Sunday, July 18, 2010

Trickster: Native American Tales- a Graphic Collection by various

This graphic novel contains 21 short tales starring Native American trickster characters, everyone from Raven to Coyote, to Rabbit to human characters like Ishijinki. The tales are from many tribes as well- the Yu'pik Eskimos, the Pueblo and the Caddo are just three of the tribes whose stories make up this book. Some of them are what are known as "Just-so" stories- stories that explain how things came to be a certain way, like "Rabbit's Choctaw Tail Tale" and "How the Alligator Got His Brown, Scaly Skin". ""Coyote and the Pebbles" explains how the stars ended up in the sky, while "Moshup's Bridge" explains a certain feature of land. As does, "When Coyote Decided to Get Married". "Waynaboozhoo and the Geese" tells us why Geese fly in a "V" pattern. "Espun and Grandfather" shows why raccoons are short, plump and waddle instead of run, and "Mai and the Cliff-Dwelling Birds" explains why Coyotes have yellow eyes.

Others are more adventure stories. In some, the Trickster figure gets revenge on someone he feels has wronged him (for some reason- all the trickster spirits presented here are male. Maybe this was seen as a male characteristic- I simply don't know), or just tricks people out of something. Meat, a home, a girlfriend... "Raven the Trickster" gets himself into trouble, winds up in a bad place and in the end, still comes out on top. "Azban and the Crayfish" shows a raccoon trying to catch a crayfish, and then coming up with a scheme to catch a great many. "Trickster and the Great Chief" is a crossover between Adventure and just-so, as the Trickster tries stealing a Dead Chief's possessions, and is forced to make the owl to watch over the dead to set things right. "Horned Toad Lady and Coyote" is a "Be careful what you wish for" story, and Coyote kills himself through his thoughtless actions. "Rabbit and the Tug of War" has another trickster making thoughtless mischief and triumphing in the end.

"Wolf and the Mink" has the trickster out-tricked by the wolf, "The Dangerous Beaver" has a beaver that eats people defeated by a warrior, the youngest of five brothers, who also tricks the trickster. "Giddy Up, Wolfie" has a rabbit stealing the girlfriend of a wolf (who happens to be another wolf). "PuaPualenalena, Wizard Dog of the Waipi'o Valley" has a thieving Dog who must rescue his master when His thefts endanger the old man's life. "Ishijinki and Buzzard" is another mix of revenge and just-so as the human Ishijinki gets revenge on the buzzard who nearly killed him, and explains why Buzzards have bald heads. "The Bear Who Stole Chinook" is an adventure on which a boy and his animal friends retrieve the Chinook, or Spring Winds, from the Bear who had stolen it. "How Wildcat Caught a Turkey" is a story of just that, although Wildcat is helped by Rabbit, the trickster.

And then there is "The Yeha'suri: The Little Wild Indians", which is a cautionary tale about why children should be good. The Yeha'suri seem like a cross between bogeymen who will steal your soul or kill you, and those who just perpetrate mischief because they want to. It's not a just-so story or an adventure. It's framed as a woman telling children about the Yeha'suri and why they should be good children. Not really a "Just so" or Adventure tale. It comes off as something totally different.

I liked this book mainly because this was a series of myths that I had never read before. I've done most of the Western myths, starting with those of the Greeks in the 4th grade (yeah, I was a nerdy child, and my library used to have Greek myths read aloud on LP records. I remember lying in front of our sofa-sized record player/8-track and tape player late at night when I was a kid listening to them. I also read Norse myths, and Egyptian myths later on, and Celtic as well.

But Native American myths are something I have never really run across in any great numbers. And, to be honest, there are so many Native American tribes with their own gods and myths (stories, if you like) that they are literally endless variations. So this was great. Stories I hadn't seen before, and in graphic form. As for the art, it is literally a mixed bag, ranging from what looked like painted art in "Coyote and the Pebbles" to stuff that looks like children's comics (especially "Mai and the Cliff-Dwelling Birds" and "Rabbit's Choctaw Tail Tale". I am talking like "Ren and Stimpy"-esque art. So basically, not only are the stories varied of tribe and storytelling style (because the writers and artists are almost all Native America), but in style of art as well. In some cases, this definitely worked in favor of the story, but I felt that some of the stories with a simpler art style suffered because of the art. It made them seem kiddified.

I am definitely hoping that another graphic novel of this kind is published. Since they did Tricksters in this volume (although I am sure that there could be other collections of Trickster tales- Tricksters rarely have only one or a few stories told about them in legend), perhaps they could do one on Gods, like Thunderbird, Sedna, White Buffalo Woman, and so on. The tale of Sedna and how the animals of the sea got their start is one I did know of before I read this book, and there are plenty of others as well. I would definitely pay to read about that in graphic novel form.

I loved this book. If you like reading about the stories and myths of other cultures, this graphic novel is both weighty and fascinating. The different kinds of art are another draw- if any one style really offends your eyes, in only a few pages, it will be gone for a different style. My favorite stories here were "Coyote and the Pebbles" for the art, and "The Dangerous Beaver" for the story. I'll add an honorable mention for art to "How Wildcat Caught a Turkey", because the art resembled Japanese woodblock Prints and "When Coyote Decided to Take a Wife" because in addition to telling how a big bunch of stones came to be where they are, it also teaches the lesson of being truthful, even if the people you love might be angry at you. Recommended.

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