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Book Reviews

The Vision Seeker

by James Whetung, Paul Morin, illus.

Like many of the best folk tale adventures, this story begins with a crisis of survival. The Anishinaabek people have become so consumed with warfare that they have stopped hunting. Out of sync with everyday living, and weak with starvation, they can no longer hold their communities together. Enter the hero, a little boy who offers to help his people. His parents, recognizing that the matter requires more wisdom than they can offer, send him on a vision quest.

According to the introduction, the story of this journey is the teaching of how the Anishinaabek people received the original sweat lodge. Since the story aims to educate, it would have been helpful if the author had explained where the Anishinaabek come from. (I believe they are an Eastern Woodland nation, part of the Three Fires Confederacy.) Despite a few places in the text that seem to call for more explanation, this book offers a good first approach to the significance of the sweat lodge. The story would engage children who are already interested in the first nations cultures, but it would also hold a broader appeal for all readers of folklore. Symbols such as the four directions and the dimensions of the circle feed into the cultural specificity of the story and imbue it with archetypal significance at the same time. There is also something universally appealing, I think, about the ritual in which the elders endow the boy with the seven gifts that heal his community.

The illustrations in this book are of a somewhat uneven quality, which is surprising in light of Morin’s previous work. He has made good use of the circle as symbol, and many of the landscape scenes are up to his usual standard, featuring richly coloured and heavily textured oil paintings. He has also included some beautiful assemblage in the book, and I would have liked to see more of it. The problem lies in the paintings of the people, specifically in their faces, which seem to be frozen into unnatural expressions that do not really correspond with the circumstances in the story.