Book Notes #2


While the first half of the novel had several different settings that were focused upon, the remainder of The Wars takes place in France. During this time Robert Ross is now 19 years old, and has just been shipped off the Ypres France to lead his battalion into WWI.  


Lady Juliet d’Orsey: A 12-year-old girl who first meets Robert as a soldier. Much of the novel is told through her perspective as she grows up. She explains her thoughts of Robert and in detail records his relationship with her sister.

Devlin: A soldier that Robert meets while in Ypres France, while their time on the front lines. Devlin helps Robert free the horses from the burning barn, but is later killed due to his duties.

Harris: While on their way to England, Robert meets Harris, a friendly man whose duty was to care for the horses on board the ship. After dying from an illness Robert is given Harris’ duty, thanks to the two of them becoming such close friends.

Willie Poole: A good friend to Robert who served in the same squad throughout their time spent on the front lines of duty.


After showering, Robert leaves for his room wrapped in only a towel. While entering the room the door slams shut, quickly locking, realizing that the lights won’t turn on. Robert realizes that he is not alone in the room, but surrounded but numerous men. After this Robert is then raped. This causes conflict as Robert attempts to figure out who he was the victim too, and why it had happened. Not only does this emotionally drain Robert, but it also makes him feel unsafe and in need for help at the worst possible time.

  • “His assailants, who he’d thought were crazies, had been his fellow soldiers. Maybe even his brother officers. He’d never know. He never saw their faces.” (p. 193)

While Captain Leather attempts to save the horses that Levitt had been releasing, Leather shoots Levitt, causing much controversy between Robert and Captain Leather ultimately leading to Robert killing all of the mules and horses in an act of power and control.

  • “Captain Leather shoots Levitt as he attempts to save the horses.” (p. 202)
  • “Robert’s anger rose to such a pitch that he feared he was going to go over into madness.” (p. 203)



Before reading this novel it wasn’t clear to me the state that these soldiers were forced to live in and endure throughout their time in warfare. Though after reading this novel and further research on the topic of WWI it became clear just how terrible and disgusting the conditions really were. Whether it was the fact that they were forced to live with rats, lice, fleas, or the sight of dead bodies all day long, these people who managed to endure these terrible states of living are heroes. Further research allowed me to understand what type of people they were, and allowed me to gain extreme respect for every single person involved in the war.


Throughout the second half of “The Wars” the theme seems to have shifted direction a little, through the sense that it became a lot darker and gloomy. As the novel progressed Timothy Findley began to focus more on the war, and the details of what had been happening throughout their everyday lives. As this happens it allows the reader to be aware of the type of situations that these people were faced with along with following the common theme of death throughout the second half of the novel.

  • “I still maintain that an ordinary human being has a right to be horrified by a mangled body seen on an afternoon walk. So what it was we were denied was to be ordinary. All our ordinary credos and expectations vanished.” (p. 114)
  • “In another hole there was a rat that was alive but trapped because of the waterlogged condition of the earth that kept collapsing every time it tried to ascend the walls. Robert struck a match and caught the rat by the tail. It squealed as he lifted it over the edge and set it free. Robert wondered afterwards if setting the rat free had been a favour-but in the moment that he did it he was thinking: here is someone still alive. And the word alive was amazing.” (p.127)
  • “The dark was pitted with holes and he kept falling down. He fell down once and put his hand in someone’s face. He apologized – even thought he knew the man was dead.” (p. 127)

“The men grappling for the gas mask.” (p. 138)

             -This shows the theme of survival of the fittest. A free for all battle,  fighting for their lives.


Book Notes Check 1:

Although The Wars by Timothey Findley can be a very difficult novel to follow, with the proper updates, and facts about the book, it allows the reader to clearly understand what they are reading and what the author is trying to get across to the readers.

