Reading guide for Song of the Crow by Layne Maheu

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Song of the Crow

by Layne Maheu

Song of the Crow
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2006, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2007, 244 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Do you remember the creation stories of your religious or cultural upbringing, or from school?  What are they and how do they compare to Maheu’s version of things in Song of the Crow?
  2. What other books and stories have you read or movies have you seen that use animals as characters?  To what extent do they seem like they are anthropomorphized (given human characteristics, behavior, and language)?  What examples have you read wherein different animals seem to be chosen to represent certain types of people, or human behavior, such as the pigs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm?
  3. Have you read or seen books, stories, or movies that are more like what Maheu was trying to do with crows?  How successful do you think he was in trying to be as pure as possible to what crows would do in nature?  How good a job did he do, in your opinion, in imagining what crows might be thinking when they are doing something, as crows?  How appropriate did you think his use of crows was in telling this particular story?  What descriptive and narrative devices did he use to develop characters for the crows to distinguish them one from the other?
  4. A bildungsroman is defined as “a novel which traces the spiritual, moral, psychological, or social development and growth of the main character from (usually) childhood to maturity.”  How well does this novel fit this definition, with respect to I Am?  Does Maheu succeed in giving the crow all these dimensions of character?  What events or passages from the novel dramatize these qualities?  The very name “I Am” connotes self consciousness.  In what way is I Am conscious of himself?  Is he different from the other crows in this respect?
  5. What role does fear play in what happens to each of the characters – bird and human – in this novel?
  6. Examine each of the human characters in this novel, as you are able to from the story as told.  How would you analyze each of them in terms of their respective roles within the family dynamic, their personalities, and views of the world as they know it?  How would you describe their interpersonal relationships?  What is apparently going on in the human world as Noah is building his ark?  What rule or rules do Ham and Nanniah violate on board the Ark.  Why does Noah exile them afterwards? 
  7. What kind of sense of time does this novel use?  How old is Noah?  How long did it take him to build the ark?  How many years pass in the novel itself?  How if at all can you calculate it?  If you had a Judeo-Christian or comparable upbringing, did that help you understand this element of the story?  If you did not, did you have difficulty following any or all of the events of the novel and its portrayal of the passage of time and human life span?
  8. Discuss the “fantastic” elements of the novel.  How many can you identify?  If you are a fan of that type of writing, what other novels, if any, does it remind you of?  What makes it different from your favorites?  If you are not a particular fan of that type of writing, did this novel appeal to you anyway?  If so, why? 
  9. Think about the ending of the novel.  What emotions does it evoke in you?  How does it make you feel?  What do you make of what happens between God Crow, Raven, and I Am?  When I Am tells us we should listen to him, because he might be talking to us, what do you think he might be saying and why should we pay attention? 
  10. Maheu says that he took a traditional myth and developed his own themes around it.  What do you think some of those themes are, and what evidence do you find for them in the events of the novel or the way Maheu chooses to tell his story?  What do you think the larger point or points of the novel is/are?

Recommended Reading
Fool’s Crow by James Welch
Watership Down by Richard Adams
Crow and Weasel by Barry Lopez
Desert Notes:  Reflections in the Eye of a Raven by Barry Lopez
The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy
Waterland by Graham Swift
Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich
The American Crow and the Common Raven by Lawrence Kilham
Bird Brains:  The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies and Jays by Candace Savage
Hebrew Myths, the Book of Genesis compiled by Robert Graves and Patai Raphael
Out of the Cradle, Endlessly Rocking by Walt Whitman
Refusal to Mourn the Death of a Child by Fire, in London by Dylan Thomas.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Unbridled Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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