CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 12. . . .November 23, 2012.
Enid Mallory’s biography of Captain James FitzGibbon offers a conventional and dangerously out-of-date portrait of the man and his times. Mallory simplifies her narrative and analysis, failing to alert the reader to the complexities of James FitzGibbon and, more crucially, to the War of 1812. Mallory provides only caricatures of the Aboriginals who fought alongside the British and the Americans they fought against.
As in the passage cited above, Mallory offers uncritical retellings of war lore. Worse, she all too often deploys stereotypical representations of the combatants. In her writing, for example, Irishmen are “wild” (p. 81) and possessed of an “excitable Irish temperament” (p. 68), while Aboriginals are described as leaping into battle in “hordes” (p. 81) and “droves” (p. 72), uttering “savage yells” (p. 96) and “war whoops” (p. 81). Mallory raises dramatic tension by describing how first Brock (p. 39) and later FitzGibbon (pp. 96-98) struggled to “control” their Aboriginal allies who, she implies, might otherwise scalp, torture and massacre their adversaries. Mallory’s representations uncritically reflect the biases of her sources and do nothing to explore what the War of 1812 means for Canada in 2012. Such a treatment of this conflict presents obvious challenges for educators seeking to present the War of 1812 in a manner that would be appropriate for contemporary Canadian society.
It is difficult, moreover, to justify this book as being written specifically for young readers. In addition to uncritically retailing nineteenth-century British views, Mallory does not provide the tools that would allow modern young adult readers to understand the terminology she uses or the historical context. A glossary of military and naval hardware (e.g. bateau, schooners, 24 pounders, flintlocks, etc.) would be helpful, as would a chart that outlined the various military ranks and divisions (e.g. army ranks, naval ranks, regular soldiers vs. militia, non-commissioned officers vs. commissioned officers). Given the wide-ranging nature of the narrative, a listing of the “cast of characters”, organized by nationality and military branch, would be helpful.
In addition, there are basic problems with the text and its illustrations. Sprinkled throughout are photographs of modern-day re-enactments that, though identified as such, do not reflect the battlefield dynamics and realities of the nineteenth century. Also sprinkled throughout are distracting typos that do not belong in a professionally produced text.
Greg Bak teaches archival studies at the University of Manitoba’s Department of History in Winnipeg, MB.
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