On his father’s side, Northrop Frye (he always used his second given name, abbreviated to “Norrie” by his friends) was said to have had a Puritan ancestor who emigrated from Britain to New England in the 1630s.
His mother’s father, a Methodist clergyman, was intensely proud of his loyalist heritage.
He made his reputation with his first two books, published in 19, to which he eventually added 19essays and book chapters, exclusive of reviews and interviews.
Yet such quantity in itself indicates little of the reason for Frye’s eminence.
Logic, grammar, and rhetoric dance in harmony in his work.
Time and again, he challenged his readers to examine their terms: “literature,” “metaphor,” “thinking,” “Canadian identity,” “Canadian unity.” He knew the great power of words and especially that of metaphor, buried or above ground, in shaping intellectual and emotional responses.
It diminished throughout the 1970s with the growing prominence of other theoretical emphases, different in kind, beginning with deconstruction.
Nonetheless, his impact remained strong throughout his lifetime.
While he liked the people (or a few of them) on his mission field in depression-stricken, drought-ravaged Saskatchewan, he did not like “all these things foisted upon them,” which he described as “trash for the arts, shibboleths and fetishes for religion.” The tribulations with his horse, his only transportation, sound like a Marx Brothers movie.
As for windstorms, the “soil wasn’t so bad: it was dodging rocks and chickens and little children and back-houses that got me nervous.” Above all, he desperately missed his fiancée.