A radio art work adapted from a verse drama for radio by Gwendolyn MacEwen, 1965
Direction: Lynda Hill
Production Design: Darren Copeland.
Rasmussen: Chris Heyerdahl
Franklin: Cedric Smith
Crozier: R.H. Thomson
Qaqortingneq: Makka Kleist
Date: 2000. Length: 27′
Gwendolyn MacEwen was one of Canada’s most intriguing literary figures. She emerged on the Toronto poetry scene in the late-fifties before the age of twenty. From then on and without a college degree she vigorously pursued her love for verse outside of the academic world, which was a place where many poets from the past Century have found employment and security. Gwen instead traveled across Canada giving readings, while writing and publishing prolifically in the early days of Canadian small press publishing.
Among her sources of income were radio drama commissions from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Originally produced in 1965, Terror and Erebus is perhaps the best known of these commissions. Written in verse it is also a great example of her poetry from this early period, as it possesses the acute directness of feeling and arresting atmosphere that made her early work so powerful. Like many independent thinkers in Canada fame or at least respectability did not come easily or went it did it was difficult to sustain. Despite the directness of her poetry the life of Gwendolyn MacEwen is shrouded in a painful mystery that ended tragically with her death in 1987 from alcoholism.
The story of Terror and Erebus is about the Franklin naval expedition of 1845. In search of a Northwest passage to cross North America two British naval ships called The Terror and The Erebus froze in the arctic ice leaving the crew to slowly perish and die over the next three years as food supplies ran out and scurvy set in. MacEwen’s narrative is told almost a century later by the explorer Knud Rasmussen of both Scandinavian and Inuit heritage. Rasmussen relives the story and from his unique cultural perspective brings together the fragmented pieces of the tragic expedition, complete with its horrors of madness, cannibalism, sickness and starvation.
The version presented here is a revised and updated production of Terror and Erebus for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Special thanks to producer James Roy, recording engineer Greg DeClute, sound effects engineer Matt Wilcox, and to director Lynda Hill for all of their expedient and effective work. Also, thanks to Eric Cadesky for providing sound samples of instruments used by the Glass Orchestra.