  • Setting: Though at the beginning of the story, we aren’t given a true description or any detail to the stories setting, we know that it takes place somewhere in Canada, but it is quickly apparent that as the story progresses the characters and setting of the plot moves quite frequently. Whether it be when they boarded the S.S. Massanabie, headed towards England with hundreds of other soldiers, while Robert Ross lead a convoy through France, in Lethbridge or Belgium, it’s clear that the novel changes location and setting very often throughout the different war-times and incidents that occur.
  • Characters: Throughout the book many minor characters are introduced that play small parts in the novel. Even though there are many minor characters, the novel also has several main important characters, that play huge important roles in the plot of the story.
  1. Robert Ross: a young 19 year old man, who joins the army while mourning the death of his older sister Rowena, while he feels guilty for her death.
  2. Rowena: Roberts older sister, who dies after falling out of her wheelchair, which she is stuck in due to an illness that she suffers from. Though she is an adult, and older than Robert, she acts extremely immature and young for her actual age.
  3. Mr. Thomas Ross: Robert and Rowena’s father. Minor Character.
  4. Mrs. Elizabeth Ross: Robert and Rowena’s mother.
  5. Captain Eugeen Taffler: a strong built war torn hero, that has returned to the army for a second tour of duty.
  6. Teddy Bulge: a man that is hired by Mr. Ross to kill all of the rabbits that belonged to Rowena after her death.
  • Conflicts: While there has been several different conflicts throughout the novel, two that seemed to be reoccurring where the points of man vs. nature, with the fight for survival against weather and hunger, as well as man vs. man, with the theme- survival of the fittest.
  • Active Reading: At the start of the novel it wasn’t clear to me where Lethbridge was, but after further research I found that it is a large city in Alberta with a population of just over 74 000 people. Lethbridge were large producers of coal, that peaked during WWI, giving the reasoning of why they entered this city in The Wars. So far I have enjoyed the novel, thanks to the amount of detail that the author chose to use while explaining details. Although I enjoy the detail that the author takes the reader into, it can be very difficult to understand at times, with the novel changing perspectives very often.
  • Theme: As the story has progressed the theme of guilt has been very often brought up. Whether it is through that fact that Robert feels bad and guilty about the death of his older sister Rowena as he mourns her death, it becomes apparent that Findley has chosen guilt to be a large part of the novel.

Critical Article Analysis

Very often throughout Timothy Findley’s writing he works around a main image that his story can be based upon, such as a tribe dancing around a fire. In The Wars, Findley chose to use horses as that primary image. He told the story from that specific image, stating how the horses ran screaming from under the artillery. This can be found in several other stories by Findley, including The Headhunter and The Piano Man’s Daughter, usually focusing on a different image each time.

  • Bemrose, John. “Rural Roots.” MacLean’s (1995): n. pag. Web. 4 Mar 2011.


Thought Findley has a vast collection of meaning to his work, one main topic that often stands out in his writing tends to be “War”, which is a short story written by Findley. While it seems as though War takes the general meaning of military and trench warfare, really the main conflict facing war, is the fact that at an early age Findley’s father left their family for the army. This can be seen through many of his novels including The Wars, which is based upon a teenage boy leaving his family for the army, while mourning the death of his sister that he feels guilty for. As part of Findley’s short story “War”, the main character Neil, escapes to his barn where he flings stones, sticks and rocks at his father. This may not seem very relevant, but too Findley’s fictional world rock-throwing and shooting are very similar.

As The Wars progresses we get to know Eugene Taffler very well. When he is first introduced, we see him alone in the Alberta Prairies firing rocks, bottles, and glasses. Findley uses this to explain Taffler, as if he uses that as a protection mechanism. This is done to show how Taffler uses his practice to his advantage. While in warfare, Taffler pictures war as another day in the prairies firing rocks at the bottles. This allows readers to see how Findley connects his fictional side with his life experiences.

  • Yorke, Lorraine. “Civilian Conflict: Systems of Warfare in Timothy Findley’s Early Fiction.” English Studies in Canada (1989): n. pag. Web. 4 Mar 2011.


Even though The Wars is filled with images of water, earth, and air, the main image that we see at both the beginning and the end of the story is fire. Whether is be the image of Robert burning on horseback or the fact of Robert nearly drowning while swimming on horseback, they both mesh together, creating a “fiery image”. This is done by the author to make it so that the reader must look as well as hear what these images are trying to say, from start to end.

  • Hulcoop, John. “Look! Listen! Mark my Words .” Paying Attention to Timothy Findleys Fiction (1981): n. pag. Web. 4 Mar 2011.



