Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Cremation Of Sam McGee

Remember being in grade school and the teacher would read to you? Sitting crossed-legged on the carpet, your elbow on your knee and your chin resting in your palm, listening to your teacher read the words and the sound the pages made when she flipped them over. I miss those days, don't you?

For me there was one book in particular that cast its spell over my eight-year-old imagination, The Cremation of Sam McGee. Originally written in 1907 by Robert Service, the poem was paired with the exquisite illustrations of Ted Harrison and published in 1986.  The artwork, as much as the tale, inspired a sense of national Canadian pride and thus began my period of drawing like (or so I wished) Ted Harrison, albeit in crayon. I became proficient enough that my third grade teacher entered one of my drawings in the town fair and I won $2. At that point I thought I hit the ceiling on my talent and never tried replicating Harrison's style again.

It wasn't until this summer while I was visiting a museum in Banff that I saw the familiar artwork. There it was - the Twentieth Anniversary Edition of The Cremation of Sam McGee. I bought it on the spot and hugged it to my chest for the better part of that day and strolled the tourist-lined streets with a goofy grin.

The story is about a pact two prospectors make while in the Yukon. Near death Sam McGee from Tennessee wants to be cremated, to finally feel the warmth of home and escape the clutch of north cold. The lyrical poetry in this book pushes past the grim reality of the words and evokes such beauty. While some might find the book morbid, there is so much of life and mystery you can't help but read on.

If you haven't read it do yourself a favor and race to your nearest bookstore. The poem will haunt you and the artwork might inspire you to win a couple bucks.

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