Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dance Hall of the Dead

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Dance Hall of the Dead
is a powerful book.

Yesterday I asked why detectives detect.

Joe Leaphorn detects for religious reasons. Leaphorn's grandfather, a Navajo wise man, Hosteen Nashibitti, tells him:

"When the dung beetle moves, know that something has moved it. And know that its movement affects the flight of the sparrow, and that the raven deflects the eagle from the sky, and that the eagle's stiff wing bends the will of the Wind People, and know that all of this affects you and me, and the flea on the prairie dog and the leaf on the cottonwood."

In other words, according to Navajo mythology, all things are related. "Thus one learned to live with evil, by understanding it, by reading its cause. And thus one learned, gradually and methodically, if one was lucky, to always 'go in beauty,' to always look for the pattern and to find it."

In the face of evil, detection, understanding the pattern, is the only way to "go in beauty." And that's true even when you fail.

In this book, Joe Leaphorn doesn't "solve the case." No authority will ever truly know or care about who killed the Little Fire God, the Little Fire God's father, and the Little Fire God's friend. But Joe Leaphorn does restore his own (and maybe a few others') equilibrium. He does learn enough to be able, again, to start to "go in beauty."

He learns a lot about values too, Zuni values and the values of the white man. From Leaphorn's point of view, white men, at least particular ones, give up everything that matters because they value the wrong things. They value wealth instead of faithful women. They value fame more than integrity. They value power and overcoming insults more than they value the way the raven deflects the eagle from its course in the sky and bends the wind.

If I recall correctly, they finally didn't make this book into a movie because it deals with too many sacred things. But Leaphorn is a man who values sacred things, not just Navajo sacred things, but the sacred things of the other tribes too.

This book has everything you would expect from Tony Hillerman--respect for the land, respect for religious tradition, respect for Navajo and other Native American ways of life.

There have been a lot of "indian" mystery novels written since Tony Hillerman's. I've read several of them. None of them holds a candle to Tony Hillerman's.


Corey Wilde said...

You've made me want to reread this book, Joe. And I never knew why this book hadn't been made into a movie, thanks for that information.

Joe Barone said...

I'm just relying on my memory. I could be wrong.