Andrea Stenn Stryer,
The Celestial River:
Creation Tales of the Milky Way

(August House, 1998)

Andrea Stenn Stryer retells seven tales from as many different cultures in The Celestial River: Creation Tales of the Milky Way. Who would guess that such a slender, unassuming book could contain a swath of the galaxy?

The first tale, "The Seventh Night of the Seventh Moon," comes from ancient Japan via China and tells of the daughter of Kami, the ruler of the heavens, who falls in love with a herdsman and weds him. When marital bliss keeps the pair from their responsibilities, Kami separates them with a river of stars. The ancient Greeks see the river as being made of a different kind of milk supplied by the goddess Hera, as related in "The Milk That Flew Across the Sky."

"Yikaidahi, Which Awaits the Dawn" is the Navajo name for the Milky Way, and the story is about how Coyote helps the Fire God put the constellations and the Milky Way into the sky. Stryer then heads down under to "The Stellar Dance" from the aboriginal people of Australia. In this tale, the finest hunter, singer and dancer in his tribe meets with misfortune which leads to the a chance to lead the stars in a dance. The Maori of New Zealand tell of "A Raiment for Rangi," about the Rangi, the god of space, and Pahpah, goddess of matter, whose eleven sons force them to separate and become the sky and earth. The sons create a cloak for Rangi, a glittering cloak of stars with a shimmering band across it.

According to the San (Bushmen) of the Kalahari, the Milky Way was created by "The Girl Who Threw Wood Ashes into the Sky," while the Toba Indians of the Gran Chaco in Argentina believed the Milky Way is "Nagaik, the Path to the Place of Abundance."

The stories are simply and elegantly retold, each with a brief introduction to the tales. Stryer also offers more insight into each in source notes at the end. A thorough glossary offers assistance in pronunciation and a bibliography encourages the reader to explore further.

The Celestial River may be a brief collection, but the quality more than makes up for that, and the range of cultures represented makes it particularly notable.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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