December 17, 2012

Stereotypes in Tiger Lily

Debbie Reese reviews Tiger Lily, a prequel to Peter Pan, in her American Indians in Children's Literature blog:

Jodi Lynn Anderson's TIGER LILY--Part 2Back in June, I read part of Jodi Lynn Anderson's Tiger Lily. I didn't like what I read and posted my thoughts. The book is now on School Library Journal's "Best of 2012" list, so I got it out of the library and read it today. These are my initial thoughts.


  • The story is set in the time prior to Wendy's arrival at Neverland.

  • The narrator is Tinker Bell.

  • There are tribes. They live in these three villages: SkyEaters, Cliff Dwellers, and Bog Dwellers.

  • I don't think Anderson uses the word 'Indian' anywhere in the book. She uses 'tribe' and 'warrior' and 'warriors' and 'shaman.'
  • What I don't like:

    Here's what stands out to me right now. I've got lots and lots of notes, but as I close the book and set it down, this is what is in my mind.

    First concern: the names Anderson created for the Native characters. For years and years, non-Native writers have created outlandish names for their characters. In the process, they intentionally or not, trivialize and mock something that matters to us a great deal. Russell Hoban did it in Soonchild. Jon Scieszka did it in My Oh Maya. Here's the names in Tiger Lily:

    Pine Sap
    Moon Eye
    Tik Tok
    Magnolia Bud
    Aunt Fire
    Aunt Sticky Feet
    Bat Wing
    Silk Whiskers
    Red Leaf
    Bear Claw

    Tik Tok is the name of the village shaman. We don't know what his name was to start with, but once he finds the clock and hears its tick tock, he decides to have a ceremony and change his name to Tik Tok. It makes him seem a foolish and silly person.

    Tik Tok finds Tiger Lily under a tiger lily flower and names her after it. Aunt Sticky Feet was named that way because of the time she had walked through hot tar and then got her foot stuck to a chicken that ran into her path.

    Some of you may have heard the crass joke about how an Indian is named after the first thing the person bestowing the name sees in the morning, or just at the moment he/she is about to give a name to someone. It is a racist joke, and as such, it isn't funny, and neither are the humorous names authors create for their characters (whether they directly call their characters Indian or not).
    Comment:  Since Peter Pan identifies the tribespeople as Indians, I don't know if it helps any to not identify them as Indians. They're still Indians in everyone's minds.

    For more on Peter Pan, see Boy Sees Racism in Peter Pan and Neverland Trailer.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    To be fair, one could interpret the Indians as fantasy creatures, the fantasy interpretation of Indians. No more Indian than the pirates really depict pirates when we don't really see them steal anything. (Captain Hook himself is actually old Chronos, ready to force all the children into adulthood. The scythe-like hook hand is the dead giveaway.)

    You could see them as the children's-book version, in that way.

    It just happens that when it comes to Indians, most people are still like Peter Pan, not willing to give up their childish notions.