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

Cyrus Macmillan

Critical Context

Cyrus Macmillan, in general, belonged to a tradition of white writers who recorded and interpreted American Indian myth, legend, and folktale throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in both the United States and Canada. One of the earliest and most famous of these was the U.S. writer Henry Schoolcraft, who recorded Algonquin (primarily Ojibwa) and Iroquoian traditions in Algic Recherches (1839). Unlike Schoolcraft, who either misunderstood or purposely rewrote some narratives, Macmillan proved generally accurate. Like many such writers, Macmillan believed that American Indian culture was close to extinction and desired to preserve a portion of this narrative tradition. He collected the tales, intending them primarily, but not solely, for young readers.

Macmillan was not a prolific writer. Glooskap’s Country and Other Indian Tales represents much of his output for young audiences. Nor was he a pioneer like Schoolcraft. He wrote fluidly, however, and largely resisted the temptation to rewrite the tales. Despite his occasional departures from his sources, Macmillan skillfully adapted most of what he found, preserving even the seeming contradictions in the stories. While Rabbit is described as kind in “How Rabbit Lost His Tail,” in “Rabbit and the Grain Buyers,” he mercilessly (if amusingly) feeds various creditors to one another. Macmillan’s American Indian tales makes accessible for young audiences some lively and interesting stories that, if not truly in danger of extinction, often remain unfamiliar to most readers of any age.

Young readers may find the tales a sympathetic and entertaining introduction to woodland and prairie legends. Reading the stories collected by Macmillan could spark an interest in many other collections of tales, including those focusing on different Glooskap traditions. Also, students may decide to explore other mythical traditions and compare their heroes and ontologies with those recorded by Macmillan. More sophisticated students might wish to compare “fairy tales” and “myths” in order to discover their similarities and differences. Those who enjoy nature lore might appreciate some of the stories about animals and the changing seasons, such as “How Rabbit Lost His Tail” and “How Glooskap Made the Birds.”