CM . . .
. Volume VIII Number 21 . . . . June 21, 2002
My initial reaction to the cover of this book was "This can't be new! I read Lyn Cook's books when I was young!" And indeed it is not a new book, merely a new edition with a foreword by Jane Urquhart pointing out that this story of the build-up to the first year of the Stratford Shakespearian Festival, while it was written just a few years after the launch, can still invoke the tension and excitement of the first real flowering of Canadian theatre. It is, therefore, reasonable to reissue it for the fiftieth birthday of the Festival.
Pegeen is a girl about to start high school when the possibility of Tom Patterson's dream of a Shakespearean theatrical "industry" to take the place of the departing railway as an employer in Stratford actually begins to take shape. She has always been obsessed with plays and acting, but helping her mother run a boarding house in Stratford takes up most of her spare time. We see the difficulties, physical and financial, of the Shakespearean project through her eyes as they are sharpened and focused by Mr. B., one of her mother's boarders, a carpenter involved in building the stage and a Shakespearean enthusiast and expert. We meet Alec Guiness and Tyrone Guthrie. And we go to performances of Richard III with Pegeen and are carried away by the wonder and magic of it all.
One of the problems with books about real events, whether they are recent or long ago, is a tendency on the part of the author to instruct and explain rather than letting the facts be woven into the tapestry of the story. Lyn Cook's "Mr. B." is the instructor in this case, but, on the whole, he tells a lively tale, and one can imagine Pegeen asking the questions that bring out the information about Shakespeare, his plays, and the English Stratford. The amount of knowledge that Pegeen has of the Canadian town of Stratford is a bit less credible, although given her friendship with some of the older of her mother's boarders and their love of reminiscences, it is not unreasonable. The difficulties of the Festival, itself, are not "explained" at all---they are the story. This is partly because the plot is set then, but also because it was written then. It is not historical fiction; it is contemporary fiction written fifty years ago. The point of view is different, and the result is good. If you are planning a trip to Stratford this summer with your children, hoping to rub some culture off onto unwilling minds, reading Pegeen and the Pilgrim together might be very good preparation.
Mary Thomas works in two elementary school libraries in Winnipeg, MB, but most summers takes the Pilgrim Way to Stratford.
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