Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The story, character and structure of Lillian Alling: the journey home

The first thing that grabbed my attention about Lillian was the story. A solo woman traveller in the 1920s walks across North America, with the goal of going to Alaska and then crossing the Bering Strait to Siberia. Fascinating, and definitely worth looking into. Was it true? (yes) Why did she do it? (a combination of eccentricity and determination). I was hooked almost immediately.

Then, once I began looking into the facts of the story, Lillian's character began to emerge. If Lillian had been more Polly-Anna-ish, I'm guessing she wouldn't have been so fascinating to me. She was reserved, off-putting, and reticent. Yet, to the people who met her on her travels throughout British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska, she was memorable. So memorable, in fact, that their descendants still tell stories about how their father or grandfather or great uncle met the legendary Lillian Alling.

The structure of the book comes naturally from Lillian's story and character. Of course Lillian is the hero. She faces challenges and has unique characteristics that allow her to overcome those challenges. She survives in the remote wilderness of British Columbia and the Yukon, she is physically hardy, stubborn to an almost obsessive degree, and yet endearing and lovable to those who understand and empathize with her quest. She is, when we first get to know her during her arrest in 1927 an admittedly prickly woman. But after a few years more of travelling, learning to trust and accept help from the local people she meets, she ends her journey only being able to succeed with the help of others. This is how she has grown as a person, and this becomes one of her greatest strengths.

God Speed, Lillian.

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