Roderick L(angmere) Haig-Brown Mary Kirton - Essay

Mary Kirton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 difficult goal. "I have tried to make it an interesting story and at the same time keep to the truth about salmon and their ways." Certainly he has been successful. The book will therefore appeal both to children looking for information about salmon and to those insatiable lovers of animal stories. Indeed, it would be difficult for even mere "fact-finders" to read Silver without experiencing some sense of awe at nature's wonders.

Mary Kirton, "Reviews in Retrospect: 'Silver: The Life Story of an Atlantic Salmon'," in In Review: Canadian Books for Children, Vol. 10, No. 2, Spring, 1976, p. 25.