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Abigail Douglas

Native American Religions & Cultures

December 12, 2011

                                 Witchery: A Book Trailer for Ceremony

        Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony is an image-heavy novel, constantly engaging readers

with repeated animal themes and an eloquently described landscape in particular. However, the

nature of the written format can limit the reader’s visual experience, and if he or she isn’t paying

adequate attention to the novel, key images and their significance can be lost. In my book trailer

for the novel, I try to capture a few of these moments in hopes of snagging the attention and

interest of potential readers.

        To begin with, a book trailer is meant to advertise the mood and content of a book, just as

movie trailers do with films. Much of the book has a rough, gritty feel, much like the harsh

Southwestern landscape in which it predominantly takes place, and my animation style reflects

this. The background is an image of parchment which also resembles the yellowish desert

environment in which Tayo and his people must survive. My digital pen-strokes are also harsh

and somewhat uneasy, reflecting the uncertainty and distress Tayo experiences before and during

his healing ceremony. The narration, which is a recording I made and arranged, is directly from

the witch’s tale of the white man’s origin (Silko, 124-128). The words overlap each other and

come from alternate speakers (when played in the proper format, a task I discovered to be

infinitely more difficult than I’d expected), resulting in an unsettling chaos of sound. The music

beneath it balances the conflicting noise of the narration with an eerie composition entitled

“Sunset at Glengorm” (royalty-free, safe-for-use music by Kevin MacLeod). I wanted the trailer

to represent some of the darker aspects of the novel, particularly the turmoil within Tayo and the
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often grating contrasting themes in novel, such as the white world and the Indian world, rain and

drought, and life and death. Hopefully, this take on the book will intrigue the audience and

encourage them to further investigate Ceremony.

       I selected the “origin of white men” story as a base not only for its foreboding qualities

but for the broad ideas it carries that echo through the book. So much of what Tayo experiences

is foreshadowed in this passage, like the logging on the mountain, the mining and subsequent

creation of the bomb, and the drought. The passage also sets up some of the contrasts which I

investigate in my animation, which I will explain in order of their occurrence.

       The animation begins much like the novel: the blackness withdraws to reveal Tayo in his

simple bed beneath the yellow light from the window cast on his wall. From there, the line of the

story is somewhat separate from the pattern of the animation. A logger is shown, and soon a

toppling tree, parallel with the narration about white men growing away from nature and

destroying it. Peter Beidler reasons, “as a soldier in the white man’s World War Two, Tayo has,

like the ‘white skin people’ of the witch’s prediction, come to ‘grow away from the plants and

animals’” (Beidler, 14). Though I don’t represent directly how Tayo treats animals before his

healing, I based a lot of the animation on the idea of his transformation as shown by his repaired

respect for animals (much as he had when he was a child, which I do illustrate in the brief scene

of younger Tayo touching the nose of the deer he and Rocky had hunted). I do, however, make it

unclear in the animation whether the white men tearing down the mountain’s trees were the ones

who shot the deer. The narration does indicate that the white men “see no life” and do not treat

the deer with respect as the Indians do by sprinkling cornmeal on its nose.

       More life-and-death contrasts follow with the pelting (and painfully vibrant in the AVI

translation of the animation) rain and dry desert, and the destructive force of the suggested bomb
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and Ts’eh with water in her palm. I intentionally had the image of Ts’eh appear after the bomb

because of Monica Avila’s analysis of Ts’eh’s association with the land: “he [Tayo] gathers

strength from his connection to the land through his physical and emotional connection to Ts’eh”

(Avila, 54-55). Ts’eh is a mountain spirit that is part of the land, and even from destruction she

can bring healing, just as she was able to aide Tayo in completing his healing ceremony. The

water in her hand is also symbolic of her healing and new life which can return to even the desert


       The last few images are of the hardy spotted cattle which Tayo pursues at the end of the

novel. According to Blumenthal, “Silko created them [the spotted cattle] to represent the

hybridization of Indian culture. Indians in the southwest are not a dying race. They select certain

desirable elements from the dominant white culture and incorporate these into their own culture

to keep it alive and vigorous” (Blumenthal). Like the cattle, Tayo is a hybrid of bloodlines and

cultures and must use syncretism to survive: he heals through a new take on a traditional

ceremony and strives to recapture the cattle to make a living in a nontraditional way. The cattle

are described as similar to deer in the novel, which is why I included both animals at parallel

moments of interaction with Tayo in my animation. Rather than petting and honoring game,

though, the last image of Tayo is of him seeking them on horseback, and looking not quite

certain of where to go next until he looks up, presumably to see the constellation Betonie

foretold. However, I end the animation there with the harsh final words of the witch, ideally

leaving viewers curious and ready to check out the book for themselves.

       While there were many, many more images and ideas which could have conveyed, I

believe by animation is a suitable glimpse into the themes and visuals of the complex and highly

symbolic novel. I hope you enjoyed the short animation.
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                                       References Cited

Avila, Monica. "Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony: Witchery and Sacrifice of Self." Explicator

       67.1 (2008), 53-55.

Beidler, Peter G. “Animals and theme in ‘Ceremony’.” American Indian Quarterly 5.1 (1979),


Blumenthal, S. "Spotted cattle and deer: Spirit guides and symbols of endurance and healing in

       ceremony." American Indian Quarterly 14.4 (1990), 367-377.

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