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The Blind Boy and the Loon

by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril; Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Daniel Gies (illus.)

A  boy who was once a great hunter has gone blind, and is forced by his mother to live on the porch and eat dog meat. Seething with resentment, he seeks answers from the red-throated loon. The loon tells him that his mother deliberately cursed and blinded him while he slept, but that he can be cured. “Climb on my back,” says the loon. Three times he dives into deep water with the boy, and each time the boy’s sight grows clearer. After the third plunge he is cured. He returns home bent on revenge, and tricks his mother into spearing a huge white whale while a rope is tied around her waist. The whale plunges into the water, dragging the mother with it when her son deliberately lets go of the rope’s end. The mother is drowned and, in the process, her braids are twisted together so tightly that they are transformed into a tusk and she becomes a narwhal.

This traditional Inuit story explains the origins of the narwhal, while warning against being “blinded” by the desire for revenge. The text is simple but powerful, and although the message – that “every act of revenge is a link in a chain that can only be broken by forgiveness” – may be too overt for some tastes, the accompanying pictures, including one of the narwhal rising gracefully from beside the now dead whale, are breathtaking.

The book is based on a short film, and its cinematic roots are evident in the strong sense of movement on each page. Daniel Gies’s haunting background illustrations, alternating between underwater scenes and dramatic Northern landscapes, set the stage for Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s strong human figures. The boy’s face, eyeless at first but glowing like the moon once his sight is restored, powerfully suggests both the wonder of his healing and the white-hot anger that drives him to take tragic action. The Blind Boy and the Loon is a visually stunning representation of Inuit lore that will delight readers even as it imparts an important, if somewhat heavy-handed, message.