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The Jellyfish's Tale



The Anthropologist and the Jellyfish

From the book Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn:

So at last the creature began its story. "The universe," it said, "was born a long, long time ago, perhaps ten or fifteen billion years ago. Our own solar system - this star, this planet, and all the others - seem to have come into being some two or three billion years ago. For a long time, nothing whatever lived here. But then, after a billion years or so, life appeared."

"Excuse me," the anthropologist said. "You say that life appeared. Where did that happen, according to your myth - I mean, according to your scientific account."

The creature seemed baffled by the question and turned a pale lavender. "Do you mean in what precise spot?"

"No. I mean, did this happen on land or in the sea?"

"Land?" the other asked. "What is land?"

"Oh, you know," he said, waving toward the shore, "the expanse of dirt and rocks that begins over there."

The creature turned a deeper shade of lavender and said, "I cant imagine what you're gibbering about. The dirt and rocks over there are simply the lip of the vast bowl that holds the sea."

"Oh yes," the anthropologist said,"I see what you mean. Quite. Go on."

"Very well," the other said. "For many millions of centuries the life of the world was merely microorganinisms floating helplessly in a chemical broth. But little by little, more complex forms appeared: single-celled creatures, slimes, algae, polyps, and so on."

"But finally," the creature said, turning quite pink with pride as he came to the climax of his story, "but finally jellyfish appeared!"

You'll have to pick up a copy of Ishmael to read the rest of the story! ;)

And I highly recommend it.

This is my illustration of that story, in a style inspired by the traditional art of many native groups along the Northwest Coast of North America, such as the Tlingit and the Haida. Obviously not a traditional piece though. =p

The anthropologist is the guy leaning in from above, with the tape recorder in his hand and the knapsack of tapes on his back. In the ocean below, the old jellyfish weaves his tale of creation, which floats up as shimmery bubbly things.

It's pretty rough, and you can tell that I don't have much experience with digital painting. But I thought it would be worth sharing. Maybe someday I'll make a new version, when I get better at painting. :D

If you like this artwork, and you want to learn more about the cultural context in which the style was developed, please see the excellent book A Story as Sharp as Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World by Robert Bringhurst. I've written a review of it, which you can read here: [link]

And read Ishmael! It will blow your mind. :lol:
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© 2009 - 2023 axcho
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All your Haida artwork is very cool, but I like this one the most. I have been trying to draw an underwater Haida picture and this is almost exactly what i had in mind.