northwestern fishes—their spawning, growth, feeding habits, and complex migratory patterns. This is natural history of the highest order, based on the author's own observations as well as the careful studies of many scientists, and set forth with luminous clarity and fascinating detail.
But perhaps the finest chapters of all are those in which Mr. Haig-Brown steps from the particular to the general, from the present to the future, to consider the ethics of fishing, its place in a workaday world, and the mutual obligation of the angler and the whole people. If sportsmen and everyone else would take these pages to heart, it would be a brighter world indeed.
J. R. T. Bueno, Jr., "Volumes for the Sportsman's Library: 'The Western Angler'," in The New York Times Book Review...
(The entire section is 230 words.)
Mr. Haig-Brown has written a moving and exciting novel about the majestic vastness of the Pacific Northwest and a man whose spirit was wholly given to it….
["On the Highest Hill"] is written with resilience and strength. Mr. Haig-Brown knows and loves the mountains of Canada about which he writes and the way of a man among them, whose only need and only peace lie in their desert vastness. He details without emphasis, but with force, their wild, intrinsic beauty and the taxing skills required to cope with them. Colin is the contemporary Canadian equivalent of the mountain men whom A. B. Guthrie described so well in "The Big Sky." Like Boone Caudill he comprehends no satisfaction except in nature, and man-devised standards of behavior, emotion and conformity are beyond his understanding or achievement….
Above all, he is an anachronism and when, inevitably, the world intrudes upon the mountain fastnesses he wants for himself, the end is as preordained as it is tragic. But this is tragedy in the classic sense, rising out of the very nature of the protagonist and not out of the petty, contrived strivings of our contemporary world. There is magnificence of spirit in a magnificent setting and for that spirit the reader feels pity, terror and awe, but never foolish regret.
Ann Schakne, "Between Two Worlds," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1949 by The New York Times...
(The entire section is 239 words.)
Colin Ensley [in On the Highest Hill] grew up in Canada's western lumbering country, hated conflict of any kind, was shy, withdrawn, and preferred the solitude of the mountains and forests to being with people. His teacher, young Mildred Hanson, thought him destined for greatness…. But all her encouragements and all Colin's travels including a trip to Europe made possible by the war failed to develop the greatness she had sensed. Colin remains shy and withdrawn, and when his beloved solitudes are destroyed by logging, he is destroyed too.
A few of the book's other folk—particularly Colin's father—come clearly into focus, but not enough to put springiness into a tale that Colin's own quietness seems to muffle.
Mr. Haig-Brown appears most inspired by the vast and unpeopled Canadian mountain country, which he evidently knows well. The reader who longs for forest solitudes, mountain climbing, and trap lines may find himself living vicariously through Colin Ensley. But Mr. Haig-Brown's skill as a storyteller is not sufficiently strong to arouse the enthusiasm of a reader, even a lover of nature, who expects more than the satisfying of such a special interest in his fiction.
The novel is competent on most counts but not exciting. Why not? I think because Mr. Haig-Brown has not clearly enough understood the central character on whom the whole book depends. We are led at the beginning to expect...
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By the time he has turned a dozen pages in this very pleasant and informative book ["Fisherman's Spring"], the reader appreciates that Roderick Haig-Brown is much more than an expert fisherman. This is a book for everyone who delights in the out-of-doors. If one happens to enjoy fishing, so much the better….
"Fisherman's Spring" is rich in trout lore and fishing secrets. It is the distilled wisdom of a man who has learned to extract the essence of outdoor experiences. Mr. Haig-Brown knows the secrets of fishing and gladly shares them. Some of the chapters are minor classics: Fishermen and Forestry, Recognizing Birds, A Boy and A Fish Pole, Northward Geese and Family Sortie among others….
This book is a little gem among fishing books; if there is a fisherman or nature lover in your family, this is a book for him and her. Mr. Haig-Brown writes about the fishing on the coast of British Columbia. Yet, his book is for all fishermen everywhere.
