Wednesday, November 29, 2006

On the Name of the Blog

"From this expedition [in 1609] Champlain learned much regarding the geography of eastern North America, and he brought back with him to France, to present to King Henry IV...a girdle of porcupine quills made from the Canadian porcupine..."

—From Pioneers in Canada by Sir Harry Johnston (1912)

I am irresistably attracted to the peculiarity of this image of a porcupine girdle. Now, what is probably being described is a sort of belt in which porcupine quills were woven decoratively, but it would still have been an odd item to see in 17th-century France. I guess what I like most is the suggestion of something strange and somewhat enigmatic brought from Canada to the rest of the world.

In some ways, I regard this as a natural sequel to the metaphor that I used for the title of my first book, The Buried Astrolabe: Canadian Dramatic Imagination and Western Tradition (McGill-Queen's UP, 2001), which was based on an astrolabe which the explorer Samuel de Champlain allegedly (though there was an article in The Beaver not long ago which disputed the notion that the astrolabe was Champlain's) lost in 1613 during a portage, and which was only discovered buried in a farmer's field in 1867. If I write another book on Canadian drama----and I've been thinking about it---it may well be called The Porcupine Girdle. How's that for perversity.


Laura Murray said...

Hi Craig. If you haven't come across it, I commend to you an even stranger moment of Champlainiana and Kingstoniana: his account in the journals of getting lost in the woods at what is now Kingston. He was hunting and pursued a bird: "it had a beak like that of a parrot and was as big as a hen and yellow all over, except for its head, which was red, and its wings, which were blue." Champlain was lost for two nights, and after he made his way back from this (hallucinatory?) quest, his Native companion Darontal "was very careful of me when I went hunting, always giving me a savage to accompany me." A brilliant expose of a gallant explorer, no? I think this episode deserves high iconic status--not to mention investigation by ornithologists!

Craig said...

Wow! Thanks Laura. That truly is first-rate Champlainiana. I'm sure that much of that early exploration must have seemed like one long hallucination!