Survey of Authors & Secondary Sources

Vandelaar 1

Tanner Vandelaar

Mrs. Vallier


Friday February 25 2011

“The Wars” by Timothy Findley

1. Author: Timothy Findley                      Title: The Wars

2. What made you interested in this author?

At first glance Timothy Findley did not seem like the type of author that fit my reading style. Though that quickly changed as I researched this famous Canadian author. As I became very interested in him both as a person and an author, it became apparent to me of his constant use of imagery and fragmentation to help create a picture throughout the readers mind. Not only did Findley constantly use exceptional imagery, but he is also well-known for the use of fascinating historical events such as WWI. As I became more familiar with this author it was clear that his writing style had piqued my interest.

3. Brief background on the author.

Born on October 3rd 1930, in Toronto, Ontario, Timothy Findley had been a star of the arts since he was a child. After being abandoned by his father for several years due to the army, and his brother passing away at an early age, Findley had already been experiencing a rocky start to his life. While Findley dropped out of high school at the age of 16, he immediately found a way to rely on a career in acting.

As an adult Findley found himself as an author, and a good one at that. He has written several novels, including; The Wars, a WWI based novel that focuses on a military officer named Robert Ross, who joins the army, mourning the death of his sister.

In 2002, an award was created on his behalf. The Timothy Findley Award was to be awarded to a body of work by a Canadian author, that supported the same style writing that he did. On June 21st, 2002 at the age of 71 Timothy Findley passed away. Known as an aspiring Canadian author and a well-known actor, Findley was well appreciated.

4. Other published works and genres.

Over the years of Findley’s career as an author, he compiled a list of more than 10 novels. That list included; The last of the Crazy People, The Butterfly Palgue, The Wars, Famous Last Words, Not Wanted on the Voyage, The Telling of Lies, Headhunter, The Piano Man’s Daughter, You Went Away, Pilgrim, and Spadework. But throughout his long productive career, he did more than just write novels. As Findley grew, he also wrote several dramatic performances such as The Newcomers, The Stillborn Lover, and Shadows. As if that wasn’t enough, Findley also was the author of three Memoirs. From Stone Orchard, Inside Memory: Pages from a Writer’s Workbook, and possibly his most famous one, Journeyman: Travels of a Writer. When you look at all of these works of art, we are able to see exactly why Timothy Findley is so admirable.

5. Information on particular places, time periods, events of influence or interests to your author.

As Timothy Findley was growing up two very important events occurred. Both of which he brought into effect through The Wars. When Findley was a young child his father left him and his family to go away to war. This is incorporated through Robert Ross choosing to join the army. In the novel he chooses to do this because of the fact that he was mourning his sister Rowena’s death, that he felt guilty about. Just like the novel states, Robert’s sister Rowena dies. While it may seem like this had nothing to do with the author, Timothy Findley, really it plays an extremely important role. As Findley was growing up his brother died, and incorporates that through Rowena in the novel, taking his life experiences and turning them into a novel. These two events play are an extremely influence on Findley’s novel The Wars.

6. Themes favored by the author (gleaned from survey reading).

Often Findley chooses to use the same theme for several of his novels. One theme that I believe stands out from many of the others would be guilt. Though he doesn’t always use it in the same repetitive way, he will often switch up the perspective that the guilt is coming from and who it is projected against. In The Wars the theme of guilt is brought up throughout the entire story from one main character projected to one specific person. As he tells the story from the perspective of Robert Ross, we see that guilt when he feels as though it was his fault that his sister Rowena had died. As the novel progresses and Robert continues to mourn the death of his sister we constantly see this theme of guilt.

7. Other authors compared to……

Over the years Findley has grown to be known for his unique writing style. Though his style of Southern Ontario Gothic is not seen very often, he can be compared to several famous authors including; Margaret Atwood and James Reaney. These two well-known authors include several characteristics into their writing that Findley enjoys using. Whether it is because they tell the story from several different perspectives throughout their books, or the extremely dark and horrific imagery that they use.

