Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping with His Daughter: Coyote Builds North America

Giving Birth to Thunder, Sleeping with His Daughter: Coyote Builds North America - Barry Holstun Lopez

GIVING BIRTH TO THUNDER is focuses on Native American tales of Coyote. They range from respectable to raunchy, definitively establishing Coyote’s place as a complex trickster-hero figure. However, it’s not entirely clear whether or not the author simply replaced tricksters from other tribal tales with Coyote himself. The book also pushes a “the single Native American culture” bias, but that probably has more to do with the dated academic standards of the 1970s than outright ignorance, as the author clearly respects the peoples of the stories he adapted.


The Coyote tales themselves are surprisingly lifeless, presumably due to their roots in oral tradition—every character states the actions they’re about to undertake, everything is described as simply as possible, etc. Normally an author would deserve credit for presenting so many conflicting stories with such an even tone, but it works against the book’s favor here. The term “bare bones” has never been more apt, although I could see the material working much better as an audiobook.


From a methodological standpoint, the author claims to have used multiple sources to transcript academic or oral stories into a literature-friendly whole. While there is a bibliography, Lopez doesn’t cite his sources for each specific story, so it’s difficult to determine exactly how much was changed from the original folklore in the process. In fact, there appears to be no consultations with actual Native Americans in the text at all. However, since the introduction examines the various problems of similar collections, such as problematic alterations for Western audiences, it’s not likely that any oversights were made on purpose.


It’s not a bad collection overall, and I have no doubts that it was fair for its day. Recommended for anyone genuinely interested in the material and willing to overlook some of its dated conventions.