Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Book note: High Towers (and the founding of New Orleans)

Going through a box of used books, I just ran across a copy of High Towers by Thomas B. Costain (Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York, 1949), which says on the inside front jacket flap: "A Magnificent Historical Romance Chronicling the Adventures of the Fabulous Le Moyne Family of Montreal Who Became the Heroes of French Canada and Founded the Storied City of New Orleans".

I thought I'd mention it, just in case you'd like to read something about New Orleans other than what you get in the papers these days.

Costain himself didn't claim that this was exactly a chronicle. In his introduction he notes that there was limited information, and almost no descriptive material, on the ten brothers he'd chosen to rescue from oblivion. But, he said, "...They achieved remarkable things under extraordinary circumstances, the most notable being the conquest of Hudson's Bay and the discovery and settlement of Louisiana. The hint of a great conception can be sensed in the things they did, nothing less than the mastery of a continent..." Finding too many gaps in the record to write a factual treatment, he said, he decided the only way available to tell their story was in "the guise of historical fiction."

Hmmm. My North American history instruction in both public school and college was pretty sketchy, at best, but I've tried to fill in some of the gaps since I got out of school. However, I'm not remembering anything about a great French-Canadian family, period. Hmmmm. Nor does the name Le Moyne ring any bells. Sigh. Another lamentable gap in my knowledge makes itself known...

I have been dipping into the book here and there, and have been treated to some great descriptions, nice vignettes, and one passage that had me laughing out loud. Of course, you understand, I have a weakness for historical fiction and for fiction from the 1940s. And, for a bonus, it was written by an author who was big in his day.

If you'd like a good laugh, you may picture me putting it into the box of books to go to the bookstore for sale, and taking it out again, and putting it back in again, and taking it out again... What can I say? Some books are harder to let go out the door than others. ;-).

This title is out of print, but I just checked and there are a few hundred used copies for sale online right now.


Sherry said...

I really like Costain. Have you ever read his four volume Pageant of England series? It starts with The Conquerors, then The Magnificent Century, The Three Edwards, and The Last Plantagenets. Really good.

Kathryn Judson said...


No, I'm afraid I haven't read them yet. Thanks for the recommendation.

Joan said...

That sounds interesting, Kathryn; I was hoping you would give details of the passage that had you laughing aloud.

coffeemamma said...

We use Costain's Canadian history series for our (homeschooled) highschoolers! Fabulous author- love his descriptive writing!

And ... *ahem*... there were quite a few Great French-Canadian Families (including my own ;-), though I'm not surprised you learned nothing of them south of the border. The way history is taught here, the public-schooled students learn very little of them either.

Kathryn Judson said...

Coffeemamma, I've actually run into quite a few French-Canadians in my life and in my history studies. I grew up in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, and it's impossible to learn Oregon history without reading about French-Canadian explorers, trappers, priests, etc. In fact, I spent most of my youth in a town co-founded and named by a French-Canadian. What I hadn't realized was that there was a family or person that was important in anything but a limited, narrow, regional way - you know, famous for this exploit or that, but hardly shoving history overall in a new direction.

If you can steer me toward some good French-Canadian history resources to plug, I'd be happy to help let folks know about that part of our joint heritage.

By the way, I gave up on trying to sell High Towers before I read it. I am enjoying it too much.