So-called "multicultural folktale" picture books are a
popular means for teaching about other cultures, especially in the primary
grades. However, almost all these books are fakelore. Many are based
on spurious legends, originally written for popular audiences following
a romantic formula, that were never told in traditional communities. More
are careless adaptations which completely assimilate genuine sources into
contemporary children's book fashions, as this paper will document with
numerous examples, mostly in reference to the stories of indigenous peoples
of North America. Although uninformed reviewers and educators praise the
changes authors make, knowledgeable, scholarly comparisons between picture
books and originals invariably show the "improvements" significantly distort
native style, characterization, plot, theme, meaning, and belief. These
picture books not only eliminate the "otherness" of other cultures to the
point they are a poor excuse for multicultural curriculum, they perpetuate
stereotypes of native storytelling as intellectually and aesthetically
child-like. If authors would stop oversimplifying, assimilating, playing
to the market, and using other people's stories to teach their own preferred
"virtues," and if educators would stop encouraging the production and use
of fakelore, we could start making progress on the legitimate problem of
how to edit, frame, and teach authentic traditional tribal oral literatures
to make them available and accessible to children.
| It is a matter of grave importance that Fairy tales should be
respected.... Whosoever alters them to suit his own opinions, whatever
they are, is guilty, to our thinking, of an act of presumption, and appropriates
to himself what does not belong to him.
Charles Dickens, "Frauds on Fairies" (1853)
Folklore has long provided grist for the children's literature mill. Too bad all that gets produced is white bread. Sure, children's "folktale" books are popular. Sure, parents, teachers, and even kids (sometimes) like them. Sure, they win prizes. Sure, they seem a swell way to learn about other times and other places. There's just one hitch. They ain't folk.
Folklorists have been complaining for generations about what Dorson (1950; 1976) bluntly called "fakelore": the representation of materials written by professional authors as reproductions of the oral traditions of historical and ethnic communities. Some fakelore is total fabrication, utterly unconnected to any actual folklore source-the Paul Bunyan stories found in schoolbooks were never told by lumberjacks, Pecos Bill was not a cowboy hero, and all those cutesy "Indian" origin legends were created by nineteenth and twentieth-century romantics. Other fakelore caters loose adaptations to contemporary literary and moral fashions, "processed folk" as I like to call it (Singer 1988). In either case, the published material, however much it claims ancestry in a particular "folk" community, is written to appeal to the tastes and desires of publishers, promoters, and readers, instead of to reflect the narrative and intellectual sensibilities of real "folk."
Currently fakelore is primarily perpetrated through children's books. A folktale (myth, legend), by definition, comes from, belongs to, is shared by a particular group-Ainu, Kiowa, mule-skinners-"a people" with shared experiences and traditions, with a culture in which these stories are embedded and whose beliefs, values, predicaments, and aesthetics they express. Children's books are written by children's book writers for children's book readers, and the beliefs, values, predicaments, and aesthetics they express are those of the authors, their readers, and publishers. They might be set in other times and other places, but their orientation is to the commercially viable here and now. Yet, when a book is labeled "An Arapaho Tale," those who purchase and read it assume what they are getting is an Arapaho tale, something at least closely resembling a story told by Arapaho to Arapaho in an Arapaho community. No one promotes a children's "folktale" book by admitting it is more or less loosely based on a story the author thinks might once have been told by Arapaho (or whoever) and changed in whatever ways the author feels like to fit his or her perspective and in the hope it will sell.
The pretense that children's folktale books are folktales is not innocent, not simply a loose, colloquial usage of a technical term. The appeal of these books rests precisely on their alleged representation of folk traditions, on their providing a link to ethnic heritages, on their enabling children to visit other cultures. These books are looked to for roots, for alternatives, for community, for a chance to expose children to diversity, for implementing a "multicultural" curriculum. The consumers of these books accept them as the real thing, and the children's book industry does its level best to foster the illusion.
Notice how it has become almost de rigeuer for recent "folktale" books (and "folktales" in textbooks) to be described as "retold by" whoever the author is. The Horn Book Magazine consistently lists the author as "reteller" or "reteller-illustrator." On the surface this may seem modest, as an attempt to give credit (though not profits or royalties) to traditional communities in a way the older, and more honest, preferred usage, "adapted by," did not. Looking deeper, however, we can see how "retold by" is a packaging strategy to make authors seem like they are simply among the many retellers of versions and variants who passed stories down by word of mouth as bearers of the oral tradition. But, children's books are written (and illustrated) not told orally, and their authors, with few exceptions, did not learn these stories as members of traditional communities and have never told these stories as part of those communities.
Subtitling or listing a children's book as "An Algonquin Legend" or "A Kikuyu Tale" intentionally suggests continuity with a tradition. The label affords a mask of authenticity that entices the reader seeking stories from that culture. So, too, does the direct citation of a source. I do not wish to question the sincerity of authors who provide references, certainly a convenience for those who wish to make comparisons (tracing possible sources for highly adapted picture books when no citation is given is a formidable and sometimes fruitless task, even for someone who has the expertise to undertake it). Still, since most readers do not seek out originals or check what changes have been made, the main function of citations is rhetorical: they proclaim the story has a bona fide source. That the source may itself be suspect or that the picture book may bear it little resemblance goes unnoticed. Sage (1994) writes of his Coyote Makes Man, "This version of an ancient Native American myth typifies the stories told by many of the nations who once inhabited the Great Plains." He notes that "the essence of the story... [is] probably of Crow origin," and lists several references, most of which are abbreviated. The story in his most trustworthy citation has little in common with his "myth," and there is nothing remotely like it in Lowie's (1918) Myths and Traditions of the Crow Indians, the definitive collection through which typicality of Crow oral tradition is best assessed. Indeed, this "myth" seems to be almost completely the author's own invention, and certainly atypical of Coyote.
"Scholarly" introductions, notes, and afterwards also provide a gloss of legitimacy. After all, if the author has done research on a culture, presumably he or she should know something about it. Such "scholarly" information, however, does not necessarily demonstrate more than a cursory, and often erroneous, knowledge, and it certainly does not mean the story, itself, closely resembles anything told in the tradition or reflects the themes, plots, or characters of authentic versions. Esbensen (1989) tells how to pronounce certain Ojibwe words; but it is impossible to trace much of her Ladder to the Sky to Copway's Traditional History and Characteristic Sketches of the Ojibway Nation, and her story tells of a completely different origin for medicine rites than the well-documented myth of the Midewiwin. Anyway, despite his Indian name, Ka-Ge-Ga-Gah-Bowh, which the author plays up, and his title (perhaps self-designated) of "chief," Copway (1850: ix), who real historians consider unreliable, was a fervent Protestant missionary who insisted: "It can be proved that the introduction of Christianity into the Indian tribes has been productive of immense good. It has changed customs as old as any on the earth. It has dethroned error, and has enthroned truth." Although Cohlene's (1990a; 1990b; 1990c; 1990d) books include maps, glossaries of native terms, old photographs, and pictures of artifacts, her loose adaptations mutilate aboriginal versions. Nor are illustrations that imitate traditional art any guarantee of integrity.
Even sincere endeavors at scholarship mostly serve a sales function when the scholarship is sloppy. Van Laan (1997) thanks her nephew for his research on Shingebiss: An Ojibwe Legend; however her attempt to use Ojibwe expressions from Jones (1919: 674-697) and Schoolcraft (1856: 98-101) involves a confusing array of different orthographies, mistakes in translation, and a misunderstanding of grammatical inflections, which is what happens when one borrows without knowing the language. The main character is mis-identified as a merganser not a grebe. This may sound picky, but if picture book authors want to impress their readers with native language, they need to get it right. Anyway, the retelling makes the usual accommodations to children's book style, so any flavor of the original storytelling, which should come with native language texts, gets reduced to Longfellow-like linguistic name-dropping.
