An Extraordinary Story Collection

By | March 29, 2011

The Teaching Drum Outdoor School library holds a collection of stories from the world’s indigenous cultures that rivals those of some universities. Each book has merit or it wouldn’t be there. At the same time, a few books stand out for their extraordinary contributions to our understanding of the central role stories play in the lives of indigenous people. The Sun Maiden and the Crescent Moon: Siberian Folktales, by James Riordan (New York: Interlink Books, 1989), is one such book. The back cover description right away raised my expectations:

“Siberia. The coldest inhabited place on earth, stretching one third of the way around the world. From this strange and beautiful land comes an oral tradition that has altered little in 2000 years. Unhampered by a belief in a single god or deity every object in these tales is given its own spirit, will, or existence. A mound of snow can change into a girl hiding from the moon. A young boy can change into a whale, his spear into a fin. Here is a true spiritual democracy and purity of folk art rarely found in traditional tales.”

The book starts with an inspiring account of the author’s evening with an elder Yakut storyteller, followed by a lush description of the land, its people, and the stories and storytellers who give meaning to it all. Of particular interest to me are the parallels Riordan draws between Siberian and North American natives, including their fates. Two dozen Siberian cultures are represented in the forty plus stories, which were collected and directly translated by Riordan. Creation accounts and the roles of spirits and animals in daily life are the main themes. You will find out why moonlight is cold and the tundra winter is long and stark, and how humans and other animals shapeshift into each other. Many of the stories are remarkably similar to those found in distant cultures, which lends credence to the theory that all stories come from a universal storyline.

The Sun Maiden and the Crescent Moon is available for only a few dollars at online booksellers. Pick up a copy and let’s get a discussion going on this jewel that brings the world of the ancestors to life.

1 Comment

Alex on March 30, 2011 at 5:44 pm.

I’ve always longed for the deep relationships that stories bring, which lend a sense of ancient timelessness and interconnectedness to the world. And guidance. I look forward to reading it – thanks for the recommendation.

Staying in a place for a while and being connected with the world there seems to help unfold the stories that dwell there. What can be done to facilitate this unfolding – to bring the stories forth, to integrate them into our lives?


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