March 01, 2015

The Blind Boy and the Loon

by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril
Illustrated by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Daniel Gies
Inhabit Media
48 pp.
Ages 6-10

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril makes it clear from her preface that the story of The Blind Boy and the Loon, first developed into her film Lumaajuuq (National Film Board of Canada, 2010), is both just a small part of an epic story told by her Inuit elders and simply her version, with its mistakes and omissions, "which our elders would never have committed." (pg. 3) Honouring their telling of the story, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril has compressed it into just a few minutes of film and a mere 48 pages of impressive text and illustration to tell a story of cruelty and revenge and the origin of the narwhal.

Living with his sister and mother in the far north, a blind boy endures his mother's resentment and cruelty. With the return of spring, he gets his sister to lead him to the lake to visit with the loon, a creature with formidable eyesight.  In addition to learning that his mother was responsible for causing his blindness, the boy regains his eyesight after repeated divings into the lake on the loon's back. Fully-sighted again, the boy resumes whale-hunting and uses an outing to exact revenge on his mother, whose plunge into the water turns her into the narwhal, her braids twisted into its characteristic tusk.

The dark tale within The Blind Boy and the Loon is nurtured by the highly-stylized elements of the illustrations, from the simple lines of the boy in his parka, to the hills and waters of the harsh landscape. Using shades and tones of greys, dark teal and taupe,  The Blind Boy and the Loon is rich with uncompromising elements of unkindness, deep waters, and expansive tundra, all essential in supporting the story within.  While Alethea Arnaquq-Baril may undervalue the content or interpretation of her telling of this origin tale, The Blind Boy and the Loon is an accomplished and breath-taking rendition.

If you want to see the animation of the stunning beauty that is The Blind Boy and the Loon, sneak a look at the original short film Lumaajuuq (National Film Board of Canada, 2010) upon which the picture book is based.  You will not be disappointed, but rather stunned by the starkness of its richness.

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