C.W. Nicol is one of those writers whose own life is a dramatic story in itself. Born in Wales, he now makes his home on a nature preserve in Japan, having made stops along the way as a game warden in Ethiopia, a bird researcher in the Canadian Arctic, and as a writer aboard a whaling ship.
Today Nicol is a well-known nature author and advocate in Japan, but his work ought to be required reading for Canadians interested in the North.
The Raven’s Tale (Harbour Books, 1994) is a perfect example. As Robert Bateman notes of this wondrous work whose characters are Arctic animals:
The artist in me revelled in the colours, forms and moods of the Arctic landscape. The naturalist in me nodded in recognition at the detail of appearance and behaviour of all the creatures. C.W. Nicol carries us through a world of drama and vitality in a way that captures both the surface and the soul.
It is the expression of surface and soul that makes The Raven’s Tale so compelling. Like myths of old (and kids’ books of late), The Raven’s Tale gives voice to the creatures of the Arctic landscape.
The story is one of an unlikely friendship, between a three-legged fox and a lone wolf. Beginning with the eponymous raven, the animals of the Arctic—fox, wolf, owl, hare, lemming, caribou, seal, orca, polar bear—each tell a part of the pair’s great journey over land and ice from their own unique points of view. Thus The Raven’s Tale, unfolding through the eyes of the denizens of the North, reveals the intricate web of relationships that binds all creatures to one another, as to the land and sea and sky.
Simply phrased and lightly told, with great care for the unique voices of each creature, The Raven’s Tale would make wonderful reading for children. Yet the story, like the Arctic landscape itself, is much deeper than what is easily seen on the surface.
Ultimately, what The Raven’s Tale expresses is a cosmology of kinship that is the abiding spirit of the Arctic.
Travel with C.W. Nicol aboard our Heart of the Arctic expedition, July 17 – 29th, 2015.