I wondered, what is it that makes this tale so powerful? It wasn’t the writing itself, which, frankly, is pretty unspectacular—although, to be fair, I only read the Rink translation (I don’t know how to read Inuit). I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the back-story of Saugak and why the rich man forced him to eat.
Here is the Rink text:
Saugak had a quarrel with his brother and fled. He came to a house of such length that a man could wear out the soles of his boots wandering from one end to the other. The master of the house had a crowd of daughters, and an immense stock of provisions. He ordered meat to be served up for Saugak, and forced him to eat. When Saugak declared that he was satiated, his host went on to point his knife at his eyes, saying that as long as he could twinkle them he could also eat. When he finally left off twinkling they served up dried human flesh before him. (Rink)
I set about writing my own version of the story, a three-page play. It’s pretty solid, but I still don’t think it has the power of the original story. The only material I added to my version was psychological reasoning, which is clearly missing from the original. But I started to wonder… do we need the gaps filled in for us? The dramatic arc was already there, sketched out ever so slightly—and I think that might be where the power of this story lies. It has more than a whiff of mystery, because it gives virtually nothing away. The reader is forced to imagine everything, to picture what the house looks like, to picture what the characters look like, to see and smell the human flesh about to be eaten. The mind is filled with disgusting images! There is enough to “hang your hat on,” so to speak, and that’s what gives it universality—the taboo of cannibalism, the dark humor. This story holds up. In an age of Twitter, Facebook, and other distractions, that’s a pretty amazing feat.
Rink, Henry. Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo. SacredTexts.com. N.D. Web. Accessed 6 Aug, 2012. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/inu/tte/tte2-137.htm>
Josh Medsker is a New Jersey-based writer originally from Alaska. His work has appeared in many publications and anthologies.
Editor's Note, Part Two: You definitely want to check out Josh's play based on Saugak's story. You can find it at http://www.twentyfourhoursonline.com/2012/08/saugak-and-rich-man-re-telling-of.htmlJosh's site is fun in general, so plan to stay awhile.