- In order to tell us the story of a stereo salesman, Lionel Red Deer (whose past mistakes continue to live on in his present), a high school teacher, Alberta Frank (who wants to have a child free of the hassle of wedlock—or even, apparently, the hassle of heterosex!), and a retired professor, Eli Stands Alone (who wants to stop a dam from flooding his homeland), King must go back to the beginning of creation. – Why do you think this is so?
I believe that Thomas King goes back to the beginning of creation to teach his audience a lesson about the nature of Indigenous story telling traditions, and the teaching and healing power of these stories.
I am so grateful for Dr. Paterson’s blog posts about this novel, because I would have missed out on so many amazing inter-textual references without her guidance. One such reference was the figure of the Medicine Wheel. I believe that the Medicine Wheel, or at least what it stands for (a tool for teaching and healing, connecting everything, things without an end or a beginning) is one of the reasons that Thomas King includes stories from the beginning of creation in his novel. I believe that King is preparing his reader for a uniquely Indigenous story telling experience. By retelling the creation story, repeatedly, King alludes to the iterative process of the oral, rather than written, tradition of storytelling. Rather than a story staying static and unchanged, the story and it’s meanings can move and interact with the rest of history. Though stories are powerful things, King allows them to live in harmony (for the most part) with other stories and cultural myths, just like the Medicine Wheel shows us that everything is connected. An example of this is King’s retelling of the creation story, where a traditionally Euro-centric understanding of God and the Garden of Eden is retold to include First Woman and Coyote. Just like Babo Jones, King believes that the beginning of a story is important, and is willing to start over and over again to get it right.
Second, I believe that King intentionally weaves together stories from the creation of the world and the present day to illustrate the inter-connectivity of all things as represented by the Medicine Wheel. Unlike any other story I’ve read, the creation story has a large impact on the somewhat ordinary, linear narratives of Alberta Frank, Lionel Red Deer and Eli Stands Alone. King presents the present and past as though they are one and irreversibly connected. Adversely, in the Western tradition of linear storytelling, narratives from so long ago are considered fixed, immutable, and have little or no influence on a more present day narrative. Through King’s Indigenous tradition, the past is in the present and vice versa. Also, when King’s characters think of the past while in the present (Alberta remembering her father, Lionel remembering his prison stay) it shows that the past and the present are always together, the Medicine Wheel is always turning, and everything is connected. Furthermore, rather than only telling the creation story once, as though it was the unquestionable beginning, King tells it over and over again so that no narrative thread is never truly beginning or ending.
Another affect of disrupting the typical European narrative tradition of linear storytelling, is that it prepares the reader to be unsure of and to listen to, rather than read, King’s story. This unfamiliar style makes linear reading inaccessible, and forces the reader to become an actual participant in the act of storytelling, by working through the unfamiliar language and blended mythology of many Christian, Indigenous and even pop cultures. This strategy makes the reader work, and allows them to experience King’s narrative in the unsettling but fascinating style that is closer to the oral tradition of storytelling.
(I found the Medicine Wheel and it’s implications really fascinating so I looked into that more. Since I am on my way to becoming a secondary teacher, I found this article about including the Medicine Wheel into theories of teaching and education really interesting. I even found this kind of tacky youtube video that helps viewers find their purpose with the Medicine Wheel – my quick look into the Medicine Wheel has shown me that it is everywhere, and a lot of individuals have successfully managed to commodify it’s teachings. I don’t know how I feel about this)