In Indian Horse, Saul Indian Horse experiences countless tragedies and setbacks. But there are also many scenes—usually intense, lyrically written, and very brief—during which he seems to escape tragedy momentarily. One might use the word transcendence to describe the experience of escaping tragic or traumatic circumstances, especially when the experience takes on a mystical or religious form. It’s impossible to understand Saul fully without understanding the role transcendence plays in his life.
For Saul, transcendence takes two principle forms. First, Saul experiences a series of mystical visions. During these visions, he interacts with his family members and ancestors, living and dead, and learns important lessons about the relationship between his family and the natural world, as well as between himself and his family. Second, Saul experiences a feeling of transcendence when he plays hockey. During his time at St. Jerome’s, and later when he lives with Fred Kelly, Saul enjoys the sense of exhilaration that comes with skating on the hockey rink. He feels as if he’s limitless, no longer encumbered by sadness or shame. It’s no coincidence that Wagamese uses some of the same language to describe Saul’s visions as he uses to describe his hockey games: words like “escape,” “flying,” “soaring,” and “free” appear again and again, suggesting that the two categories of experience serve the same transcendental purpose. For brief moments, Saul is able to transcend the tragedies of abandonment, abuse, and racism, and feel nothing but excitement and freedom. If not for these brief moments, it’s implied, Saul would never be able to summon the optimism necessary for surviving St. Jerome’s and, like so many of his classmates, he’d give up on life altogether.
But as the book goes on, transcendence becomes more and more difficult for Saul to achieve. His hockey games don’t provide him with an escape from his ordinary troubles. On the contrary, they are his ordinary troubles. He encounters more intense teasing and racist bullying during hockey games than he does at almost any other time. As Saul grows older, he begins to associate the sport of hockey itself with racism. Hockey is further tarnished in his eyes when he realizes that his teacher and first hockey coach, Father Gaston Leboutilier, abused him as a child. In a similar way, Saul’s later visions of his family don’t provide him with an escape from the “real world.” Instead, they force him to confront the real world in an especially intense and painful way. Toward the end of the novel, Saul has a vision in which he sees his great-grandfather, Slanting Sky, looking very thin and weary. This vision makes Saul weep, and immediately leads him to visit St. Jerome’s, where he realizes that Leboutilier abused him. In short, Saul’s visions no longer “free” him, or help him “escape”—instead, they help him see the sources of his misery more clearly.
Transcendence is important to Saul’s coming-of-age—without it, he might not have had the strength to survive. And yet, by the end of the novel, Saul appears to have traded transcendence for something more mature and ultimately more valuable. He continues to play hockey and love it, but he’s realistic about the racial prejudices in his society, both in and out of the rink. Similarly, Saul vows to carry Gods Lake (a place that has spiritual significance for his family) within himself, suggesting that he’ll maintain strong spiritual ties to his past and his family’s traditions. This further suggests that Saul’s ancestors will guide him through life at all times, instead of revealing themselves to him in brief, transcendent visions. In short, Saul abandons transcendence as a form of coping with life at the same time that he becomes a mature, experienced man. Instead of escaping from his problems, he summons the courage to meet them head-on.
Transcendence Quotes in Indian Horse
I crept to the edge of the ridge and looked over. The face of the cliff had collapsed, and the camp was gone. Vanished. Even the trees had been scraped away and the beach was strewn with boulders. The chalky smell of rock dust brought tears to my eyes and I stood there weeping, my shoulders shaking at the thought of those people buried under all that stone.
I would not feel lonely or afraid, deserted or abandoned, but connected to something far bigger than myself. Then I'd climb back into bed and sleep until the dawn woke me and I could walk back out to the rink again.
"Hockey is like the universe, Saul," he said one day. "When you stand in the dark and look up at it, you see the placid fire of stars. But if we were right in the heart of it, we'd see chaos. Comets churning by. Meteorites. Star explosions. Things being born, things dying. Chaos, Saul. But that chaos is organized. It's harnessed. It's controlled.
I looked around at all those adult faces, lingering on Father Leboutilier's. I'd never been offered choice before.
'All right," I said. "I'll go."
No one said a word. They didn't have to. I stripped off my jersey and sat there breathing in the atmosphere of that small wooden shack. I was a Moose.
He'd told me I could play when I was big enough. I loved the idea so much that I kept quiet. I loved the idea of being loved so much that I did what he asked. When I found myself liking it, I felt dirty, repulsive, sick. The secret morning practices that moved me closer to the game also moved me further away from the horror. I used the game to shelter me from seeing the truth, from having to face it every day. Later, after I was gone, the game kept me from remembering. As long as I could escape into it, I could fly away. Fly away and never have to land on the scorched earth of my boyhood.