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Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Blind Boy and the Loon, retold by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and illustrated by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Daniel Gies. Inhabit Media, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2014. $16.95 ages 6 and up

"Just as he had hoped, a loon came to him. The loon told him that it was his very own mother who had caused him to go blind. Having lost her husband, she came to resent her son. Seeking revenge, she rubbed dirty whale fat into his eyes while he slept and cursed him blind."

Choosing to make a short animated film that tells one small part of the epic story called 'Lumaajuuq' was a difficult, but deliberate choice for Alethea Arnaquq-Baril:

"Despite my hesitation, I chose to make the film because this story has always stayed with me, and my hope is that even a short film that tells only part of the story will inspire other young Inuit to take interest and to ask their own community members to teach them their version of the traditional story."

Using cels from her animated film to illustrate this one small part of a huge tale is sure to encourage viewing the film, and beginning to know the story that has 'been shared amongst Inuit families for centuries.'

We are told at the very beginning that we are dealing with a cruel mother, who has a daughter and a blind son. Cruel is right! She hates her son, and treats him with disdain and ignorance. The son had once been a successful hunter; now, she made him feel wretched and meaningless. He has only one recourse.

When spring arrives, and with help from his sister, he is lead to the lake where he meets with a loon who tells him the truth about his mother. Thinking that the loon might be able to help him regain his sight, he asks for help. The loon acquiesces. After three dives into the deep water of the lake, the two surface and the boy is healed. He can now see what the loon sees.

With thanks, the boy returns home. He asks nothing of his mother. Bent on revenge, he agrees that she should join her children in a whale hunt. What happens to her is a cautionary tale for readers, and an explanation for the appearance of the narwhal today:

"Today, the narwhal will forever be a reminder that every act of revenge is a link in a chain that can only be broken by forgiveness."

This origin story is powerful, the art is strong in color and movement, and the fact that it is one small part of a much larger story is sure to encourage readers to find out more about the Lumaajuuq.  It is a retelling in the best sense of the word. It celebrates the Inuit storytelling tradition, and is certainly a worthy story to be shared.

Now, you can watch the film here.

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