Cycling Innocently Into the Arctic

Michael Hayward

I Cycled into the Arctic Circle: A Peregrination by James Duthie and Matt Hulse (Saltire Society) is a “newly revived and revised edition of deaf Scotsman James Duthie’s rare journal.” It’s one end-result of a thirteen-year labour of love by the artist-filmmaker Matt Hulse (the other, a film adaptation of Duthie’s journal titled Dummy Jim, hit the film festival circuit in 213). Both projects had funding from the Saltire Society, an arts organization devoted to “celebrating the Scottish imagination.” In the book’s introduction, the Society’s executive director explains their willingness to help Hulse “revive and revise” an awkwardly written, fifty-five-year-old self-published account by a deaf Scottish cyclist who had set out for Morocco, but ended in Norway: “Both James and Matt might be seen as ‘Saltire people’: people who have a hopeful curiosity about the world and its possibilities beyond national boundaries or the limits of orthodoxy, who nurture a generosity of spirit and a willingness to take others as they find them.” You’d never use Duthie’s account as a practical guide for a similar trip: there are few “how to” tips, and no maps. There are, however, copious illustrations—this is more of an artist’s book than a travel book—that document Hulse’s thirteen-year obsession with Duthie’s expedition: reproductions of vintage postcards and period photographs, sketches and doodles by the filmmaker, and a scattering of illustrations by children in crayon and pencil, showing their impressions of “Dummy Jim” and the places and people he encountered along the way. Best to think of I Cycled into the Arctic Circle as the literary equivalent of an oil painting by a “naïve” visual artist (Henri Rousseau, or Grandma Moses): an artifact that documents an earlier, more innocent time.

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