Mouse Woman and the Vanished Princesses by Christie Harris
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I always loved mythology. As a boy, I started with Greek mythology, went onto Roman and then the Norse gods too. Eventually I devoured pretty much everything I found, from all parts of the world. I liked the epic tales that had reached me after centuries, and that they brought me to foreign lands. So, it was a pleasure as no longer a boy to read a copy of this book that a friend of my mother had left for her in the hospital, recovering from a head injury. Ah, the passage of time. At that time, Mom was so present in my life, in charge of the kitchen, encouraging my reading, an intriguing presence, but loving. And now I was back home, in British Columbia, to tend to my sick, elderly mother.
Come to think of it, I wonder if my mother’s friend had thought about the resemblance between Mouse Woman, the heroine of these tales, and my mother. Feisty and principled, somewhat underestimated because of her size, stubborn in her adherence to what is right, there is much to admire in her. As there was in Christie Harris, I understand, who was given the gift of these stories by First Nations people, and is recognised in return for the gift she gave back to them: their stories brought to light, representing a proud culture, during times when some First Nations people were worried about losing their culture, or had become disconnected or fallen prey to poverty and hard times.
The myths in these stories follow a pattern, and so there is much repetition in them, down to the exact same sentences and phrases in a number of them. It is, as I understand, a way of imparting lessons and telling stories, and I found the messages of these stories deeply heartening: that nature must be respected, that there must always be balance and exchange. But there was also so much that was surprising. The shape-shifting legendary gods that could become mortal, the ways they shed their animal coverings, the descriptions of the people and their customs. And moreso, a hat with a bird on top that would twist around and create a powerful oceanic whirlpool; a giant family of snails with shells so large their houses were larger than the other god-animals and when human their skin was as pearly and luminescent as the inside of a shell.
So, a small set of easy-to-read beautiful, powerful, surprising and memorable tales. I’m glad to have stumbled across them. Ah, and the drawings, by Douglas Tait, are gorgeous.