#11 – King John of Canada

August 17, 2008

In the interest of full disclosure, it’s been over a month since I finished Scott Gardiner’s King John of Canada.  In a fit of patriotism I started reading it on Canada Day, but by the time I got through it I was so preoccupied with other things that I put reviewing it off.  And now that I’ve got a bit of spare time and have started reading again (damn that feels good), I thought that this book was too good and worthy of recommendation to not make some kind of commentary on.  So I’m just going on what I can recall from the book after returning it to the library, so please pardon my vagueness.

King John of Canada is that rarest of genres: the Canadian political satire.  In fact, I can’t recall ever having read another book of the same sort.  The premise here is simple enough: in a Canada in just slightly worse shape than the real one, a national paper publishes a Modest Proposal – Canada should leave the British Commonwealth and establish its own monarchy, in order to unify us.  And all across the country, people read that satirical article and start thinking, “That actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea.”  So the Canadian government does what the Canadian government does best – they put it to a referendum.  Based on the title of the book, I’m sure you can guess what happens next.  And while getting to that point is very interesting, it’s everything that happens after the crowning of the king which really makes this book great.

Gardiner wrote King John of Canada from the perspective of the king’s best friend and chief advisor Blue, writing John’s biography while dying of hypothermia in an isolated cabin in the Canadian wilderness.  It’s a pretty neat little device; it allows Blue to tell John’s “untold” life story while assuming the reader is familiar with most of the major events of his reign as king, as they would be common knowledge to a reader in his Canada.  So some of the passing references he makes to John’s accomplishments become among the most fascinating parts of the book.  Gardiner keeps things vague enough to make you curious, but includes just enough detail to keep you satisfied.

Once the pins start falling, and the new Canadian monarchy starts making some decisions, the book is a crazy fun ride.  John’s Canada, in short time, becomes an economic superstar, a military powerhouse and a cultural landmark.  And it’s hugely uplifting to read, total wish-fulfillment stuff.  In a sequence so cool  I wish I still had the book so I could quote it for you verbatim, John appears on a Bill O’Reilly-esque talk show while on a tour of the States.  The O’Reilly stand-in has naturally been blustering on since the show began, making fun of Canada’s military and John’s strict new gun control laws.  He calls Canadians weak and cowardly, telling a story about bumping into a guy on the street in Ottawa and having the other guy apologize to him as evidence.  Suddenly, John shuts O’Reilly up by grabbing his arm with an iron grip.  Leaning in close, he says quietly and intensely (from rough memory):

Let me explain something to you.  If I say ‘I’m sorry’ when I bump into you, I’m not assuming the blame.  I’m merely saying that I regret the mutual inconvenience.  It is a common courtesy.  You would have to be a fool to take that as some sort of sign of weakness, wouldn’t you?  Wouldn’t you?

And he then proceeds to completely destroy O’Reilly’s criticisms of his gun control plan, and makes him look like a jackass.  And all the Canadians watching in bars (and very nearly me, reading the book in my office at work) start cheering.  And it’s completely awesome.  That kind of thing happens a lot in here.

If you haven’t picked this up already, this is a thoroughly Canadian book.  Like, citizenship is basically mandatory in order to enjoy this read.  There’s so many elements to the story that demand familiarity with the Canadian political landscape – the bitterness in the East, the sense of entitlement in the West, the opportunism of Quebec separatists, the universal disdain for Toronto.  (I’m assuming Mr. Gardiner is from Ontario himself – King John of Canada is incredibly sympathetic towards Toronto, and pins basically all of Canada’s problems on Quebec.)  But if you do know a thing or two about Canadian politics, and you’d like to watch Canada finally step up and prove to the rest of the world that we actually are the greatest country on Earth, then I definitely recommend checking this one out.



  1. Ordered. What time frame does the alternate history cover?

  2. Awesome, glad to hear it James. I really should have brought this one to your attention right away, I think you especially will dig it.

    They didn’t get into dates or anything, the time when it starts is today or maybe a few years from now. I can’t recall how long John’s reign was, but it’s pretty lengthy, maybe 10 or 15 years? It feels like it’s got some substance to it though. Let me know when you get into it, I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.

  3. Well-put, good sir; once again, I’m glad you enjoyed the read as much as I did. I agree that it was vague enough to keep me curious, but I am not ashamed to admit that if this were to be developed into some kind of twisted series of books, I would happily read them all, even if they stretched straight past the point of total incredulity.

    As for that quote you were looking for, just to be particular, here it is (minus the joke about the politeness of Canadians that precedes it and the continued gun control argument that follows it):
    “When I say, I’m sorry,” said John, leaning in, very close. “I don’t mean to say that I apologize. Saying I’m sorry is not an admission of wrongdoing, it’s an expression of goodwill. When people bump into each other – when they do it accidentally – they say they’re sorry. They’re saying they regret this momentary interruption of each other’s business. When we mean to do harm, then something entirely different happens, doesn’t it? We don’t say we’re sorry then. But when it’s accidental, when it’s unintentional, only a fool would come away thinking he’d won something. An intelligent person could not regret goodwill, could he? Could he?”

  4. Ha! Thanks for that, Tyler, and thanks again for the recommendation. God, that quote is awesome. And while I kind of remembered the gist of it, I completely forgot the two best parts: the bit about how we don’t say sorry if it is intentional, and the fool thinking he’d won something line. What a kickass passage.

    I don’t recall if I drunkenly recommended this one in return, but I’ve heard of another book along sort of the same lines: Governor of the Northern Province by Randy Boyagoda, about an African warlord who flees to Canada and enters politics. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve heard good things. If I ever pick up the pace, I’m interesting in checking it out.

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