Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, June 8, 2021


 "The Young Ravens That Call Upon Him" by Charles G, D, Roberts  (from Earth's Enigmas, 1896; expanded 1904)

This is an animal story -- perhaps more of an animal sketch -- by a man who has been called "The Father of Canadian Literature," as well as "The Father of Canadain Poetry."  Roberts (1860-1943) was one of the first Canadian authors to gain an international reputation.  His books cover the gamut from Canadian exploration and natural history to verse, essays, and fiction.  He was one of the first Canadian writers to embrace Candadian nationalism.  Roberts published fifteen books of poetry, four of which appeared before his first book of fiction.  He eventually published 42 books of fiction and four of nonfiction.

He found great success with animal stories.  Along with Ernest Thmoson Seton, Roberts is credited with creating the animal story -- "the one true Canadian art form."  His aninmal stories are told from the point of view of the animal.  Margaret Atwood explained it thus, "English animal stories are about the 'social relations,' American ones are about people killing animals; Canadian ones are about animals being killed, as felt emtionally from inside the and feathers."

Roberts' animal stories are realistic, but only to a degree.   He captures the nature of the animal and the vast beauty of the Canadian scene, but also maintains a bit of anthromorphic feelings.  Thus, a ewe shows "murmurs of tenderness" toward her new-born lamb and her instincts are couched in human terms.

Hard times had come across a pair of eagles and their nestlings.  For some reason, food had become scarce and fish are no longer plentiful in the river.  The eaglets are crying as they weaken.  The mother eagle is also becoming weaker from lack of food and her plumage is "disordered."  She is anxious and exhausted.  When she finally spots a fish -- a very large fish -- she swoops down to catch it but the fish is stronger than she and she is pulled underwater, coming close to drowning..  The mother eagle barely makes it back to the nest.

A ewe has given birth in the night and has become separated from her flock.  She is anxious to get her lamb away from the open and to find the other sheep.  She tries to nudge the lamb along, but it is recalcitrant.  The male eagle spots the lamb and swoops down and grabs the new-born, flying off before the ewe could react.  Life is now good for the eagles.  They have food.  The ewe wanders the bleak hill, "calling for her lamb, unmindful of the flock, which had been moved to other pastures."

This is how nature works:  there is no good guy and no bad guy, just a constant fight for survival with winners and losers.  Roberts allows to see, and to react to, both sides of the equation.  We feel sympathy for the sheep, but also for the eagles.  Life and death?  It is what it is.

Earth's Enigmas was the first of Robert's many collections and books about animals.  The first editions contains twelve stories; the 1903 edition adds three more.  Both editions are available to read online.


  1. Do these animals act like animals or are they anthropomorphized? I can't quite picture how it works having never read a story from the animal's POV.

    1. They act like animals, Patti, although brushed with human feelings.

  2. As a kid, I read Jim Kjelgaard's stories about animals--mostly dogs--and loved them. BIG RED was my favorite.

  3. Jerry, this author sounds interesting. I like reading about Canada. I have never tried stories about animals but I will look for the stories online.