Monster in the Mountains
Monster in the Mountains
They don’t want me to meet an uncle I’ve never even seen before? That was strange. They’re usually pretty big on family. Was this guy scary or something?
“He’s kind of weird,” said Dad.
“Weirder than you guys?”
There was a pause. Then they laughed. They sounded relieved to hear me tell a joke. At least they thought it was a joke. No one is much weirder than the parental units.
They were making me curious about my uncle. But really, I’d had enough of weird people. It would be fine with me if the rest of this trip and the rest of my life were totally boring.
I was actually starting to feel a little better about things by then. Our surroundings weren’t nearly as wild. We had finally reached the Fraser River, and a good old four-lane highway was stretching out in front of us, running towards Vancouver. You could feel the population picking up, the spookier land disappearing behind us. We drove into a town called Hope and then crossed over the river to the north side. Five minutes later we passed a sign that read Sasquatch Provincial Park. There it was, in plain English. I actually rubbed my eyes and looked at it twice. It really existed.
Monster in the Mountains, the fourth “Dylan Maples Adventure” novel, joins the eponymous hero immediately after the trauma of book three, Bone Beds of the Badlands. While on a trip to Alberta, Dylan and friends were lost and threatened by an escaped criminal called “the Reptile”. Dylan might be a curious, sassy hero with an appetite for adventure, but some adventures are a little too real, even for him. After reuniting with his parents, Dylan and his family drive from Alberta to British Columbia through the splendour of Banff and Lake Louise to Harrison Hot Springs. Externally, Dylan is trying to play it cool, but he is deeply shaken by the recent experiences, and his parents are hoping to distract him with some natural beauty and a family vacation.
Obviously the family vacation takes a turn for the dramatic. The “parental units” reveal that Dylan has a great uncle living in Harrison Hot Springs. Uncle Walter initially fails to live up to his reputation as a iconoclastic weirdo - he seems like a normal old guy. But Dylan is intrigued, and he seeks Uncle Walter out again. He learns of his past in the circus and his days spent walking high wires, hammering nails up his nostrils and looking for sideshow oddities like Komodo dragons. Another thing: Dylan is pretty sure that Walter knows more than he’s saying about the legend of the sasquatch, often spotted in the Harrison area. Soon Dylan has befriended a girl called Alice, and the two have tracked Walter to his forest hideaway. A local sasquatch sighting proves to be a hoax, but the trio have evidence that a real creature is close by. In order to keep an eye on it, they take a challenging trek through the wilderness, a trek which ends in a dramatic standoff at Hell’s Gate Canyon.
In Monster in the Mountains, the world is a scary place containing literal monsters. Dylan is recovering from an intense trauma, and he even admits to himself that he is pretty shaken up by his experience with the Reptile. However it is not the gigantic, extraordinary sasquatch who, in the end, is the monster. Instead, an evil businessman and his cronies are trying to track and kill the peaceful sasquatch for their own self-aggrandizement, and it is they who are shown to be the threat to humanity and civilization. This twist provides lots of fruitful avenues for discussion. Monster in the Mountains is very much a positive story about facing your fears and finding ways to be brave and continue in the world even after setbacks. It is also a poignant story about compassion for and communion with the natural world.
As in the entire series, Dylan’s voice is occasionally unconvincing. Peacock tries a little too hard to create a lackadaisical teen boy, and the inner dialogue doesn’t always ring true. But Dylan’s actions and impulses do feel authentic, and once the stories get going, it is always easy to join Dylan and go along for the ride. He always pretends he doesn’t care about much, but he is a bit of a nerd when it comes to history, museums and libraries. How often in a book set today would the teen protagonists head straight to the library to investigate sasquatch lore instead of just going online?
Dylan’s parents love fun facts, but even this does not explain the sometimes awkward enrichment in the “Dylan Maples Adventure” series. Often Canadian history or science is levered into the narrative in a way which feels unnatural (history of Banff). But the theme of cryptozoology is central to this story, and the educational angle related to this is deft and not overdone. Similarly, the character of Walter provides an opportunity to illuminate unconventional carnival life. Dylan lives in a very bland mainstream world when he isn’t embroiled in escapades, and it is an important lesson of this novel that people lead all kinds of lives.
In a strange twist, the action of this novel is revealed to all be a dream. Dylan has concocted an exciting scenario with a happy ending in order to work through his harrowing experiences. This cliché is just a little disappointing although it certainly does not ruin the book. A few things were real though - that there is, in fact, an unknown great uncle waiting in Harrison Hot Springs. Why is this the one thing from the dream which is true? It isn’t explained, nor does it really make sense. One hint that the story may not be real lies in the fanciful character names - Alice is Alice Emily Carr, her mother is Carol Lewis. There are some other Alice in Wonderland references, including a Tweedledee and Tweedledum candy company, the music of Jefferson Airplane (“White Rabbit”) and a magical tea party. All the minor characters are named after politicians, mostly BC Premiers (Vander Zalm, Barrett, Bennett), people who would be obscure to almost all young readers. And finally, Walter’s full name is Walter Middy - a reference to the story by James Thurber, again a reference which won’t be familiar to most kids. So while these are tip- offs for adults, young readers are likely to take the narrative at face value until the final reveal. Overall, Monster in the Mountains is a fun and fast-moving addition to the series and to sasquatch tales in general.
Kris Rothstein is a children’s book agent, editor and cultural critic in Vancouver, British Columbia.