Years ago Prince Charles created a children’s story for his younger brothers, Andrew and Edward, who were bored during a vacation to the royal family’s Scottish home of Balmoral. Called The Old Man of Lochnagar, it tells the tale of a grumpy Old Man who retreats into a cave, only to discover it’s an entrance to the Gorm pixie world. Published in 1980, with watercolour illustrations by Hugh Casson, it was an instant classic.
Now, nearly 40 years later, the tale has been re-imagined and published in Inuktitut, thanks to Mike Parkhill of SayITFirst, an organization that seeks to promote Indigenous languages by creating children’s books in languages ranging from Mi’Kmaw and Malisette to Woodlands Cree and Southern Tutchone.
As Mike Parkhill, a former Microsoft executive said in an email interview, “Prince’s Charities Canada approached me to translate HRH The Prince of Wales’s book, The Old Man Of Lochnagar. After reading the book, I saw an incredible amount of the similarities between his book and Inuit Legends. So I proposed that I manage a book to localize the information in the book to a Nunavut audience. In HRH’s book, the Old Man fell into the water and sank to the bottom of the ocean where he met the king of the sea. In The Old Man of Pangnirtung, we used the Inuit legend of the Sedna, well known as Queen of the sea.”
Parkhill worked with Leena Evic of the Pirurvik Centre in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. “My job is not to save languages, it is to help people of the Indigenous community to save their own culture,” he explains. “When localizing a book, a critical step is getting a well respected traditionalist to help as they will never let me compromise any aspect of the culture we are trying to help (things like no drawings of the moon or stars, no stories of the moon or stars, these can be creation stories and only passed on from one generation to the next from a knowledgeable person or parent).”
Every detail was considered, even some that seemed innocuous to a non-Indigenous person. After seeing a red-and-white building in the illustration of Pangnirtung that Parkhill had drawn, “She asked me to take it out because it represented colonization of the Hudson Bay Company. It has been removed.” Also, there’s no word for ‘Prince’ in the Inuktitut language.
What makes Parkhill’s books so valuable is that they include a voice recording of the tale. Video is loaded onto a free app called Aurasma, which, as Parkhill explains, “allows anyone the ability to wand their cell phone or iPad over the image of the cover so a video launches on their device with someone reading the book.” That way, both parents and children can hear and see the words being spoken, a process crucial to reinforcing the rules of language.
On Thursday, June 29, Prince Charles got to see the end product during a visit to Iqualuit, the capital of Nunavut. Parkhill was there. “I believe in my heart of hearts that HRH The Prince of Wales is truly concerned about the state of minority languages in the world today. His interest and knowledge of the Inuktitut language went a lot more deeply than anyone could have imagined,” he recounted.
The biggest surprise for Prince Charles was perhaps the use of technology to enhance reading: “He was shocked when he held the iPad over the book and it started reading to him.”