I have had this book for a while now and for some reason it took me four years to pick it up. I think the subtitle and cover must have put me off. Anyway, I chose to read it at the right time since I am starting to become fascinated and increasingly curious about anything Canadian, particularly stories about Natives. I think that might be due to my trip to Canada: Canada became a reality not a place from which my favourite author writes.
Strange Things by Atwood was definitely a good introduction to tropes of the Canadian North. As Atwood often states she is a creative writer, not an academic (anymore) and this can be felt in her non-fictional writings. Each of the four parts of the book is a lecture; yet, they all have a quality of storytelling and Atwood’s humour can be felt through the whole book.
The first lecture is about the disaster of Franklin Expedition, which is also the topic of her story “The Age of Lead”, who set to discover the Northwest Passage in the nineteenth century but of which all members ended up dying for strange and, for a long time, unexplained reasons. The second lecture is entitled “The Grey Owl Syndrome” and is about those white men who try to “turn Natives”. The third lecture is about the Wendigo, a figure I had never heard of, which/who is a ravenous cannibal creature with a heart of ice. The last lecture focuses on how women writers have used these tropes in their works and thus on how their representation of the malevolent North might be different to that of male writers.
Atwood does not intend to be all knowledgeable on these topics and these lectures are not all-encompassing. However, she is well-read and knows what she is talking about, particularly when it concerns their representations in Literature. The lectures provide an introduction and might give you the envy to read some of the many texts she mentions and to explore further the subject of the Canadian North.