Letter from Grey Owl to Hugh Eayrs, 21 January 1935

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Transcript: 

Beaver Lodge
Prince Albert National Park
via Prince Albert
Sask.
Jan 21st/35
To Eayrs Esquire
The Macmillan Co. of Canada,
St. Martin's House
70 Bond Street
Toronto 2.
Dear Mr. Eayrs:
This is the first opportunity I have had of writing you since I received the advance copies of "Pilgrims of the Wild" from Mr. Dickson. I am mighty proud of it, & I want to tell you how grateful I am to you, all of you that had a hand in it & who have helped so enthusiastically to make it what it is; & to you especially I want to offer my most sincere thanks for the vast amount of extra work & trouble that you have put into it, & without which it might never have fulfilled the dream I had built up around it. To me, it was not just a book; it was an honourable & well-beloved tradition, the epic of two small lives that changed the whole course & purpose of our existence, & I felt we owed it to them, Anahareo and I, to do something more to perpetuate their memory than just the keeping of a few old, dry relics. I felt that we should make them live again; & on this little journey of one short years duration, we accompanied them, side by side through the pages of the story, as we had lived with them. Being a pagan, I sometimes wonder if it is too much to think that somewhere, somehow, it will keep them from being lonesome while they wait.
Of course, as I told Mr. Dickson in a letter, in this same mail, when Jelly gets to find out, in the Spring, that she has appeared in book form, there will be no living with her at all, & she will now expect to wear a hat & eat at the table with the big folks. Rawhide will smile gently to himself & go on about his business, that so important business of his that will never be quite completed until he goes where all the good beaver people go.
But to return to the book. I like the dignified appearance of the thing, giving, as it does, the impression that the writer has really got something to say. The grouping of the illustrations is very effective, & the way this was done has overcome the difficulty presented by my having sketches & illustrations badly spaced as to content. You see I only had certain illustrations, & fitted them in where I could, I snapped up others from here & there regardless of content, & the sketches--why, I can only draw certain subjects, so far, & it was rather a hodge-podge. The paper cover is fine; I was much struck by its appearance, typifying the three principal elements in the book, the Beaver, The Indian & the Forest. It breathes the very Spirit of the contents, & it seems too bad that these covers are generally discarded by the reader, reducing them merely to the status of reader-bait, when they are often real works of art.
You know my feelings about the Fore-word; but I will say again that I was deeply moved by it, & can only repeat--I thank you.
Last night I completed the long hand copy of the book for children. There will be a dozen simple sketches, a preface, & 16 chapters, in all about 42,000 words.
I am going to try & type it myself. So many stenographers have their own ideas as to what I am trying to say, & some of these errors followed the text most pertinaciously through every stage, two of them successfully defying the whole battery of eagle eyes that were turned on them, & arrived breathless but happy, no doubt, on the finished product. But they were really of small moment. "Talking Mothers" instead of "Talking Brothers" & "the ghostly store" instead of "a ghostly store." None but the writer would ever be aware of them, & they affect the purpose of the book in no way at all. As to the illustration that was, temporarily, upside down, in a way the fault was mine. I should have realized how difficult it was to even distinguish just what the subject was, to a person not acquainted with beaver. From the incidents I have learnt another lesson, to mark ambiguous pictures top & bottom. The picture of beaver lodge must have been nearly as hard, & the bottom was only to be distinguished from the top by the slight blur in the water caused by the canoe. I might tell you here, that the beaver have built a new lodge, outside, against the wall, that extends nearly to the eaves. They carefully built it to one side of the window. Their object apparently was to get the heat from the inside of the cabin, through the wall, they being outside, facing in, as opposed to last years arrangements, whereby they were on the inside facing out, the house wall only between them & 50 below zero, on one side, & they spent an uncomfortable Winter in a bark den, as their lodge froze down on them. This in itself, is a remarkable example of adaptability & ability to make the best possible use of circumstances that were wholly unnatural to them, though to their liking. So that they stayed, & made their adjustments accordingly. This shouts no inconsiderable ability to formulate & carry out a plan, in the face of adverse conditions, & most important of all, establishes the fact, already known to me, that they learn by experience & improve as they go. Personally I was rather worried over the affair, but they solved the problem quite easily, having worked at it all summer. Jelly, wishing to be near me, persisted in staying in the inner lodge, but I sometimes heard them quarreling in there & have since found that it has been barricaded off. It is Rawhide's idea, & Jelly, incurable optimist that she is, would do no work at it until it began to be cold weather.
