Jack Hodgins Robert Lecker

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Robert Lecker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Invention of the World is about the process of uninventing narrative worlds. I want to show how that process of uninvention undermines the assumption that the recovery of myth engenders the discovery of identity. Jack Hodgins establishes blatant connections between mythical structure and self awareness in order to purposefully break them down…. [Through parody and burlesque, Hodgins undercuts] a view shared by several Canadian novelists today: that the meaning of the moment is part and parcel of a myth-ridden past, and that, in order to understand personal experience, one must become conversant with, and indeed participant in, the historical traditions, documents, and artifacts which combine to form contemporary consciousness.

Am I alone in suggesting that Hodgins attacks this view through serious narrative play? The novel has been seen as firmly grounded in mythopoeia…. Along different lines, George Woodcock and David L. Jeffrey [see excerpts above] have argued that Hodgins' destruction and distortion of myth make possible the creation of an entirely new mythology in the present. Hence the book's title is seen to support the idea that, in the absence of a true genealogy of myth, people will invent mythologies as a means of structuring their lives. (pp. 86-7)

As I see it, those motives and patterns are too visible to be believed. The novel is constructed of two plots, one centring on the experience of a modern day group of friends who have organized themselves around Maggie Kyle in a loosely-knit community on Vancouver Island, the other concentrating on the events connected with the mythical and mystical Donal Keneally, an Irish immigrant who in 1900 established the "spiritually" oriented Revelations Colony of Truth at the place where Maggie now lives. These two plots are interwoven through the superimposition of narrative voices, through character parallels, and through the geographic coincidence which allows Maggie's trailer camp to exist on the exact spot of Keneally's former colony. The conjunction of past and present emerges again and again as story piles on story. Just as there was a murder in Keneally's time, so is there one in Maggie's; and like Keneally's own colony, Maggie's place is a failed utopia. The link between past and present is made even stronger because Lily—one of Maggie's boarders—was Keneally's wife. The residents of Maggie's "Revelations Colony of Kooks" have convinced themselves that their commune is "crawling with ghosts" from the Keneally period. These legendary ghosts are repeatedly called forth (without answer) by flashback, document, and transcript. The time/space juxtapositions are encouraged by Strabo Becker, the central narrator. Becker is recording the life of Keneally, and he busily devotes himself to collecting letters and artifacts identifying the Irish "hero," and to interviewing several of the older locals who have vague memories concerning the now defunct Colony of Truth.

Hodgins has set the stage for an extended parallel between the cults of Keneally and Kyle. The inhabitants of past and present do share many of the same concerns: they are all searching for a utopian society, one in which each individual would ostensibly find his "real self" by uncovering mythical significance…. Becker not only searches for the documents and memories which provide information about Keneally's time, he convinces Maggie and Wade Powers to join him on an Odyssean voyage back to Keneally's birthplace in Carrigdhoun, Ireland.

In Hodgins' hands, the description of the trio's pilgrimage becomes a record of their involvement in a host of conventions and metaphors connected with mythical pursuits…. Becker's desire to participate in the Keneally legend by revisiting the Irishman's birthplace is part of his need to view his present in a positive mythological light. By returning to Keneally's origins, Becker hopes to retrace Keneally's own search for a promised land in Canada. It is not only the intersecting...

(The entire section is 1,274 words.)