June 8, 2001 Halifax Herald

Northrop Frye festival: experience to remember

Late last year, I received a call from Edward Lemond, program organizer for the April 19-22, 2001, edition of metro Moncton's annual Northrop Frye Literary Festival, asking if I would be part of a panel of literary experts slated to be held on April 21. Without much thought for the ramifications, I readily agreed.

Shortly thereafter, with more than a few butterflies in my stomach, I wondered what had I done. I didn't know who Northrop Frye was, nor did I have any great literary background that qualified me for the task of providing discourse about literary matters in such a forum. Setting out on such an undertaking with very little formal education, supplemented by a few hard-won credits from the University of Life, was not exactly confidence inspiring. Especially so when I surmised that the rest of the panelists would be individuals with top notch qualifications. However, come what may, I had agreed and there was no turning back.

As a first preparatory step, I undertook to fill a personal literary history gap by finding out who Northrop Frye was. I soon discovered that he was deceased, had been a successful author and the best known literary critic of his times. In addition, among other things, a chancellor of Victoria University. My ignorance about the great man highlights the fact that Canada has a habit of immortalizing foreign literary heros while permitting its own to graduate quickly to relative obscurity. The same observation applies to most other Canadian heros from other walks of life.

However, my research soon revealed that, while alive, Frye would have enjoyed the obscurity. Gloria Boyd, in "Escalating insight into a subway friend," an April 25, 2001, Globe and Mail piece she wrote about her encounter with him, highlights this when she states, “Probably the big reason he enjoyed talking to me was that I didn't know and didn't care who he was."

Boyd met Frye on the subway by chance (he was then a very elderly man who rode daily the same train she took) while she was attending the University of Toronto. As time passed, and the acquaintance grew, he assisted her with her studies by recommending books pertinent to her courses. Then one day, while in the University's library looking up one of Frye's recommendations, Boyd found out who he was. She then blew the friendship by becoming star-struck over his fame and telling him so. As a person who very much enjoyed and protected his privacy, Frye immediately cooled the relationship.

Now back to the festival. My reservations about participating really deepened when I found out who my fellow panelists were: Sharon Butala, an accomplished author and historian from Saskatchewan; Gerald LeBlanc, an Acadien literary expert, Moncton; Alistair MacLeod, a well-known Nova Scotian (although born in Saskatchewan) educator and author; Louise Fiset, well-known performer, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Emmanuel Adley, famed author, Paris, France. Rather intimidating company for a rank amateur.

As fate would have it on panel day, adding to my misgivings about being in over my head, I was very sick with the flu and doped up to the hilt with good old drug store "cures." However, after the panel's presentations began in Moncton's spectator-filled city hall chambers, my fears soon evaporated. And in spite of my sickly state, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The only drawback was that the earpiece feeding English translation at my desk was malfunctioning and I missed most of the presentations made in French. Afterwards, the audience threw several well-thought-out questions at us that elicited "enlightened" responses. All in all, it was an enjoyable experience that I'll long remember.

Although I missed most of the other events because of illness, many of the spectators, organizers and participants whom I chanced to speak to while in Moncton told me that overall, the Festival was, in their estimation, an unqualified success. The large turnout for our panel fully supports their assessment.

A bonus for visitors to savour while attending the Festival is the side attractions of the metro Moncton area. Although a small city, it has great shopping, fine entertainment, good restaurants, etc. Therefore, if you and yours are looking for something interesting to fill in a few days next spring, and something to help chase away the blues left over by the effects of a hard winter, consider attending the festival, you won't be disappointed. I recommend it enthusiastically. For details, call 1-506-859-4389 or visit the Website: www.northropfrye.com.

Finally, I wish to take this opportunity to offer my heartfelt congratulations to fellow panelist Alistair MacLeod for penning a novel that won him the prestigious and monetary rewarding International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for fiction. Having a work selected for such a prestigious prize over the efforts of the world's top authors of fiction, especially when one considers that No Great Mischief was a first novel, is an outstanding achievement by any measure. All the best Alistair, may the Great Spirit permit you to write a hundred thousand more!

Daniel N. Paul


Home   Column Index 2001   Web Site Map