Another appeal to tradition is the good old-fashioned: "I heard it from a native." The popular Canadian author, Anne Cameron (1985a; 1985b; 1987a; 1987b; 1988), tells us: "When I was growing up on Vancouver Island I met a woman who was a storyteller. She shared many stories with me, and later, gave me permission to share them with others. The woman's name was Klopinum. In English her name means 'Keeper of the River of Copper.'" We have to turn to one of Cameron's (1986) adult books to discover that she is simply a white woman writing her own stories loosely based on memories of what she was told thirty or forty years earlier. We do know that most of her books have little or no basis in Northwest Coast mythology, that those that do are thoroughly at odds with authentic versions, and I've been told she is widely resented by First Nations people in British Columbia. The invocation of Klopinum makes her stories seem connected. They are not.
Many picture book authors allude to time spent in relation to a native community as their basis for expertise. Goldin (1996) volunteered with the Lummi Tribal Headstart Program, a qualification whose relevance to her reworking a mishmash of Northwest Coast "theft of fire" and "defeat of the ice people" myths, mostly from secondary sources, is left unexplained. "Inspired by a Blackfeet myth" (from an unreliable source), Rodanas (1994), a school teacher from West Barnstable, Massachusetts, whose dust-jacket photograph looks remarkably Indian, traveled to the Montana reservation and to Yellowstone National Park to do research for Dance of the Sacred Circle. She'd have had less fun but been more accurate if she'd gone to the library.
Fakelore is not just the fault of authors and publishers. Reviewers and critics, whose job it is to evaluate children's books, seem completely enamored with it, and they consistently contribute to false claims by providing a stamp of legitimacy. Take the excerpt from a Booklist "starred" review reproduced on the back of Goble's (1990b) Star Boy which calls it, "A considered, reverent, and eye catching rendition of an important Native American legend." How much, I wonder, does this reviewer know about the Blackfeet? Is she aware that Goble combined two myths unconnected in tradition or that his principle source was revised to suit the tastes of white readers (Stahl 1981)? Did she notice all the changes he made: eliminating the dangerous aspects of the Sun, for instance, or making fictive kinship real? "Eye catching" maybe; but "reverent"?
In The Horn Book Magazine (July/August 1987, p. 478), a reviewer notes of Steptoe's (1987) celebrated and award winning Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters that the story is a "polished retelling of one from G. M. Theal's Kaffir Folktales." The actual title is Kaffir Folklore(Theal 1886), and there is no tale in that collection that remotely resembles the one in the picture book. Maybe getting a title right is a scholarly hang-up, but it does seem reasonable to expect a reviewer who claims something is a "polished retelling" at least to look in the card catalog. To his credit, Steptoe (1988) points out that he was simply inspired by Theal's book to explore Zimbabwe tradition and come up with his own story, that he "did not write and illustrate a special interest picture book," one "said to be based on an African tale." Yet, Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters is reviewed, sold, classified, and, awarded, I presume, as an "African" tale.
The children's book industry-authors, reviewers, publishers, award givers-has created a climate where it is not only permissible but desirable to play fast and loose with other people's traditions. I am yet to see a review that takes an author to task for significantly changing a source, nor have I seen any convincing indication that reviewers bother to look closely at the originals; undocumented comparisons always choose to praise children's books as improvements. Neither does there seem to be any recognition of how much scholarly labor it takes even to begin to understand the meaning and artistry of oral literatures. Instead, Tanaka (1991) is assumed to be eminently qualified to write The Chase: A Kutenai Indian Tale, because she has already written numerous children's folktale books from around the world. Doesn't anyone wonder whether someone who dabbles in so many cultures knows enough about the Kutenai to do them justice?
By invoking authenticity, I have undoubtedly placed myself in the ironic position of seeming conservative by promoting an unassimilated other as the radical multicultural alternative to the children's book industry. Authors naturally insist that folktales exist in versions and variants and are constantly changing, so they should have a right to retell a story as they please, "weaving several sources together, mixing and matching in the true storytelling tradition," as dePaola suggests in his preface to Quail Song (Carey 1990). This argument shows a flawed (and self-serving) understanding of how the "folk process" truly works-especially since the book dePaola is praising bears so little resemblance to any of its potential, uncited, sources (Lummis 1910: 84-86; Parsons 1926: 152-153), it can barely be considered an adaptation.
Certainly, traditional narrators synthesize the different versions they have heard. Certainly, each traditional storyteller is an artist who adds his or her own flair and interpretation to the tales he or she tells. However, such artistry and synthesis takes place within a culture that sets parameters for and limits to what peculiarities and deviations from previous tellings will be accepted, that frames the content and style of narrative, so even texts learned from other cultures become assimilated into the narrator's own. For children's book authors, the culture for which they write is a safe, homogenized vision for unity and caring in difference, perhaps best exemplified by Reading Rainbow. Ultimately, their "weaving" is an assimilation of all the cultural difference in their sources and supposed sources into their own mono-culture.
Admittedly, real folk narrative can be difficult to follow, mostly because the subtleties of reference in native languages are usually lost in translation, and I have sympathy for those who feel they must provide clarifications for the reader. Children's book authors, however, go far beyond facilitating reading. Many of them start with tales that were never really part of any folk tradition, and virtually all insist on "improving" style, character, plot, and theme, to please themselves and their readers, with little regard to the integrity and meaning of their sources. Rewriting is simply what children's book authors do, and no one seems to care whether or not that is ethical.
The idea of folklore, with its rustic and the exotic connotations, has long been an appealing one, and it has been widely exploited for literary, commercial, and political ends. Innumerable "legends" and "folktales" have been fabricated by those who want to tap into or cash in on this appeal-as Dorson (1952:15) was told by a local Chamber of Commerce about some intriguing place names in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, "They're just some Indian legends we had to make up for the tourists." During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, newspapers and magazines were filled with so-called "American Indian legends" (in England they were from Africa, India, and other colonies), written as part of what Pearce (1965) terms "savagism," an image making process in which the "savages" of the American west were "tamed" while preserving a facade of the exotic. These stories were set in wigwams and tipis and featured characters with Indian-sounding names (Little Firefly, Laughing Water). Mostly, they told of how extreme love, faith, self-sacrifice, or devotion led to the creation of some natural phenomenon: a star, a flower, or a place of great beauty (a waterfall, an overlook, a clear spring), a narrative formula central to Ovid's Metamorphoses, which heavily prejudiced neo-classical and Romantic expectations for mythology. No such stories were ever told by traditional Native Americans, yet this kind of tale has come to epitomize Indian storytelling, and by now these invented legends have been reprinted in guidebooks, schoolbooks, and tourist propaganda for so long, almost everyone, including many Indians, assumes they are the real thing (Pound 1959).
Since most contemporary children's "folktale" books also try to tame traditional stories while maintaining an exotic facade, it is hardly surprising that their authors gravitate to these earlier "sentimental viands served by... whipped syllabub vendors" (Williams 1956: 18). Simply reading a few authentic folktale collections, taken down directly from knowledgeable informants by competent researchers, should suffice to make one pretty suspicious of the more extreme forms of romanticism. Yet, as prominent a children's book author as dePaola (1983) unhesitantly publishes The Legend of the Bluebonnet, a quintessential story of love, self-sacrifice and devotion leading to the creation of a beautiful flower, passed on to him by a Texas "reading consultant," as a "retelling of a Comanche Indian legend."
Both San Souci (1978) and Goble (1990b) have based picture books on "Scarface" from Grinnell's (1892: 93-103) Blackfoot Lodge Tales rather than on the version in Wissler and Duvall's (1909: 61-65) more scholarly Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians. This preference should come as no surprise; it is well-known Grinnell significantly reworked the original stories to make them more appealing to his readers. Standards for documentation only developed around 1900, and most collectors prior to that time felt no qualms about rewriting and combining stories they heard according to the literary and moral preferences of their time, and even after that amateurism and fraud remained a problem. The result is a "Scarface" that fits very nicely into an European fairy tale pattern.
