CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2005
Mouse Woman and the Mischief-Makers was first published in 1977 and is part of a trilogy about the spirit being or narnauk named Mouse Woman. The first book published was Mouse Woman and the Vanished Princesses (McClelland and Stewart, 1976) which was awarded the CACL Book of the Year Medal. The third book was Mouse Woman and the Muddleheads (McClelland and Stewart, 1979). All three books have been out of print for a number of years. This reissue in paperback has a new cover design, but the interior illustrations are the same as those in the original edition and were created by award winning artist Douglas Tait.
An introduction by Christie Harris' daughter, Moira Johnston Block, explains how her mother began researching Mouse Woman from the myths which had been collected by anthropologists on the Pacific Northwest of Canada. These collections are cited in a list of story sources at the end of the book. Narnauks were supernatural beings who roamed the Northwest, and Mouse Woman was considered one of these beings. Christie Harris moved to Prince Rupert in the late 1950's and became interested in First Nations culture and stories. She travelled to Haida Gwaii and listened to stories told at feasts and met with individuals on the coast. Harris brought the stories to publication at a time when there were few First Nations stories available in print. Although the retelling of First Nations legends by non-Aboriginals has been an issue of controversy, Moira Johnston Block carefully articulates the accolades her mother received for her work from people like Haida artist Robert Davidson and Sheila Egoff, the well-known writer on Canadian children's literature.
The Mouse Woman stories are very entertaining and could be easily read aloud in a classroom. There are seven stories in this book, and they are filled with humour, concern for the environment, and keeping everything in the world in proper balance. Mouse Woman is an interventionist in other people's lives just like the fairy godmother in European folk lore, but she can also change her appearance from a mouse to a grandmother in a second. In the first story, “Mouse Woman and the Great Porcupine,” she stops a greedy couple from decimating the porcupines. The stories are not for the fainthearted as the hunter's face is impaled with quills. This is just one of the examples of how the narnauk keeps the world in order, and she reappears in the other stories as a protector of the young or as a wily interventionist. In one story, she is the ultimate busybody - the matchmaker between Sun Cloud and the Daughter of the Sun.
Adults who are interested in Aboriginal legends will find the stories to be of great interest as they provide insights into human nature and storytellers will discover great tales for telling. Comparative folklorists will enjoy the parallels between the naming contest in “Mouse Woman and the Great Porcupine” and the story of Rumpelstiltskin and the testing of the tooth in various mouths in “Mouse Woman and the Tooth” and the Cinderella story.
The full page black and white drawings by Douglas Tait are as bold as the work of Barry Lopez or Charles Keeping. Tait uses intricate lines and stippling techniques to create details, textures and powerful images of Mouse Woman and the various characters in the stories like the repulsive two-headed Dzenk! Small motifs, like a miniature Mouse Woman, feathers, and tiny Raven's eyes, decorate the pages and make this edition even more attractive than the original.
Lorraine Douglas is an artist and writer who recently moved to “Booktown,” aka Sidney, BC. She worked as a children's librarian and Youth Services Coordinator for the Winnipeg Public Library.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.