The Princess and the Sea-Bear and Other Tsimshian Stories


80 pages
ISBN 0-919591-54-X
DDC j398.2'08997




Illustrations by Claudia Stewart
Reviewed by Peter Goodchild

Peter Goodchild is an editor at Simon & Pierre Publishers.


This presentation of Tsimshian stories is physically attractive: the
print is readable, and the illustrations are bold and imaginative. The
writing style is good; the authors know how to tell a story. And yet
there is a problem: the very process of “retelling” Native stories.
The Tsimshian tales were not children’s stories to begin with, and
they were certainly not romantic, sentimental, bloodless, and sexless.

The title story presents another problem, in that it never was a
“Tsimshian” story; it is a European folk tale, often called “Cupid
and Psyche” after its second-century form in Apuleius’ The Golden
Ass (Type 425C in Thompson’s The Types of the Folk-Tale). The second
story seems to be another European folk tale, that of “the splinter in
the bear’s [lion’s] paw,” Type 156.

But to return to the main problem. Tsimshian stories are of two types:
adaox, tales of the mythical and supernatural past, when the distinction
between animals and humans was less clear; and matlesk, legendary tales,
usually of battles and migrations, based mainly on historical events. In
the retelling of traditional stories, “originality” (that curse of
the modern era) was not allowed; fidelity to the traditional form was
essential. None of the tales has to do with love between a man and a
woman: the European “love story” wasn’t even invented until the
eleventh century, and it rarely appears elsewhere.

Yet the authors ignore all this. For example, they change a major
Tsimshian myth, that of the origin of salmon, into a sentimental love
story for English-speaking children, which they entitle “Fog Woman’s
Gift,” and they assume the right to retell it in their own manner.

It’s hard to know how much Stewart and Skogan are aware of these
problems. And in any case, how does one retell stories from a world so
different from that of the English?


Skogan, Joan, and Claudia Stewart., “The Princess and the Sea-Bear and Other Tsimshian Stories,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,