Margaret Craven Essay - Critical Essays

Craven, Margaret


Margaret Craven 1901(?)–

Canadian short story writer and novelist.

Craven's works stress the importance of understanding humanity's proper role in the world. I Heard the Owl Call My Name, her first novel, is in part a documentary of the life led by the Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia with whom Craven spent several weeks. More importantly, the novel is a reworking of the perennial theme of self-discovery through others as experienced by a young Anglican vicar sent to minister to the Indians. Young people were especially attracted by the relevance of the book's theme to their own quests. It became a best-seller, and was dramatized for television in 1973. In general, critics praised her honest portrayal of the Indians' struggle to resist total assimilation into the dominant culture, and her radiant descriptions of the Pacific Northwest. Some thought the subject overly sentimental and the message too obvious.

Craven's second novel, Walk Gently This Good Earth, received little critical attention. She has recently published her autobiography, Again Calls the Owl.

Jennifer Farley Smith

A small fishing village on the edge of the Canadian wilderness is the stage for ["I Heard the Owl Call My Name," a] shining parable about the reconciliation of two cultures and two faiths.

When 27-year-old Mark Brian arrives in the Indian village of Kingcombe to take up his first ministry, he enters a world poised between the ways of the ancestral Cedar-man and those of a Christian God. He quickly takes the measure of their way of life: an enduring harmony with nature, the diminishing vitality of their traditions as they cope with the present. He shares in the tragedies which inevitably occur when white man's civilization makes claims upon the Kwakiutls' small society….

Margaret Craven … has written a memorable first novel, one which is proving to be the sleeper of this season. Her writing glows with delicate, fleeting images and a sense of peace. Her characters' hearts are bared by a few words—or by the fact that nothing is said at all….

"I Heard the Owl Call My Name" is one of that still rare but growing number of novels which may signal a renaissance of spiritual themes in contemporary fiction.

Jennifer Farley Smith, "Fiction: 'I Heard the Owl Call My Name'," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1974 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), January 30, 1974, p. F5.

Martin Levin

Without too much sentimentality, Margaret Craven [in I Heard the Owl Call My Name] is inclined to idealize life in a Kwakiutl village on a Pacific inlet. This shred of an ancient culture practices enough of the old ways to keep it in harmony with the great chain of being. It is regulated fundamentally by the seasons, and secondarily by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police….

Miss Craven gives an epic quality to the fading tribal ways by viewing them through the eyes of a young Anglican priest, who happens himself to be dying. The relationship of Mark Brian and his parishioners is oddly symbiotic; he passes on to the Indians some of his humanism, and accepts in return some of their fortifying stoicism. As this exchange develops out of humorous small encounters, it becomes an entrancing chemistry.

Martin Levin, "New & Novel: 'I Heard the Owl Call My Name'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 3, 1974, p. 28.

Valentine Cunningham

In I Heard the Owl Call My Name a dying Anglican vicar is sent to minister to some British Columbian Indians, and to be made the occasion of many an easy reflection on how much he has got to learn to become truly Christian, as they are. The novel goes in for the sort of religiosity common to ages of unbelief. This coyly tear-jerking administration for the simpler life has already earned itself the screenplay fictions like this are usually designed to become. (p. 163)

Valentine Cunningham, "Unsmiling," in New Statesman (© 1974 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 88, No. 2263, August 2, 1974, p. 163.

[In I Heard the Owl Call My Name, Mark] meets the simple natural life of an unsophisticated people—a people however who have their own problems and difficulties, pin-pointed in particular by the yearning of the younger generation for a different kind of life and a new environment. Their breaking away and their encounter with modern city life contrasts strikingly with the life they have left, but it is the life they have left which makes the most powerful impression upon the reader, and challenges his ideas, feelings and beliefs…. This very quiet, thoughtful and unusual book, and the writing itself, matches the visionary and poetic quality of the author's faith…. There are no hard definitions of place and character which tends to give at times a somewhat ethereal quality to the scene, but there is enough of the stridency of modern life to be seen clearly in the background to give the foreground its intended impact and emphasise the message of the book. (pp. 377-78)

"For the Intermediate Library: 'I heard the Owl Call My Name'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 38, No. 6, December, 1974, pp. 377-78.

