Happy birthday, today, to Margaret Atwood, who’s 75. Time to consider her place as a hockey novelist, then? Yes, probably so, high time — or at least it would be, if indeed the game had any presence in her work. It doesn’t. None. Oh, she gives it a glance, here and there. How else was she going to begin a poem called “February” (1995) other than the way she begins it:
Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey.
Still, let’s not be fooling ourselves — from there on in, it’s a cat poem.
Should it worry us that our greatest novelist has no room for hockey in her vast dystopian vision? I don’t think so. I counsel calm. And offer this: Survival, Atwood’s brilliant 1972 study of Canadian literature, is a seminal text when it comes to understanding why we play on the ice. “It is in their attitudes towards winter,” Atwood writes, “that Canadians reveal most fully their stance towards Nature — since … winter for us is the ‘real’ season.” Hockey is part of the war we wage on winter, our continual campaign to drive it back, conquer, defeat it; it’s also how we embrace the season, celebrate and honour and love it. Doesn’t matter that the game doesn’t figure at all in the pages of Survival. That’s just how it is, here: if you’re writing about literature and landscape, climate and Canadianness, who we are and how we live in this land, then you’re writing about hockey whether you say so or not.