Robert Bringhurst’s A Story as Sharp as a Knife: Haida Mythtellers and Their World (1999)
Suggesting that we think of the hundreds of oral literatures indigenous to North America as “parts of the old-growth forest of the human minds”, Robert Bringhurst’s passion for these stories is palpable.
He likens the act of reading these stories as being more like reading musical notes or reading paintings than it is like reading books. And he believes that, just as one doesn’t necessarily understand string sonatas by only listening to one – but, rather, by listening to some Mozart and some Haydn and Beethoven and and and – it’s only by listening to a variety of Haida mythtellers and a variety of their stories that one can gain a sense of the depth and breadth of their art.
Nonetheless, A Story as Sharp as a Knife offers readers an introduction to the field, considering the work of ethnographers and the recorded tales they were told. Some portions of the tales are presented in the written indigenous language, with translations alongside or following, but most are presented in translation, in a kind of verse that feels both epic and accessible.
And even when the stories themselves feel strange and disorienting, the way that Bringhurst describes them feels like another artist’s vision: “In its lovely glove of words, Skaay’s poem has the structure of five fingers, or four fingers and a thumb. If we are experienced listeners, that is enough. We imagine the palm, the invisible bones that join in a wrist; we remember the echoes, allusions and names that link these poems, and the larger poem they make.”