The Blind Man and the Loon: The Story of a Tale.

Author:Lundquist, Suzanne Evertsen
Position:Book review

The Blind Man and the Loon: The Story of a Tale. By Craig Mishler. Lincoln, NE and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2013. Pp. vii + 246, list of illustrations, foreword, preface, acknowledgements, introduction, conclusion, afterword, appendices, notes, references, index.

The result of forty years of research, Craig Mishler's The Blind Man and the Loon is a significant example of what twenty-first-century folklorists do. Mishler's text is an auto-ethnography--a work in which Mishler acknowledges his role as a "curator, biographer, interpreter, and friend" of the story as well as those tellers whose continual reiterations span across the subarctic from Alaska and Northwest Canada to Labrador and Greenland (xx). The narrative, in variation, spans eight regional groups or "oicotypes", "moving fluidly across the continents of North America and Greenland like gigantic herds of caribou" (xxv). Mishler gives ample evidence of the "livingness" of the tale as it has emerged from time immemorial (when loons could speak with people) into popular media: films, compact discs, radio broadcasts, a ballet, a composition of chamber music, theatrical performances, and various literary adaptations (119-20). Mishler says that an estimated 33 million people have seen the abbreviated film adaptation/revision The Loon's Necklace (123). Mishler has also "discovered ... eighty-six artistic works "based on the tale created by no less than fifty-four different artists"--paintings, etchings, sculptures, woodcuts, and masks (96). Contemporary Native storytellers Annie Blue (2009), James and Maggie Gilbert (1973), and Kenny Thomas (2000) are included under Mishler's designation of artists.

The text includes Mishler's commendable discussion of the contributions and shortcomings of well-known folklorists Hinrick Rink, Emile Petitot, Franz Boas, and Knud Rasmussen, as well as criticisms of semi-literary variants by such notable authors as N. Scott Momaday. The ethics of collecting, translating, and redacting are brought into question. Mishler calls Native storytellers cartographers. He contends that "the story of the Blind Man and the Loon is a cognitive map of ancient Indian and Eskimo cultures, plotting systems of knowledge, emotion, belief, and value" (154). The tale is, in many respects, a cautionary tale. "Even when corrupted" by ignorant, unaware, unethical collectors who don't acknowledge their informants, edit out portions (the violence) of the tale, or mash...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP