Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Strange Stories of Alaska and the Yukon by Ed Ferell

I'm sure you're shocked to learn that I have a thing for odd little books on odd little subjects, especially if they have some ties to the supernatural. So when I saw this book, I grabbed it for reading at a later date.

That later date finally came as I looked for something to start reading around Halloween, though I finished it a bit after the spooky season wrapped up. Strange Stories is a collection of newspaper and other articles found by Mr. Ferrell when doing research on pioneers of Alaska. He didn't write this book so much as compiled them and edited the tales for a modern audience. Ferrell is pretty credulous when it comes to the stories within. I have my doubts, particularly when a tropical oasis and a frozen city are among the topics described within the pages.

Most of these stories are extremely short, almost of a length appropriate for a children's book. That's true of the content, as well. Nothing in here is so graphic I'd be afraid to have a middle school (or even a mature grade school) student read it. They're grouped into sections, such as "Unknown Creatures", "Places of Mystery", and "Lost Mines". Each section features tales relating to the theme, with the largest being the one on ghosts.

I have to admit to two very big disappointments in this collection. The first is that "strange stories" means more tall tales than scary stuff. That one's on me. The second, however, is that too many of these accounts feel generic. I often felt as though I could have been reading about any late 19th Century part of the United States, not Alaska and the Yukon. Because of the nature of the stories, specific placement was lacking (of course), and thus I never became wrapped up in the world of these tales. That was a big problem for me.

Strange Stories of Alaska and the Yukon was good enough as a casual read, but I had hoped for more. I like my legends to have a strong sense of location, and that just didn't happen here. Like the old mines and giants and ghosts, it was all very much a mystery. Unfortunately, it wasn't a mystery that appealed to me. Those who like folklore and ghost stories can do better elsewhere, I think.

1 comment:

  1. I read this book, too, and found it a valuable record of tales repeated by old-timer Alaskans, either by passing them on, or their reports of direct personal experiences. These tales could have important implications for archeologists, anthropologists, and the like, as well as the casual reader. Mr. Ferrell did right in committing these tales to print, before they disappeared into a frozen aurora-filled night sky. Location in old Alaskan tales is difficult to pin down, since current geography in Alaska changes from century to century (the ground really moves), and usually-stable location markers such as streams, rivers and even mountains tend to shift and change appearance, even from year to year. I doubt if the people who lived there then even really knew exactly where they were, anyway. Some of tales can easily be corroborated, such as the one about a tropical oasis -- today, there is such a location south of Anchorage, where it is warm and temperate year-round, around a small lake. This is due to geothermal warmth coming up from below the surface, and is easily observable by any human today.