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The Slaying Of The Dragon

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The deeds of the Great Hare include many contests with the giants, cannibals, and witches who people Algonquian folk-tales. In these he displays adept powers as a trickster and master of wile, as well as a stout warrior. The conflict with Flint turns, as in the Iroquois tradition, upon a tricky discovery of what substance is deadly to the Fire-Stone Man: Flint asks the Hare what can hurt him; he replies, the cat's-tail, or featherdown, or something of the sort, and, in turn, puts the question to Flint, who truthfully answers, "the horn of the stag"; and it is with stag's horn that the Hare fractures and flakes his body a mythic reminiscence, we may suppose, of the great primitive industry of flint-flaking by aid of a horn implement.

The great feat of the Hare as a slayer, however, was his destruction of the monstrous Fish or Snake which oppressed and devoured men and animals. This creature like the Teutonic Grendel was a water monster, and ruler of the Powers of the Deep. Sometimes, as in the Iroquoian myth, he is a horned serpent; commonly, among the Algonquians, he is a great fish the sturgeon which swallows Hiawatha. The Menominee tell how the people were greatly distressed by Mashenomak, the aquatic monster who devoured fishermen. Manabush allows himself to be swallowed by the gigantic creature, inside of which he finds his brothers, the Bear, the Deer, the Raven, the Pine-Squirrel, and many others. They all hold a war-dance in the monster's maw, and when Manabush circles past the heart he thrusts his knife into it, causing Mashenomak to have a convulsion; finally, he lies motionless, and Manabush cuts his way through to the day. In another version, Misikinebik, the monster who has destroyed the brother of Manabush, is slain by the hero in the same fashion. The Micmac, who live beside the sea, make the great fish to be a whale, who is a servant rather than a foe of Glooscap, and upon whose back he is carried when he goes in search of his stolen brother and grandmother. The Clams (surely tame substitutes for water demons!) sing to the Whale to drown Glooscap; but she fails to understand them, and is beached through his trickery. "Alas, my grandchild!" she lamented, "you have been my death. I can never get out of this." "Never you mind, Noogumee," said Glooscap, "I'll set you right." And with a push he sends her far out to sea. It is evident that the legend has passed through a long descent!

In his war against the underwater manitos, the assistants of the Great Hare are the Thunderbirds. In the Iroquoian version it is the Thunderboy who is swallowed by the horned water-snake, from whose maw he is rescued by Thunder and his warriors as in the Hiawatha story it is the gulls who re-lease the prisoner from the sturgeon's belly in which he has been engulfed as a consequence of his rash ambition to conquer the ruler of the depths. The myth has many variants however, and while it may sometimes represent the storm goading to fury the man-devouring waters, in a more universal mode it would seem to be but an American version of the world-old conception of the conquest of the watery Chaos by the creative genius of Light,



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