Book Review: The Man Who Lived with a Giant: Stories from Johnny Neyelle, Dene Elder

Review by Deborah Shatz

(ANNews) – The Man Who Lived with a Giant is a precious collection of traditional and personal stories told by Johnny Neyelle, a Dene Elder from Déline, Northwest Territories. It is a gem of a book, recently published by University of Alberta Press, that contains the wisdom of the Dene elders in the voice of a Dene elder.

The reader is immediately transported to a time when the earth was new, when dinosaurs roamed the land, when people had superpowers and could change their shape to suit any given circumstance. The journey is filled with wonderful supernatural creatures, their adventures, and their geography.

The second part of the book shifts from legends about ancient Denendah characters to stories about more recent ancestors. The stories cover three generations of community love, family bonds, integrity and relationships intertwined in tales about hunting, cooking, building relationships and living a traditional lifestyle.

Johnny Neyelle used storytelling to teach Dene youth and others to understand and celebrate Dene traditions and knowledge. His recorded stories were meticulously translated by his son Morris Neyelle and editor Alana Fletcher to blossom into this beautiful memoire, which is truly a guide to being.

Johnny’s voice makes these stories accessible to readers young and old, and his wisdom reinforces the right way to live – in harmony with people and places. Storytelling forms the core of Dene knowledge-keeping, making this a vital book for Dene people of today and tomorrow, researchers working with Indigenous cultures and oral histories, and all those dedicated to preserving Elders’ stories.

The Man Who Lived with a Giant is a treasure trove of information. In the Introduction, Morris Neville describes the importance of preserving the Elder’s stories and that his goal for presenting this book to the world is for young people to read it and learn the important history and lessons of the Dene. Johnny Neyelle explains that “the Elders knew if you grab hold of a story and put it in your heart, you will benefit from it in the future.” These stories are meant to be grabbed, cherished and learned from.

Johnny’s wife also famously told her sons that in the past people had great powers that would help them survive on the land. “But my sons,” she said, “if you are not gifted like that, the stories that your beta is giving to you are like a road he has made for you to follow. It’s a long road with no end. That’s the kind of road he has built. To walk on this road does not mean everything will work out for you. There will be problems, disasters, heartaches and pains to go through but God willing, you will make it to the very end where you will see your grey hair. That’s what your dad is talking about.”

In The Man Who Lived with a Giant, (ISBN-13: 978-1772124088) editors Alana Fletcher and Morris Neyelle have given the world an invaluable road map, a gift from Johnny Neyelle that will help guide the people of Denedeh and everyone else to a positive life.  It’s a great read, recommended for all ages!




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