In the more reliable version, the woman Scarface wishes to marry laughs at him; in Grinnell, the girl accepts him despite his ugliness and poverty, but cannot marry because she has made a pledge to the sun. Grinnell's story ends romantically, with man and woman happily united. In Wissler and Duvall, when Scarface returns from the Sun's lodge, there is not so much as a mention of the woman; although her taunting is what motivates him to seek the Sun, what matters is what he brings to the people-the sweat lodge, designs for the sun dance, honors for warriors who take scalps-not his love life. Wissler and Duvall's Scarface receives pity from the Sun and is made beautiful by sharing a sweat bath with him; it is only later, against advice, that he kills dangerous birds, and, even then, he is forced to prove his deed by bringing back their heads (the origin of scalping). In Grinnell, and in the picture books, as in many European tales, Scarface must accomplish a heroic task, the saving of Morning Star from the birds, before he is given his reward of an unscarred face. The sweat bath, so important to the Indians, is eliminated by Grinnell; in the children's books, naturally, all traces of scalping are gone.
Goble drops most of what happens during the visit to the Sun, including the battle with the birds. San Souci's The Legend of Scarface, which was rated one of "the ten best illustrated children's books of 1978" by The New York Times, gets rid of the Sun Dance. "The young man was no longer joked about, but was honored by all the tribes.... He and Singing Rains were wed the following morning. The Sun blessed the couple all the days of their lives, and the Moon gave them sweet dreams each night." Instead of the gift of ritual to the community, we are left with a typical children's book theme-it's not nice to tease those with deformities-and marital bliss.
Most nineteenth-century fakelore was based on the romantic hope of rediscovering the roots of humanity among people untainted by civilization. There has been a similar movement in the late twentieth-century as those dissatisfied with the fast pace, brutality, greed, and materialism of industrial society have turned to Native Americans and other presumed rustic peoples in search of non-violence, spiritualism, and respect for nature-the proliferation of children's books about these cultures is very much a part of this movement. As in the nineteenth century, genuine beliefs have been falsified and a great deal of fakelore has been produced.
One such "New Age" attempt to represent Native American spiritualism is Storm's (1972: 68-74) Seven Arrows, a book that has been accused of gross misrepresentation and sacrilege (Lincoln 1979: 59-61), because it "falsifies and desecrates the traditions and religion of the Northern Cheyenne, which it purports to describe" (Costo 1972). Seven Arrows includes a number of supposedly traditional stories. None, including the one Steptoe (1984) borrowed for his Caldecott Honor and ALA Notable Jumping Mouse: A Native American Legend, has any analog in the known canon of the Cheyenne or other tribes of the Plains.
"User Friendly" and Modernized Sources
It is always possible to find stories (including romantic "legends") told by native informants that suit the biases of the children's book industry, usually because the storyteller is more Westernized or has adapted them for a Western audience. Both Cohlene's (1990d) Quillworker and Goble's (1988a) Her Seven Brothers draw on "The Quillwork Girl and Her Seven Star Brothers" (Erdoes and Ortiz 1985: 205-209), a simpler, safer version than the complicated, morally ambiguous one in earlier sources (Grinnell 1926: 220-232; Kroeber 1900: 182-183). No picture book (Coatsworth and Coatsworth 1979; Goble 1990a; Johnston 1981) has yet dared use the best-known, hilarious variant of the tale about how Trickster kills his prey during a dance and loses it, the variant where he leaves his buttocks to stand guard, then burns it in punishment after he failed to heed its warnings. London's (1993) Fire Race adapts a Karok theft of fire myth that emphasizes cooperation, instead of a more elaborate text from the same collection (Kroeber and Gifford 1980: 11, 62-63, 152) in which Frog, the last in a series of animal recipients of the stolen fire, is reluctant to share.
All the recent picture books about Raven's theft of light (Dixon 1992; McDermott 1993; Shetterly 1991) work from a contemporary recasting of Raven as a benevolent creator, although once he was the quintessential trickster whose gifts to humanity were inadvertent consequences of his selfish pursuits, not acts of altruism. In these books, Raven steals the light to benefit everyone, not just himself. Neither Dixon (1992) nor McDermott (1993) explains why Raven lets go of his stolen treasure, usually in earlier sources, because he opens his mouth to grab food (Boas 1916: 641); Shetterly (1991), who places this story at the end of a series of biblical-style creations, inverts the motif, so it is people not Raven who behave selfishly-they are rewarded with the light only after they act with generosity. McDermott's conception of this story as analogous to biblical creation is obvious from his opening words: "Raven came. All the world was in darkness. The sky above was in darkness. The waters below were in darkness. Men and women lived in the dark and cold. Raven was sad for them. He said, 'I will search for light.'" All three authors are responsible for their changes; but the far nicer Raven, who definitely makes an easier children's book Creator than the nasty Raven of old, also seems to be preferred by contemporary Northwest Coast native communities.
Rosen's (1995) Crow and Hawk, about a bad biological parent who deservedly loses her children to a caring adoption, is taken from Tales of the Cochiti Indians. What the author neglects is Benedict's (1931: 236) footnote explaining that the "transparent animal fable" is "rarely found among American Indians." Bruchac, too, has a penchant for tales that provide a forum for teaching right from wrong or for building self-esteem. In The First Strawberries (Bruchac 1993), the sun gives the gift of strawberries to help reconcile a quarreling husband and wife. In The Great Ball Game (Bruchac 1994), the laughed-at Bat enables the animal-side to win a ritual ball game (which is why birds fly south in winter), after Bear tells him, "even the small ones can help." Gluskabe and the Four Winds (Bruchac 1995) combines stories and makes seemingly minor changes to accentuate the moral difference between those who selfishly seek gifts for themselves and he who wishes to help his people. Of the version in his Algonquin Legends, Leland (1884: 103) had remarked: "this beautiful story, in its original simplicity, reminds one of the tenderest biblical narratives." It is not that moral teaching stories were absent from the repertoires of traditional Native American storytellers, though clearly they have become more prevalent under European influence; but they were far less popular than tales imbued with drama, irony, and humor. For great oral narrators, as for the great European and Asian writers, right and wrong, good and evil, are not so easy separated, and their art abounds with complexities, contradictions, and moral shadings. The insistence that stories are supposed to teach children to be well-behaved remains a legacy of the Puritans.
Even The Prince and the Salmon People, which preserves a lengthy Tsimshian myth (Boas 1916: 192-206) about human relations with salmon, involves biased selection. Murphy (1993) chose this particular myth, in which proper respect and concern for salmon as a renewable resource is a central issue, because of "its powerful, timely message," because of how it resonates with contemporary environmental struggles. "Today, salmon face new dangers as they return to their home rivers to spawn.... Overfishing, concrete dams, polluted rivers, and hatchery fish contribute to the lowered numbers of North Pacific salmon. Unless we take drastic measures to preserve-and honor-the salmon, they may not exist for future generations." The Tsimshian undoubtedly agree, but the degree to which this myth coincides with ecological advocacy is highly unusual.
I am not arguing we should bind oral tradition in the past. There is a danger in limiting ourselves to moth-eaten volumes-I sympathize with Beatrice Harrell (1995) who fears the stories she learned from her Choctaw kin will be dismissed by scholars if they were not included in old collections. I would be more sympathetic, however, if she acknowledged that Choctaw tradition has changed, and that those who use newer versions should not lay claim to antiquity.
Occasionally there is somebody like the late Murdo Scribe (1989), a Cree educator, raised "in the bush," who makes a genuine attempt faithfully to record in picture book "some of the legends which had been passed down to him." (I am not talking about authors with some native blood who loosely adapt folktales from cultures to which they do not belong. Nor am I talking about the "basalized" children's books produced by native communities in imitation of school readers.) Scribe's version of the Ojibwe-Cree origin of seasons myth, although in written prose not oral discourse, has great continuity with earlier native language texts and retains the narrative and intellectual complexity discarded in a typical picture book adaptation, such as Troughton's (1992); it even provides unique information of value to scholars.
