Sidling closer to the glow of the seal blubber lamp, families in the Arctic regions would pass the long hours of cold darkness by telling stories. These stories, which have been preserved through retelling over the ages and, when that fails, anthropologists
The Mythology of the Inuit serves as a nice primer for readers wishing to learn more about the stories different tribes of Inuit and Aleutian people told, and how those stories reflect their culture. The author Evelyn Wolfson prefaces the myths with information on Inuit and Aleut life during the period of the preserved stories. This introduction helps ground the myths which follow. For the anthology, Wolfson compiled six myths, each from a different region or tribe.
In one story, a clever man protected by his parents’ ermine amulet outsmarts witches and beasts to return home to his family. In another, a man’s arrogance leads to his death by the hands of a well-meaning giant. A third story follows the fate of a lazy village whose members rely on a single hunter. Wolfson does not focus solely on parables however;, she also tells the tale of one of the most important deities, Sedna, who became a “maleficent” goddess after her cowardly father sacrificed her to a spirit. Each story often has magical qualities and a strong moral meant to guide
Taken together these myths reveal the importance of cooperation, diligence and resilience in an unforgiving land. Following each myth is some comprehension questions and an expert analysis from one of three anthropologists who lived in the region. Some one better versed in Inuit culture and the work of these anthropologists might be better suited than me to comment on the accuracy of the analysis, but I usually found them helpful and interesting. Perhaps my only complaint is I wish it was a bit longer, especially the conclusions, which interwove anthropological analyses, at the end of each story.