Hyemeyohsts Storm Essay - Critical Essays

Storm, Hyemeyohsts

Storm, an American Indian, is the author of the novel Seven Arrows.

There are few books that have a genuine hypnotic effect on the reader. Fewer still are those occasions in our reading lives when we come across a work with magical properties so enchanting that we immediately sense that we will be haunted by it the rest of our lives. Seven Arrows, by Hyemeyohsts Storm, is such a book, a novel—the first novel by an American Indian. It is the most extraordinary book I have ever read. I think that it is going to force us to reconsider some of our basic conceptions of American literature. I know that it is going to make us stand up and look at the American Indian artist in a way that we have never regarded him before.

Topographically, the book is unique in itself: almost square in shape, printed in double columns, illustrated by dozens of photographs of animals and of traditional Indian life and nearly a dozen color paintings of medicine wheels created specifically for this volume. But this is not to suggest a novel with pictures in the Victorian novelist's sense or a children's story told primarily by illustration. Instead, the photographs and color paintings have been fully integrated into the text of the novel itself. It is impossible to think of the book without them and our memories of the novel, after finishing it, are also images of haunting Indian faces. There are illimitable reproductions of these faces reprinted from the archives of more than a half dozen museums and historical associations, all reproduced in brown and white, as is the text of the novel itself. The color plates depicting the medicine shields are as important to our understanding of the novel as any of the events in the narrative or the characters who embellish the story with their analyses of the religious overtones of the shields' origins. It is this perfect union of word and image that may be said to constitute the prime concern of Seven Arrows: the growth of our perceptions of the world we live in….

We must, to a certain extent, suspend our traditional concepts of the novel when we read Seven Arrows, for at least two of the traditional conventions of the novel's form—character and time—are rejected here. Only place—the great American plains, near the Rocky Mountains—remains as a conventional unifying force. It is particularly the absence of one central character, however, that most strongly marks Storm's novel as something apart from the norm. Seven Arrows has no central character, and because of this we may say that Storm's work is not a novel about an individual or two or three characters, but a novel about a people—the American Indian….

Characters are introduced, we come to love them, and then abruptly they are dead. Rarely are there any references to time between incidents recorded in the narrative. Life simply goes on. The Indian survives—though just barely. Every aspect of traditional Indian life is recorded: birth, initiation rites, marriage, death—the entire cycle of life. Oral tales that exemplify all of these stages are included—traditional Indian folklore. There are tales of Indians, of animals, and of Indians and animals living in harmony together….

Ultimately, Seven Arrows must be looked at in the same way that Hyemeyohsts Storm says the Plains Indians regarded the medicine wheels—as a way of life, as a pathway toward understanding the brotherhood of man. I can think of no novel, of no sociological study written during the past few years that has depicted America's cultural differences and complexities with the sensitivity and beauty of this book. Seven Arrows is a book for all times, for all American peoples—a tale of terror and beauty—of extreme realities we have only begun to comprehend.

Charles Larson, "Seven Arrows: Saga of the American Indian," in Books Abroad, Winter, 1973, pp. 88-92.