Haydn Pearson, "Every Day's for Fishing," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1951 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 13, 1951, p. 12.
(The entire section is 188 words.)
J. R. de la TORRE BUENO
Thirty-three individual pieces make up ["Fisherman's Spring"], and every one of them is worth the full attention of any angler, conservationist, nature-lover, or appreciator of supple, clean writing. We find here what we have come to expect of Mr. Haig-Brown—great knowledge of angling, and of fishes; a common-sense approach to the "mysteries" of the sport; wise opinions modestly held; a deep realization of the importance of fishing to the fisherman himself, and to the whole people; and a sheaf of good stories out of his own broad experience, all built around fishing, but not all concerned with fish.
There are excellent pieces on wading, and on handling boats in fast water—how-to-do-it articles, really; a discussion of the qualities of double-taper and multiple-taper lines; an illuminating bit about the confusing multiplicity of fly patterns; articles on casting techniques, hook and leader sizes, waterside birds, the writings of Charles Cotton…. All through, there are incidents and anecdotes in profusion…. Perhaps more important than these, certainly more humanly valuable, are those essays in which Mr. Haig-Brown examines the sport of angling in relation to the nature of man, the physical world he inhabits, the society of which he is a part.
All told, this a capital book for between-times reading; and that is exactly the purpose for which it is intended. "There is no sport better served by its literature than...
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Virginia Kirkus' Bookshop Service
An invitation to fish the lakes and rivers of Chile and Argentina was a dream any fisherman would seize, and [in Fisherman's Winter] Haig-Brown converts the opportunity into a record that combines enchanting travel reading with a book on fishing that even a non-fisherman can enjoy. One gets a feel of the country and the people, particularly Chile…. [The] book is focussed on the fishing, and the factual data—which those who would follow in his footsteps need to know—is painlessly introduced along with personal experience…. While he is tactful in expressing his preference, one senses that Argentina, while it provided some superb fishing experiences, did not capture his heart as did Chile. An appendix supplies practical information on birds, trees, plants—and data on tackle—and on costs. Haig-Brown is my favorite writer on a subject on which I have no working knowledge.
"'Fisherman's Winter'," in Virginia Kirkus' Bookshop Service, Vol. XXII, No. 16, August 15, 1954, p. 568.
(The entire section is 157 words.)
Haydn S. Pearson
["Fisherman's Winter"] is the account of a winter's fishing in Chile and Argentina and so far as I know there is no book like it. I recommend "Fisherman's Winter" without reservation to fishermen and to all readers who are interested in our neighbor countries to the south. The author does much more than describe fishing spots, equipment, hotels and travel conditions. He discusses the people, living conditions and the countryside. He evaluates social, cultural and economic conditions honestly and kindly….
Mr. Haig-Brown is a true fisherman. He takes his big fish with commendable modesty and he is patiently philosophical when the big one gets away. He knows that fishing per se is just one part of the whole…. Only occasionally does a book of this sort come from a fisherman's pen.
Haydn S. Pearson, "A String of Fish," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1954 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 24, 1954, p. 10.
(The entire section is 156 words.)
["Fisherman's Summer"] is the finest book of its kind to be published in many years. Fishermen, particularly devotees of the fly rod, recognize Haig-Brown as a 20th-century [Izaak] Walton—but this work proves he is more than a great authority on angling. His rich talk, quiet humor, and deep contentment, augmented by a fine literary style, deserve wider appreciation. The general reader will discover here one of the best analyses of how industry, tourism and dams change natural beauty; a chapter on Northwest explorers (many starved for lack of fishing knowledge) and much Indian lore. Practical tips on flies, rods and line for summer steelhead, cutthroats and salmon will drive any fisherman to the nearest stream. (pp. 2658-59)
Bill Katz, "'Fisherman's Summer'," in Library Journal (reprinted from Library Journal, September 15, 1959; published by R. R. Bowker Co. (a Xerox company); copyright © 1959 by Xerox Corporation), Vol. 84, No. 16, September 15, 1959, pp. 2658-59.
