Student Question

Is Chester Brown's comic book Louis Riel completely accurate or partially fictionalized?

Quick answer:

No, the comic book Louis Riel is not completely accurate. The parts that are fictionalized include his depiction of John Macdonald’s appearance and his presentation of him as a clear-cut villain.

Expert Answers

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Chester Brown admits that his comic book biography Louis Riel is not completely accurate. He notes that he made choices that deviated from the established historical record. Some of these departures involve how the characters look. Brown draws William McDougall, the lieutenant governor, as relatively trim. After finding out that McDougall, in real life, was actually stout, Brown opted not to redraw him. The rendering of Canada’s first prime minister, John Alexander Macdonald, is not accurate either. For his biography, Brown acknowledges that he gave Macdonald a clownishly large nose.

Macdonald’s nose links to further inaccuracies in the book. Brown says that he wanted to turn Macdonald into the decided villain. However, Macdonald’s role in Riel’s struggle was not entirely inimical. When Macdonald sent McDougall to the Métis land, Macdonald instructed him not to try to impose authority right away. Additionally, Macdonald made repeated efforts to work with Riel and the Métis people. The two factions were involved in negotiations that included amnesty, financial assistance, and employment programs for the Métis community.

Other parts that are fictionalized include Macdonald’s presence at the Hudson’s Bay Company meeting in England and the attendance of Major-General Thomas Bland Strange at a 1885 gathering. Finally, one might also think about how Brown uses his imagination when it comes to Riel’s mental state.

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Why does Chester Brown in his comic biography of Louis Riel fictionalize elements of Canadian history or present history in ways that are not entirely accurate?

Classified as a historical biography, Louis Riel by Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown tells the story of the 1869 Red River Rebellion, the Métis community, and the charismatic rebel leader-turned-felon Louis Riel—a mad man for some, a martyr and savior for others.

Brown carefully and meticulously alters certain historical facts so that he can showcase Riel's journey as well his emotional and mental state. He certainly includes a lot of historical facts, but he also deviates from the truth and incorporates a more fictionalized account of the past. He gives a more dramatic and subjective portrayal of the events and characters with one main purpose—to tell an adventurous story. It's noteworthy that Brown acknowledges all possible deviations from actual Canadian history and discloses them within the graphic novel's footnotes.

Brown tries to be as historically accurate as possible, but he can't help and present certain characters quite differently and to fictionalize them in order to create a more memorable, fascinating narrative. For example, Louis Riel gradually grows physically bigger and bigger; Sir. John Alexander McDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister, has a very large nose and a bit of villainous energy to him; and the lieutenant governor William McDougall is rather slim and physically fit instead of chubby. All these conscious and even deliberate changes point to the fact that Brown doesn't want to present history as much as he wants to present his story—a story about courage, injustice, politics, conspiracy, and madness in which he reveals his personal views and opinions.

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