Christie Harris Richard B. Davidson - Essay

Richard B. Davidson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Christie Harris Sky Man on the Totem Pole? … concerns, among other things, the relation between the Indian and White cultures. In the vein of von Daniken, the question is this: did visitors from other planets furnish the images for the mythology of Earth's denizens? In this novel, might spacemen have provided the Indians of the Northwest with the basic imagery and narrative core of their central legend of Temiaham?…

I am sorry to say that while I am aware of Harris' reputation and respectful of her impulse to do something fresh and new, I do not find this a good book. It is contrived, made up of elements that work against each other. For example, if you write a novel and introduce character in the psychological sense, as Harris does at the outset with the brothers Adinak and Say-ok, you raise expectations which are shortchanged if the characters are suddenly transposed into the mythic mode wherein psychology is irrelevant and the "character's" emblematic function is the important thing. (p. 511)

Legend and myth are not amenable to certain narrative devices and points of view. Harris goes inside the characters' heads, but will come right out when myth requires their demise. And while myth depends on the calm reiteration of incident, the author tries to dramatize cyclic incident with a breathless style that, for me, soon ceases to be generative of any emotion at all. I think this novel is not controlled: there is too much aimed for, not enough hit. Sad, because there are possibilities here. (pp. 511, 513)

Richard B. Davidson, in Journal of Reading (copyright 1976 by the International Reading Association, Inc.; reprinted by permission of Richard B. Davidson and the International Reading Association), March, 1976, pp. 511-12.

All six stories in Harris' third collection of Northwest Coast Indian tales [Mouse Woman and the Vanished Princesses] deal with princesses who are kidnapped or captured by animals or spirits…. Reading all six together makes the unifying themes seem only repetitive, and Harris sometimes plays Mouse Woman for her marginally cloying cuteness while playing the rest of it straight…. [But separately the stories] stir up enough atmospheric mischief, and reveal enough of Haida and Tsimshian culture, to put this on the level of the author's Once More Upon a Totem…. (p. 476)

Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1976 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), April 15, 1976.