The dust-jacket blurb for The Vision Seeker
states that this "is a book for all people and all ages." It is, however, sure to be marketed and classified as a children's book; this review will deal with it as children's literature, and in this context it is less than satisfactory.
The book's author is an Anishinaabe, and the story relates the origins of the Sweat Lodge, a tool used by the Anishinaabe nation to retain their cultural memory. It is a moving story of a young man's bravery and of his mystical journey to bring help to his people. The author introduces the legend in his own voice and proceeds to tell of an undisclosed time, long ago, when war and greed had created a period of "great darkness". A little boy, in the face of starvation, asks permission to undertake a fast and Vision Quest. The book recounts his subsequent journey and dreams, and ends with an explanation of the significance of the original quest to the present-day Sweat Lodge ritual.
I found the book both tantalizing and disappointing. Initially, the story seems headed for the tradition of story-telling that pits the weakest member of society against great and powerful forces, or charts an epic voyage of self-discovery. The narration is moving; unfortunately, the reader is left hanging in what seems to be mid-story. The journey ends-and then? There is no explication of the significance of the quest. Did the war end? Was the famine over? Did the people learn to work together? Did the boy become a leader?
The final page of text explains the significance of the details of the legends to the modern ceremony and assumes that the reader is familiar with, if not actually looking at, a Sweat Lodge: "That lodge was built very much like this one." What one? The illustrations, wonderful in places, are not helpful here. The Sweat Lodge is not fully explained, and the story falls flat.
Paul Morin's illustrations, too, are a mixed bag. In most cases they follow the story line closely and realistically. Some of the images are powerfully and skilfully rendered; in others, the artist seems stymied by the challenges of foreshortening. Mr. Morin also designed the book and here again inconsistency rules. On the most successful pages, the richly coloured illustrations spread across the double page, bleeding to the edge, with the type in white. On a few pages the illustration faces a white page with a few lines of text and the result is glaringly out of sync with the prevailing mood.
Reading The Vision Seeker left me with a great curiosity about the Sweat Lodge legend. Perhaps someone familiar with the ceremony would find this book illuminating, but I doubt that "all people" will find it satisfactory.