May. 14th, 2017

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I have been a fan of Robert W. Service's poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew for a pretty long time, but one thing that has always bothered me was what I considered an awkward close to the poem, and the other night, as I was drifting off into the arms of Morpheus, it occurred to me...

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The poem—for those unfamiliar with it—takes place during the Alaska gold rush and is related by a regular at the Malamute Saloon. The main players are "Dangerous" Dan McGrew, his "light o' love, the lady that's known as Lou," and a stranger—a miner—who comes stumbling into the saloon "fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear."

The stranger, whose face wore "the dreary stare of a dog whose day is done," buys a round for the house and he eventually finds himself sitting at the house piano, which he starts to play. At first, the music makes listeners think fondly of hearth and home, then it quietly changes to despair at having lost it all. Finally, the music "burst like a pent-up flood," and made the narrator want to avenge "an ancient wrong" with blood.

Having finished playing, the stranger then calls Dan McGrew a "hound of hell," whereupon "the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark, And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark." Both McGrew and the stranger lay dead, the latter clutched to Lou's breast.

The narrator closes the tale with the following words, with my italics in the last line:
These are the simple facts of the case, and I guess I ought to know.
They say that the stranger was crazed with "hooch," and I'm not denying it's so.
I'm not so wise as the lawyer guys, but strictly between us two...
The woman that kissed him and—pinched his poke—was the lady that's known as Lou.
For the longest time, I kept wondering, "Why suddenly shift the emphasis to Lou?"

And then it hit me.

Is it possible that the narrator is doing a nudge-nudge-wink-wink in our direction and in effect telling us that it was Lou that shot both men? McGrew, presumably because he was a controlling so-and-so, and the stranger because of his, um, gold-filled "poke"? I mean, the lights were out when the guns started blazing, right?

The possibility sure puts a different cast on the story for me.



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