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CanLit150

Celebrate more than 150 years of Canada with 150 books.

Ian Weir Recommends

Tay John by Howard O'Hagan

Tay John (1939)

(From Amazon.ca)

The awesome terrain of the Rocky Mountains is the setting for this extraordinary novel about a heroic man who boldly defies destiny. Tay John, a messianic halfbreed, is fated to lead his people to their Promised Land. In a rebellious act of will, he turns to the mountains to seek his own truths.

This richly populated novel vividly depicts the exotic and rootless people who wound their way to the Canadian Northwest. It is a powerful modern legend that ranges over all aspects of the human heart and mind, incorporating passion and hatred, tragedy and triumph.

Howard O'Hagan

(From The Canadian Encyclopedia)

Howard O'Hagan was one of the first native-born westerners to make a mark on Canadian literature and is best known for his novel of the Rocky Mountains, Tay John (1939). His life is almost as noteworthy as his writing. As a youth, he worked on survey parties in the Rockies. He later studied law at McGill and, upon graduation in 1925, returned West. In his oft-quoted words, "I practised law for a month in Jasper, put one man into jail and got another out." He returned to guiding and packing through the mountains. After a stint as chief of publicity for the Central Argentine Railway, he lived in Australia, the US, England and Italy.

More than any other modern writer, O'Hagan has been the quintessential "mountain man" who knew the wilderness intimately and celebrated it through fiction. The protagonist of Tay John is a blond giant, "Tête Jaune," whose legend inspired the naming of Yellowhead Pass through the Rockies. It is a fictional account, set in 1880, about a primitive half-breed outcast who becomes a myth, both worshipped and despised, before disappearing into the earth from which he had sprung. O'Hagan's short fiction is also respected. The Woman Who Got on at Jasper Station & Other Stories (1963) is a collection of 11 powerful short tales. Wilderness Men (1958), 10 biographies of western heroes, includes Grey Owl and the legendary West Coast fugitive, Gun-An-Noot. His novel The School-Marm Tree was published in 1977. O'Hagan lived in Victoria, BC, with his wife, Margaret Peterson, a noted artist.