Summary: Falling prices in the fur trading business means Jamie must leave his boarding school in Toronto to live with his uncle in Manitoba. Enthusiastic about getting out of the city, Jamie learns about living in a more rugged setting, and volunteers to go on a hunting trip with his new friend Awasin when an Indian tribe needs some assistance filling their stores for the winter season. The eagerness of the two together gets them into trouble when they go exploring on their own and end up losing their canoe to the rapids. Lost in the treeless tundra of Canada, Jamie and Awasin must gather their wits and figure out a plan to survive the quickly approaching winter, as it becomes clear they have been left behind.
Number of Pages: 244
Age Range: 12-14
Review: Survival isn’t always a pretty business, and Farley Mowat gives his reader a glimpse into just what it actually takes through Lost in the Barrens. I loved the contrast it provided with James Houston’s The White Archer, as killing animals to make clothes, build shelter and feed themselves ends up being a traumatic affair.
I was a bit surprised Jamie was such a down-to-earth character. Awasin had his childhood and the traditions of his people to help him through, but Jamie previously lived in a boarding school in a big city. I was expecting him to be more arrogant and entitled; instead he was quite adaptable to the situation. There were no histrionics, just a calm pragmatism on the parts of both boys. I wonder if this is meant to be a reflection of the time period or a comment on the gender of the characters.
Either way I was fascinated with their combined ability to creatively problem solve while facing one obstacle after another in their quest to survive. Certain someone was going to die, I was flipping pages frantically, but Mowat is mindful that it’s more of a children’s book and the death that does happen was relatively expected.
It’s supposed to be a coming of age novel, and in some ways it is. In other ways though, Lost in the Barrens is about two boys who were already young men having an adventure on the tundra. I enjoyed living vicariously through their experiences, knowing full well if it had been me I would have probably starved to death.
“In order to avoid thinking about their desperate plight, Awasin busied himself lighting a fire from the heap of willows left behind by the Chipeweyans. Methodically he placed pieces of meat to cook before the flames. With the fatalism of his ancestors he refused to think about the mistakes which were past.” Awasin from Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat, page 99
“Awasin put down his rifle and turned away. Jamie knew how Awasin felt. For this was slaughter. It was like shooting cows in a barnyard, Jamie thought. He was very glad Awasin had not asked him to do the killing.” Jamie from Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat, page 107
“Awasin smiled. ‘The Crees used to say: Courage comes not from a strong heart, but from a full stomach! So we should be pretty brave!’ He was silent for a moment. ‘We’ll need all the courage we can find,’ he added. Awasin was staring out over the darkening plains, and he was no longer smiling.” – Awasin from Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat, page 120
“Neither had much appetite for dinner. The reaction from the slaughter was so great that they did not even talk of preparing the meat they had killed. They had seen too much blood that day, and too much death.” – from Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat, page 141
“‘Yes, we’ll go back, Awasin,’ he said, ‘and we’ll stay at Hidden Valley. Stay there as long as we have to. I’ve learned my lesson. As long as we went along with the things the way they were, and never tried to fight against this country, we were all right. But when we set out on this trip south we were standing up to the Barrens and sort of daring them. We were going to bulldoze our way through. And we’re lucky to be still alive!’
Awasin looked long into his friend’s face.
‘I never thought you’d understand about that, Jamie,’ he said at last. ‘White men don’t as a rule. Most of them think they can beat the northland in any fight. A lot of them have found out differently, and didn’t live to tell about it. My people know differently. It’s hard to put into words, but I think you understand. If you fight against the spirits of the north you will always lose. Obey their laws and they’ll look after you.’
It was a long speech for Awasin, but when he finished both boys felt happier than they had for many weeks. They were humbler too. They were ready to return to the tiny cabin in the valley and to abandon their foolied and almost fatal effort to force their will upon the Barrenlands.” – Conversation between Jamie and Awasin about respecting the land from Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat, page 219
Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat, is published by McClelland and Stewart Limited, (1956).