Author: Carolyn Garriott
In her first novel Shadow of the Cross, Carolyn Garriott well-understood the principle that it‘s not only the story that is of great consequence, but rather the manner in which you recount it. How often have we read a novel that contained some very fascinating information, yet the way it was presented was bland and unexciting and after reading the first fifty pages we chucked it aside? However, in the Shadow of the Cross Garriott shines with not only her amazing story-telling talents but also her perspective or take on the relations between Native People and the French missionaries who were sent to New France believing that they would convert and civilize these “heathens.”
I deliberately use the term “amazing” for Garriott is enjoying a fifth career that has included school teaching and farming. Now, at the age of 70, Garriott has become an outstanding novelist. The publisher’s publicity material states that “Though she claims to be an ordinary woman, the facts of Carolyn Garriott’s life suggest otherwise. Though she has never sought fame, she has nevertheless become very well-known in the Southern Alberta region because she often departed from the commonly accepted way of doing things.”
Garriott offers us a novel that effectively integrates fiction and historical fact with a sensitive interpretation - one that is perhaps quite dissimilar from the history books we may have been exposed to while in elementary or high school. Native people are portrayed as not the “savages” or “les sauvages,” as the French termed them in New France, but rather as particularly intelligent individuals who had an insightful and deep understanding of mother-nature as well as the animals that shared the natural world with them.
The first three chapters sets us up for a thought-provoking and compelling story with a great deal of tension thrown in that intertwines the lives of a newly ordained Benedictine missionary, Father Daniel Deschien, Haiki, a Huron mother, and Shadow, an orphaned wolf. The interactions provide the story’s central focus as we witness a clash of cultures between the Natives and the prejudices and insensitivity of the French clergy who sincerely believed that the Huron or the Wendat, as they preferred to be called, were immoral and barbaric. Moreover, as Father Daniel comes to realize and as he confesses to his bishop, slight attention was paid to the Natives’ political and civic life wherein a system enabled them to survive in extremely complex surroundings.
Haiki’s version of her culture and customs is portrayed with so much fervor that we can easily empathize with Father Daniel Deschien’s confusion who can’t quite comprehend why the Natives are reluctant to embrace his European ideals, morals, and his Christian religion. Nor can he grasp the extent of the Natives’ relationship with animals such as the wolf that acts as their protector with a gift that can warn them of eminent danger. When Haiki tells Father Daniel that she has heard the wolf’s warning of death that will visit the valley, his reply is that it is foolish to believe in a wild beast. It also comes as a surprise to Father Daniel, when in answer to his question, why the Huron cannot become allies with the French, Saksari, who is the son of Haiki, tells him that “The French were not good friends.”
With a clean and elegant style, Garriott writes in a likeable voice-even at times poetic, as she integrates her content in a clever and fascinating way with many a dramatic moment thrown in particularly the powerful scenes involving T’hattan who is painted as a cruel and threatening antagonist whom Haiki dislikes and whose hand she refuses in marriage. It should be mentioned that T’hattan was captured as a young child in a battle between the Huron and Seneca and was given to Haiki’s aunt to replace a son who had recently died. Unfortunately, he proves to be quite a scheming character who has even threatened to kill a wolf even though T’hattan had been adopted into the Wolf Clan knowing full well that the wolfs were their protectors. Moreover, as Haiki disgustedly points out, it was a white wolf-the most sacred of the wolves. And as she states, “What did he want to do-destroy the People?”
This book is quite a little gem examining history from a fresh perspective that will undoubtedly awaken readers’ minds to certain historical misconceptions that for centuries have plagued us. And thanks to authors as Carolyn Garriott that we are now able to have a better understanding of the contributions of the Native people particularly as to their knowledge of the environment, ecological problems and animal behavior. I do hope we will be reading more emanating from the pen of Carolyn Garriott.
The above review was contributed by: NORM GOLDMAN: Retired Title Attorney: Editor & Publisher of Bookpleasures. Here are Norm Goldman's Reviews
To read Norm's interesting interview with Carolyn Garriott, CLICK HERE