But nothing is inherently wrong with the modern stories told by native peoples, either. Traditions change; cultures and storytellers borrow from each other. There is no reason why books for children should have to ignore these changes. Shonto Begay's (1992) Ma'ii and Cousin Horned Toad differs from "Coyote Died," collected in the Dine language by Father Haile (1984: 47-49) during the 1930s. In the oral text, Coyote begins by cultivating his own corn field; later he comes across Horned Toad's field which looks exactly like his own, and he swallows the other out of anger because he thinks Horned Toad has stolen from him; afterwards he does a kind of territorial display, insisting that the corn is really his. In the picture book, Coyote is a completely lazy fellow who does not cultivate corn of his own, only half-heartedly helps with the work in exchange for being fed, and swallows Horned Toad in order to cheat him out of his abundant field. Begay's Coyote better fits typical children's book characterizations, but the change also reflects a transformation that seems to have taken place in the perception of Coyote as a trickster figure in the conservative Navajo community where Begay was raised, with an increased emphasis on Coyote's lazy, selfish, and hedonistic side at the expense of ways in which, in earlier times, his actions had some degree of moral, or at least natural, justification, and the trouble he got himself into had more to do with his misunderstandings of things than with real malfeasance or stupidity. Both versions should be available, so children can explore the evolution.
Gayle Ross (1994; 1995), an active storyteller inside and outside the Cherokee community, is a thoroughly modern Indian, yet she, too, respects tradition. Instead of the usual authorial procedure of taking an old version as a starting point on which to "improve," she goes back to Mooney's (1900) classic collection to check the extent to which the stories as she has learned and tells them have maintained their integrity. Her ways of elaborating upon what she calls the "skeletal form" in Mooney (who lacked the linguistic transcription skills of some of his contemporaries), although different from those of her ancestors-like many picture book authors, she adds commentary about context, character personalities, relationships, and motivation-are indeed probably "consistent with the culture from which the story springs," as that culture exists today. Even when synthesizing The Legend of the Windigo: A Tale from Native North America from a range of different cultures' beliefs and stories about dangerous cannibal giants, Ross (1996) has the honesty to say "there is really no such thing as a "Native American' story" (only stories from different tribes) and that "this version is essentially my own creation." Unfortunately, most readers will miss the disclaimer in the fine print and see only the glaring sub-title.
It is a shame that the overall fraudulent climate makes it difficult for a knowledgeable, contemporary, storyteller to create a new synthesis, as earlier oral storytellers did, without being misleading. Why not use "The Invisible One" (Leland 1884: 303-310) to teach what happened when a "contes populaires" was adapted by a French-Micmac mixed-blood community, instead of passing it off as an indigenous Algonquian Cinderella (Martin 1992; San Souci 1994)? Such an admission would, however, undermine the romantic ideal of the pristine primitive world from which "multicultural" folktale books derive their popularity. Authors do not turn to newer or Westernized versions to document change; they seek domesticated materials to sell as if unsullied by progress. Modern versions are fraudulent not because they are modern, but because they are packaged as not.
Whatever their source, children's book authors feel at complete liberty to make changes. Contemporary scholars of traditional oral literatures have become increasingly aware of the importance of language and style in conveying meaning (Hymes 1981; Tedlock 1983). The particular wordings in the original not only serve clarifying functions and provide a sense of native rhythm and usage, they express belief and point to what really matters in a story. In Native American narrative, repetition typically occurs four times, while in European tales it is three, a difference that reflects deep conceptions about existence, as with an interest in the four cardinal directions in one world view and the trinity in the other. More subtly, in the Ojibwe language, a character is said to "remember," rather than to "figure it out," suggesting an alternative metaphor for thinking processes. Also, Ojibwe stories are told from a limited third-person, not omniscient, point of view. "He saw cranberries in the water" cannot be reworded omnisciently, as is often done in picture books, to read "he saw the reflection of the cranberries in the water," without destroying the plot. Such nuances are essential to understanding traditional cultures and can be explored by children with good teaching, but not if picture book authors insist on transforming native style into wholly Westernized conventions for writing.
Seemingly minor modifications can make a difference. Goble (1988b; 1989; 1990a; 1991) switches the formulaic opening from "Iktomi was walking about," to "Iktomi was walking along," and sometimes gives Iktomi a reason for walking, thus losing the significance of having the trickster walk about with no intent at all, open to any chance encounter, for a language that clearly distinguishes random from purposeful walking. Notice, too, the effect of changing "The poor boy's parents were very poor, for they had no ponies" (Dorsey 1904c: 152) to "There once was a poor boy in an Indian camp.... More than anything he longed for a pony of his own" (Cohen 1988). The Mud Pony evokes the image of a child who wants a pony, but can not afford such a luxury, an image with which a middle-class child may easily identify. For the Pawnee, though, lacking ponies was a serious cause of real destitution not a minor effect of insufficient wealth. Roth (1988) glosses, "Soon the news went around that the Terrapin had killed the Wolf and was using his ears for spoons" (Mooney 1900: 278) as "The Other Wolves heard that Bad Wolf had choked and that Terrapin had taken his ears." A key point in the Cherokee myth is that Terrapin is taking credit when it is Possum who has killed the wolf. This is lost in Roth's Kanahéna.
Most changes in style and language are far more extreme. "Raven winged through the dark carrying a small round stone. A heavy sack hung around his neck. Above the churning waves he flew with the stone and the sack until he grew so tired he could hardly lift his wings. One more flap, he thought. Then, slowly, one more. His eyes began to close. His head began to droop. Suddenly, the stone slipped from his beak and fell. It plunked into the water." This lyrical opening passage from Raven's Light (Shetterly 1991) sounds lovely. Of course, no traditional Northwest coast narrator of Raven myths ever began a story like that. This book is filled with metaphor, description, and a language that conveys impressionistic feelings. The author prefers adjectival words such as "winged" to flat verbs. These are the standard aesthetic preferences for schoolbook fiction, and most middle-class parents and teachers are already so enamored with this narrow conception of good writing they have trouble appreciating and evaluating any other forms. I can just see an English teacher "correcting" a story by a tribal elder in order to add more description and get rid of all the repetition: "Find a synonym," she would say. Rewriting in this flowery style only serves to reinforce Western biases and conveys the message that native storytellers just didn't tell their stories well enough, that it takes a "good writer" to fulfill the literary potential of the original text.
Another hang-up of school-book fiction is that all action should have explicit motivation. In Mobley's (1979) Star Husband, for instance, the girl explains to her friend that she desires a star for a husband because, "Stars shone forever. Many warriors die young." Later we are told, "Even with a baby boy to interest her, she became restless. Her husband was often away on the business of the night, and she was lonely. In the sky there was no need for cooking or weaving or any of the skills she had learned." The star, too, has motives: "Because he did not want to see her unhappy, the star husband told her she could go home." Traditional narrators rarely bothered with motivation or left it to their listeners to infer. Anyway, when picture book authors insist on adding motives, they almost always impose Western ones.
I personally enjoy Goble's Iktomi books because, despite the many changes he makes, he does convey the humor and irony that pervades Native American trickster tales-to recognize that Indians, usually portrayed as stoic, have strong senses of humor, is a step forward. But, Goble's use of different type-faces and teacherly questions to convey messages severely limits the need for inferencing and the possibilities for interpretation that are typical of traditional narration. Among the things that make tricksters such wonderful characters are their hypocrisy and their inability to understand the real meaning of things, traits they share, albeit in exaggerated form, with all people. In traditional storytelling, much is left unsaid, or at least not revealed until the end. Audiences can guess when Iktomi is being silly without having to be told. Yet, in the middle of Iktomi and the Boulder, after the trickster leaves his blanket on a rock, Goble (1988b) tells his readers, "He wasn't really generous at all was he." Not only does this spoil the anticipation of when, later, Iktomi changes his mind, if one looks closely at the original sources, this is a greatly oversimplified, if not totally incorrect, interpretation. The issues of gifts to spirits and of what is or is not animate are important ones for understanding Plains and other Indian cultures, and they are difficult for the people themselves, since there is inherently much uncertainty involved in recognizing which things may have powers and how much generosity is necessary to get something in return. In many ways, Iktomi's gift to the rock is a genuine act, at least a mimicry of the sincere hypocrisy of such offerings in real life. Similarly, the comment at the end of Iktomi and the Buffalo Skull (Goble 1991) that "this story reminds us not to put our noses into other people's business and to remember that buffalo skulls are sacred and must be respected," diminishes a potential plethora of meanings.