(The entire section is 148 words.)
Haydn S. Pearson
We land-locked lubbers should be forgiven our envious twinges when we read Roderick Haig-Brown's most recent book on fishing. As a nature writer, he is authentic; as a fisherman, he rates among the world's most capable. As a writer, his prose is lean, descriptive and always interesting. "Fisherman's Summer" will become a minor classic in its special field.
Best of all, from an ordinary fisherman's viewpoint, Roderick Haig-Brown has the faculty of talking man to man. He knows why fishing appeals to so many…. He has the sense of humor that a fisherman needs, for, indeed, a fisherman without it is a pitiful object….
There is both a main course and dessert in "Fisherman's Summer." His arguments for better fishing, his recounting of results as dams have been built in his home river, his comments on fishing as a popular pastime, all have good meat. Dedicated fishermen, nature lovers and conservationists will benefit from his thinking….
The chapter on the Beaverskill that runs in the Catskills in New York is a classic in itself. Perhaps through this book this wonderful little river can be preserved for all time as a fisherman's paradise. Roderick Haig-Brown's gentle sermon on humor and his willingness to confer some credit on Lady Luck will be appreciated.
"Fisherman's Summer" is a book you will read and reread…. It is a book about fishing in the summer, but it is also the story of...
(The entire section is 286 words.)
The Junior Bookshelf
[Captain of the Discovery is] a Canadian book [about] Captain George Vancouver, who discovered the coast which bears his name. It seems hard to say that this makes rather dull reading. It is certainly not the matter that is at fault, but there is some lack of spark in the telling. It may be because we never get any real picture of Vancouver himself. All the first chapters are about Captain Cook, with whom Vancouver sailed, and about Cook's voyages and tragic end. We really do not learn anything about Vancouver, who sailed as an Officer Cadet at the age of fifteen, and so far as he is concerned we are not particularly interested when he finally gets command of the "Discovery." This should be a great story and the book has many good points; it is simple and thorough …, the men are heroic in their endurance and enviable in their adventures, but the story comes out as a conscientious work but not as inspiring as might be expected.
"'Captain of the Discovery'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 20, No. 4, October, 1959, p. 210.
(The entire section is 181 words.)
The Junior Bookshelf
There is a wider tendency nowadays to take the romance out of more than one field of old-fashioned adventure. [In The Whale People] the author takes the old idea of fun and games among the Red Indians and transforms tradition into reality without gilding the pill in any way. Life for the Indian Peoples of the Northern Pacific coast appears as a hard business in which most of the pleasure comes from winning a living, an existence even, from the nature around them. The chief delight and ambition of Atlin, chief elect of the Hotsath tribe, is the killing, and capture of whales, and the way to success is hard and wearisome, spiritually as well as physically. One never feels really warm while reading this new book by the author of Starbuck Valley Winter, or really dry either. Nevertheless one thoroughly enjoys the rigours and vigour of the hunting and hardening incidents upon which the story revolves. There are many fine descriptions of fights with whales of various sizes and towards the end a human and even homely tinge to the story in the behaviour of Atlin over the wooing of a daughter of a rival chief. The total effect is at least heroic in tone if not quite epic, and a most successful study of a little known people in fictional guise.
"'The Whale People'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 26, No. 5, November, 1962, p. 261.
(The entire section is 234 words.)
In the beginning of Silver, his biography of an Atlantic salmon, Roderick Haig-Brown says of the Good Fisherman, "He loved salmon as some men love their wives or their books, and his whole heart was bound up in the delight of gaining knowledge of them." He might as well have been speaking of his own love of nature and the preoccupation with wild life that he has built into a literature on fishing and fishermen, life in the wilderness and wild animals. His books show by inference and direct telling the results of a long, deliberate and intelligent observation of the natural world and a deep respect for its laws and customs. Nor is this just a matter of contemplative enjoyment. He finds in the ways of wild life patterns and attitudes entirely worthy of adaptation to men, so that his books on wild life and men have a certain affinity, and in his masterpiece, The Whale People, the two are fused in a subject particularly sympathetic for the author, particularly compatible with his interests and beliefs.
