Thursday, January 05, 2012

Thursday extracts: John Irving on divine retribution

In New England, the Indian chiefs and higher-ups were called sagamores; although, by the time I was a boy, the only sagamore I knew was a neighbor's dog-a male Labrador retriever named Sagamore (not, I think, for his Indian ancestry but because of his owner's ignorance). Sagamore's owner, our neighbor, Mr. Fish, always told me that his dog was named for a lake where he spent his summers swimming-"when I was a youth," Mr. Fish would say. Poor Mr. Fish: he didn't know that the lake was named after Indian chiefs and higher-ups-and that naming a stupid Labrador retriever "Sagamore" was certain to cause some unholy offense. As you shall see, it did. But Americans are not great historians, and so, for years-educated by my neighbor-I thought that sagamore was an Indian word for lake. The canine Sagamore was killed by a diaper truck, and I now believe that the gods of those troubled waters of that much-abused lake were responsible. It would be a better story, I think, if Mr. Fish had been killed by the diaper truck-but every study of the gods, of everyone's gods, is a revelation of vengeance toward the innocent.

From A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (1990)


Stew said...

It is true, Americans don't know their history.
I first heard this word, Sagamore on my trip to Cape Cod three years ago. I had no idea what it meant. I know that the bridge that crosses on to the cape is named the Sagamore Bridge. How appropriate since most people that live on the cape think of themselves as "higher-ups".
Yes, there is a town there named that as well as a small lake and perhaps that is where the name came from. But I can't get over the irony.

MorningAJ said...

It's even more ironic that I've been to Cape Cod, know the bridge you mean and understood what it meant - because I've read Owen Meany.

I thought most of New England thought it was 'higher up' than the rest of the US. ;)

snafu said...

Interesting mix up and so easily happens. As a child I beleived the name Droitwhich on our ancient rado's Long Wave dial was the name of a town in Germany. It turned out to be the name of the place where the BBC's Radio 4 transmitter was based.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

H Anne .. never heard of the name Sagamore - rather like it .. nor had I heard of Owen Meany .. 'good' name too ..

Interesting how we get names mixed up as Snafu says ...

Cheers - interesting post .. Hilary