AMERICAN INDIAN MYTHS AND LEGENDS, selected and edited by Richard Erdoes and Alfonso Ortiz, 1984, Pantheon Books (Random House) and Random House of Canada, Ltd. $17 paper. 527 pp, Appendix with brief descriptions of each tribe; myths bibliography; tales index; 0-394-74018-1
On everyone's list of must-have, must-read collections. Many of these tales were collected by the authors (generally Erdoes) during his travels in the 1960's on Plains reservations (mostly Lakota), as an artist, and sometimes accompanied by wonderful companions, such as Lame Deer (whose autobiography he wrote) and through visits by friends to his New York apartment. The tales told to Erdoes by lively elderly friends and younger ones have a vividness and gusto (especially about sex -- there is one whose section called "tales of love and lust") not found in prim anthro collections. Other tales were taken from such collections and given a little writerly polish (both editors are accomplished writers). The live tales are overwhelmingly Lakota, but overall there is a selection representing the Southwest, woodlands, and desert, 160 tales in all, some very short. For the live-told tales, Erdoes introduces the teller and explains the circumstances in which the tale was told. There has been nothing really comparable to this collection, before or since. What sets it off from countless others is that most of the stories crackle with life. They weren't collected for anthro purposes, and it shows. Only an artist and storyteller, travelling in Indian country, could do it. Nowadays, such a person would be pointed to the tribal casino hotel, rather than welcomed to log homes, old trailers, on several reservations of the Plains. Tellers are named. The stories takn from anthropological collections have ben rewritten with care to preserving cultural realities, so the collection has a single smooth voice. owver, the authors rely on early collector-translators, which (as Native speakers begin to translate those few old stories which were preserved as well in Native languages, or stories still told) shows that in many cases collector-translators missed much of importance. Reviewed by Paula Giese
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Last Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 1996 - 7:19:04 AM