For the subject matter of his work Haig-Brown has been able to draw often on the varied experiences of his own life. (p. 16)
From his interest in nature and his social interests have emerged six books of creative fiction for young people…. The books have in common the detailed development of a central character and exact and accurate background material. Themes which are the springboards of his adult novels:...
(The entire section is 964 words.)
Appearing as it did when the Canadian adventure story for boys was suffering birth-pangs [Saltwater Summer] was greeted enthusiastically by children and librarians….
A re-reading brought a mixed reaction. The author's familiarity with the locale and his knowledge of fishing and fishermen are evident. The action is fast-paced and dramatic. However, the boys seem somewhat naive by to-day's standards. The use of such interjections as "gee" and "heck" somewhat dates the book. Some of the characters seem stereotyped and the ending is predictable. Teen-agers used to books that "tell it like it is" may find this too unreal.
Callie Israel, "'Saltwater Summer'," in In Review: Canadian Books for Children, Vol. 4, No. 2. Spring, 1970, p. 25.
(The entire section is 113 words.)
Adele M. Fasick
Although [Captain of the Discovery: The Story of Captain George Vancouver] is a competent, straightforward biography which does not require significant revision, it is unfortunate that a few inexcusably patronising remarks about native peoples were not eliminated [in the revised edition]. To write as Haig-Brown does …, "Nearly all the natives they dealt with were natural—and highly skilful—thieves until checked," is to accept 18th century European standards without making allowance for cultural differences. And to say that a group of Indians "behaved well" because they were peaceful and traded willingly … is to imply that Indian behaviour can be judged by its convenience for Europeans.
Haig-Brown emphasises the careful, painstaking work of exploration which Vancouver did and the hardships he and his crew endured. Like most biographies for children, the book omits references to the less edifying aspects of Vancouver's life, notably the controversial Camelford Affair in which Vancouver was accused of having a midshipman flogged….
Despite its flaws, this biography is an important one….
Adele M. Fasick, "'Captain of the Discovery: The Story of Captain George Vancouver'," in In Review: Canadian Books for Children, Vol. 8, No. 4, Autumn, 1974, p. 48.
(The entire section is 189 words.)
One of the few examples in the series of the wholly unembellished biography is Roderick L. Haig-Brown's Captain of the Discovery: The Story of Captain George Vancouver (1956). Vancouver's voyages took him into the huts of the Hawaiian Islanders, the lodges of the West Coast Indians, and the galleys of Spanish men-of-war, and Haig-Brown takes full advantage of his opportunities for satisfying the child's natural interest in exotic settings, but never at the cost of distorting his subject. Vancouver was no swashbuckling explorer but a disciplined, skilled, conscientious navigator. Haig-Brown dares to show him as one, confident that solid achievement, however unspectacular in the accomplishment, is a theme that deserves and can hold an audience. (p. 51)
[Haig-Brown is the real heir of Ernest Thompson] Seton in the writing of the realistic animal story…. Completely authentic in its details of salmon life, [Silver: The Life of an Atlantic Salmon] is lightened by an intimate, at times almost lyrical style. Haig-Brown addresses his readers as if he were telling the story in person and is quite explicit when he is 'making things up', such as what Silver might have said or thought. Fishing skills, sportsmanship, and conservation are skilfully woven into a story. It takes a craftsman to make something as narrowly special as salmon interesting to the general reader, but Haig-Brown manages to do it.
(The entire section is 1027 words.)
W. J. Keith
Although I would not wish to imply that Haig-Brown is anything but Canadian in his mature writings, it is important to lay some emphasis on his connections with the essentially English rural tradition….
