The Boy Who Lived with the Seals

09May10

By Rafe Martin
Illustrated by David Shannon

Like The Rough Face Girl, The Boy Who Lived with the Seals is another production of the joint efforts of Rafe Martin and illustrator David Shannon.

In this story, Martin tells a Chinook Indian legend  of a five-year-old boy who disappears during a tribe’s spring migration and ends up spending several years living among the seals. On the themes of this story is the unconditional love and support between parents and child. When the boy first goes missing, his devastated parents spend  weeks staying behind and looking for him in an unfamiliar land.

Never forgetting their son, they once hear a story of a boy who among the seals while visiting another tribe, and they immediately sense that the boy is there son and set off with others to find him. It is in fact their boy, and with the help of some young men they capture him back. However, his homecoming is a reluctant and difficult venture.  Having lived away from people for so long, the boy has lost much of his humanity, including his ability to walk, talk, and his persistence to only eat raw fish as the seals do. His parents work tirelessly to rehabilitate him and give him back as normal of an existence, but the boy is never quite satisfied with his life back among people.

Eventually, the boy’s desire to be back in the sea is overwhelming, and he must retreat back to this existence.: “With a cry the boy tore a corner of the deer hide free, stood up, and dove over the side, down into the water.” His parents, although heart-broken, find peace with his choice. Every year after, the boy (who had become a skillful carver and craftsmen during his time of solitude among people) delivers a beautifully crafted and decorated canoe on the shore for his parents.
Martin’s story-telling writing style shines through in this piece. He pulls the reader into the tale through a colloquial, yet  poetic, style: “So, with heavy hearts, they at last loaded up their canoe and paddled off, following their people.”  He also uses certain conventions that constantly remind us that we are hearing a tale that was carried by an oral tradition, such as “Once the people…”, “One spring…”, “One night…”, “One day…” , “The following year…”, “After that, each spring…”, and “Only the stories the seals tell, he said, are of things…”.
While reading The Boy Who Lived with Seals, I made a direct connection to The Rough-Face Girl through the way Martin describes the setting of the sun in both pieces:

  • “The sun began to sink, the shadows grew longer, and the man too headed back to his people.” (The Boy Who Lived with Seals)
  • “At last she came to the lakeshore just as the sun was sinking behind the hills and the many stars came glittering out like a fiery veil in the darkening sky overhead.” (The Rough-Face Girl)

In terms of cultural authenticity, the Author’s Note included by Rafe reveals very little information relevant to this story . Additional research would be required on the origins of the tale and Rafe’s sources to more confidently evaluate this tale’s authenticity as a representation of Chinook  culture.

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