cover image The Gift of the Gila Monster: Navajo Ceremonial Tales

The Gift of the Gila Monster: Navajo Ceremonial Tales

Gerald Hausman. Simon & Schuster, $11 (204pp) ISBN 978-0-671-76811-9

Hausman ( Meditations with the Navajo ) once again turns his storytelling to the Navajo people, this time focusing on their principal ``Ways''--ritual pathways whose ancient legends are used to heal, give moral instruction and attain inner harmony, or ``walking in beauty.'' Only a few tales survive today; some of the best known are related here. Part of the Navajo creation myth involving four successive worlds, they all help define and order the Navajo's world and accomplish some sort of transformation. Readers will recognize many familiar characters and themes, such as Mother Earth and the trickster Coyote. The Blessingway includes the story of a man who out-tricks Coyote and a tale of resurrection. The Evil-Chasing Way tells of the encounters of Elder Brother and Younger Brother with the powerful Great Snake. Hausman's decision to retell the tales rather than to record them (as an ethnographer might) proves flawed. While the collection highlights the richness of Navajo spirituality, the voice here is ultimately Hausman's. Hillerman provides a brief but interesting foreword on Navajo theology; Mariah Fox's line drawings of sand paintings add atmosphere. (Feb.)