The Blind Man and the Loon

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

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
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    The Blind Man and the Loon
    Book Description:

    The story of the Blind Man and the Loon is a living Native folktale about a blind man who is betrayed by his mother or wife but whose vision is magically restored by a kind loon. Variations of this tale are told by Native storytellers all across Alaska, arctic Canada, Greenland, the Northwest Coast, and even into the Great Basin and the Great Plains. As the story has traveled through cultures and ecosystems over many centuries, individual storytellers have added cultural and local ecological details to the tale, creating countless variations.

    InThe Blind Man and the Loon: The Story of a Tale, folklorist Craig Mishler goes back to 1827, tracing the story's emergence across Greenland and North America in manuscripts, books, and in the visual arts and other media such as film, music, and dance theater. Examining and comparing the story's variants and permutations across cultures in detail, Mishler brings the individual storyteller into his analysis of how the tale changed over time, considering how storytellers and the oral tradition function within various societies. Two maps unequivocally demonstrate the routes the story has traveled. The result is a masterful compilation and analysis of Native oral traditions that sheds light on how folktales spread and are adapted by widely diverse cultures.

    eISBN: 978-0-8032-4685-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword (pp. ix-xii)
    Robin Ridington

    From a distance of miles and centuries, stories in the oral tradition seem to have an independent existence, drifting from place to place like species of animals over time and territory and gradually evolving from one form to another. Indeed, early folklorists and anthropologists sought to dissect and classify them in the same way that anatomists and taxonomists dissect and classify groups of animals. Later, Swedish folklorist Carl von Sydow (also known as the father of actor Max von Sydow) coined the termoicotypeto describe local forms of a widely distributed folktale. His idea was that stories evolve and...

  5. Preface (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Acknowledgments (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. Introduction: The Story of a Tale (pp. xix-xxx)

    Of the many thousands of stories recorded in Native North America by folklorists, linguists, ethnographers, and amateur enthusiasts, perhaps none have received as much attention as Raven Brings Daylight (Oosten and Laugrand 2006) or the Star Husband Tale, the latter now well-known through the classic studies made by Gladys Reichard (1921) and Stith Thompson (1953). The most recent study of a single tale known across the arctic is Kira Van Deusen’sKiviuq(2009), written from the perspective of a professional storyteller. Still, there are other widely diffused oral narratives or “diasporic folktales” (Haring 2003) actively circulating in oral tradition begging...

  8. CHAPTER ONE The History and Geography of the Tale (pp. 1-26)

    Some years ago I presented a paper attempting reconstruction of the archetype of the Blind Man and the Loon (Mishler 1988). At that time I defined paradigms for thirteen selected traits found within each of its two major subtypes (see appendix A). I called these the Eskimo or Inuit subtype featuring the BlindBoyand the Loon and the Indian subtype featuring the BlindManand the Loon. With these two major ethnic subtypes the tale behaves like a double helix. Its dna gets passed on from generation to generation, reproducing itself much like genetic information being transmitted from storyteller...

  9. CHAPTER TWO The Writing of the Tale (pp. 27-48)

    It is regrettable to report that efforts to write “The Blind Man and the Loon” over the past century and a half have been less than diligent. Philologically speaking, there are many ways to write a folktale found in oral tradition and many, many ways to represent and misrepresent it. For better or worse, each collector and editor has left his or her mark on the text. If we compare the earliest recorded oral variants with those recently recorded in Native languages, the basic narrative thread has survived reasonably intact, but the stories have often been heavily damaged, twisted, and...

  10. CHAPTER THREE The Tale Behind the Tale (pp. 49-66)

    The saddest part of folklore scholarship has always been the lack of recognition of the storytellers. Many collectors did not even tell us the names of the persons from whom they recorded their texts. But it’s not just the stories themselves that are important: it’s the lives of the stories, and the lives of the stories are deeply embedded in the lives of the storytellers. And it’s time to recognize that the lives of the storytellers also become texts if they are documented.

    We know this is true, especially with classical authors. Just think about how much has been written...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR The Telling of the Tale (pp. 67-92)

    Maggie Gilbert (Maggie Jyah) was a Gwich’in Athabaskan woman born at Shuman House on the Porcupine River in northeastern Alaska in 1895 or 1896. Her father’s English name was William and her mother was Laura, but after her mother died in 1909 she was raised by her uncle, Chief Christian, in the upper Chandalar River country.

    Maggie’s first husband was Titus Peter, and her children from Titus include Naomi (Tritt) and Kias Peter. An early photograph of her with husband Titus was taken in Arctic Village in 1927 (fig. 14). In 1931, sometime after Titus died, she married James Gilbert,...

  12. CHAPTER FIVE The Art of the Tale (pp. 93-118)

    As noted earlier, the story of the Blind Man and the Loon is widely distributed across Greenland, Canada, and Alaska. Although the tale is just as well known among northern Indians as it is among Eskimos, it is primarily the Inuit or Eskimo subtype that has inspired a remarkable wealth of folk art, including sculptures, prints, sketches, and wall hangings. In chapter 4 I talked about the artistry of the language used to tell the tale through one of its many authentic oral performances, but here I want to explore the great wealth of other art forms inspired by the...

  13. FIGURES (pp. None)
  14. CHAPTER SIX The Mediated and Theatrical Tale (pp. 119-134)

    In her ground-breaking book,American Folklore and the Mass Media(1994), Linda Dégh discusses what happens to folklore when it is enters the electronic world. While purists might think this is a bad thing, a corruption, Dégh argues that mass media actually liberates folklore and makes it more accessible to all. “The time is ripe,” she writes in anticipation, “for folklorists to think about a new type of fieldwork for a more systematic, scientific study of folklore transmission in the age of the electronic explosion” (1994, 13). For Dégh and other folk narrative scholars, media continues to be a hot...

  15. CHAPTER SEVEN The Power of the Tale (pp. 135-152)

    As mentioned in chapter 1, “The Blind Man and the Loon” has traveled for thousands of miles and has been performed for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years for thousands of people over a very large part of northern and western Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and the western United States. Most exciting of all is the fact that it is still very much a living tradition.

    My exercise on the morphology of the tale in chapter 1 demonstrates the tale’s great popularity and its ability to bend and transcend many cultural and linguistic boundaries, but it offers little or no insights...

  16. Conclusion and Afterword (pp. 153-156)

    “The Blind Man and the Loon” is constructed much like a hypertext. That is, it has embedded links to many symbolic cognitive domains in Eskimo and Indian culture. Its complex, immediate links to material culture (especially historic and late prehistoric subsistence hunting technologies), to kinship rights and obligations, to spirituality (shamanistic dreaming and healing), and to notions of personal and social justice are a total revelation. Each variant provides continuity with the past and each performance contributes to cultural survival.

    On a computer, such links or “pages” are activated by a mouse click. But in the world of face-to-face oral...

  17. Appendix A: Paradigm of Tale Traits (pp. 157-162)
  18. Appendix B: Annotated Bibliography of Variants (pp. 163-190)
  19. Appendix C: Knud Rasmussen’s Greenlandic Variants (pp. 191-210)
  20. Appendix D: The Steenholdt Text and Additional Variants from Hinrich Rink’s Collection (pp. 211-216)
  21. Notes (pp. 217-222)
  22. References (pp. 223-238)
  23. Index (pp. 239-246)


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