Even when we have access through native language texts and translations to the original narrator's style, children's authors rewrite. There remains a pervasive assumption that folklore is not worth treating as artistic achievement, that because it gets told orally and passed on by word of mouth, individual tellers don't deserve to be credited for their literary skills. But, as should be clear to anyone with an open-mind, good traditional storytellers have a flare for narration that far exceeds that of those who typically seek to "improve" their stories.
Compare these passages from "Coyote Goes for Salt" (Parsons 1926:151-152) and Coyote and the Laughing Butterflies (Taylor 1995):
At Puambu they used to live, Coyote old woman and Coyote old man.
Coyote old woman said to Coyote old man, "I have no salt. You go after salt."
So he went and came to where the salt was.
He was very tired; he lay down on one side.
He said, "I will sleep and when I wake up I will put salt in my bag and go home."
As he slept Butterflies came, played around him, picked him up, and carried him to his house.
When he woke up he thought, "Why am I here? What did I do? I was by the side of the lake where the salt is; now where am I? I guess I am home. But who brought me?"
Then he went in.
Coyote old woman said to him, "Hewemboharahi! You don't take long to get salt. You came quickly."
He said, "I lay down on one side of the salt lake. I was very tired; I slept. When I woke up, I was beside my house. I do not know who brought me."
"I do not believe you," said Coyote old woman.
"You are very lazy. You did not go at all for salt. Now you must eat this hot soup without salt."
"Surely, I went," he said.
She did not believe him.
"Lazy man! lazy man!" she said.
"Tomorrow morning I am going very early."
He said, "If I get tired I will lie down to one side and when I get up I will fill up my sack."
In ancient times, when all the animals could talk, there lived a coyote. Coyote and his wife made their home on the top of a grassy mesa surrounded by little hills. A day's journey from their home was a big lake. The water of the lake was so salty that salt crystals collected on the shoreline. Animals came from all around to dig up salt to use for cooking.
One morning Coyote was, as usual, napping in the sun when his wife came to him and said, "Coyote, please go to the big salty lake to get salt for me. I need it for cooking."
Coyote lazily arose, took a sack, and headed for the big salty lake. He followed the trail along the ridge, then around some small hills, through sagebrush, and down into the valley of the big salty lake.
Coyote said to himself, "What a good Coyote I am! I've come all this way in the hot sun. I deserve a short rest." He yawned and settled down in the shade of a large cactus. Soon he was fast asleep.
Now in this flower-filled meadow, there lived many beautiful butterflies. One of them flew over Coyote's head and exclaimed, "Look at lazy Coyote, sleeping when he should be gathering salt. Let's play a trick on him."
The butterflies flew down and each took hold of a hair in Coyote's fur. In this way, they were able to life him off the ground.
Coyote snored loudly. Huh-zzzzz, huh-zzzzz the butterflies heard as they flew over mountains and meadows. Finally they dropped him, still asleep, back at his home.
The butterflies flew in crazy patterns in the sky, laughing all the way back to the meadow.
When Coyote woke up, he was very puzzled to find himself back home. He wrinkled his furry forehead and wondered how he had gotten there.
When his wife saw him yawning beside his empty sack, she scolded, "You lazy coyote! Why didn't you get my salt?"
Coyote promised that the very next morning he would go get the salt.
Not only does Taylor document the physical features of the landscape covered during Coyote's travels and add considerable explanatory, motivational, and connecting detail (including giving the Butterflies a reason for their action: teaching Coyote a lesson about laziness), she virtually eliminates the monologue and dialogue through which the story's key concerns, Coyote's self-doubt and the refusal of his wife to believe him, are carried. Even more basically, the flow of language-sentence structure, word order, repetition and parallelism, use or non-use of adjectives, names-is drastically different. If our desire is to give children a sense of the otherness of stories from other cultures, there is nothing that better conveys otherness than wording that seems strange yet is comprehensible. To reduce the language of traditional stories to standardized "basal-speak" is assimilation in the extreme.
Children's book authors also show no qualms about changing characters. In The Fire Stealer (Toye 1979), Nanabozho obtains fire for his grandmother, to keep her warm and to make it easier for her to chew food with "the few teeth she had left." Anyone at all familiar with real Ojibwe mythology knows Nokomis is one tough old lady. She often gives the trickster strong advice, including warning him not to seek the fire he, not she, desires. Sometimes her grandson, out of pure malice or obstinacy, treats her with contempt and violence. Tricksters are not known for their kindness, rather for their impatience and for their unwillingness to learn from experience, advice, or precedent; yet the illustrations show Nanabozho practicing his transformations.
In The Mud Pony (Cohen 1988), the chief says to the boy, "Nawa, tiki! You have journeyed over strange lands, starving and alone, and yet you have found us. You have a great gift, a great power. And now you must help our people." In Dorsey's (1904c: 152-157), Traditions of the Skidi Pawnee, the chief covets the mud pony, and the hero, from a poor family, only regains it through a ruse. In the picture book, "Years passed... Finally, [the boy] was made a chief!" In Dorsey, the boy is chosen to replace the old chief by a council immediately after his success in battle. Gone is the conflict between chief and boy, rich and poor. Gone is the issue of fair exchange from when the chief trades good ponies then takes them back after the mud pony goes lame. Gone is the replacement of an unworthy chief through the democratic decision making of a council. Chiefs who are acquisitive instead of generous or who put on airs are often ridiculed in traditional tales. Schoolbooks, of course, frown on real disrespect for figures of authority.
Cohlene (1990b) insists on naming her boy or a girl heroes, including the title character of her adaptation of the Cherokee origin of death myth (Mooney 1900: 252-254). Dancing Drum is prominent throughout: he takes initiative to inquire of a shaman why the sun is burning up the world; he is sent to seek advice of the "little people"; it is his mission to go, transformed into a snake, to kill the sun; he blames himself for mistakenly biting and slaying the sun's daughter and proclaims that he will go to the land of the dead to recover her; although accompanied by six others, he is the one who leads the group; it is he who opens the basket lid, letting the sun's daughter escape, thereby making death permanent; it is he who thinks of singing to the sun to cheer her; in the pictures, it is he, with his special drum, who successfully gets her to shine once more. In the original, many different characters are involved: "people" (unnamed) go to the "little people" for advice; there are four snakes who try to kill the sun, the third of whom, the rattlesnake, bites the daughter by mistake; the visit to the after-world is accomplished by seven, undifferentiated men; the decision to send several handsome young men and women to amuse the mourning sun with song is made by a council.
Even when a traditional young hero, such as Mucus Boy in Northwest Coast myth, is singled out, tremendous emphasis is placed on community and kinship ties and obligations. Cohlene's (1990a) Clamshell Boy considerably weakens this sense of social embedding and plays up the role of the individual hero. Instead of, "My father the sun sent me to ask you to stop crying," as in a Bella Coola version (Boas 1900: 83-85), Clamshell Boy says, "It is I, Clamshell Boy. You called me from the spirit of this shell. Why are you crying?" In the Boas text (I can not find the Makah source the author may have used, uncited), the mother gives a gift to the boy to reiterate their kinship. Later he says, "My father, the Sun, sent me down to bring back your daughter. He will show me where she is." In the picture book, he quickly departs on his rescue mission, bragging, "My spirit is strong... I shall find the children. I shall bring them home." Notice all the "I"s.
The opening passage of Quillworker, Cohlene(1990d) tells us: "Her parents were proud of their only child. Her skills with the needle brought praise from tribes all around. The old women in the village were amazed that a girl so young had already decorated thirty buffalo robes, a task that usually took an entire lifetime," an accomplishment that likely would have raised suspicion of witchcraft. Cohlene's focus on the "achievement motivation" of individual heroes, which is not typical of Native American cultures and stories (McClelland and Friedman 1952), reminds me of Ruth Beebe Hill's Hantha Yo, a novel that came out in the late 1970s with much fanfare about how it was an immaculate representation of Lakota culture. It turned out the author was a disciple of Ayn Rand, and the novel about a rugged individualist's attempt to become "number one," an attitude totally unacceptable to Lakota (Taylor 1980).
