Coyote: Knowledge without borders

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.

Book Cover

The narrator and Coyote preside over two interwoven plots in Thomas King’s Green Grass Running Water–one concerning the creation of the world, and the other a semi-plausible journey of characters in the modern era.  Normally, the role of Coyote is that of a Trickster, cultural hero, or buffoon.  For this novel, that personality came through as an eager, child-like figure prone to excitement, but is well-mannered.  However, Coyote most importantly plays the role of the student as narrator and Coyote navigate the two plot lines.  As this is in many ways a story of borders, one could see Coyote as also serving to represent the mythic aspect of the novel, while the narrator serves for the more-believable modern aspect.

The novel begins “in the beginning, there was nothing.  Just the water.  Coyote was there, but Coyote was asleep” (King, 1).   Coyote is woken by his Dream, which is running around and behaving arrogantly.  Instead of correcting the “silly Dream,” Coyote simply asks the Dream to “be a little quieter” (2).  When the Dream deduces that it must be Coyote, Coyote gently corrects the Dream, suggesting that it can instead be a dog, which is close to a Coyote.  The narrator suggests to Coyote that this could be a problem, as the Dream does not look like a dog.  While Coyote agrees, he does nothing to change the image that the Dream now has of itself as a dog.  To me, this opening scene plays out as a parent with their child, where Coyote is teaching his Dream about its surroundings and itself, without discouraging its own worldview or, when the Dream is loud and rude, without trying to influence its behavior.  For me, this opening scene speaks largely to the personality we as readers are to expect from Coyote as the novel moves forward.  Coyote is not a voice of authority in the traditional sense.  He is in some ways a voice of reason, but more accurately, Coyote stands as a teacher.  But, as the novel progresses and more conversations occur between Coyote and the narrator, Coyote slips into the role of student.

My conclusion is that Coyote serves to challenge borders in the novel.  Coyote is the character that is both mythical and able to interact with reality (the narrator).  He is both student and teacher, performing neither with arrogance or a close-minded mentality, but with spirit and enthusiasm.  At the start of the novel, when he must teach, Coyote does it patiently and without anger or frustration.  When he must learn, Coyote is excited, needing the stories to move faster so that he can receive the knowledge more quickly.  I think that King is trying to use Coyote as an example to the readers of his novel about how one should approach the spread of knowledge, especially when sharing stories between cultures.

Works Cited

Book Cover. Digital image. Amazon. Amazon, n.d. Web. 18 July 2016.

King, Thomas. Green Grass Running Water. Toronto: Harper Collins, 1993. Print.

Welker, Glenn. “Coyote Stories/Poems.” Coyote Stories/Poems. Indigenous People, 15 July 2016. Web. 19 July 2016.

3 thoughts on “Coyote: Knowledge without borders

  1. Hi Navi,
    I think you’ve got a really interesting take on Coyote – thanks for giving me another perspective. I answered the question about giving examples of decolonization in King’s novel, and this made me wonder whether you read Coyote as crossing the border between colonization and decolonization, or whether you think Coyote is a decolonizing figure. I can see King’s narrative structure, the way he brings Coyote in at various points and has Coyote in and out of different plot lines, as an act to decolonize the “accepted” format of the novel, but do you think the character of Coyote has a decolonizing role in the novel? Thanks! Claudia

    • Hi Claudia,

      I would have to give it further thought, but my immediate response is to say yes, I think Coyote has a decolonizing role in the novel. Coyote is a traditional symbol of my Indigenous peoples, and his presence in the novel in many ways could be considered itself to be decolonizing. The interaction between Coyote and the narrator is not entirely necessary to the plot other than to show Coyote as a creature who breaks down borders, many of wish exist because of colonization.

  2. Hi Gillian,
    I also did the same question as you and definitely had some similar opinions to you. I also saw him as a student and teacher but didn’t have the correct verbiage until I read your blog post. You have sum up Coyote’s character very well, but what interested me was your use of the word “mythical” as that is similar to what I had felt during the book. Coyote was a relatable character, and offered a lot to the overall story. I feel as though he had a mythical quality to him, he seemed almost larger than life, very special. He wasn’t the average character he seemed to represent religion in some way without really preaching religion. His dream in the beginning, who is then called God, he is the one who created him. Is it really a coincidence? His conversations to the narrator, offered some really interesting conversations, what makes the Coyote so special? He says I’m probably a Coyote, why probably? He seems to be excluded something other, maybe some higher power? I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it but those were some of my thoughts. The Coyote fixes the world after ruining what he had created, isn’t that what a higher power does, create something then change it but then again bring balance back into life?
    Mariam Manghat

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