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The Walrus Hunters by R. M. Ballantyne

Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

"The Walrus Hunters", by R.M. Ballantyne (1825-1894), 1893.


This book is full of action. It deals with both a tribe of Red Indians, of the Dogrib nation, and a tribe of Eskimos. Normally a certain animosity existed between these two, but this tale relates how under certain circumstances, members of these tribes could not only become close friends, and work together towards a common goal, but also intermarry.

There is no doubt but that the reader will have a greater knowledge of the ways and thoughts of the Indian and the Eskimo, and kindly feelings towards both, after reading this book--an easy task, for it is a good and absorbing read.

In this little preface we have deliberately used the old-fashioned terms for the two races, fully aware that they are both inexact, and that today we would, for instance, use the term Inuit instead of Eskimo. However, this book was written in 1893, and things were different then.

It has been written of Ballantyne that, in the last years before his death in 1894, the quality of his work was failing and indeed repetitive. Anyone reading this book can see that this is untrue, for it is one of his very best. Indeed it is a strange thing that his earlier books, which were well-promoted upon their publication, should still be so much more read than his later ones. While working upon this edition of "The Walrus Hunters" we found ourselves several times reflecting upon this strange state of affairs.

Robert Michael Ballantyne was born in 1825 and died in 1894. He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy, and in 1841 he became a clerk with the Hudson Bay Company, working at the Red River Settlement in Northern Canada until 1847, arriving back in Edinburgh in 1848. The letters he had written home were very amusing in their description of backwoods life, and his family publishing connections suggested that he should construct a book based on these letters. Three of his most enduring books were written over the next decade, "The Young Fur Traders", "Ungava", "The Hudson Bay Company", and were based on his experiences with the H.B.C. In this period he also wrote "The Coral island" and "Martin Rattler", both of these taking place in places never visited by Ballantyne. Having been chided for small mistakes he made in these books, he resolved always to visit the places he wrote about. With these books he became known as a great master of literature intended for teenagers. He researched the Cornish Mines, the London Fire Brigade, the Postal Service, the Railways, the laying down of submarine telegraph cables, the construction of light-houses, the light-ship service, the life-boat service, South Africa, Norway, the North Sea fishing fleet, ballooning, deep-sea diving, Algiers, and many more, experiencing the lives of the men and women in these settings by living with them for weeks and months at a time, and he lived as they lived.

He was a very true-to-life author, depicting the often squalid scenes he encountered with great care and attention to detail. His young readers looked forward eagerly to his next books, and through the 1860s and 1870s there was a flow of books from his pen, sometimes four in a year, all very good reading. The rate of production diminished in the last ten or fifteen years of his life, but the quality never failed.

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