Ancient Mariner

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Title: Ancient Mariner: The Amazing Adventures of Samuel Hearne, the Sailor Who Walked to the Arctic Ocean
Published by: HarperCollins Canada, Bantam/ Transworld U.K., Carroll and Graf U.S.
Release Date: 2003


In 1757, when twelve-year-old Samuel Hearne joined the Royal Navy as an apprentice to the famous Fighting Captain Samuel Hood, he embarked on a life of high adventure. This courageous young sailor would become the first European to reach the Arctic coast of North America, during an unprecedented, three-year odyssey in the forbidding Barren Lands.

In this colourful, real-life saga, Ken McGoogan paints a vivid word-picture of life in the eighteenth-century, taking readers on and off the wooden sailing ships, through Dr. Johnson’s London, a city of 5,000 coffee houses, and away to the farthest reaches of North America. After serving as a midshipman during the Seven Years War, Hearne joined the Hudson’s Bay Company and was posted to Prince of Wales Fort at Churchill on Hudson Bay. From there, the ambitious young man embarked on an overland quest for a fabled copper mine – and also to discover the Northwest Passage.

In his epic journal, best known as A Journey to the Northern Ocean, Hearne details his sub-arctic odyssey, which was marked by hardship, near-starvation and culture shock. Joining forces with Matonabbee, a legendary Chipewyan Dene leader, and closely observing the people, wildlife and terrain as he went, Hearne traveled more than 3500 miles, mostly on foot – incidentally demonstrating that, to thrive in the north, Europeans needed only to apprentice themselves to the native peoples. His journey culminated in the infamous massacre of Inuit at “Bloody Falls” – an event that changed Hearne, a reluctant eye-witness, forever.

Ancient Mariner demonstrates that Hearne was a pioneering naturalist, anthropologist, and story-teller, and also offers insights into his emotional life: his loyalty to friends, his devotion to his mother, his tragic love for his wife Mary Norton, certainly the most arresting tale of star-crossed love in exploration history. In a fascinating bit of literary detective work, McGoogan determined that Samuel Hearne, having returned to London to live out his final days, met the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, almost certainly inspiring the figure of the haunted sailor in the “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Reviewers Respond

“Brisk, readable books about great Englishmen doing great things — let us call it the School of Longitude — don't come much better than this.”
The Observer (U.K.)

“. . . McGoogan’s study does relate an often brutal tale with a surprising amount of grace and poetry. . . . a swift epic in its own right.”
Publishers Weekly (U.S.)

“A notable, informative, readable account of a now obscure yet crucial figure in a little-known era of Arctic exploration. A superior bit of maritime history, worthy of adding to virtually any library.”
Booklist (U.S.)

“Ken McGoogan’s book . . . brings both the man and his times vividly to life . . . McGoogan knows his subject and the conditions under which [Hearne] laboured. His evocation of the times and of Hearne as a compassionate and unusual pioneer full of grit and moral fibre help to make his work all the more compelling.”
Lloyd’s List (U.K.)

“A page-turner: a rousing, real-life adventure complete with comedy, tragedy and fascinating facts . . . the heart of this book is . . . a journey that will forever be etched in the mind of those readers who dare to take it.”
The Baltimore Sun (U.S.)

“A brilliant book. . . a troubling and vivid account of Canada's bloody, pre-Confederation past . . . it thrills and terrifies while offering its history lessons.”
The Ottawa Citizen

“. . .captivating biography . . . an intriguing examination of one of Britain's great explorers.”
The Winnipeg Free Press

“A literary detective story that convincingly places Hearne as the inspiration for Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ . . . a significant contribution to the history of Canadian exploration."
Quill and Quire

“Much as a novelist might, McGoogan freely enters into the mind of Hearne, mapping an interior psychological landscape . . . these flights of fancy, which so bring this history to life, are carefully grounded extrapolations from the historical record.”
The Saint John Telegraph-Journal

“McGoogan . . . has done a splendid job of conveying the daring wonder of it all.”
The Montreal Gazette

“. . . the definitive biography of Hearne.”
The Victoria Times-Colonist

“His stirring story is one of true British grit.”
Sunday Telegraph

“A thoroughly admirable man who led an extraordinarily adventurous life . . . McGoogan has done us all a service in reminding us of a more-or-less-forgotten hero.”
Mail on Sunday

“McGoogan proves himself a first-rate storyteller, going beyond the deeds and physical details, drawing a terrific psychological portrait.”
The Calgary Herald

“A gripping tale of genuine adventures, very well told.”
Kirkus Reviews