Folklore through Picture Books: Storm Boy

Folklore through Picture Books: Storm Boy
Storm Boy by Paul Owen Lewis - Cover Art

Cover Art by Paul Owen Lewis

This is the first installment in the series Folklore through Picture Books. The title featured today is Storm Boy which was written and illustrated by Paul Owen Lewis. It was released in 1999 by Tricycle Press and is the retelling of a Pacific Northwest folktale.*

I simply cannot stress enough how beautiful this book is! But, then again, I am a sucker for Pacific Northwest artwork. These illustrations are simply gorgeous and do an excellent job of portraying the traditional culture of the region. You can be sure this won’t be the last book we see from the Salish region nor the last book of Paul Owen Lewis‘. I am currently on the hunt for more.


Storm Boy Illustration by Paul Owen Lewis

Sneak Peak: Storm Boy Interior Illustration

The story follows a young chief’s son and his adventure into the world of the spirits. The boy is out alone fishing (something that is unwise to do) when he is seized by a storm. The boy is thrown from his boat and into a magical world of spirits. But thankfully, these are benevolent beings that welcome him with open arms.

… They gave him a blanket to wear and a fish to eat but the fish was not cut up or cooked. Strange, too, on the walls all around were what looked like killer whales…

They dance and feast but the boy soon becomes homesick. And, yet again, his hosts come to his aid. They endow him with the power to return to his village. The boy arrives home to yet another party because it has been an entire year since his disappearance.

Cultural Context

As Paul Owen Lewis explains in his Author’s Note at the very end of the picture book; the tale of Storm Boy embodies some fairly traditional motifs of the lore of the Pacific Northwest region. Lewis himself does a much better job explaining this point- drawing on the knowledge of such mythology gurus as Joseph Campbell– author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

But I, a humble mortal, will do my best to awkwardly summarize the main points. Paul Owens elaborated on the following three motifs that have been put forth by Joseph Campbell regarding the universal “Adventure of the Hero”:

  • Separation
    • Wandering too far from the village invites supernatural encounters
    • Mysterious entrane to the spirit world
  • Initiation
    • Animals encountered in human form
    • Exchange of gifts and culture – “potlatching.”
  • Return
    • Object given to assist return
    • Mysterious return by “wishing continually”
    • Time is out of joint
    • Claiming of a crest

As you can see, Lewis has broken these down further within the oral traditions of the Pacific Northwest. He also explains that in the traditions of the region it is not uncommon for the lines between animal and human to be blurred.

In the region’s mythical world there are animal people- Bear People, Frog People, Wolf People and Orca People like those found in Storm Boy. These “people” often appear in human form but can don masks and cloaks converting them into their animal forms. These “people” also exhibit the same social structures of their creators. They have territories, villages, chiefs, etc.

The “Potluck” is an immensely popular and integral part of the Pacific Northwest Coastal people and often a common theme in their lore. In Storm Boy we bare witness to a supernatural potluck where Storm Boy and the Orca People exchange dance moves and songs.

As I have mentioned earlier, as this series progresses, we will continue to exam other lore from this fascinating region of the U.S. and Canada. It is by far one of my favorite regions of the Americas.

That’s All Folks!

I hope you enjoyed today’s installment. Please let me know your thoughts and be sure to check out the book itself– if I didn’t think it was worth it- it wouldn’t be included here! Oh! And if you have any suggestions for the future line-up please let me know! I’m always open to fresh ideas.

*Please note: I am NOT affiliated with any publisher, author or illustrator at his time. The titles featured in this series are of my own choosing for their validity for the series or simply because I find them interesting and/or beautiful. In other words- I am not currently receiving any “kick-backs” for anything published through this series.


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