LOOK TO THE MOUNTAIN. By LeGrand Cannon Jr. Henry Hoh and Company. $2.75
“NOT overhead, but off in the midst of the skv, he saw the mountain come out. He saw it riding alone in the sky, just the gray granite top with a touch of the sun on it — and underneath it was the sky.”So Whit Livingston saw Coruway Mountain — Chocorua — from his new lands in the heart of New Hampshire in the year 1769. “I seen Coruway Mountain settin’ on top of the weather,”he says to himself, and the sight of the granite mass somehow dominates him as it tacitly dominates Look to the Mountain, in which Mr. LeGrand Cannon, Jr., has fashioned one of the finest historical novels that this reviewer has ever read.
The story of Whitfield Livingston and Melissa Butler, whom he takes as a bride to the untouched lands above the headwaters of the Merrimæ, is told with a stark simplicity, is told in a superb prose that often touches poetry, and is told with an utter naturalness which will leave the reader with the feeling: “This is the way it was.”
New Hampshire as she was
With unlabored sureness Mr. Cannon has built an enduring colonial picture, solid, accurate. He knows how people of that time and place housed themselves, fed themselves, armed themselves. He knows what they drank, what they talked about, what they feared and hoped. He knows Chocorua and New Hampshire as a musician knows his instrument. And how Mr. Cannon makes those old names thunder through his pages! Coruway Mountain, Great. Ossipy, Casumpy, Contoocook, Amoskeag, and Suncook. The whole countryside is a clavier on which he plays with rare skill.
The saga of Whit and Melissa is so simple that it might well have tripped a less able writer. Children of highly unadmirable fathers, they emit rive to marry and then slip away to the land that Whit has staked out under the shadow of the mountain. They build a house. They clear land and crops come on. So do children. The holdings grow, slowly and painfully. Other pioneers settle as the years drift by, and to them Whit is known as a steady man.
Outside, the world rumbles on, almost unheeded. News of the Concord fight, there in the lee of the mountain, is less important than the death under a falling tree of neighbor Philbrick. Bunker Hill, dimly known and more dimly comprehended, is dwarfed by the question of who will wed Philbrick’s widow, for then the rest of the settlers won’t have to keep her in meat and wood. And fear of Burgoyne’s Indians is overshadowed by Jonas Moore’s mishap with a fishing spear. The book ends after Whit’s return from Bennington, a battle which he attends logically, realistically, and casually. The pattern is set, universal, and timeless. The struggles of Whit and Melissa are cut from the same pattern as those of Gil Martin and Lana in Drums Along the Mohawk, as those of Wang Lung in The Good Earth.
Pioneers tough and simple
And in this simple frame are packed gorgeous characters, traced with never a blurred line. Portygee Joe; Reverend Gowan; Jonas and Ida Moore; Hackett, the trapper; shiftless Dutiful Jackman — they file through the pages, a source of delight for the reader. They speak in strong dialect, yet it never wearies. They have an old-time respect for the craftsman: “Matthew Patten - he makes a good paddle.” There are salty twists of speech. The stew that “started with a pa’tridge and worked up from there.” The question: “What ails you? You got one female to talk to.” And the lonely woman’s reply: “I know. But we need another to talk about..”
And there is high drama, not contrived, but due to Mr. Cannon’s skill. Bennington is vividly described, but it is no more gripping than the first weary trek to the mountain’s shadow. Whit feels horror under fire, but it is less than the weight of the wilderness that lonely Melissa feels, winter-bound. The mere gift of a puppy is almost a turning point in the fight against the forest and the elements. Nor is any triumph greater than Whit’s rising to the ownership of a pair of oxen.
It’s an exciting story. It’s a moving one. And above all, it’s a tough story, for it is hewn out of the very roots of this nation. Implicit on every page are thoughts that Americans of 1942 will do well to grip tightly. The book is timely as well as timeless.