I got a great picture of my moose, full body, head towards me, horns still on, right beside the shack at a distance of about 25 feet. I hope I did a good job. It is a fine looking beast, & responds to my voice.
Did you mind very much that I asked you to write to Country Life for me? I could not communicate with anybody at that time, & did not want to miss the opportunity of popularizing my work by having foreign publishers take it. I wrote them myself this time, & told them that whatever arrangements you & they agreed on were O.K. by me, which of course they would know anyway. The indefatigable Mr. Thompson was trying hard to [put?] over "the Pilgrims" in Europe, & publishers who took it might also like the first one, which would lay the way more easily for other work, if successful. I have heard from no one since Christmas, when we had one mail, or a kind of a mail, a very light one, so I cannot talk intelligently on anything much, save the immediate happenings on Ajawaan Lake!
Will you please tell Mrs. Boothe how very much I appreciate the very important part she played in the making of the book, & what a beautiful piece of work I think it is. I hope the contents, that is the prose -- the story, will justify its appearance, & that now you people have done your part, & a great deal more, that it will fulfil the high hopes we have for it, & not be a flop. I realize that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of books trooping in mass formation from the presses, every once in so often, & do not expect too much by way of sueens; my greatest hope is that it will turn out to be not too bad a risk for the publishers, after all their trouble, & profitable enough to them to enable me to continue getting the Canadian Scene down on paper while there is any of it left.
I have great plans. I am going to write a novel "Half-breed", a breed, something of a drunkard, & his adventures in civilization, & eventual return to his native environment. There will be some pretty forceful satire on some aspects of civilization, & booze will play an important part & will just about wreck the half breed. His wife, an educated, cultured Indian girl with high-falutin' ideas & an English accent tries to drag him up to her level, but it's no use; every so often, down he goes, hitting a new low each time. In a sanitarium, where he ends up, she finds him &, thinking to "save" him, visits there, as a last resource. In his delirium he sees in her modish attire & Europeanized ways the incarnation of the civilization that has trapped & ensnared him & put him where he is, & seeks to deceive him by wearing an Indian face & he tries to kill her. The only time she can get near him is when she appears dressed in the head-shawl & plaid dress of an Indian woman, when he quiets down & recognizes her. Recovering, he leaves civilization, for good this time, but not before he is made to realize that it is not civilization this is [awry?], but himself. She goes native with him. It will be just a question [of] who is the most obnoxious, the atavistic half-breed, with the blood of two races alternately predominating, a poet & gentleman sober, a savage when drunk, --or the snobbish full-blooded Indian girl trying to be white. To get these portrayed sympathetically will be some job. I am going to try, but it must be done right.
Then it will be made into a picture & I will double on the bush stuff for the actor who plays the part of the half-breed, & Anna May Wong will be permitted to play the Indian girl. I saw one Northern picture (so-called) which included a cocky, snooty Mounted Policeman, a slinking, cowardly half-breed, several stupid Indians, a peroxide female, & an actor who, poor fellow, made as much of an ape of himself in a canoe as would I in a tuxedo; I will give a very lifelike & convincing portrayal of the battle with the demon rumm, after which the star can do the love marking that will inevitably break out after the reconciliation.
Thats all I can tell you about it just now, except that after the publication of the book, I will probably have to go & live in Bolivia & have a body-guard. I have much to say, & in it, some will not see us as we see ourselves.
But seriously I am going to attempt it, sooner or later.
In the mean time I have written a childrens book, which may or may not be acceptable.
This is rather a long letter & I hope you will be patient with it. I talk to no one here, there is no one, except the announcers, & so to write a good long letter to one whom we think is able to read sufficiently well between the lines, is something of a relief.
Again thanking you for all your kindness, & hoping that my work will, speaking very practically, not prove to be a too profitless investment for the firm, And with kindest regards, I am,
Yours Very Sincerely,
Grey Owl.