To the Editor:
I know this column is mostly used for comments on the reviews of recently published books.
But may I use it to plead for reconsideration of a neglected novel?
Ralph Connor is the most reviled and despised, but still one of the best known and most readable, of all the “classic” Canadian authors—and is perhaps actually the most read. He wrote three novels on World War One, and a fourth is based on the immediate aftermath of the war. All these are well written. Connor was good at plots, and in dialogue he was a natural scriptwriter.
But Connor’s second novel on the war, The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land, is in many ways a most remarkable work. The novel begins with a startling and erotic passage on a nude swimmer, and thereafter never ceases to surprise.
Here’s a taste, from Chapter 11:
[While fresh troops waited at a railway station, a hospital train] came to rest immediately opposite the battalion. With grave, fascinated, horror-stricken faces the men of the battalion stood rigid and voiceless gazing at that deeply moving spectacle. Before their eyes were being paraded the tragic, pathetic remnants of a gallant regiment, which but a few weeks before had stood where they now stood, vital with life, tingling with courage … Silently the two companies gazed at each other across the intervening space. Then from the window of the train a soldier thrust a bandaged head and bandaged arm. “Hello there, Canada!” he cried, waving the arm. Instantly, as if he had touched a hidden spring, from the battalion’s thousand throats here burst a roar of cheers.
My suggestion is that the standing of The Sky Pilot in No Man’s Land should be revised in two respects. As a historical report, it should be upgraded to the rank of one of the best and most penetrating pieces of Canadian writing on the war. And on purely literary grounds, it should be reclassified as one of Connor’s three top-rank novels, the others being The Man from Glengarry and Glengarry School Days.
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