Christie Harris S. YVONNE MacDONALD - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Mouse Woman and the Vanished Princesses, a] collection of legends from the mythology of the Northwest Coast Indians of Canada is uniquely linked through the character of Mousewoman, a Narnauk or Supernatural Being…. The stories are clearly and lyrically told, with perhaps the most distinctive quality being the characterizations of the Narnauks. Harris manages to evoke the magical and essentially alien World of the Supernaturals and also its familiarity to the Indians, for these spirits were a daily part of their lives….

There is a surprising amount of variety in this collection, given the confines of the theme, vanishing princesses. Some of the tales are poignant, others almost grisly in their outcome. All of the retellings reveal the author's detailed knowledge of Northwest Indian culture and customs, in addition to the actual legends. (p. 41)

Mousewoman and the Vanished Princesses follows other books of Indian mythology by Christie Harris such as Once Upon a Totem and Once more Upon a Totem. By comparison, they have a more scholarly approach to Indian mythology, because of the introductory essay preceding each tale, perhaps. In these essays, Harris formally discusses Northwest Coast Indian life…. They could easily be used by an adult studying cultural anthropology….

[Raven's Cry and Forbidden Frontier] combine the author's knowledge of Indian folklore and custom with historical fact to describe the collision between European white man's civilization and Indian culture. Harris writes with sympathy for the Indians, apparently determined to tell their side of the story. Her characterizations of Indian children and adults are as human, if not more so, than those of the white people in the novels, stressing the pride and dignity of the Indian people before their degradation by the fur traders and other whites. Forbidden Frontier … seemed more sketchily written than Raven's Cry. which drew more upon the author's specialised knowledge of Indian mythology. This knowledge of legend and folklore seems to me to be the author's main strength, whether in her collections of myths or in her novels. She is at her best when she is recreating the stateliness and traditional tone of the Northwest Indian culture, the main theme in all her writings. (p. 42)

S. Yvonne MacDonald, in In Review: Canadian Books for Children, Autumn, 1976.