Johanna R.M. Lyback,
Indian Legends
(Lyons & Carnahan, 1925; Tipi Press, 1994)

I am reviewing the 1994 Tipi Press edition of Indian Legends. It is a reprint of the 1925 first edition by Lyons & Carnahan. It came with a press blurb signed by Brother David Nagel, SCJ editor, which states this book is an "example of 1925 literature. It is reflective of the mind set of the 1920s and is not the same as that of today."

There are two other important statements in this press blurb:

"The author romanticized the legends he found and has given them his personal interpretation."
"In no way are these stories meant to be factual or exact translations of Native American oral traditions."

With the disclaimer out of the way, let us take a look at the book. The 170 legends are listed by state, which are grouped into four parts: "The New England States," "The Central & Southern Atlantic States," "The Mississippi Valley States" and "Western Mountain States."

Oddly enough, the contents begin with an "Introduction," but there is not one in the book. It would have been interesting to read the author's thoughts about his collection.

I want to make it perfectly clear that this is a great book, especially when used for its only viable purpose -- to examine the mindset of the 1920s and the attitudes toward Native Americans. It is an interesting and vibrantly entertaining read. The artwork, far past being mere illustrations, is an optical feast that will enchant you. It is easy to become caught up in the art and lose all track of time.

However, I must point out that many of these legends have absolutely nothing to do with Native Americans. When did "Mary's Little Lamb," "The Ghost of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle" become Native American legends?

On the other hand, there are many wonderful stories from diverse Native American peoples and regions. From Oregon we learn "How Coyote Stole Fire," while New York gives us an explanation of "The First Mosquito." North Carolina has "The Little People" and Maine has "The Bride of Katahdin." There are many legends of tribes, chiefs and individuals. Diversity is the theme.

If you are looking for stories to tell children's groups, Indian Legends is one of the best resources to be found. The stories cover every season and a storytelling session can easily be crafted for almost any time or occasion based upon theme. Otherwise, consider this a study in attitude and mindset; not folklore.

review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

17 January 2009

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