In Who Will Be the Sun?, Troughton (1990) makes all the animals, not just the ever impolite Coyote, speak their desire to be chosen: "Raven said, 'Let it be me'"; "Chicken Hawk said, 'I will be the sun'." In the original (Boas 1918: 66-68), the wording is: "One of them was told, 'You will be the Sun!'... His name was Raven." "Another was looked for. Chicken Hawk was sent." It is only Coyote who demands a turn: "Coyote said, 'I will be it.'" Even the Lynx children, who eventually become Sun and Moon and who travel from a distance to join in "playing Sun," use indirection in speech to express their interest: "They arrived there, and they were told, 'Why do you come?' They said, 'We heard they play Sun.' They were told, 'It is good. You shall go.'" Compare with: "There were two Lynx Brothers. The Elder Lynx was bigger. He said, 'I will be the sun.'" Troughton also has an invasive "Chief of the Indians" (in a caricature-like headdress), who makes every decision. In the Kutenai text, choice and evaluation are always plural: "They said, 'This way is bad. It is always blackish.' They said he could not be it." "They assembled and talked it over again." "Then the people said, 'Don't do what Coyote has done.'"
Real myths are usually complex, sometimes long, full of death, violence, retribution, hatred, sex, bodily function, and gruesome imagery. They are likely to have closure that is unfamiliar or uncomfortable.
It is standard operating procedure to excise anything untoward from children's books. Although Buffalo Woman does capture how this Plains myth is about problems of exogamous marriage and the dependent relationship of people on buffalo, its synthesis is much nicer than any of its sources (Deloria 1932: 184-190; Dorsey 1904a: 199-206; 1904b: 94-101; 1904c: 284-293; Wissler and Duvall 1909: 117-118). Goble (1984) has the man attracted to the buffalo when she appears to him in the shape of a woman, though, in most versions, she is simply a buffalo, and in some he rapes her as she is mired in the mud. Always, in tradition, the man abandons, insults, and/or denies his buffalo wife, this being why the herd later forces him to undergo a series of loyalty tests. Sometimes he is unfaithful. Goble makes the man's family, not him, rude to the woman, and his hero immediately searches for her, out of love. Thus, instead of the loyalty tests having strong justification, the buffalo elders seem to acting unfairly. In most of the originals, the wife is thoroughly annoyed with her husband, and it is only his buffalo son who befriends him (consanguinial ties being stronger than affinal ones). By having her join in warning him of the danger from her relatives, again Goble displaces the blame for marital difficulties to the relatives alone, thus missing the importance of conflicting ties in traditional kinship and marriage. Most versions have death, betrayal, and violent conflict (including between the man and other bull buffalo over mating rights). Some texts explicitly or implicitly suggest the reason buffalo can become a permanent human resource is that they come back to life if proper ritual is maintained. Goble reduces the precariousness of the Indian/buffalo relationship, the sense in which it was born of a troubled marriage and can only be continued through great care, to a simple formula where love between a man and his buffalo wife and son leads to a permanent alliance. Were the story this nice in tradition, perhaps the Plains tribes would not have had to undergo all the ritual precautions necessary to insure a successful hunt.
In some traditional versions of "The Offended Rolling Stone" (Dorsey 1904c: 260-262; 1906: 446-447), after bull-bats (a type of bird not a bat) have helped the trickster by shattering the stone that is chasing him (by farting at it), he insults them. As a result, the stone gets put back together, again chases the trickster, and kills him. In an Arikara version (Dorsey 1904b: 146-148), the bull-bats kill him themselves. Elsewhere, the bull-bats are "rewarded" for their help by being given ugly faces on the false excuse they were at fault for having harmed the stone (Dorsey and Kroeber 1903: 65-70). Goble's (1988b) Iktomi and the Boulder leaves out all traces of what happens after the bats save Iktomi, ignoring how the trickster again refuses to acknowledge the help of others, just as he failed to acknowledge his obligations to the rock, which is what got him into trouble in the first place.
Goble's tendency to simplify and make nice is modest compared to most writers of "folktale" picture books. The result is such absurdities as Cameron (1985a: 5) introducing How Raven Freed the Moon with the statement, "Raven never uses force." Like any other self-respecting trickster, the real Northwest Coast Raven makes extensive use of force (Boas 1916: 567-722). Predictably, Cameron eliminates Raven's ruse for getting close to the light-transforming himself into a pine needle which is swallowed by the unmarried daughter of the owner of the box of daylight, who then becomes pregnant and gives birth to Raven in disguise. Instead, "Raven uses her magic. She turned herself into a lovely baby girl, lay down by the door and began to cry." To avoid the touchy issue of unwed motherhood, Raven becomes female, unable to impregnate (the chief becomes a female fisherwoman). In Raven Returns the Water, Cameron (1987b) somehow even manages to make Raven's trick on the frog who is hoarding the world's water-supply benefit the tricked, since, it seems, the poor amphibian is uncomfortably bloated from retaining so much fluid.
In The Star Husband, Mobley (1979) not only refuses to have the wife killed when she descends from the sky, which is standard (Thompson 1953), she reunites the woman with her husband and son in the heavens after a lengthy, productive sojourn back on earth. "Free of her body, she had no need to stay longer in the changing world. She was ready to live in the sky with her son and her star husband. Often in the early evenings she can even now be seen, the first star to shine, close by the side of the moon." There are no authenticated versions in which the woman, who, after all, has disobeyed warnings about returning to earth, becomes a star. If she manages to avoid being murdered by her husband during her descent or cannibalized by her son, she at least remains thoroughly earth-bound.
Stories from throughout the world have their plots changed in picture books to make them kinder and gentler, as a number of my undergraduate students (among them: Marléna Blaszczak, Kris Parkhill, Ann LeRoy, and Julie Wilson) have documented in research papers. Zemach's (1965) version of the Russian fairy tale, "Salt" (Afanas'ev 1945), completely eliminates drunkenness, the cause of laughter and forgetting central to the original. For Traveling to Tondo, Aardema (1991) changes an urgent trip to seek a doctor to a pleasure trip to pick up a bride-to-be and the consequence of a series of delays from death to disappointment in love. The author also downplays the characters' quibbling over the delays, as each traveler puts his own needs over those of the collective mission, while scolding the others for doing so (Ross and Walker 1979). The Adventures of Kama-Pua'a (Buffet 1972) eliminates from this important Hawaiian myth (Westervelt 1963) the Hamlet-like motif in which Kama-Pua'a's mother must choose between the life of her son and that of her second husband, his uncle and enemy.
In both The Talking Eggs (San Souci 1989), which won the Coretta Scott King award for non-violence, and the Creole text collected by Fortier (1895: 117-119), the good sister, Blanche, aids an old lady who, in return, befriends her but warns her "not to laugh at anything you see" and to take only the eggs that say, "Take me." Blanche complies and is rewarded. Later, her bad sister repeats the visit and, of course, disobeys. The picture book significantly altered at what Blanche must remain unmoved. Instead of a series of startling images that severely test Blanche's self-control-axes and unattached arms and legs fighting, the old lady taking off her head to delouse herself, having to scratch the woman's back all covered with broken glass until her fingers bleed-San Souci gives us a head removed for combing, "a cow with two heads and horns like corkscrews," and rabbits holding a square dance. Except for the brief scare with the woman's removable head, which is quickly rationalized away, San Souci's heroine has a great time. "The girl felt so happy, she never wanted to leave." The Creole Blanche has an altogether difficult and frightening experience. By moderating the images and limiting, as Julie Wilson puts it, the "intensity of puzzling and mystical happenings," the author greatly weakens the expression of complete faith on the part of the girl that is so essential, in much folklore, to obtaining magical rewards. San Souci also changes the punishment of the sister from "whips, which whipped her" to whip snakes, which chase her, glossing over the folk sense of just punishment.
To those who would confine children to Mr. Rogers' neighborhood, I can only say, with Dickens, "leave the fairies alone." Folklore is not, never has been, and never will be nice, and it can only be bludgeoned into a culture of niceness through violence.
