Behind the Book with Amy Ransom
Amy J. Ransom is the author of Hockey, PQ: Canada’s Game in Quebec’s Popular Culture. A wide-ranging study that examines everything from the blockbuster movie franchise Les Boys to the sovereigntist hip hop group Loco Locass, Hockey, PQ explores how Canada’s national sport has been used to signify a specific Québécois identity.
How did you become involved in your area of research?
My route to a book on hockey in Quebec has been a bit circuitous. I love to travel by car, and in this respect, I definitely took the back roads less travelled rather than the expressway!
My career trajectory has been somewhat unique, with a lot of serendipity leading me to develop particular projects within a core set of long-term interests and innate personal tastes. My first book (my dissertation revised) dealt with relatively canonical nineteenth-century French fantastic stories; but as a young scholar, working as a one-woman show in a small liberal arts institution’s French program (thus, without the constraints and pigeon-holing of colleagues’ expectations for what I “should be doing”), I had a lot of freedom to explore other, often marginal areas. After my first trip to Quebec City, I fell in love with the hybrid culture that combined both the otherness of the French and the sameness of the North American. Some fortuitous calls for papers then got me attending conferences and publishing on Quebec’s science fiction and fantasy. Living in Massachusetts at that time, I often traveled up to Montreal on book-buying excursions; my office at Central Michigan University probably holds the largest collection of French-Canadian SF & F and fantastique literature in the US.
This was also during the first half of the first decade of the new millennium and every time I was in Montreal, I saw at least one, if not two or more films that simply blew me away with their aesthetic quality, their universal messages about the crisis of identity of Gen-Exers, and what they said specifically about Quebec. These viewings inspired me to develop more formally an interest in film that I’ve had since a kid (my research skills began to develop as I catalogued and check-listed the classic horror films I’d seen and researched the history of the genre and its tropes). Although I didn’t first see them on the big screen, the films Maurice Richard and the Les Boys franchises were simply too rich to not explore further, so the hockey-film connection was made.
When I moved to Michigan, I missed the closeness to Montreal, but I bought a new car that had XM satellite radio. This turned me on to contemporary French-Canadian popular music, which, like film, is a thriving industry, supported, of course, by provincial and national funding. Since then, I’ve published several scholarly articles; serendipity intervened yet again as franco-nationalist rappers Loco Locass released “Le But (à la gloire de nos glorieux)” the year I began my first project on Mes Aïeux’s song and Jean-Pierre April’s SF stories both titled “Le Fantôme du Forum.”
What inspired you to write this book?
I first became interested in hockey via Québécois science fiction, of all things! Ironically, as a child growing up in America’s “Hockey Town” of Detroit, I was a Tigers—not a Red Wings—fan, and later I married into Red Sox Nation. Sports fandom and SF & F fandom don’t often overlap, so I was intrigued by this recurring theme of hockey in several SFQ stories. Then I discovered its presence in popular music, film, television and so on, and I was hooked: the sheer vastness of the corpus of titles I was collecting made me realize this had to be a book treatment. This interest, though, was fostered by a couple of outside events: I really became a hockey fan watching the 2010 Winter Olympics and this was revived in 2014. I also learned how deep national loyalties can cut, as my rational mind wanted to root for Team Canada, but my heart consistently rooted for the US. I was particularly let down by the US women’s defeat for gold in 2014 by Team Canada in the last minutes of the series! Another inspiration was the conversations I had with hockey scholars Jason Blake and Andrew Holman, whom I met at a Sport Literature Association Conference. Their early intervention in my thinking and their leads for key resources was essential and inspiring. Ditto for the support of Jane Moss, editor of the journal Quebec Studies where my first article on this topic appeared; the input of its independent readers and the independent readers and editorial staff at UTP were also highly encouraging and informative in helping me get the hockey talk right.
What do you wish other people knew about your area of research?