8. Critical Articles (Secondary Sources):

  • “Robert Ross is a sensitive young man from Canada. The nineteen-year-old fights in the First World War, where he is exposed to unbelievable violence, constant death and the insanity of trench warfare. Ross is himself victimized, and he sees many around him die or go mad. Eventually, he is accused of betraying his country. An odd story, almost a myth, circulates about Ross’s attempt to save horses at the cost of men during the war. The unravelling of the events suggests that Ross saw that war turned humans into brutes. “

A. Antonow, Resident Scholar

  • “Findley refers to the people prior to World War I as calm and shy, tending to stay away from the public eye as much as possible. Photographs reveal that “everyone at first seems timid – lost – irresolute. Boys and men stand squinting at the camera. Women turn away suspicious. They still maintain a public reticence.” (Findley, p. 11) However, the war causes an upheaval in the lives of everyone, not just the soldiers and their families, and makes people’s opinions in different areas make a complete reversal. For example, you get praise and for killing people, and more people are desperate to get into the view of the public.”(Weiss, p. 93) [Acadia]
  • “Prior to the writing of The Wars, it was unheard of for any writer who had not experienced it first hand to write about “The War to End All Wars”. However, Findley, with his direct and shocking style, was able to surpass this barrier and create one of the most acclaimed novels about World War I. With ‘wars’ being plural, it indicates that the novel is not only about the Great War, but also about internal battles that Robert Ross is fighting with himself as he struggles to adapt to a new way of life in the army and without his sister who he loved very much.” (Acadia)


Book Choice Submission

1. What is the novel title? Who is the author? What is the date of publication and what is the number of pages in the book?

          The novel that I chose to do for my ISU is The Wars by Timothy Findley. The Wars is a 218 page novel about WWI published in 1977 by Clark Irwin & Company Limited.

2. Why did you choose this book?

          I chose to do The Wars for my ISU because as I researched the book on the internet it interested me. All of the reviews that I read, from both the internet and friends were positive towards the book. Since I have always had such a keen interest in world history, I knew this book about World War I would be the perfect match for me.

3. How do you like the book so far?

          With me on page 15 of the “The Wars”, there has not been much to say about the book. There has been many different characters introduced and the author has spent most of the time explaining the setting, and the plot of the story in small condensed chapters. Though I find what I have read to be very interesting, it has been tough to follow at some points, with the author changing points of view often, leaving me wondering what has happened, and usually re-reading to try to understand what I had just read.

4. How much have you read so far?

          So far I have read up to page 15 in my book, which is the start of chapter 5. Although I am not very far into my novel, many characters have been introduced and the setting of the book has been very thoroughly discussed.

5. What’s happened so far? Please refer to plot, setting, characters, mood, and things that you have noticed.

          Throughout the first 5 chapters of the book, we are vaguely introduced to a character, Robert Ross, that it appears we will get to know better as the story progresses. Brief descriptions of his family life and younger years are brought to us through flashbacks of him in both warfare and family life. From the very beginning of the story, there has been no real setting. Though it has gone from several flashbacks in different towns, countries, and situations it doesn’t give us a true setting through the 15 pages I have read. From the very beginning of the story, the mood has seemed very patriotic. Throughout every flashback that the author has gone through he has seemed very respectful of Robert Ross, talking about how adored he is. Whether it be stating how the public looked up to him, or the other soldiers rambling on about what a good guy he was, it is clear that Robert Ross was a very respected man.

6. What themes seem to be forming? What do you think the author is trying to say about these themes?

          As the story has begun there are two different themes that stand out to me. The author relates much of the opening paragraphs to both survival and suspense by comparing many of the flashback to the war. While the story progresses I think that these themes will begin to play an immense role throughout the story, with a great deal of the plot being focused on Robert Ross. I believe that the suspense and survival will often relate to the situations that the characters are in and have much to do with the setting of those situations.

7. What secondary sources have you found so far? What is interesting or confusing about them?

          Though I have found a few secondary sources, they have all been written by regular everyday people, none by any pristine university professors, but I will continue to look with hopes of posting it on my next blog.

8. Choose 1 line from the novel so far and write a paragraph describing why it speaks to you. You can completely ignore the context of the quotation and just focus on your personal response to it.

“The ‘family’ consists of Mister and Mrs Ross and three of their children: Robert, Peggy and Stuart. Rowena, the eldest is not shown.”

          Throughout the book, this line plays a very effective role on the plot. It allows the reader to understand that people are looking to photograph the Ross family, due to their popularity and fame. This sentence speaks to me because just like today, popular celebrities are often trying to keep their children from the press and public, in order to make their lives as normal as possible. As I read this sentence, instantly it stood out to me because it helped me realize how people in the past acted the same as people do today.


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