The Next Chapter

James Raffan's book Ice Walker examines the Arctic through the eyes of a polar bear

The author, educator and adventurer spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing a book from the perspective of a polar bear and her family.
Ice Walker is a book by James Raffan. (Simon & Schuster, Jason van Bruggen)

James Raffan is a writer, teacher, geographer and adventurer. He has written more than 20 books, including Circling the Midnight Sun, Emperor of the North and Summer North of Sixty. 

In Ice Walker, Raffan asks readers to look at the Arctic through the eyes of a polar bear named Nanu and her family. Climate change is impacting the Arctic, where Nanu's family has lived and hunted for generations. The bear must figure out how to find food and shelter for her family, where precious ice is melting rapidly and everything is changing.

Raffan spoke with The Next Chapter about writing Ice Walker. 

Aimed at the heart

"This book is definitely a departure from previous voices that I've adopted as a writer. I came to a realization that, 20-odd books later, I'm not sure I've changed anybody's mind about very much. I certainly haven't changed anybody's behaviour. As we get deeper into this crisis, I started thinking that time is running out.  

As we get deeper into this crisis of human making, I started thinking that time is running out.

"When I recently started writing scripts for filmmakers, it struck me how powerful film is — perhaps more compelling than some of my writing.

"I thought, 'What is different about a filmmaker when they're telling stories?' I decided that what they were doing, and what I was doing in collaboration with them, is aiming a story package with all of its dimensions at somebody's heart, not their head. 

"I wanted to write a book that would be aimed at people's hearts first — what would that look like? That process, which took many months of wandering, walking the dog and thinking and reading, led to Ice Walker." 

New insights

"Nanu is a dweller of the ice, and the ice is disappearing. The ice, the world of the bear, is such an incredibly rich and complex phenomenon.

"I don't think it's too much of a stretch, even inside the bounds of creative nonfiction, to suggest that the ice, the environment in which Nanu spends a lot of her time, is a character itself. It's a world that is being impacted by climate change, more so than places closer to the equator. And as such, it's an environment that needs to be animated for those of us who live in middle earth. 

The ice, the world of the bear, is such an incredibly rich and complex phenomenon.

"I wanted to go everywhere to reveal some new insights." 

James Raffan's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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