Great question! Indeed, my whole goal as a teacher and as a researcher is to expose people to something new, most obviously teaching the French language to beginning students, but also French and Québécois film and literature to advanced students. In my scholarly publications, this usually involves bringing to the fore marginal aspects of national cultures and/or aspects of the vibrant popular cultures of marginal “nations.” When I began working with science fiction from Quebec I felt like a proselyte, preaching an alternative gospel to scholars in the SF & F field and even to Quebec studies experts. Even with the topic of hockey—perhaps THE most central and identifiable aspect of Canadian national culture and THE clearest aspect of that culture that unites the Two Solitudes—because of the conservative nature of academia, focused on high culture, many Quebec studies scholars (in the US, anyway) have little or no knowledge of the significance of hockey in La Belle Province.
What’s the most surprising thing you discovered during the course of your research?
I think the most surprising thing I learned was how the aspects of a national culture that are taken the most for granted by those growing up in that culture can be completely elided in academic discourses about that culture. At least this is largely the case in programs based in literary studies, the type of program my academic background developed in, but I suspect that courses and programs in Quebec and Canadian studies in history, political science, and even film studies programs also leave out discussions of hockey.
Thus the extent and the depth with which hockey runs through Quebec’s popular culture surprised me at first. It appears in all sorts of ways, from the appropriation of Maurice Richard as a national hero, a precursor hero for the Quiet Revolution, to the sport’s use as a marker of the “québécitude” of André Fortin, lead singer of the iconic rock group Les Colocs, to the popularity of the television series Lance et compte, a primetime drama about hockey players and the women in their lives. The extent of hockey’s presence in Quebec’s music, film, and popular literatures nearly blindsided me since references to it were nearly absent in much of the academic reading I’d done, which focused, of course, on Anne Hébert, Michel Tremblay, the Plains of Abraham, and so on.
What are your current/future projects?
I usually have several projects going at once, all at various stages of development so that I can choose what I am in the mood to work on, both topic-wise and task-wise. My next major Quebec-oriented project is a book on cinema since 2000; the province’s film industry is now in a really mature phase, producing an amazing variety of films, many of which are of world-class quality as seen by recent Oscar nominations for Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies and Philippe Falardeau’s Monsieur Lazhar. I’ve discovered a secret love for military history as I’ve been researching the chapter on historical films, reading Dan Snow’s Death or Victory: The Battle of Quebec and the Birth of the British Empire and memoirs of Patriots transported to Australia after the Rebellion of 1837-38.
As a science-fiction and fantasy scholar, I’m currently developing two projects related to the treatment of race in the work of Franco-Belgian writer J.-H. Rosny Aîné. He can be called the father of the prehistoric novel—the 1980s film Quest for Fire was based on his 1911 novel La Guerre du feu. I’m looking at the history of paleoanthropology and his (then) cutting-edge use of scientific discovery, as well as his ambivalent use of contemporary pseudo-scientific theories about the hierarchy of races and his occasional ability to transcend the limits of such biased thinking.
Often, projects in my two fields dovetail, as is the case with my examination of the links between contemporary discourses about the Belgian Congo (Rosny was writing right at the height of the controversy over Leopold II’s personal colony and the horrific abuses occurring there) and my research about Belgium and Rwanda as these are thematized in Quebec films like Philippe Falardeau’s Congorama and Robert Favreau’s Un Dimanche à Kigali, as well as Roger Spottiswoode’s film adaptation of Romeo Dallaire’s (the French-Canadian commander of the UN Forces at the time of the Rwandan genocide) memoir, Shake Hands with the Devil.
What do you like to read for pleasure? What are you currently reading?
I am a voracious reader with really eclectic tastes. I particularly enjoy reading history and biography for leisure, but a huge novel in which I can immerse myself is my first choice for vacation reading. This could be science fiction or mainstream literature, something like Anne-Marie McDonald’s Fall on Your Knees. Right now, I am on volume two of John English’s marvelously entertaining biography of Pierre Trudeau—its provocative title, Just Watch Me caught my attention immediately. During my summer vacation in Alaska and the Yukon Territory this year, I am reading Robertson Davies’s Deptford Trilogy and a sci-fi/fantasy novel, Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death.