Gerald McDermott's Arrow to the Sun
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Gerald McDermott knows his stuff. A modern renaissance man, he has top-notch credentials in both the world of mythology and the art world.
In the 1970s he created a series of animated films on folklore that attracted the attention of renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell, films that are shown in classrooms to this day. (Maybe you remember them!)
Then he began to adapt his films into children's books about myth. It may not seem an intuitive evolution, but it surely works. His first book, Anansi the Spider won a Caldecott Honor in 1973.
Shortly thereafter, he won the Caldecott Medal outright with Arrow to the Sun.
A Pueblo Indian tale (the Pueblos are comprised of a number of traditionally village-dwelling tribes of the American Southwest), Arrow starts with the Lord of the Sun sending "the spark of life" to the earth on the tip of an arrow. This results in a "young maiden" giving birth.
Her son is born and grows up and finds himself something of an outcast for his lack of a father. He endeavors to find his dad, but encounters nary a clue until encountering the Arrow Maker, who...
...because he was wise, saw that the Boy had come from the Sun.
That's right. The Boy is the son of the Sun.
So the Arrow Maker turns the Boy into an arrow and shoots him to the sun, where the Lord of the Sun himself puts him through a series of tests to prove that he is indeed his son.
The Boy passes the tests of course, and becomes all the richer for it. He is shot back to the earth, where the people celebrate his return.
Arrow to the Sun
Now if that all sounds a little underwritten and overmagical, that's because I haven't treated you to McDermott's stunning illustrations. (Click that Amazon link at the top of the page and then browse for yourself.)
McDermott brings the myth alive. 1 pic = 1000 words, right? And this book is easily 1000 times as special as what I've managed to convey here.
McDermott's art will seem instantly familiar to you as Native American inspired. What you'll be stunned by is his ability not only to tell a story but to convey movement and emotion with these stylized, geometric figures. When the Boy becomes an arrow, he really becomes an arrow. This mythological magic which might otherwise feel dated instead feels very immediate and real in McDermott's capable hands.
We've all been a bit sullied by video and its attack on our visual imaginations. The TV does the imagining for us.
What McDermott manages is to take us back hundreds of years, place us around a campfire and make us engage on a fantastical story. This allows us (and hopefully our children) to focus on timeless messages in a story that might otherwise be rendered impotent by its lack of "believability" by present day standards.
McDermott himself will tell you that he believes in the "transformative power of myth." Arrow to the Sun might make you a believer too!
Wemaster's note: Also, check out our review of McDermott's Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest.
Read more of Steve's reviews.
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