THE ADVENTURES OF NANABUSH: Ojibway Indian Stories by Emerson & David Coatsworth--Eds. Coatsworth


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Like Raven and Coyote, the ancient magician Nanabush was sometimes a trickster, sometimes a benefactor, and sometimes a dealer of justice: Here Nanabush makes the Bald Eagle bald to punish him for a slight, gives the turtle a hard shell and the porcupine ""thorns"" in gratitude for favors rendered, awards the woodpecker's blood-red crest as a tribute, and--in a journey outside his home territory--gives the buffalo humps to punish them for disturbing the birds of the plains. (At times, as in a story of Nanabush being carried--and dropped--by geese, the magician seems a stand-in for figures in other folks' better-told tales.) In one story, Nanabush is cast as a noodle-head, scorching his own shoulders to teach them a lesson when they fail to stand watch while he sleeps. In the single story with a memorable image, he's a primitive hero, melting the snow in his barefeet's path with a giant, flame-fired boulder. Though Nanabush himself takes guidance from Gitchi-Manitou, the Great Spirit, he also performs the task of assigning all the animals their duties and turning erring humans to stone or moss as moral lessons for mankind. The stories were recorded in the 1930s and later, on an Indian reservation on Canada's Manitoulin Island. ""To say the least,"" ""fine fellow,"" and ""the fact remains"" are typical of the narrator's language, and Nanabush is heard at one point to remark ""Dear me! This is a most difficult place to hunt for 'any food."" Similarly diluted are the Ojibway artist's illustrations, inept configurations done in a striking but sleek primitive manner. The collection has regional interest as a record of sorts, but not much vigor or drama.

Pub Date: March 13th, 1980
Publisher: Atheneum