20 November 2007

What I am Reading Today--The Last Polar Bears

I'm not real sure what to make of this one. It tells the story of a grandfather (no name, only "Grandfather") who decides to travel to the North Pole so that he can see a real polar bear in the wild, rather than in captivity. He takes his dog, Roo, (who I'm sure is supposed to be charming, but who I found to be selfish and annoying,) and they set off. This is an epistolary novel, and the letters are all addressed to "Child". Grandfather and Roo set sail on the Unsinkable and head for the North Pole and the Great Bear Ridge (which Grandfather has told Roo is made of ice cream. Whether she believes him or not is unclear.)

To be honest, there is a lot about this book that is unclear. Why does Roo act more like a human than a dog? She talks, cleans, and has an allowance. Even though Grandfather finds the polar bears, is he really at the North Pole? The town of Walrus, where they initially set up camp, is a tiny outpost inhabited by drunken wolves with a taste for rum, and an unusual calendar (the final letter is dated 40 October.) At some point this book takes a turn into the absurd. Grandfather and Roo deal with genuine obstacles on their journey, such as freak snowstorms and food shortages. But they also spend a good part of their time playing golf, which does not seem like a necessary activity when you are a Septuagenarian fulfilling a life-long dream.

But perhaps most puzzling about the book is why it just stops. They reach the polar bears--the end. Admittedly, this is part of a series, and Grandfather and Roo will visit other places around the world, but a tidier ending would have been more satisfying after the whimsy of the text.

Author/illustrator Harry Horse is best known in the States for his Little Rabbit books. But he had a long career as a political cartoonist. He also had a rather tragic death (although some might disagree with me about that.) It is difficult to read The Last Polar Bears without relating it to his death. And for a gentle story--because this is at heart a gentle story--that's a shame.

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