Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Ancient Child is in many ways a natural continuation and synthesis of Momaday’s earlier works. In light of Momaday’s view that there is “only one story,” the reader is not surprised to see themes and images repeated from such works as The Way to Rainy Mountain (1969) and House Made of Dawn (1969), chiefly the belief in the individual’s power to re-create the self through the imaginative use of powerful stories.

The Ancient Child also shares with Momaday’s earlier works a fascination with the power of language; Momaday has even coined the term “wordwalker” to describe his view of himself as an artist. Momaday’s work displays an acute awareness of words, language, and tone—seen, for example, in Set’s obsessive meditation on his own name during his mental breakdown, and in the difference between the rough frankness of Grey’s (imagined) spoken dialogues with Billy the Kid and the even elegance of her writings about him. Momaday has expressed an admiration for the linguistic purity and force of the poems of Emily Dickinson and of formal Indian orations; his work shows a similar striving toward a powerful simplicity and clarity of language.

Closely linked to Momaday’s feel for words is his interest in different narrative forms, a feature also found in his earlier works. In The Ancient Child, Momaday combines modern narrative fiction with poetry, the Western lore of the dime...

(The entire section is 424 words.)