Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping With His Daughter: Coyote Builds North America, by Barry H. Lopez

Barry H. Lopez collected 68 tales from 42 tribes and adapted them for non-native readers in a way that the original oral stories and culture are respected and honored. Barry Toelken’s foreward reminds the reader that Native storytelling events have "...local taboos concerning when a story may be told, by whom, to whom, and under what circumstances.” Reading these stories makes me wish that I could hear them in person, but I accept that this would be something short of a miracle, mostly for these reasons: "...the storytelling was never simply a way to pass the time. Coyote stories detailed tribal origins, they emphasized a world view thought to be a correct one, and they dramatized the value of proper behavior. To participate in these stories by listening to them was to renew one’s sense of tribal identity.” Asking to participate in an endangered culture not my own would be wrong in many ways; Natives need to hold what little they have left, and I have to respect their wishes.

Lopez manages to give a glimpse of Native mythology without betraying the sacredness of their culture. The Trickster character is in some ways unique to North America, but is also universal enough for us to recognize and appreciate. It’s been quite a while since I practiced Western monotheism, and it was few years into my alternative spiritual path that I learned the concept of “spirituality of place” (helped along by de Lint’s Forests of the Heart, and reminded of it again with my last Lackey read). Since then, I’ve been more respectful of the spiritual energy with which I work.

Lopez’s assertion that Coyote embodies both good and evil is supported over and over again in these stories. This is similar to the way many other dieties operate within their pantheons.

Some of my favorites:
Coyote and Sandhill Crane (the ending made me laugh out loud)
Coyote and Beaver Exchange Wives (yep, you read that right…the hippies did not invent wife swapping)
Coyote Loses Some Blood (nuts beget nuts)
Whirlwind Woman (Coyote gets snubbed)
Coyote Visits the Land of the Dead (Coyote blows it for the rest of us)
Coyote Finishes His Work (not Revelations…)

Read this for the Once Upon a Time Challenge at

My copy of this book is also registered at BookCrossing, so I’m glad to be able to kill 2 goals with one book.

[originally posted to 43Things and crossposted to BookCrossing 4/18/07]


Quixotic said...

I loved his book Of Wolves and Men, so I'm quite interested in this. Thanks for posting your thoughts, I'm going to add this to my list of books to acquire!

Nymeth said...

I need to pick this one up. I love Native American tales. I've recently read "American Indian Trickster Tales", edited by Alfonso Ortiz, and I definitely recommend that one as well.

Thanks for the review!

Carl V. said...

You would probably really enjoy Widdershins by Charles de Lint. Great Native American folklore wrapped up in it.

Bellezza said...

I am only a little familiar with Coyote as the trickster; I'm more aware of Anansi the spider from African lore. However, I am very fond of Native American culture and I'm glad to hear of this interesting series.

Stephanie said...

This books sounds so interesting! I've never read a lot of Native American lore. I think I really need to add this one to my list! Thanks for a great review!

Kailana said...

One of my favourite books that this sort of reminds me of is "Green Grass, Running Water" by Thomas King. It is one of my favourite books of all time. :)

booklogged said...

You are reading and reviewing a lot of books and authors I've never heard of. I guess that's one of the neat things about challenges, is being exposed to so many new books. Great reviews.

Ex Libris said...

Thanks for such an interesting review. I'm going to see if I can find this.