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Home > Books & Reviews > Pagan > American Indian Myths and Legends Search

Book Review:
American Indian Myths and Legends

Editor: Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Publication date: September 1985
ISBN: 0394740181
Price & More Info: Click Here

If you are looking for a book that presents Native American stories as they were, and are still being, told then this book is for you. Unlike the dry, third-hand, reporting style of many books this volume relates the stories in an engaging and conversational style. This 527-page book relates 166 stories by storytellers from 80 different tribal groups across North America. The source of each story and the time in which the story was collected is recorded with each story. The book provides a glossary at the end that provides brief descriptions of all the tribes mentioned in the text. Three basic times are covered in the stories related in the text. These stories include classic stories that appear to have origins from before Caucasians came to North America, stories that happened as American Indians began to interact with Whites (such as the story of "Elk Dogs" which relates the introduction of horses into North America), and new stories first told shortly before the publication of the book.

The book is well written and relates the stories in an easy to read, casual story telling style. It need not be read chronologically and many stories are only a few pages long, which makes it an easy book to read a little bit at a time. I enjoyed the organization style. The stories are arranged by topic, rather than tribal groups. I enjoy this organizational style, as this makes it easier to explore the similarities and differences among various tribes. The book appears to be well documented and includes an extensive bibliography of original sources. I would recommend this book for anyone looking for an introduction into the stories of a wide variety of indigenous North American peoples.

The book is divided into ten sections that relate stories falling under ten general themes as discussed below. Each section is prefaced by a brief introduction that discusses the topic being covered as well as similarities and differences between the tales of different tribal groups. Many of the individual stories are accompanied by explanations of how these stories relate to the ceremony, history, and everyday lives of the tribes discussed.

The first section discusses stories of human creation and creation of items that were very important to different tribes. This includes stories of the creation of the buffalo, tobacco, and important rituals such as healing ceremonies and vision quests. The second section discusses creation of the earth and includes stories such as the Yuma’s tales of the good twin and the evil twin and the Modoc’s story of the turtle. The third section discusses the creation of heavenly objects: the sun, moon and stars. The fourth section is primarily hero legends that discuss the outwitting and destruction of monsters. The fifth section discusses war and the warrior codes. This section focuses primarily on the Plains Indians, and includes tales of counting coup, battlefield bravery and warrior women. The sixth section discusses stories of love. This includes beautiful stories of devotion as well as bawdy sexual tales. The seventh section presents tales of tricksters, including the mischievous coyote. The eighth section discusses stories of animals and includes stories discussing unions between people and animals, and the sacrifices that animals made for humans during the hunt. The ninth section provides stories of ghosts and the spirit world. The tenth and final section recounts stories of the end of the world. This includes a heartbreakingly poignant tale recounted by a witness of the Wounded Knee massacre.

Reviewed by Sperran

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