CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 15 . . . . March 16, 2007
James Houston’s Treasury of Inuit Legends.
Orlando, FL: Harcourt (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2006.
268 pp., cloth, $22.95.
The White Archer (1967)
Wolf Run (1971)
Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14.
Review by Gail de Vos.
No writer I've ever read about had the determination and guts displayed by Houston, putting himself in native hands, unable to speak a single word of their language, Inuktitut, having never eaten raw seal, raw walrus, or raw fish. He used his sketching to help learn their language. He became a student of whom they were proud. The Inuit affectionately named him Saumik: 'the left-handed one." (From the introduction by Theodore Taylor).
After his work was done, he stepped out through the entrance of the small igloo to look at the great night sky. It was filled with stars beyond counting that formed patterns familiar to all his people, who used them for guidance when traveling.
Off to the north, great green and yellow lights soared up, slowly faded, then soared again in their magic way. Tiktaliktak's people knew that these were caused by the night spirits playing the kicking game in the sky. In the way his father had taught him, he whistled and pushed his hands up to the sky, marveling as the lights ebbed and flowed with his movements as though he controlled them. (From Tiktaliktak).
James Houston’s Treasury of Inuit Legends is a handsome collection of four stories originally published between 1965 and 1971 and accompanied by Houston's evocative sketches. The stories, Tiktaliktak, The White Archer, Akavak and Wolf Run are fictionalized accounts of the traditional way of life venerated by Houston in his extended stay in the Arctic several decades earlier. These stories, considered Canadian classics, are introduced by Theodore Taylor and are wrapped in an attractive cover which includes a composite of images taken from Houston's text. The fact that this book is an American endeavour speaks highly of the esteem others hold of his work as well.
Gail de Vos teaches at the School of Library and Information Studies for the University of Alberta and is the author of six books on storytelling and folklore.
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