Of course, making stories nice is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to "basalizing" traditional plots. Many picture books abridge to a few paltry pages stories that took hours or days to tell, usually without explaining or justifying what they have done-as with a number of sophisticated, multi-episode, Navajo myths (Browne 1991; Browne 1993; Duncan 1996; Hausman 1995; Hausman 1996). Troughton's (1992) How the Seasons Came finishes off in a handful of sentences an Ojibwe/Cree tale that is long even in Schoolcraft (1856: 105-110), her probable source. She is mostly interested in the birds, for whom she invents songs that take up about a third of the book. In the original, Fisher and Wolverine (Troughton changes the latter to a wolf) undertake a quest for "perpetual summer," which fails, though they do succeed in releasing flocks of birds, improving, if not perfecting, the climate. Troughton's characters are completely successful in their easier task of bringing milder weather. Along the way, she eliminates: a squirrel who provides vital information in exchange for being made taboo to hunt, a feast of bear meat at which Fisher and other animals strategize, concerns about Otter, a playful creature who almost upsets the whole endeavor by laughing at a dangerous Manitou, and all the ceremony, including smoking to the four cardinal directions, that is necessary to the success of the expedition. In Schoolcraft, it is Wolverine, not Fisher, who succeeds in making a hole in the sky, albeit he quickly flees while his companion gives his life trying to accomplish their original goal. Troughton's Wolf is just a loyal sidekick, and she makes their relationship a key element of her adaptation. After all, who could resist such an opportunity to extol the virtues of friendship?
Then, there is Arrow to the Sun. With a pageant of Pueblo-seeming visual strokes, McDermott (1974) so dominates the abbreviated text with his illuminations, the story all but vanishes. What remains is not Pueblo. In Pueblo myths about the son, or more often twin sons, of the sun, the father does not bring about an immaculate conception with a shaft of light so his offspring can "bring my spirit to the world of men" (sun gods can come down any time they want, and in most versions they do, which is how the mother gets knocked-up in the first place).
As James Paytiamo (1932: 85-90) tells the story of the Katchina for which he was named, Arrow Youth, after passing a series of tests (demanded by the community not, as in the picture book, by the Sun-father), returns to his natal land. Later, he and his half-sister, with whom he refrains from committing incest, settle at Acoma to which they bring a dance, practiced, in their honor, to this day. In a longer variant (Stirling 1942: 92-98), twins, aided by Spider Woman, visit their Sun-father, and after being tested, are given powerful objects and decorations, objects and decorations still featured in Acoma ceremony.
All McDermott retains is the visit to the Sun and the tests. There is naught about Pueblo belief, naught about how costume, ritual instruments, and dance function in ceremony to connect the Sun gods (usually plural) to people. Arrow to the Sun, Caldecott Medal in tow, is nothing more than pretty pictures and thinly-veiled Christianity.
Reckless assimilation of style, character, and plot, inevitably leads to fundamental misrepresentations of belief and of native literary themes. Myths that tell of the creation of ritual institutions (e.g., sweat baths and dances) rarely make it to picture books, and when they do, as like as not, the author tags the wrong origin onto the wrong myth (Cohlene 1990a; Esbensen 1989). Mobley's (1979) sky world where no one needs to work is at odds with the real "The Star Husband," in which daily life, subsistence, and labor are much as on earth; her assumption that sky-beings do not age is contradicted by the variants where a girl wishes on a bright star and ends up married to an old man. When Cohlene (1990a) disassociates Clamshell Boy from his Sun-father, she neglects both an important deity and the mother's tears, a traditional means to invoke pity from the spirit world.
Friendship, passion, and parent-child relationships are regularly Westernized, as when Taylor (1990) has Two-Feathers overtly express his love for Corn-Maiden in the Abenaki origin of maize myth. ("Folk" find lust more likely for stories than love.) In The Boy Who Lived with the Seals (Martin 1993), parental distress over a missing son becomes paramount, and the author drastically changes the Wasco ending (Ramsey 1977: 73-74), so the family may continue its relationship spiritually after the boy has returned to the seals. Likewise, in The Mud Pony, Cohen (1988) dwells on how much the parents worry when their son is delayed, while in Dorsey (1904c: 152) the parents, as with real Native American child-rearing, give the boy autonomy.
Relations between people and the natural and spiritual world are perpetually misconstrued. Emery Bernhard (1993) may have "[crossed] the bridge to Turtle Island," but with "Spotted Eagle and Black Crow" (Erdoes and Ortiz 1985: 264-267), I'm afraid he missed the boat. He plays up the eco-spiritualism genuinely present in the story (and in Lakota belief) with a preface and coda specifically calling attention to this as the story's "message," then he undermines his own purpose by following European narrative preferences in placing Spotted Eagle's marriage, not his offerings to eagles, as the story's culminating event. He proudly informs his readers that he has "magnified the conflict between Spotted Eagle and Black Crow by making them brothers." In the original, that they are friends from different families is crucial to Spotted Eagle's decision not to revenge himself for being abandoned on the eagle's ledge: "he was not one to bring strife and enmity to his people, to set one family against the other." For the famous war chief, Red Cloud, to whom this story has been attributed, unity in a culture where loyalties lay with extended families not with "the tribe" was a major concern, and that, not eco-babble, was why he told this story.
As usual, moral shadings are reduced to good and bad-Black Crow must plan to kill his "brother," instead of acting on the spur of the moment. Bernhard also softens the attempted raid where, in the original, not only do the boys fail to steal enemy ponies, they lose their own, barely escaping with their lives (in the picture book, after seeing Pawnee at a distance, they get distracted by an opportunity to find eagle feathers). The raid gets justified as a response to a previous Pawnee raid where all their "best ponies" were stolen. "We need good horses for the buffalo hunt," says Spotted Eagle, since his original answer of "Good idea" to the suggestion, "Let's go on a war party against the Pahani... [to] get ourselves some fine horses and earn eagle feathers," though a good reflection of traditional motivations for raiding, might make him look bad in the eyes of those for whom Indian warfare sits uncomfortably with New Age values of love, peace, and harmony. Spotted Eagle is also made to reject Black Crow's proposal to kill the young eagles in the nest (a common traditional practice), which contemporary ecotopians might consider incompatible for with spiritual concerns for the natural world. Bernhard further assimilates the tale to New Age presumptions about Native America by giving Spotted Eagle a dream through which he discovers his interdependency with the eagles. In the original, to survive on and, eventually, to escape from the ledge, Spotted Eagle, along with prayer and ceremony, relies on attentive observation of eagle behavior and on reason.
"Rabbit, Coyote, Wolf, and Grizzly Bear" (Boas 1918: 55-58) is an exceptionally benign Kutenai myth. The Chase (Tanaka 1991) turns benign into banal. The story tells of a series of animals who run away because they see others running and assume there is danger. The original, which is humorous, also has a serious side, for those who know enough. Most traditional American Indians believe the world is full of invisible, sometimes dangerous, beings and spirits; this means it is always wise to be cautious, even though most things that go bump in the night are perfectly natural and harmless. Many stories poke fun of characters who flee in fear from what turns out to be nothing. But, the fear is real and culturally understandable. Author and illustrator obliterate this meaning. As the dust jacket brags, "Béatrice Tanaka's spirited telling of this Native-American tale is matched in mirth by Michael Gay's droll illustrations"-never have I seen a grizzly bear, coyote, or wolf look so sweet and sheepish. Each animal who runs away is afraid of something specific-coyote of hunters, moose of flood, wolf of fire-not of the unknown and mysterious. The ending becomes an (ethnocentric) punch line: when asked by the others why they are all running, Rabbit says, "Why were you running? I have no idea. But me-I was late for dinner" ("I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date"). In Boas, the rabbit, like the others, is in flight, though later he realizes he had been scared by the natural noises of winter: "The wind was blowing, the snow fell from the trees, and a branch broke off the tree; it almost fell on me." These are precisely the conditions in which even the bravest of hunters' imaginations might run wild; the laughter at the end is in relief not in response to a silly joke.
