RETOLD TALES OF THE HOPI
Retold Tales of the Hopi is a book within the book of There's Something in the Back Yard. In the story of Back Yard, Don Pike, a professor of English, gives the manuscript for the Retold Tales to his friend and colleague, George Binns in the following exchange:
"If you want to read something about Indians, maybe this'll interest you. It's something I wrote a couple of years ago. I guess it was ten years now."
"Don, I'm flattered-"
"You don't have to be. There's a couple of things in there about your friend Aholi, so maybe it'll give you some idea about how a Hopi thinks-no, I take that back, maybe it'll give you some idea about how a White-Eye thinks a Hopi thinks."
The distinction-between what a Hopi thinks and what a non-Hopi thinks-is crucial to the story of the book. Because misunderstanding is at the heart of everything that happens in Back Yard.
Retold Tales of the Hopi were written during the month and a half I spent camped out under a juniper bush on the Hopi Reservation in the summer of 1978. At the time I had already written a first draft of Back Yard while on a grant in Taos, New Mexico, and knew that I wanted to include the Retold Tales, both as background for the Hopi in general-to demonstrate in an amusing, readable way how different their view of the world is from the predominant American culture-and as a reflection the character of Don Pike who is credited in Back Yard with writing them.
During the 1960s and 1970s, A number of American fiction writers were working under general theory of "include-everything-you-can-think-of: the-bigger-the-book-the-better." In particular, I was influenced by Ken Kesey of Sometimes a Great Notion, and John Gardner from such books as The Sunlight Dialogues and October Light. After a year of reading everything I could about Hopi myths- from my visits to various Southwest libraries, I probably had the largest Xeroxed library of Hopi tales in existence-I traveled to Hopi to watch the various Home Dances on the weekends. Between dances, I sat at a picnic table near the Visitor's Center and worked on the Retold Tales.
The Tales may be considered irreverent, though I hope they're not perceived as disrespectful. They were meant to be disarming and accessible. In writing them, I had the model of the Miracle Plays of the Christian Middle Ages, where the most serious matters of faith were treated off-handedly and sometimes with slapstick humor-a telling of the Crucifixion, for instance, from the point of view of the soldiers assigned to do the act whose hammer breaks and they run out of nails. Among the major misunderstandings portrayed in the book is the idea that there may be spiritual realities right under our noses that we're failing to see. The Hopi in the book represent a people whose awareness of the spiritual is so strong they can even withstand the silliness and misperceptions of the characters in the book.
In Back Yard, only a few of the Retold Tales appear. Included here is the entire manuscript.