Lillian the Legend
Reviewed: May 7, 2009
By: Kerry Byrne
Publisher: Conundrum Press
64 pages, $15.00
There have been numerous books about the strange tale of Lillian Alling, a
Russian immigrant woman who turned up in New York City in the 1920s, got very
homesick while working menial jobs in the New World, and decided she would walk
home. Refusing all opportunities for rides, she walked to Chicago, to Minneapolis
and to Winnipeg, after which there’s a blank space in her legend until
she turned up on the Yukon Telegraph Trail. There she was arrested and sentenced
to prison for vagrancy by a judge who, is it generally felt, did that to keep
her from dying on the trail in the winter.
Released in the spring she continued on her trek, arriving in Dawson in the
fall of 1928 and wintering there. According Susan Smith, a Quesnel writer working
a book about her, Lillian left here in 1929 and was eventually reported in Teller,
Alaska and Providenja, Siberia.
Kerry Byrne’s graphic novel version of Lillian’s story ends there
and with a bit o a mystery, because no one knows if she kept walking until she
reached her eastern European home or not.
The book is a bit crowded and static. When she allows herself to draw a big
panel Byrne is at her best to my taste. The work does, however, do justice to
the story and is worth the read.
Byrne spent several summers and a winter in Dawson in the early 2000s, and was
involved with the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. She produced some tiny
graphic stories in 6 cm by 6 cm panels which make up the last 12 pages of this
book. One is the true story of a would-be gold miner who drowned under the river
ice while diving for gold in the middle of the winter.