Dreams and "the vision quest" are well documented in personal experience accounts and myths. Yet, dePaola (1988) chose to draw on a series of newspaper articles, "Texas Wildflowers, Stories and Legends," to write The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush (sold as a "Great Plains Legend"). Little Gopher-at least Minnehaha is a clever play on "mini," the Dakota word for water-has a dream. One day he will get to paint the colors of the setting sun. Real vision dreams, of course, derive from cultural precedent, and the theme of the transcendent artist, of the visionary whose quest for artistic perfection sets him apart from his people so he may achieve his superior purpose, is purely the product of modern Western literature. There are no tales with this theme in any collection of authentic Native American stories, nor anything remotely like this from anywhere in the world listed in the Motif Index of Folk Literature (Thompson 1955-1959). In some cultures, such as the Navajo, the expectation is that everyone is an artist, that, ideally, everyone participates is "beautifying the world through art" (Witherspoon 1977: 151-178). Native art, beautiful and serious as it is, is not done as art for art's sake, and native cultures, however much they may respect gifted artists, have no room for self-indulgent esthetes.
Why Fakelore Matters
Who cares, you are probably asking? Isn't this just the complaint of academic purists, a minor labeling problem? Isn't what matters providing children with interesting and pleasurable material to read that exposes them to other times and other cultures? Maybe these stories shouldn't be used for teaching social studies, but what's wrong with them as reading for the fun of it? If picture books can raise children's interest in the stories of other cultures, isn't that a positive achievement that opens up the possibility for further exploration as they grow older?
Such apologies-I hear them all the time-beg the ethical question. At the risk of sounding puerile, misrepresentation, false advertising, feeding children misinformation, is unethical, however ordinary in textbooks and commercials. And, let no one be deceived into thinking there is no pretense that picture books are legitimate representations of traditions; such pretense is essential to the promotion and sales strategy of all "folktale" books for children. Consistently, parents, teachers, and children accept fakelore as the real thing, for whatever purpose it is used. As to picture books providing an initial means for attracting children to the tales of other cultures, native mythologies are rarely taught after elementary school except in specialized college courses, and quality collections are unlikely to be discovered or chosen by the casual reader. It is the picture books themselves that come to represent traditions, and the representation is a false one.
Authentic oral literature is of great intellectual depth and masterful artistry. The belief that stories rewritten for young children are the product of folk traditions seriously undermines efforts to give tribal literatures the recognition they deserve, not out of some sense of social justice, but because of their "abundant capacity to teach and delight" (Krupat 1989: 54). A marketplace dominated by simplified and assimilated picture books only reinforces the assumption that traditional narrative is trivial, just something for children. In the social-evolutionist theories of the nineteenth-century, traditional peoples were regularly described as "child-like"; they needed to be taught Western morals, just as did children; their thinking was still at a child-like stage; they lacked reason, manners, civilization; their stories were child-like attempts to explain the natural world, since they were incapable of scientific or true religious understanding.
By selecting "just so" stories, most of them invented by Europeans, by refocusing authentic tales to make origins of natural phenomena central not peripheral, by constantly throwing in "how the... got..." motifs deemed "missing" from the originals-teachers always insist children do this when assigned to write "legends," as Sarris (1993: 152) finds his college students doing on their own when retelling-picture books play up the "explanatory element" (Waterman 1914) and perpetuate the presumption that "primitives" substituted myth for knowledge and reason. Turning oral literature that was once told to adults and children alike into forms that pander to easy reading leaves the impression adults in traditional cultures were satisfied with childish stories. Eliminating moral and philosophical complexities makes traditional narrators seem incapable of engaging in serious intellectual discourse. Misled readers rarely discern that the child-like quality is not the product of native peoples, only of supposedly educated authors.
Fakelore makes a mockery of teaching diversity. Many well-meaning parents and educators want to expose children to other cultures in hope of increasing tolerance. Some, dissatisfied with their own culture's excesses, seek alternative moral visions. But, replacing tribal literatures with fakelore deprives other cultures of their "otherness."
Schoolbooks continue to teach about other cultures by presenting a few isolated customs, artifacts, and beliefs. Children learn, often inaccurately, about costumes and housing; they get a chance to do some bead work; they may even be informed that Indians believed in the Great Spirit and had great respect for the land and animals. However, there is a lot more to other cultures than the kind of clothes people wear and a preference for Appaloosa horses. Twentieth-century anthropology has long since moved to concepts of culture that focus on systems, that view the "shreds and patches" of culture as interconnected, resonating off each other, sometimes coming into conflict, posing serious intellectual, emotional, and social dilemmas. Real traditional literature, like all serious literature, confronts these dilemmas.
"Bungling host" stories, in which a trickster is fed by an animal, then attempts to reciprocate by imitating that animal's strategy for obtaining food, deal with more than the moral that it is important to share or the fact that each animal has its own way. They reflect on the contradictions of a belief system that demands sharing even when the one who shares has next to nothing and the one who receives might be "hunting kin" instead of game. They point out how difficult it is for someone whose ego is caught up in hunting prowess to accept that under some circumstances it is necessary to rely upon the kindness of strangers. "Snapping Turtle on the Warpath" parodies traditional warfare practices, questioning an attitude that allowed individuals the freedom to raise raiding parties when there might be consequences for the community and when adolescents, seeking status, might be persuaded to join a foolish fight, raising doubts about a system of revenge killings that condoned, as a means of spiritual renewal, the murder of enemy children. It is the intricacies of cultures with which traditional tales struggle. Both intricacy and struggle are lost when the authors of children's books just don't get it.
Let me emphasize that I firmly believe in using other cultures' tales to teach children. I only refuse to accept that doing it with fakelore is ethical or effective. It takes extensive knowledge, not term-paper quality research, to interpret and authenticate traditional stories. You can't simply pick up an old book, or borrow a locally known "legend," and rewrite it.
Authors and illustrators must think seriously about the consequences of their representations. Parents, teachers (and children) must become familiar with what is available in quality collections and demand great care in adaptation. Critics and reviewers must make fidelity as high a priority in their evaluation of "folktale" books as readability, interest, or beauty; they must seek out originals, document changes, and challenge instead of praise authors for taking liberties. It is absurd for a book to get an award for its illustrations when its libretto is false.
Sources should always be cited, and sources that are secondary adaptations and undocumented claims that "I heard it from..." should not suffice. Any cute story that fits the standard nineteenth-century enduring-beauty formula should be presumed fraudulent. Authors must immerse themselves in an entire corpus of stories, not pick some atypical favorite that fits their opinions or the market. Publishers should make originals available as appendices to picture books, so teachers can use comparisons to shed light on both.
Authors need a new attitude: they should seek to become more like real "retellers" whose intent is to preserve the tradition as it has been passed down to them not to celebrate their originality. Texts from well-documented sources can be reformatted, edited for clarity, and annotated for easier use, instead of extensively rewritten. I do not insist on maintaining purity to the extent of inaccessibility, but accessibility does not require matching some grade-appropriate reading level or treating children with condescension.
There also must be room for a Julius Lester (1987) to re-create Uncle Remus, given how the original (Harris 1955) has become so tainted it is virtually unusable. But Lester is tremendously knowledgeable and honest about what he does-his frank and informed introduction ought to be required reading for anyone interested in "multiculturalism." If other authors of picture books had his knowledge and scruples, fakelore would not be an issue.
There are hundreds of quality folktale collections from throughout the world in which adults can find stories to read to children, as is, or with cautious, meaning-preserving editing. We didn't used to rely exclusively on picture books to do our thinking for us. Still, we should have many more picture books that use translations from native languages, such as Malotki's (1988) The Mouse Couple and Hinton's (1992) Ishi's Tale of Lizard. Unfortunately, Professor Malotki informs me that, despite critical acclaim, his publisher lost interest, preferring more profitable fakelore, and the only time I have seen Ishi's Tale of Lizard in a classroom is through my immediate advocacy. Meantime, The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush gets reprinted in basals read by tens of thousands of second-graders.
It is time authors, parents, educators-even publishers-accept that you
cannot teach about other cultures by assimilating them into a safe, homogenized
curriculum or by substituting well-intentioned misconceptions for demeaning
ones. Authentic folklore from other cultures is, of necessity, more difficult,
more foreign, than fakelore. To obtain the far richer rewards, insights,
and satisfactions that await, authors, parents, educators-even children-will
have to think a lot harder. For that, I do not apologize.
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