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At the Font of the Marvelous

Exploring Oral Narrative and Mythic Imagery of the Iroquois and Their Neighbors

Anthony Wonderley

Publication Year: 2009

The folktales and myths of the Iroquois and their Algonquian neighbors rank among the most imaginatively rich and narratively coherent traditions in North America. Mostly recorded around 1900, these oral narratives preserve the voice and something of the outlook of autochthonous Americans from a bygone age, when storytelling was an important facet of daily life. Inspired by these wondrous tales, Anthony Wonderley explores their significance to the Iroquois and Algonquian religion and worldview.

Published by: Syracuse University Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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p. ix

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pp. xi-xii

I’VE DONE WELL by Syracuse University Press and appreciate their professionalism and support throughout this labor. Special thanks to editors Linda Cuckovich, Mary Selden Evans, Christopher Vecsey, and Glenn D. Wright and to manuscript readers, including Jordan Paper. ...

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Introduction: Oral Narrative of the Iroquois and Their Neighbors

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pp. xiii-xxxi

ON A VISIT to Cherokee country about the year 1812, a literate Mohawk chief named John Norton was intrigued by an unusual aspect of the landscape. Norton loved the oral traditions of the north and, when he asked his hosts to tell him about the feature, he expected to be entertained by a tale explaining how the oddity came to be. The Cherokees, however, only ...

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1 Iroquois Star Lore: What Does It Mean?

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pp. 1-13

HOW DOES a folktale or myth originate? Is it possible to account for a specific plot? One of the rare attempts to explain an oral narrative in the Northeast was made by archaeologist Lynn Ceci (1978) in a study of the Pleiades constellation among the Iroquois. According to Ceci, a brief and risky growing season for maize in the Northeast happens to coincide with the movement of the Pleiades—its apparent disappearance in the spring and ...

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2 War in the West: Nineteenth-Century Iroquois Legends of Conquest

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pp. 14-42

THE IROQUOIS of western New York frequently alluded to wars fought by their ancestors with a foreign people called Kahkwa living on Eighteen Mile Creek some twenty miles southwest of today’s city of Buffalo (map 2). As this watercourse flows into Lake Erie (vicinity of North Evans), it forms a spectacular gorge fully deserving of a marvelous tale. Although ...

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3 Killer Lizards, Eldritch Fish,and Horned Serpents

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pp. 43-52

ANYONE PERUSING THE LITERATURE of Native American oral narrative “soon learns to recognize many recurrent patterns or types, which transcend geographical and linguistic boundaries” (Thompson 1929, vii). Here, I discuss three old friends of this sort—story types repeatedly documented either as self-contained tales or as episodes within longer narratives. ...

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4 Old Good Twin: Sky Holder During the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

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pp. 53-68

FRENCH JESUITS in the seventeenth century gave his name, variously spelled, as Teharonhiaouagon, “he who holds up the sky,” or Sky Holder.1 Sometimes said to be one of two brothers, he was described by the missionaries as the great god of the Iroquois, their mightiest spirit, and the principal being “they acknowledge as a Divinity, and obey as the great ...

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5 The Story of Windigo

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pp. 69-97

AS AN ANTHROPOLOGY STUDENT during the 1960s, I was taught that windigos were mythical cannibal giants known to Algonquian speakers (Cree, Ojibwa-Chippewa, various Algonquin bands, Montagnais-Naskapi) from Saskatchewan to Quebec. Embodying cold and the far north, these beings were said to be reflections of their boreal forest setting. Algonquian people who believed in windigos, I also learned, were subject to a mental ...

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6 The Friendly Visitor: An Iroquois Stone Giant Goes Calling in Algonquian Country

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pp. 98-114

THE TALE MOST CLOSELY resembling a literary short story in all of native North America may be one documented among eastern Algonquian people of the Canadian Maritimes. It tells of a male cannibal giant who suddenly emerges from the woods at the camp of a small, human family. Welcomed as a person, the monster takes up residence with the humans and even defends his adopted family against the onslaught of a second cannibal ...

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7 Mythic Imagery in Iroquoian Archaeology

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pp. 115-149

ANYONE VISITING an archaeological dig in the Northeast sees that virtually every object removed from the earth—mostly chips of stone with an occasional fragment of bone or pottery—looks unremittingly plain. Most artifacts bespeak little beyond simple technology and a nose-to-the-grindstone concern with subsistence because decoration or elaboration of any sort rarely survives. ...

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pp. 150-152

... First, oral narrative provides one of the few roads to apprehending the conceptual world of the ancient Northeast. Although one cannot assume antiquity of any specific story, it is reasonable to suppose age is indicated roughly by a tale’s wide distribution. Accordingly, I infer some oral narrative is likely to be very old. Aspects of stories about the stars must go ...


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pp. 155-181


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pp. 183-188

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651376
E-ISBN-10: 0815651376
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815632078
Print-ISBN-10: 081563207X

Page Count: 224
Illustrations: 7 black and white illustrations
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 759158760
MUSE Marc Record: Download for At the Font of the Marvelous

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Indian mythology -- New York (State).
  • Indian mythology -- Ontario.
  • Oral history -- New York (State).
  • Folklore -- Ontario.
  • Folklore -- New York (State).
  • Oral history -- Ontario.
  • Ontario -- Social life and customs.
  • New York (State) -- Social life and customs.
  • Algonquian Indians -- Folklore.
  • Iroquois Indians -- Folklore.
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