20 June 2016

Return to Miss Moneypenny's Fishing Lodge; or, Billy's Bad Trip

Return to Rainbow Country
William Davidson
Don Mills, ON: PaperJacks, 1975

In my aging mind, Adventures in Rainbow Country is forever linked with Gerry Anderson's UFO, both television shows that came and went when I was in third grade. In fourth, fifth and sixth grades I bought a UFO Viewmaster set, a SHADO Interceptor and a SHADO tank. I don't think Adventures in Rainbow Country had similar product, but I could be wrong. Truth be told, I never gave the show much thought. I didn't even know about Return to Rainbow Country until last year when I came across a copy – this copy – at a sidewalk sale held in support of our local library.

Adventures in Rainbow Country holds interest for certain people; it has a fan site and a Facebook page. My pal Chris, a Bond fan from way back, cares because it featured Lois Maxwell (née Hooker), the Kitchener native best remembered for playing Miss Moneypenny.

We don't remember her as Nancy Williams. Maxwell wasn't the star of Adventures in Rainbow Country. Sure, she was in every episode – all twenty-six – but the show's star was Robert Cottier. A good-looking kid plucked from a Toronto private school, Cottier played Nancy's son Billy.

Billy Williams. William Williams. Created by William Davidson.

Davidson wrote several things for television, including episodes of The Littlest Hobo and The Forest Rangers, but Adventures in Rainbow Country dominates his résumé. I don't think he wrote another novel, but then I doubt Return to Rainbow Country was ever intended as a novel in the first place. Visit the Canadian Film Development Corporation fonds at York University and you'll find an unproduced Davidson script with the very same title.

Return to Rainbow Country centres on a son's quest for his father, though this isn't at all apparent at first. The story opens with fifteen-year-old Billy piloting a boat into the choppy waters of Georgian Bay for two American fishermen. After that, he hitchhikes ninety or so kilometres to the courthouse in Gore Bay. There's a bit about an attempted murder trial that has something to do with the Ojibway bear walk curse, but all these things are incidental.

To get to the heart of Return to Rainbow Country you have to know something about the series' premise. I admit I was unaware, and blame Davidson for not following Sherwood Schwartz's example in setting it down in the opening theme. Readers of Return to Rainbow Country will find it in this passage – my favourite! – on page 24:
Nancy Williams was removing a pan of butter tarts from the oven when the boys walked in. She was a soft, appealing woman in her mid-forties with long auburn hair and a willowy figure, capable and hard-working, but a city girl who never really adjusted to the north. She had agreed to stay on at the lodge when her husband had disappeared, only because it was important to Billy.
Billy's father – Frank Williams – didn't take off with a softer, more appealing woman in her mid-twenties, rather he vanished while looking for a hidden mountain of gold in a part of North Ontario known as Wilderness Valley. This was two years ago.

There is a town in North Ontario, everybody knows, everybody knows, but in truth Neil Young is getting all nostalgic about a place that is just a couple of hours northeast of downtown Toronto... and you drive more east than north to get there. Billy's North Ontario, Rainbow Country, hugs the coast of  Georgian Bay. In our world, Wilderness Valley is the name of a Michigan resort located one hundred or so kilometres southwest, but in the novel it is a place of mystery and danger that lies somewhere up an unidentified river. "My father left notes about how the Indians say Wilderness Valley is haunted by evil spirits," Billy tells his Ojibway pal Pete. "There are legends about men who went up the river and never returned. Later their bones were found scattered along the shore."

Not much of a sales job. It doesn't help that Billy has tricked Pete into coming with him. He's also lied to his willowy-figured mom, who thinks that the two boys are off on a week-long canoe trip to a pleasant-sounding place called Smooth Rock Harbour.

Return to Rainbow Country is a screenwriter's novel. There's a good amount of action and dialogue, but little in the way of introspection. Description runs along these lines: "...he stopped at Pete's house, a bright blue and yellow frame building with flowered curtains, and spoke with his mother, a large plump woman with straight hair pulled back in a bun." Reading the thing was a bit of a chore, but I'm glad I persevered. The payoff came in the final third with something so unexpected, so unusual, that the description warrants italicization and a paragraph of its own:

Billy knowingly takes a hallucinogen. He trips out, becomes lost, finds his father's mountain of gold, dances with a girl with indigo eyes and nearly joins a commune. 

Sounds incredible, I know. Could be that it never happened – Billy was high, after all – except that Davidson continues with the same bland omniscient narrator throughout. Nothing is seen through Billy's dilated pupils.

The most surprising adventure in Rainbow Country, it begins when Billy takes the root of a small plant, tears off a piece and pops it in his mouth. "It was something boys do," we're told. A man asks what Billy is chewing, something men do, and tells him to stop. "If you'd kept on chewing this another ten minutes you might have had some of the wildest nightmares of your young life."

Nightmares? Wild nightmares? The wildest nightmares? Who can resist? Not Billy. When no one is looking, he squirrels away a piece of root for future use.

Picture yourself on a boat on a river...

Return to Rainbow Country was published in 1975, a full five years after the last episode was aired. Was anyone interested in the "television heroes in a new adventure"? How much did anyone remember of their old adventures? As I say, I didn't give the show much thought. Of course, by then I'd entered puberty.

Adventures in Rainbow Country had Lois Maxwell.

UFO had Gabrielle Drake.

Trivia: William Davidson directed and edited the kinda-sorta-screen adaptation of Morley Callaghan's Now That April's Here.

Object: A 186-page mass market paperback, Return to Rainbow Country ranks amongst PaperJacks' least interesting in that its designer looks to have been competent. The author's name features on the cover, which isn't always the case. The last five pages feature ads for other PaperJacks publications – notably E. Pauline Johnson's Flint and Feather and The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford – along with a pitch for the imprint as a whole.

The cover illustration is by Stu Sherwood.

Access: The novel appears to have enjoyed just one printing... or is it two? My copy indicates that it was published by PaperJacks for Scholastic-TAB. As of this writing, six are being flogged online at prices ranging from US$4 to US$10. Condition is not a factor.

Return to Rainbow Country is held by just five Canadian libraries.

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  1. Oh my. Tripping down memory lane with this one, we are indeed. I have to admit to having a serious crush on Billy of Rainbow Country, back in the day. The show sure didn't last long, but the images remain tucked away in my brain. Probably best not revisited, in video or printed form, I am thinking. Keep those memories pure! Though the Lois Maxwell connection is fascinating. Had no idea that she was Billy's willowy mother. You do find the most interesting things, Brian.

    1. Watching Adventures in Rainbow Country as a seven-year-old, I knew Lois Maxwell only as Billy's mother. The name Miss Moneypenny meant nothing to me - The Man with the Golden Gun was my first Bond film. I'm betting you're not alone in your crush on Billy.