February 4, 2010 by Amy Elliott Bragg
Legends of Le Detroit
If you like flowery Victorian prose, phantasms, grieving widows, pining French girls, French in general, haunted inanimate objects, werewolves, lyrical two-page long set-ups about a grandfather telling his kid a scary story, or — especially — Indian curses, you are going to love the shit out of this book.
I loved this indulgent account of Rene LaSalle’s Griffin. As this totally made-up story tells it, the Indians were jealous of LaSalle’s magnificent brigantine, and he was cocky about it, so they cursed him by the light of the moon and made it sink.
The shadows of the summer of 1679 had deepened before the little brigantine of forty-five tons approached completion. The commander had decided to name her Griffin, in allusion to the arms of the Comte de Frontenac, whose supporters were “Griffins.”
An expert wood carver from Rouen had carved for the ship’s bows a wonderful image of the fabled monster, half lion and half eagle, with ears erect, emblematic of strength, swiftness and watchfulness. But among the more pious of the band the name was deemed an evil one, and their superstitious natures conjured up disasters to come.
… At last all was ready for the launch — the crew were assembled and the notes of the Te Deum floated on the air. A bottle of brandy was broken over the bows of the vessel, and liberal potations distributed among the Indians. A salute was fired from the seven guns ranged along the decks, and amidst the enthusiastic shouts of “vive le Roi,” the vessel glided from her ways, and floated on the waters of the Niagara River.