Mel's Reviews > North American Indians Myths and Legends

North American Indians Myths and Legends by Lewis Spence
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's review
Mar 10, 12

bookshelves: mythology, folklore, 20th-century-non-fiction
Read in March, 2012 — I own a copy

In the past I've been a huge fan of the myths and legends series re-published by Senate House but on starting this one I realised in the past I must have only read books about Europeans and Egyptians. Written in 1914 this had some of the worst racist descriptions of Native Americans I'd read in a long time. There were countless uses of the words "red skinned savages" and the fact that they were an inferior race, cultural, intellectualy and religiously. It was a little sickening! And this from a guy who at the end tried to say that we shouldn't judge the "savages" as harshly as they had been judged. If this was meant to be a fair anaylisis I'm horrified.

Thankfully only the first half is full of this crap "anthropological" approach. When the legends actually begin they are very enjoyable. The myths at least aren't all jumbled together but are broken up into different myths from different areas and different tribes so you can get some sense of the different beliefs and the different world views. I really liked the Iroquois legends they were very much about people using magic and had many less animal stories. They had a wonderful story about a boy who was helped by a skeleton who saved his life several times. In the end the boy came back and was able to resurrect the skeleton and the other skeletons in the area. I just really liked the idea that not all skeletons were evil.

My favourites though were the Chinook legends from the Northwest. They had a wonderful trickster character called Blue Jay and his sister Ioi who married into the land of the dead. She was more clever and resourceful than Blue Jay and ended up fooling him into betraying himself a few times. I went in search of more legends of them online and found several websites that had very similar versions of the stories to the ones I'd been reading. This made me think that despite the anthropological racism in the book the mythology itself was quite accurate. If you can ignore those parts and just read the stories it makes for a good book.
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