The Way to Rainy Mountain | Critical Review by Roland F. Dickey

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of The Way to Rainy Mountain.
This section contains 816 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Roland F. Dickey

SOURCE: A review of The Way to Rainy Mountain, in Western Humanities Review, Vol. XXIV, No. 3, Summer, 1970, pp. 290-91.

In the review below, Dickey favorably assesses The Way to Rainy Mountain.

In a three-hundred-year migration, the Kiowa Indians emerged, as out of a hollow log, from the canyon confinement of the Montana Rockies, touched monolithic Devil's Tower which rose into the night sky to place seven of their kinsmen as the Big Dipper, and among the Comanches of the "intermountain plain" learned the Sun Dance and became horsemen—"a time of great adventure and nobility and fulfillment." "The Kiowas reckoned their stature by the distance they could see," and in the heart of the continent "acquired the sense of destiny, therefore courage and pride." Their golden age perished with the buffalo, "the animal representation of the sun," and these summerseeking people were at last quiescent near the Wichita Mountains of Oklahoma. In a spiritual and intellectual pilgrimage [recorded in The Way to Rainy Mountain], N. Scott Momaday retraces the path of his Kiowa ancestors, "to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth … to give himself up to a particular landscape … to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it." His journey ends at Rainy Mountain and the grave of his grandmother, who had seen white men spoil the last great ceremony for Tai-me, the Sun Doll. "Without bitterness, and for as long as she lived, she bore a vision of deicide."

Momaday on His Work Habits:

I think of myself as being a very undisciplined kind of writer. I have moments of inspiration: I never know when they are going to come upon me, and when they do I try to take advantage of them. I write now in the early part of the day, when I am really rolling along. I like to get up early and get to work early, and I can work, I find, for maybe six hours at the most, writing, and then I have to back away and do something else, but if I can write, say, four hours a day consistently, that's as much as I ask of myself.

N. Scott Momaday, in an interview with Laura Coltelli, in her Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak, 1990.

Rainy Mountain begins with a poem, a prologue, and an introduction; it closes with an epilogue and a poem. Between, with as much space as typography, is the odyssey of the Kiowas in short bursts of prose. The format, perceptively planned by Bruce Gentry, is like no other, and drawings by Al Momaday, the author's father, convey power. On the left of each pair of pages is "the verbal tradition … mythology, legend, lore, and hearsay." Facing this are two annotations: facts from history and anthropology, and Momaday's personal interlinear. The book hangs together like a constellation, its parts varying in distance and intensity. The spaces, the silences, invite the reader to reflect.

The title and essence of The Way to Rainy Mountain appear in Momaday's Pulitzer Prize novel, House Made of Dawn, among sermons of the Right Reverend John Big Bluff Tosamah, Pastor and Sun Priest, who offers the slogan, "Be kind to a white man today." Tosamah seems to speak for Momaday, being at home in the worlds of white man and red. "In the Word was the beginning," preaches Tosamah, and in Rainy Mountain Momaday writes, "A word has power in and of itself. It comes from nothing into sound and meaning." Tosamah thunders: "The Word did not come into being, but it was. It did not break upon the silence, but it was older than the silence and the silence was made of it." He warns us: "The white man takes such things as words and literatures for granted…. He has diluted and multiplied the Word, and words have begun to close in upon him. He is sated and insensitive; his regard for language—the Word itself—as an instrument of creation has diminished nearly to the point of no return. It may be that he will perish by the Word."

Momaday, as inheritor of "a very rich literature, which, because it was never written down, was always but one generation from extinction," and as a poet and scholar steeped in written tradition, has distilled for us the great moments of a boisterous people, the Kiowas, and more importantly, "man's idea of himself."

The dedication is "for Al and Natachee." Artists and teachers, Scott Momaday's parents have imparted to him "things that were truly remarkable." He has the storytelling perception of his grandmother, knowing that it is crucial for human society "to utter and to hear." Like the silence of the prairie dawn, The Way to Rainy Mountain "is cold and clear and deep like water. It takes hold of you and will not let you go."

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This section contains 816 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Roland F. Dickey