One gets the impression when reading through Haig-Brown's work that he has been particularly conscious of a responsibility to justify his change of allegiance by a thorough mastery of all the historical, zoological and sociological aspects of the province in which he lives. (p. 9)
The image of exploration and discovery may be seen as a unifying thread that links his numerous writings. In his historical books for schoolchildren—Captain of the Discovery (1956), The Farthest Shores (1960) and Fur and Gold (1962)—he has brought to life the exploits of the men who first explored both the coast and the interior (Bering, the Spaniards, Vancouver, Mackenzie, Fraser, Thompson, etc.) and in the last-named the administrators and politicians (notably James Douglas) who consolidated the achievements of the explorers and initiated the subsequent development of British Columbia. In Silver and Return to the River (1941), at first sight books of a very different kind, a comparable interest is to be found, though this time the discovery is scientific; Haig-Brown is fascinated not only with the life-cycle of the salmon but with the efforts of dedicated human beings (the unnamed "Good Fisherman" in...
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It is difficult to imagine how anyone could possibly make the story of an Atlantic salmon as exciting and dramatic as the adventures of the great white shark so much in the news these days. Yet Roderick Haig-Brown in his [Silver: The Life of an Atlantic Salmon] does just that…. All the facts are presented with commendable accuracy and specificity….
Haig-Brown has obviously observed the salmon in great detail, but Silver is far from a mere catalogue of facts. Rather, it is an intensely captivating drama of life and survival, brought alive by the author's own delight and interest in the salmon's saga. No text on the subject could offer such delightful vignettes as the month old fry ganging up on the water-boatman for sport, or Silver irritably snapping at two pesky birds on the shore. Purists might object to personalizing a fish, but this is handled with delicacy and fidelity. The fish are named, emotions suggested and communications recorded, but never in a way which distorts basic biological facts. For example Silver, while delighting in the presence of his first mate, feels no need to remain lovingly by her side as she sickens and dies. The use of quaint phrases such as "The Good Fisherman" and the "Great Feeding Grounds" does date the story, yet it never detracts from its overall appeal.
In his dedication of this book to a young friend, Haig-Brown indicates his apparently modest, yet nevertheless...
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[There] is no question that Haig-Brown aimed to make his animal biographies "authentic," to use his own term. He wished to be true to the facts and spirit of the natural world and to instill some appreciation of it in his readers. In this aim, his adult and children's books are one. He wanted "all people to see and understand more because there is both pleasure and fulfillment in seeing and understanding lives about them, whether they are the lives of trees and plants, or lives of animals or lives of fish." In such seeing and understanding lay, he believed, "the only hope of preserving the natural world." These aims motivated all Haig-Brown's animal stories, but Silver and Return to the River much more obviously than Panther, which works for the cause of conservation, if at all, almost wholly through the vivid presentation of a magnificent beast.
Haig-Brown is more at home in the animal biography than he ever was in the later boys' adventure stories and his fiction. In the first he avoids for the most part the difficulty he always had in creating living human characters. The Good Fisherman in Silver is largely peripheral to the story, however important he may be as a sensitive and reflective angler. Both he and the narrator of the story appear again, as it were, in Return to the River as Senator Evans and a biologist, Don Gunner. They enable Haig-Brown to drop the subjective first-person for the more...
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[Roderick Haig-Brown left] a considerable quantity of unpublished short fiction and essays. Using this material, his daughter Valerie has planned a three-volume compilation, of which Woods and River Tales is the first….
His empathy with the individualistic people who struggled in [the rugged environment of British Columbia] and his well-honed observational skills make these stories memorable.
Woods and River Tales contains 19 stories, many of them thought to be based on true experiences. All but four are published here for the first time.
The subjects Haig-Brown picked for his tales are typically wild and woolly west themes…. But far from being hackneyed, the stories are fresh and inviting saved by a skilled writer's touch with words and his ability to translate the world of nature into vivid descriptions on the printed page. Haig-Brown combines gentleness and humour with the swagger of the frontier, and the result is a book of tales that have literary beauty together with unwashed outdoorsman heroics, a most unusual combination.
Janet Arnett, "Fiction: 'Woods and River Tales'," in Quill and Quire (reprinted by permission of Quill and Quire), Vol. 46, No. 6, June, 1980, p. 34.
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