II Map of the 'Ancient Yurok World' II Introduction (by the Author--or rather, as she explains in the last segment, the editor.) STORIES: I THE INLAND WHALE: In the title story a boy who is declared by the standards of his people to be a bastard (his parents are married, but the family doesn't approve or validate the marriage) rises to prominence with the help of the eponymous Inland Whale (also a bastard, who had been swept inland by a tsunami caused by people not dancing enough), and by extended family (notably his mother, paternal grandmother, and great-grandfather) who don't defy his maternal family's fiats--but find ways around them. II LOON WOMAN: I found the horror involved in what is essentially a minor story of incest (unintentional, on the part of the brother) more than a little overblown. The 'World Map' depicted between the Foreword and the Introduction (Kroeber refers to it several times, but doesn't give a page #, so I'll cite it in the Table of Contents, to help readers find it) is a quite literally circumscribed space. V LOVE CHARM: Although Kroeber argues that there's equity between the roles of women and men among the peoples of Alta California sampled in this book, it's evident that in courting, men are prescriptively supposed to take the initiative, even if the women are presented as being able to evoke responses in the men. VII ABOUT-THE-HOUSE-GIRL: This involves the process of an arranged marriage, which comes into being rather despite than because of people's planning (with the possible exception of the wife). In the explanatory sections in the second half of the book, Kroeber explains that she's combined several characters to form the Sun's Daughter--but she thinks this is justified because she thinks the story once DID have only one wife/mother. VII THE MAN'S WIFE: Most cultures of Alta California enforced a very strong division between the living and the dead. This somewhat Orphean story is of a man who refuses to accept that his wife no longer has any place in his life, and stalks her on her journey to the Land of The Dead. Kroeber explains that there are many versions of this story, most of which end up with the man being unable to bring his dead wife back--mostly because he violates the terms of the return. This section contains several maps of Alta California, showing the locations of the tribal territories of the main peoples sampled for this book. The original stories were oral, and therefore contained a lot of redundancy--essential in oral stories, to keep the elements clear in people's minds over long storytelling sessions, but more than a little tiresome in a written version, where the reader can just turn the page back to check on something forgotten. In addition, Kroeber chose elements from several different versions of particular stories. The main reason for her edits, I suspect, was to change the elements from literal transcriptions of storytelling sessions into sensible narrative plots in 'Western' tradition.
Kroeber's second husband was the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber 1876 1960, and some versions of the stories she retells were 'collected' by him. Alfred Kroeber provided detailed information about Ishi, the last surviving member of the Yana people, whom he studied over a period of years. Alfred Kroeber: A Personal Configuration. University of California Press, Berkeley.
In the ancient Greek version of the story, the husband is about to recover his wife from the underworld when he looks at her and she disappears forever; in the Native American version, she disappears when he tries to have sex with her, which was really the reason he wanted to bring her back from the dead.
The introduction (by Oliver La Farge) shouts prejudice against Native Americans as he condescendingly writes: "The literary value of a great deal of primitive literature, whether myths or tales, is nil." (He even italicized the word 'nil' as if we might not get his point.) And if that isn't enough, he goes on to say: "In my limited experience, I know of no body of such literature of which these depressing generalizations are more true than they are of the enormous mass of stories of all kinds .
First read on a long, dark, windy train ride, out of the city, into leaves and amber lanterns and lake spreading across the horizon.