Writing Geographical Exploration: James and the Northwest Passage, 1631–33


318 pages
Contains Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55238-062-9
DDC 910'.9163'27




Reviewed by David M. Quiring

David M. Quiring teaches history at the University of Saskatchewan. He
is the author of CCF Colonialism in Northern Saskatchewan: Battling
Parish Priests, Bootleggers, and Fur Sharks.


Relatively few Canadians or Europeans still recognize the name of
Captain Thomas James. After sailing from Bristol in 1631 in search of
the Northwest Passage, James and his crew spent 18 harrowing months at
sea and on a frozen island in James Bay (the bay still bears his name).
The publication of his book in 1633 brought James recognition, but by
the 1800s he had fallen into obscurity.

While Wayne Davies seeks to elevate and rehabilitate James’s
reputation as an explorer and writer, his primary intention is to use
James’s writings as a case study in exploration writing, subjecting
James’s literary work to contextual analysis. Consistent with
post-structuralism, Davies suggests that narratives written by explorers
can tell the reader a great deal about the explorers and their
societies. This book is premised on the belief that contextual analysis
will allow today’s reader to understand much more than the author

The author’s loyalties appear torn between his interest in
reevaluating James’s writings using innovative methods of scholarship
and his evident fascination with James as an explorer. As a result, the
challenge he mounts against the certainties James believed in proves
rather friendly. Instead of discrediting James, Davies’s method
creates a fuller appreciation of his accomplishments, both as an
explorer and a writer. Indeed, Davies often devotes more energy to
defending James against past detractors than to impartial analysis.

Those seeking hours of vicarious pleasure reliving the sufferings of
European explorers foolhardy enough to venture into the frozen wastes of
North America should look elsewhere. Although Davies provides the reader
with descriptions of James’s explorations and excerpts from his
writing, he devotes most of his attention to matters of literary
analysis. For that reason, Writing Geographical Exploration will appeal
to a specialized academic audience rather than to a broad readership.


Davies, Wayne K.D., “Writing Geographical Exploration: James and the Northwest Passage, 1631–33,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 27, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/17943.