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Showing posts with label David Shannon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Shannon. Show all posts

1.15.2012

The Boy Who Lived With The Seals (1993)

Retold by Rafe Martin

Illustrated by David Shannon

Acyrlic

Typeset in Meridien

G.P. Putnam's Sons

I thought I'd begin this month of Native American stories with a book by two of my favorite people, Rafe Martin and David Shannon. They previously had collaborated on The Rough-Faced Girl. In that book, I remember being very surprised at how soulful Shannon's artwork could be - as I generally associate him with goofier, more playful fare. This book finds him back in full form here, adding some real gravity to a fanciful tale. In particular, I marveled at the violence with which the men of the village wrestle the boy from the island of seals to bring him home to his parents.

This is a Chinook tale, and is a tale with some familarities. The Jungle Book sprung to mind. Boy runs away from home, boy is taken in by anthropormised animals, boy returns to society... However, I have to think that it was the more spiritual elements which made Rafe want to tell this story. "These People understand well the sacredness of all life," he writes in an afterword. "They know one cannot just take without giving some gift in return - and that out of this gift new gifts of renewed life will grow."

Once the boy returns to his people, he tells of his life with the seals. It's mostly swimming and fishing, as you might imagine, but also...

He said that they build fires at night under the sea and tell stories. Only the stories the seals tell, he said, are of the things that happened long ago when the world was new, and of the things that are yet to happen far in the future.


A strange, cosmic detail, indeed.

I couldn't help but be glad to see the boy escape and rejoin his underwater family, yet the tale was bittersweet, as we end with the parents who must now go on living without their son.

6.24.2011

The Rough-Face Girl (1992)

Retold by Rafe Martin

Illustrated by David Shannon

Text set in Veljovic

G.P. Putnams' Sons

When Arlo first learned that this was a David Shannon book, he was surprised - as was I. The paintings are just so... earnest. Beginning with the cover, which I could look at for a year and a day, waiting for her to move the hands from her face, just a centimeter, as I know she is about to, and then continuing into the early morning mist revealing a small encampment by the shores of Lake Ontario, followed by the two sisters standing over the eponymous rough-face girl, their eyes lost in shadow as they gloat above a roaring fire. They look hollow. They look like evil statues. These are paintings which carry weight.

This is a Cinderella story, and it is also a retelling of the Sootface story which I reviewed last week. Sootface was Ojibwan, this story is Algonquin.

The former heroin had a face of soot, this girl has sisters who "made their youngest sit by the fire and feed the flames." Over time, as the sparks do their worst to her flesh, her skin begins to take on a rough appearance.

Beyond that, the two stories were very much the same. I noted that neither one begins with the appearance of the Invisible Warrior. We are introduced to him and his sister and their large wigwam before we meet the Rough-Faced girl and her wicked sisters.

All of the women of the village go to the wigwam of the Invisible Being and are then challenged by the sister.

"If you want to marry my brother, you have to have seen him. Tell me, have you seen the Invisible Being?"

"Of course!"

"What's his bow made of?"

"The great oak tree."

"No! What's the runner of his sled made of?"

"The green willow branch."

"No! You have not seen my brother. Now go home."

So then, it is the rough-face girl who makes the journey to the wigwam, and as she walks, she must put up with the taunts and jeers of the other women. "Go home, you ugly girl! You'll never marry the Invisible Being!"

Here the tale diverges quite a bit from Sootface. I noted that in Sootface, when the young heroine is asked about the Invisible Warrior, she responds that his bow is made of the rainbow. We see a normal-sized warrior approaching holding a bow which indeed appears to be a rainbow - or perhaps a rainbow colored piece of wood.

In The Rough-Face Girl, Shannon paints a gorgeous, 2 page spread of an unfolding landscape. "As she walked on, she saw the great beauty of the earth and skies spreading before her. And truly she alone, of all in that village, saw in this thing the sweet yet awesome face of the Invisible Being."

A very large, and very real rainbow arcs down from the skies.



Later, as night has fallen, and she is asked by the sister to tell of the Invisible Being's sled runner, she looks up into the starry skies and answers, "Why, it is the Spirit Road, the Milky Way of stars that spreads across the sky!"

There is the sense, then, that the Invisible Being is not a person at all, but a spirit which surrounds the whole of the earth. Perhaps the problem with the other sisters was that they took the questions too literally, trying to discern an invisible apparition, with the Invisible Being was with them and apparent the entire time. From this point of view, then, it seems The Rough-Face Girl - though beginning as a Cinderella story certainly, ends up being about a young woman's spiritual awakening, seeing for the first time the supernatural properties of the natural world.

Click here for more Native American tales!

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