“Coyote Pedagogy is a term sometimes used to describe King’s writing strategies (Margery Fee and Jane Flick). Discuss your understanding of the role of Coyote in the novel.”
Green Grass, Running Water, by Thomas King is formatted in two different ways. Firstly, it incorporates two distinct overarching styles of literary presentation. 1. Story telling through oral tradition and 2. Western narrative fiction writing format. Within this format, King further complicates his writing style by creating four separate narrative arcs, while presenting each of them in an episodic manner.
Coyote’s arch describes how the world came to be. Seems to mimic an oral tradition style of presentation. He is aided in this “quest” by an unnamed narrator and GOD. Why is it necessary to include Coyote’s tale of the creation of the world when the format seems so disjointed and difficult to follow? How does Coyote’s creation adventure aid our understanding of the three other narrative arcs in the story? Coyote’s story is a way for King to include his own culture’s traditional story telling methods into a novel that will be read by many. It is a homage to his own cultural mythos and allows for cultural blending of literary styles. This homage also represents the First Nation’s Struggle with forced assimilation. The readership of the novel must be taken into account, and the blending of literary styles allows for a larger potential audience, while creating the opportunity for education.
The inclusion of the creation of the world was not done on a whim. It has been carefully included to act as a mouthpiece for King to teach the reader several things.
We know that in many First Nation’s stories, that Coyote is a super natural being, unbound by time and who has extreme power. His presence across many different stories remains the same. He is powerful playful trickster, and he has the power to transform himself, physically, into whatever he chooses. We also know that many of the Coyote’s stories take the form of a fable. We are usually to take some moral lesson from the story. Knowing this, the inclusion of Coyote in Green Grass Running Water, subtly alerts the reader that the story of Coyote and the creation of the world, supplements the moral lessons expounded by the other four parts of the narrative.
Coyote represents transformation itself, which is a major theme in many First Nation’s stories and values and this theme is a major theme shared within the other three narrative arcs. Alberta is on a transformation journey into motherhood, Lionel is on a journey of professional and cultural transformation, and Babo’s stories keeps morphing in order to protect the four escaped First Nation’s Elders.
Coyote has the power to create things simply by dreaming. This act of creation transforms nothing into a water world, which in turn creates the abrahamic GOD, who in turn (with the help of coyote) creates the world as we know it. The wonderful thing is one mistake creates all of life. There was no “great plan” for existence. It simply is, and Coyote spends his arc, with GOD, fixing problems and enjoying himself. He never appears to be upset by how events turn out. He simply rolls with the punches. This narrative arc helps to establish the notion of free will. Mistakes happen and one must live with the consequences. This is mirrored in Lionel’s arc (although to a more unhappy degree). Lionel almost had heart surgery due to a mistake, which haunts him the rest of his life. He was again mistaken for a member of the AIM which gave him a criminal record and cost him signifiant time and money, simply due to a mistake, but never was it assumed that his destiny was determined by any supernatural force. He simply rolls with the punches and continues to live his life.
By including the Abrahamic GOD in Coyote’s arc King shows three things.
Firstly, that First Nation’s mythos stories are flexible can adapt to incorporate new experiences, that may not have been previously explored. This is an extremely excellent thing! It allows for learning and a redefinition of character, while maintaining historical values.
Secondly it shows that Coyote was first in the timeline of events. King is showing a great deal of respect for First Nation’s spiritual beliefs and is unwilling to abandon his beliefs for a Christian belief system, but is willing to amend his belief system to include new information. This also is representative of First Nation’s historical attitudes toward European Canadians. They are unwilling to sacrifice themselves to assimilate but still wish for amicable peace and harmony.
Thirdly, Coyote never subjugates GOD. He is proud, sure, but ultimately works with GOD as equal partners. This is a metaphor for King’s desire for amicable peace between European Canadians and First Nation’s People in Canada.
The inclusion of Coyote’s arc is brilliantly thought out, profound in its many lessons for both political peace and personal peace. I am blown away that King was able to craft such an excellent piece of literature, and am frustrated that his nomination for the Governor General’s award was not realized. He was nominated but did not win. This book is one of the first truly Canadian books I’ve read. I’m astounded that more people do not know this book, and hope it becomes required reading in high-schools as a part of a Classic, Canadian Canon. If my goal of becoming a high-school English teacher is realized, it will be on my curriculum.
I adored this book and would be interested one day to create a full literary analysis.
King, Thomas. Green Grass, Running Water. Harperperennial Canada, 2007.