James Mooney,
Myths of the Cherokee
(1900; Dover, 1996)

Myths of the Cherokee is a republication of part of a U.S. governmental study on American ethnology that was completed and published in 1900. It includes the original black-and-white maps of the Cherokee country, several illustrations and many photographs. This is a classic in literature about the Cherokees.

There are 126 folktales and myths of the Cherokee included in this book. It has an extensive 42-page glossary of Cherokee words and phrases, including the word origins, with prefix and suffix. This is an excellent reference -- the best to be found on the Cherokee myths. But it is also a fascinating and entertaining book to read for sheer enjoyment.

There is a 76-page section, "Notes and Parallels to Myths," that compares the Cherokee versions of these myths to other Native American tribes that had been studied at the time. Mooney does point out that few of the tribes had been carefully studied but that there were many parallels and common themes in all that had been encountered.

Unlike most folklore books, this one provides a detailed look at the people and their history. Mooney devotes 238 pages to describing the Cherokees through various periods: before contact with the whites, during the Spanish exploration period, Colonial period, Revolutionary period, the forced removal and Civil War. He discusses the treaties and their ultimate deceit, and provides an interesting look at how the various bands ended up divided into Eastern, Western, Texas and Arkansas. This is a quality survey of the Cherokee people and could stand on its own as an entire and complete book. So this book is like getting two books in one: a book about the Cherokee people and a book about their myths.

Mooney's writing style falls on the dry, academic side. It states the story but fails to provide highly descriptive details. The stories are choppy and abrupt without a smooth flow. Still, this is a treasure of information and is interesting to read. I will give this writer for inspiring the imagination -- you have to use you imagination to fill in all the details that he omits. Had the book been written with picturesque descriptions, it would likely be twice as long. The best word I can think of to describe his writing is "skeletal." But overall, this is a great buy for the cost. It does provide an in-depth study of the Cherokee myth system and informs the reader about their entire culture from their pre-white contact days to 1900.

I would recommend this book to students of history, folklore, Native American studies and especially storytelling. Once you accept that Mooney was on a government mission and was writing this to government specifications, you can enjoy it immensely.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 9 August 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.