A fascinating exchange regarding Neither Wolf nor Dog

I thought you all might like to see an exchange I just had with a reader regarding Neither Wolf nor Dog. I’m removing the reader’s last name out of courtesy. But I found it a most fascinating exchange and thought it should be shared with all readers.

dear kent,

I’m currently reading some of your work and I was really enjoying it as you were learning from dan and grover but then I felt you started to play dumb in you character and I felt this was talking down to me as I had felt when I was reading dan quinns book, ishmael. I will finnish the book soon and I will write my thoughts at that point.
I really do enjoy dan and his ways of seeing. thank you for bringing him to life for me.

lee

Dear Lee,

Interesting thought, and perhaps legitimate. But wait until you get to the end. Then let me know. Thanks for writing.

Kent

dear kent nerburn,

I finished the book last friday but am so filled with thoughts that I felt I needed to give it some time in me. I still don’t feel as if I am able to say all I can concerning the book. What I do want to speak to is that I feel I am starting to see more clearly why I felt talked down to.

You see, as I read the book I placed myself in the role of the story teller, being you. I noticed how complicated the person dan was in the story, while you made yourself quite one dimensional. I know you are not one dimensional, you are quite complicated and I did not want to see myself as so one dimensional as I personally related to your character. This especially came through for me as I realized at times, not always, where dan was going with his adventure and thoughts, yet the character of you, seemed so innocent and lost as you followed his wisdom.

Then I realized how difficult the place was that you had put yourself in by making yourself one of the main characters in a teaching book, that is how I see this book. I see that you had to put yourself in a place where you were competent because of your past experience that caused dan to call you in the first place, yet you also couldn’t put yourself in a position where you were already aware of the wisdom that dan was sharing with you. I don’t know if I could walk that line. In some places I thought you did well in other places I felt I wanted you to be less innocent.

so far I am still processing the information that you and the book shared with me. the only other thing that stood out for me was when dan spoke of forgiveness as selfish, which I disagree with but won’t share with you unless you would like me to, and then near the end of the book he said maybe he needed to learn how to forgive white people for the past and present behavior towards the native people.

I thank you for writing the book and I hope you are well. I would be happy if you would share any thoughts with me at all.

lee

Dear Lee

You’re a very wise man (or woman — “Lee” obviously being a name that can go to either gender). No one else has ever seen this in the nine or ten years that the book has been out. And you are right on the mark. The Indian way is to teach through story, and this story needed me more in the role of innocent, because I needed to walk the reader into a reality where he or she had not been before, and had to bring him or her there without presuming knowledge or awareness.

But, on a deeper note (and there is a deeper note), I could not serve as commentator beyond excavating my own psychological responses to events. If I began to analyze from the position of my own understanding, then I would have been performing the same kind of objectification that Indian people hate from non-Indian folks. I could not, in effect, have surrounded their understanding with my understanding. And, in fact, I have always found that when I have tried to do so with astute Indian folks, they outflank me once again. It’s a chess match, and one does not do well to try to think too many moves ahead. In this instance, the chess match was less important than allowing Dan’s voice to be heard.Thus, as narrator, I let the story unfold as if I were able to see only one or two moves ahead, thus allowing all light to shine on Dan. He deserved that light. I have no need of it. And the book, if done correctly, is an homage to Dan, not to the white guy who set out to get the story.

Thanks for being one of the most astute readers who has ever contacted me in all the years that book has been out.

Kent

As I told Lee, I really can’t afford to engage in lengthy correspondence with readers. Otherwise, I wouldn’t get any books written. But I do like readers to know that I read and mull over all their comments. If any of the rest of you do choose to write, please do so in the comments section so all readers can be part of your thoughts. As I said earlier, this is a community that happens to be in existence because of my books. But it is the community that matters. I hope you all feel enough a part of that community to make your thoughts public, whether they be positive or negative.

6 comments

  1. kathy says:

    Just finished “Neither Wolf Nor Dog.” Especially liked Grover’s rationale for not having a junk vehicle in his yard. Makes sense to me. Having lived and worked on Navajo Reservation, I often pondered the conflicting trash vs. “Walk in Beauty.” Hadn’t thought of it from that perspective.

    Awesome book. Obviously, the Creator brought you and Dan together for a higher purpose. Can’t wait to read more of your books. Really made me miss the rez. — kathy

  2. Clem says:

    Well, yes, it was noticeable, but I didn’t analyze it like that. I have to admit I just thought you were a little dense. Kinda judgemental on my part, eh? As I mentioned in my email, I just finished the book a couple of days ago. I felt Dan had some good insights, but except for a few, had heard them from the elders and others before. But putting them all together in the book was really nice. One of the insights that helped me was Dan’s interpretation of the trash “problem” on the rez, and the cars, etc. If he and Grover are still alive I hope you are still in contact. And also that you gave them a bit of the money you made off the book. I sure hope the book will have a good effect on a lot of folks, both native and non-native. Thanks, again.

  3. Scott says:

    Mr. Nerburn,
    I just finished reading Neither Wolf Nor Dog. It is the most important book I have ever read. It is the kind of book that shares knowledge you wish everyone could just instantly have. I will not hesitate to share it with others.

    After finishing the story, of course I want to know more. Did you stay in contact with Dan and Grover (and fatback)? Are they still alive? Did they like the book?

    Thank you for sharing their story,

    Scott

  4. Douglas Bishop says:

    Hello Mr. Nerburn,

    Neither Wolf Nor Dog should be considered one of the greatest works in American literature. Period. I greatly appreciate the personal trials you endured in order to see this book to its final publication.

    Particularly poignant for me (and, at times, troubling) were Dan’s “little talks” on whites who attempt to fill the void of their spiritual bankruptcy, by appropriating Native beliefs and trappings. Also, your encounter with Danelle’s children.

    As a man that, though possessing a large Native heritage, yet appears to all the world as white (like Danelle’s son), it can be difficult and hurtful for me when people (Natives and non-natives alike) mentally place me in the “Indian wannabe” category.

    What are your thoughts on this?

  5. Carol Patterson says:

    Dear Dan,
    I am an anthropologist interested in the Ute traditions, who’s creator was Sinauvi, the Wolf, and the trixter Coyote who messes up what was created. The archaeologists here in Colorado are analyzing Ute settlements and find a lack of carivoir bones compared to deer and elk. I think its because the Utes don’t eat dogs or wolves in reverance to their mythology and this belief goes back thousands of years. Other tribes do eat carnivors, like the Plains people. What do you know about this topic?
    Sincerely, Carol

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