The Ancient Child

The Ancient Child

by N. Scott Momaday

Paperback(Perennial Edition)

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"An intriguing combination of myth, fiction, and storytelling that demonstrates the continuing power and range of Momaday's creative vision....These are magical words. Listen." — Washington Post

In his first novel since the Pulitzer Prize-winning House Made of Dawn, N. Scott Momaday shapes the ancient Kiowa myth of a boy who turned into a bear into a timeless American classic. The Ancient Child juxtaposes Indian lore and Wild West legend into a hypnotic, often lyrical contemporary novel—the story of Locke Setman, known as Set, a Native American raised far from the reservation by his adoptive father. Set feels a strange aching in his soul and, returning to tribal lands for the funeral of his grandmother, is drawn irresistibly to the fabled bear-boy. When he meets Grey, a beautiful young medicine woman with a visionary gift, his world is turned upside down. Here is a magical saga of one man's tormented search for his identity—a quintessential American novel, and a great one.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060973452
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/12/1990
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: Perennial Edition
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.76(d)

About the Author

N. Scott Momaday was born in 1934 in Lawton, Oklahoma. A novelist, poet, playwright, teacher, painter, and storyteller, his accomplishments in literature, scholarship, and the arts have established him as an enduring American master. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Medal of Arts, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Read an Excerpt


Paulita Maxwell does not weep

"¿Quién es?"

Well, where do you come from?
And where do you go?
Well, where do you come from,
My Cotton Eye Joe?

"¿Quién es?" he said again. And in that moment the first shot was fired and then the second. The first bullet entered his body at an upward angle, passing beneath the bone and into the heart, and he was already a dead man. The second shot was wild; it struck the adobe wall, then rebounded against the headboard of a wooden bedstead, so that there seemed to have been three shots in all. But in fact there were only two, both fired from the same gun. He fell upon the floor of the dark room. John Poe, standing just outside, heard everything--the words, the shots, and, as he stated afterward, "a groan and one or two gasps from where I stood in the doorway, as of someone dying in the room." Pete Maxwell, whose house it was, brought a candle and set it burning on a windowsill. In the bare light the dead man lay yellow on his back, stretched out, a butcher knife near his left hand. His body was almost obscenely pale, the color of clotted cream, nearly hairless, blue veins at the wrists and temples. His mouth was slightly open, his teeth protruding. His eyes were closed. He was dressed only in pants and stockings. And he was positively identified. Very soon after the shooting people began to gather there, some of them crying. The women pleaded to take charge of the body, and they were granted permission at once. They carried the body to a carpenter's shop on the grounds and laid it out on a workbench and placed candlesall around it. And the next day they laid it in a grave in the old military burial ground nearby, and there was composed a report of the coroner's jury in the hand of one Alejandro Segura. It began:


Este día 15 de Julio, A.D. 1881, reciví yó, el abajo firmado, Jues de Paz del Precinto arriba escrito, información que habia una muerte en Fuerte Sumner.

In the distance there were the voices of children. The air was very still. Paulita Maxwell, Pete's eighteen-year-old sister, did not weep, could not, though her heart was breaking. She kept to the darkness, her eyes open wide, as if to see something there take shape, the invisible become visible. She felt her skin tighten and become as hard and brittle as pottery. She believed that if someone should touch her she would shatter. She did not dare to open her mouth. Any sound that came from her now would be horrible--gagging, or a strange rodentlike whimper. She gnashed her teeth, and her mouth and throat were so dry that her breaths were like burns. Neither could she pray, even silently. She could express nothing but that her grief was inexpressible. Her hands were folded, her fingers laced and locked. A fly had lighted on the nail of her right thumb; she was oblivious to it.

Well, I come for to see you,
And I come for to sing.
Well, I come for to show you
My diamond ring.

"¿Quién es?"

What People are Saying About This

Alan Cheuse

Some of the finest writing about the plains I've ever read...The Ancient Child comes as close to a book-length prose poem as any novel you'll see this year. Put aside your normal expectations and let it have its way with you, and you'll be in for a real treat.

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Ancient Child 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have to give N. Scott Momaday kudos for creating a new and unique world for an ancient Kiowa myth to live in. His language is just beautiful. All that I hoped and more.