Elaine Moss

A book thoughtful readers will surely return to again and again is Margaret Craven's I Heard the Owl Call My Name. The Red Indian philosophy, firmly rooted in nature, is both a challenge to modern man and an undeniable comfort…. As the book gets under way—the early pages are not very easily digested—the reader's view of life and sense of the passing years will change along with Mark's. For the acceptance of Mark by the Indians, their trust in him, and their quiet decision to bestow on him the blessing of being one of their family replace time (which is running out for Mark) by eternity…. It is hard to imagine a more complete and fulfilling book than this.

Elaine Moss, "The Sins of Our Fathers," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1974; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3796, December 6, 1974, p. 1375.∗

Not a particularly bracing successor to the author's successful I Heard the Owl Call My Name (1973), this baldly sentimental, loudly preachifying saga [Walk Gently This Good Earth] takes a family from the good, simple, old days of solid virtue before World War II up to the present—all of it set in the Pacific northwest and Montana. Except for father Westcott, who exhibits a certain off-beat elegance, this brood … is noble and pure-hearted beyond belief. Also cloying and a bit unreal … There's lots of stirring scenery, and Craven knows her day-to-day farming. However, her penchant for moralizing brings forth sermons and editorials which whether or not you go along stand out like rocks in the soup…. Nonetheless, The Owl hit best-sellerdom and was made into a TV movie, so don't underestimate the power of the sugar-coated sapsucker to perch next to the Waltons and slightly to the right.

"Fiction: 'Walk Gently This Good Earth'," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1977 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. XLV, No. 19, October 1, 1977, p. 1059.

Elizabeth Schmidt

[Walk Gently This Good Earth] hardly seems like fiction. It's comfortable and honest. The characters are like old pieces of pewter, showing a faint, stubborn luster….

[It's] not a leaden saga. It concentrates on strength, and the three characters who express it variously: the father, his daughter, her beloved.

As the title implies, the tread is light. Years of sacrifice are gently distilled into a few pages of narrative. As the characters cling together, separate, shift roles, most of them become what a family is meant to be—a unit of strength, individual and collective.

The author … spotlights brief, serious conversations. The effect, except for the stiff first chapter, is arresting and revealing. There are some moments that seem forced, but many to relish….

Elizabeth Schmidt, "Family Saga Concentrates on Strengths," in The Christian Science Monitor (reprinted by permission from The Christian Science Monitor; © 1977 The Christian Science Publishing Society; all rights reserved), December 28, 1977, p. 19.


Margaret Craven's [Walk Gently This Good Earth], a family saga, again demonstrates that she is an author of considerable talent…. All is not blissful in the Westcott home. There is a death and a rejection by one daughter. The family must also cope with the social turmoil caused by the Great Depression and World War II. Yet as Craven simply and evocatively depicts, the Westcotts are a strong, close-knit group, and in their family the traditional values are dominant. Their love for each other and for the land will draw teen readers to their story.

Evie Wilson and Michael McCue, "For the Young Adult: 'Walk Gently This Good Earth'," in Wilson Library Bulletin...

(The entire section is 124 words.)

Phoebe-Lou Adams

Miss Craven has written what is probably the shortest autobiography since [Rudyard] Kipling's Something of Myself, and at that, much of it is devoted to the research and travel underlying her great success, I Heard the Owl Call My Name. With no emotional confessions, no extended descriptions, no lamentations about what must have been terrifying eye trouble, minimal information about family, friends, and finances, this is an extraordinarily modest reminiscence.

Phoebe-Lou Adams, "PLA: 'Again Calls the Owl'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1980, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 245, No. 4, April, 1980, p....

(The entire section is 237 words.)