Glooskap's Country and Other Indian Tales Essay - Critical Essays

Cyrus Macmillan


Some readers of recent times may find Macmillan reckless in his approach to legendary and mythological material. For example, he originally offered many of the narratives as “wonder tales” or “fairy tales,” phrases that may appear condescending, considering that these stories were taken from religious tradition and are, in some sense, considered true by the original tellers and audiences. By contrast, although similar Greek and Roman narratives are often rewritten for young audiences, they are usually termed “myths,” implying their original role. At best, Macmillan’s original terms prove misleading. The choice of “Indian tales” is somewhat more neutral, but still not as precise as it might be. Also, the text’s treatment sometimes suggests a fairy tale more than a legend or myth. For example, when Macmillan calls the trickster “Bunny the Rabbit,” rather than simply “Rabbit,” he imposes a cuteness not in the original tale.

Macmillan generally succeeded, however, at a hard task. He not only had to adapt his material from one medium to another (oral recitation to printed book) but also had to interpret it for another culture. Although the supernatural agencies tend to become more picturesque than awe-inspiring, as in the original myths, this result is as much a function of moving the stories into another civilization (for which Glooskap and Wolf Wind have no inherent significance) as it is a matter of Macmillan’s treatment of the stories.

A related issue involves Macmillan’s choice of language; words denoting the supernatural depend on particular perceptions that may not be fully understood in another context. For example, Macmillan renders manitou—which could mean “spirit,” “god,” or sometimes even “magician”—as “fairy.” The...

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