Vikings of the Ice – Being the log of a Tenderfoot on the Great Newfoundland Seal Hunt
Recently I had the opportunity to experience a wonderful piece of storytelling treasure. It began in 1924, when one Mr. George Allan England published his work chronicling the Newfoundland seal hunt. For six weeks he documented life aboard a Newfoundland sealing ship, a writer amidst a rough breed of men that for most of the world exists only in history.
“I was on de Florizel time she an’ ninety-four men was lost. Tis a wonderful fine racket!” (former sealer reassuring the author)
From the written to the spoken word
Fast forward nearly a hundred years, when the work was rediscovered and subsequently brought to life by by the engaging and accurate voice talents of Frank Holden. The result is an audiobook that earnestly recreates the authors experience of Newfoundland sealing (and culture) from a century ago. Holden transforms a literary work that might prove an intricate read (especially to those unfamiliar with our dialect) and spins a yarn so agile and compelling you’d think the author himself was recounting the adventure.
Vivid Newfoundland culture and history
It’s easy to forget that this account is written from the perspective of a well educated American author (especially given the accuracy of the Newfoundland tongue). But perhaps the fact that he was an outsider allowed him to capture details that would have been otherwise overlooked. In any case the result is a work that is at once familiar yet original. A little known piece of history wrapped in our speech, humor, and passion so as to almost feel innate.
For such a detailed story the pacing is quite good. Holden does a good job of keeping the listener’s interest piqued while staying true to the words on the page. Whether it be the grisled captain barking orders or crewmen singing during the ship’s Sunday service, Holden delivers. About the only point in the story where things slow down is a section early on about seal migration, but a little biology never hurt anyone.
History lovers will immediately remember the name Abram Kean, the (in)famous captain who was partly responsible for the 1914 sealing tragedy. Equally interesting is to hear the men and crew aboard the ship speak of him with such admiration that you’d swear the deaths of Seventy-Eight men only eight years prior had never happened. And in essence, it hadn’t. For death was such an accepted risk that events like those were gone and forgotten as quickly as the spring ice. One also gets the impression that very little could dampen Newfoundland spirits, and the opportunity to make a little money and participate in “the hunt” could assuage any fears of being crushed, blown up, or freezing to death atop a desert of ice.
Whether its your first time trying an audio book or you’re a seasoned listener, you’ll enjoy this narrative. Call it a Newfoundlander’s love of storytelling, but hearing incredible stories really captivates – and the fact that this tale is true only sweetens the experience.
The audiobook is available from Rattling Books (http://www.rattlingbooks.com/Product.aspx?ProductID=56). You might also be interested to know that they are Newfoundland based and their books feature Newfoundland actors and narrators!