Monday, September 15, 2014


A colleague asked me about H. M. Bouwman's The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap. Published in 2008 by Marshall Cavendish, it got a starred review from Kirkus, and was tagged as "serviceable" by School Library Journal. 

Right off the bat, I'm giving it a thumbs down.

The setting is 1787. One character, Lucy, is "Colay" which is a fictional Native tribe the author made up for this fantasy. Because it is fantasy, people will defend what Bouwman does with characterizations of that made-up tribe.

But because Americans know so little about Native peoples, I object to works of fantasy like The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap.  And Bow's Sorrow's Knot. And Healy's Guardian of the Dead. 

One of our most esteemed Native writers, Simon J. Ortiz, wrote some time back that people love to retell and read traditional Native stories. A great deal of those stories are "retold" by writers who are outsiders to the people whose story they are "retelling" according to their own needs and creativity. They profess being inspired by Native peoples.

Ortiz quite rightly points out that Native people have very real lives and very real issues that need attention. It might make writers feel good to "retell" our stories, or to use our stories to create fantasies like Bouwman and Bow and Healy have done, but in so doing, they're doing further harm to Native peoples.

Bouwman, Bow, and Healy (and they aren't the only ones!) are feeding a monster of stereotypical expectations of who we are. That is not ok. How can they--on one hand, profess admiration for us--and on the other hand, take/use/misappropriate Native stories and culture when what they do hurts Native people?


Gabriele Bianchetti said...

I totally agree with you!
Not only it diminish your stories' value, but also it makes nearly impossible to point out all the mistakes, misconceptions and stereotypes in the work, 'cause the standard response will always be "But it's a fiction work and a fictional tribe!". The same goes for Peter Pan, of course.

Anonymous said...

but have you read any of these books? how can you diss them like that yo? please review them before spreadin haterd

Truth Unleashed said...

How sad and ironic that people attempting to write historical fiction feel the need to invent their own tribes while the likes of Stephenie Meyer, writing fantasy set in the present day, help themselves to real ones.

Debbie Reese said...

Yes, I have read them, Anonymous.

I'd like to know why you think my post is spreading hatred.

Truth Unleashed - Meyer doesn't get a pass from me. I've written quite a lot about her mis-use of Native people, too.

Truth Unleashed said...

I certainly wasn't implying Meyer gets a pass, or should. Quite the contrary! My point was that Meyer probably *should* have invented a tribe if she simply had to make her werewolves Native, instead of playing fast and loose with a real group of very human people and twisting their cherished and sacred origin stories to suit the purpose of her fiction. And then these writers of ostensibly realistic historical fictions, who probably have the conscious desire to do something to support diversity and mutual understanding, are content to just make something up. It's just so all-around backwards, I don't know what people are thinking sometimes.

Debbie Reese said...

Truth Unleashed--Yes, the depth/range and constancy of authors getting-it-wrong is troubling and infuriating. Even the ones that mean well. Healy has a pretty extensive note in her book about what she's done in her research and in writing the book itself. Bow has a bit in her note. Meyer has zero.

I read Healy's GUARDIAN around the same time, I think, that I read some of what Garth Nix said about Indigenous peoples. He was studying the same issues and got it. He stepped back. I don't know what to make of understanding the issues and going forward anyway.

Aritha said...

I think it is extremely hard to write about a group when you doesn't know the people from inside. I couldn't write about an American girl. You could write about a Dutch girl.But there are exceptions...

I think, when I would ever write about native people of America I would do it through the eyes of a Dutch refugee girl who's fleeing with boat from religious persecution, to America.