In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World Analysis
by Virginia Hamilton

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In the Beginning: Creation Stories from Around the World Analysis

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Collectively, these stories include points of amazing similarity, underscoring the universality of human interpretation, imagination, and concern. Many stories, for example, claim that in the beginning there was only light, or darkness, or an ocean; others begin with a god who becomes the world or begets the world and its creatures. In her afterward, Hamilton offers some loose categories. For example, she identifies earth diver stories, in which a creature swims down through the water to find dirt from which to make the earth; cosmic egg stories, in which a god emerges and begins the Creation; world-parent stories, in which all creation comes from a mother-seed, or stone; and stories that tell of a time before earth and sky were separate or before the earth was solid. Many depict forces of life opposing those of death or depict a world in constant tension between conflicting gods. These similarities will not be lost on younger readers and probably would help them begin to grasp and synthesize ideas, as they note comparisons and points of contrasts. Some stories reflect a pessimistic view of the elements and gods, perhaps suggesting the challenge of survival; others are more lighthearted.

Individually, these stories offer glimpses into the minds of earlier peoples in specific places around the globe as they tried to make sense of abstract concerns with only the physical world and their own imaginations, experience, and knowledge of human nature to provide answers. The stories illustrate the limits and resources of that experience, and many describe the landscape from which they came. In the Icelandic saga, the source of the gods and Earth is Imir, an evil frost giant. In a story from the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean, in the beginning there was only the ocean, and a god took the islands out of his basket and placed them in the sea; when he let one island slip out if his hand, it landed out of line with the others, and so remains.

Although grand in scope, the stories of In the Beginning describe very human characteristics and thus make compelling and engaging reading simply at the level of narrative. Gods often reflect the jealousy, cruelty, and pride of human beings, and so the world suffers from their weaknesses. In the story from the Kono people of Guinea, Sa, or Death, angered that the God Alatangana took one of Sa’s daughters as his wife without Sa’s consent, punished them by...

(The entire section is 615 words.)