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The Blind Man and the Loon

The Story of a Tale

Craig Mishler

Publication Year: 2013

The story of the Blind Man and the Loon is a living Native folktale about a blind man who is betrayed by his mother or wife but whose vision is magically restored by a kind loon. Variations of this tale are told by Native storytellers all across Alaska, arctic Canada, Greenland, the Northwest Coast, and even into the Great Basin and the Great Plains. As the story has traveled through cultures and ecosystems over many centuries, individual storytellers have added cultural and local ecological details to the tale, creating countless variations.

In The Blind Man and the Loon: The Story of a Tale, folklorist Craig Mishler goes back to 1827, tracing the story’s emergence across Greenland and North America in manuscripts, books, and in the visual arts and other media such as film, music, and dance theater. Examining and comparing the story’s variants and permutations across cultures in detail, Mishler brings the individual storyteller into his analysis of how the tale changed over time, considering how storytellers and the oral tradition function within various societies. Two maps unequivocally demonstrate the routes the story has traveled. The result is a masterful compilation and analysis of Native oral traditions that sheds light on how folktales spread and are adapted by widely diverse cultures.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4

Copyright Page

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p. 5-5


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

From a distance of miles and centuries, stories in the oral tradition seem to have an independent existence, drifting from place to place like species of animals over time and territory and gradually evolving from one form to another. Indeed, early folklorists and anthropologists sought to dissect and classify them in the same way that anatomists...

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pp. xiii-xiv

This book tells the story of a tale, a folktale familiar to thousands of residents of the arctic and subarctic. To understand this book, it is important for readers to be familiar with the basic elements of the tale, even though it has been told hundreds if not thousands of different ways. The following text, collected in the early nineteenth century...

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pp. xv-xviii

Over a forty-year project, there are many folks to thank for assistance. I should begin rather than end with my wife, Barbara, who has patiently encouraged my work throughout, never complaining when I came home from the library and announced that I’d found still another version of the tale of the Blind Man and the Loon...

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Introduction: The Story of a Tale

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pp. xix-xxvii

Of the many thousands of stories recorded in Native North America by folklorists, linguists, ethnographers, and amateur enthusiasts, perhaps none have received as much attention as Raven Brings Daylight (Oosten and Laugrand 2006) or the Star Husband Tale, the latter now wellknown through the classic studies made by Gladys Reichard...

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1. The History and Geography of the Tale

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pp. 1-25

Some years ago I presented a paper attempting reconstruction of the archetype of the Blind Man and the Loon (Mishler 1988). At that time I defined paradigms for thirteen selected traits found within each of its two major subtypes (see appendix A). I called these the Eskimo or Inuit subtype featuring the Blind...

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2. The Writing of the Tale

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pp. 27-47

It is regrettable to report that efforts to write “The Blind Man and the Loon” over the past century and a half have been less than diligent. Philologically speaking, there are many ways to write a folktale found in oral tradition and many, many ways to represent and misrepresent it. For better or worse, each...

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3. The Tale Behind the Tale

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pp. 49-66

The saddest part of folklore scholarship has always been the lack of recognition of the storytellers. Many collectors did not even tell us the names of the persons from whom they recorded their texts. But it’s not just the stories themselves that are important: it’s the lives of the stories, and the lives of the stories are deeply...

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4. The Telling of the Tale

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pp. 67-91

Maggie Gilbert (Maggie Jyah) was a Gwich’in Athabaskan woman born at Shuman House on the Porcupine River in northeastern Alaska in 1895 or 1896. Her father’s English name was William and her mother was Laura, but after her mother died in 1909 she was raised by her uncle, Chief Christian, in the upper...

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5. The Art of the Tale [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 93-118

As noted earlier, the story of the Blind Man and the Loon is widely distributed across Greenland, Canada, and Alaska. Although the tale is just as well known among northern Indians as it is among Eskimos, it is primarily the Inuit or Eskimo subtype that has inspired a remarkable wealth of folk art...

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6. The Mediated and Theatrical Tale

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pp. 119-133

In her ground-breaking book, American Folklore and the Mass Media (1994), Linda Dégh discusses what happens to folklore when it is enters the electronic world. While purists might think this is a bad thing, a corruption, Dégh argues that mass media actually liberates folklore and makes it more accessible...

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7. The Power of the Tale

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pp. 135-152

As mentioned in chapter 1, “The Blind Man and the Loon” has traveled for thousands of miles and has been performed for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years for thousands of people over a very large part of northern and western Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and the western United States. Most exciting...

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Conclusion and Afterword

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pp. 153-156

“The Blind Man and the Loon” is constructed much like a hypertext. That is, it has embedded links to many symbolic cognitive domains in Eskimo and Indian culture. Its complex, immediate links to material culture (especially historic and late prehistoric subsistence hunting technologies), to kinship rights...

Appendix A: Paradigm of Tale Traits

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pp. 157-161

Appendix B: Annotated Bibliography of Variants

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pp. 163-189

Appendix C: Knud Rasmussen’s Greenlandic Variants

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pp. 191-209

Appendix D: The Steenholdt Text and Additional Variants from Hinrich Rink’s Collection

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pp. 211-215


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pp. 217-222


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pp. 223-237


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pp. 239-246

E-ISBN-13: 9780803246850
E-ISBN-10: 0803246854
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803239821

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 13 color illustrations, 15 b&w illustrations, 2 maps, 1 chart, 4 appendixes
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Foreword by Robin Ridington