reads, Recent Reads

The Only Good Indians

From the Blurb:

“Ten years ago, four young men shot some elk then went on with their lives. It happens every year; it’s been happening forever; it’s the way it’s always been. But this time it’s different. Ten years after that fateful hunt, these men are being stalked themselves. Soaked with a powerful gothic atmosphere, the endless expanses of the landscape press down on these men – and their children – as the ferocious spirit comes for them one at a time.

The Only Good Indians, charts Nature’s revenge on a lost generation that maybe never had a chance. Cleaved to their heritage, these parents, husbands, sons and Indians, men live on the fringes of a society that has rejected them, refusing to challenge their exile to limbo.”

Review:

I recently read The Only Good Indians by US author Stephen Graham Jones. It was my first experience of Graham Jones’ gothic fiction and I was drawn to the Native American folklore of Elk-head woman and concept of emotional and physical haunting. What I discovered was a much deeper, complex and more rewarding read than I expected.

The Only Good Indians follows two main characters from a group of four Blackfeet men who in their youth, broke the laws of their reservation trespassing on the hunting grounds reserved for the elders during the last day of hunting. In a deep snow storm, the young men shoot an entire herd of elk including a young pregnant doe who takes several shots to kill. After taking only the hindquarters of the elk which is all the single pickup Ute can carry, the young men are caught by the reservation police and forced to relinquish the meat, unlawfully killed and they are banned from hunting on the reservation ever again. Despite decades passing since that fateful hunt, the four men are each haunted, emotionally and physically by the spectre of an elk-headed woman.

After two of the four die in violent circumstances after trying to leave the reservation, only one man, Lewis, has survived living outside the reservation but he has never left behind the guilt or sorrow from that hunt. Lewis was responsible for killing the young elk and the news of the recent deaths of his other two friends reawakens his guilt. Lewis is certain that the elk he killed in his youth is seeking vengeance and despite attempts to console his conscience and the spirit of the young elk, Lewis’ life spirals into sudden and tragic violence and he joins the fatal tally from that fateful hunting trip. Although Lewis had seemingly escaped the reservation and the bindings of tradition, Gabe has remained living on the reservation. The last of the four, he becomes the final target for Elk-head woman and her vengeance. Gabe has stayed on the reservation but does not have true acceptance either, enduring a borderline tolerance by the Blackfeet community. The last of the four who killed the elk on elder’s hunting ground, Gabe is aware Elk-head woman is hunting him and to protect his own daughter from becoming collateral, he demands Elk-head woman promise not to seek vengeance by killing his daughter despite his responsibility for the elk calf’s untimely death. It is clear that none of the four men ever escaped their identity as Native Americans, never escaped the wrong they committed that night and can never escape the need to find a balance for it.

Final Thoughts:

I had read a few references to folklore of the figure of Elk-head woman and customs surrounding not killing pregnant animals in several Native American cultures not just Stephen Graham Jones’ own Blackfeet heritage. But Graham Jones combined these with a gritty modern reality, an awareness that past wrongs can never be forgotten or out-run, that grief and sorrow are as capable at haunting an individual as any spectral figure. The most enduring aspect of The Only Good Indians was the skilfully constructed atmosphere in every scene, the detailed characters and the effective use of sudden, sharp violence completely shattering scenes and unnerving characters and audience alike.

Conclusion?

The Only Good Indians is an absolute modern classic of gothic folklore and literary fiction. I cannot recommend more highly. A must read!

Short Stories, Writing

Liminal world of Inuit folklore

I have been writing a new short fiction work inspired by the liminal folklore in some Inuit cultures. The liminal folklore I was interested to explore are closely linked to the harsh environment of northern Canada, from the permafrost and sea ice, where the risks from exposure and isolation are very real. The First Nations are the indigenous peoples of Canada and the Inuit “the People” occupy the traditional northernmost lands- called Inuit Nunangat, encompassing the northwest territories, northern Labrador and northern Quebec, consisting of 35% of Canada’s landmass and 50% of the coastline. To the Inuit, the land, water and ice are vital parts of the whole.

In a landscape of treacherous sea ice, blizzards and permafrost, traditional stories are told throughout generations to provide warnings for the dangers in disobeying laws and customs which are often closely tied to the history and landscape. There are several different beings in Inuit folklore that prey upon those who stray from the camp, children who become lost and the disorientating danger of the permafrost. Among these are the Taqriaqsuit or the “shadow people”, beings who are invisible or half-seen, who are heard but not seen but where a veil must be crossed between our world and their own. Beings also exist beneath the the sea ice, the Qallupilluk are child-snatchers who prey on children who stray too close to the dangerous frozen waterways and pack ice.

My latest short fiction work has been an interesting endeavour to explore unforgiving natural environments and internal psychological upheaval where the liminal world of the Taqriaqsuit and the Qallupilluk merges with the eerie north Canadian landscape and half-seen beings of folklore become a new reality.

Writing

Bone Arrow: Important Update

In the coming months, I’ll be doing a significant edit on my historical fantasy Bone Arrow which was inspired by Amerindian prehistory and fables. All previous editions of Bone Arrow will no longer be available and previous research archived. I’ll be sharing my latest research and editing developments as the new edition of Bone Arrow progresses.

research

Native American War Horse

During my research into indigenous North American customs and cultures, I came across reference to the markings painted on the war horses. There are many Amerindian cultures and tribes which exist today and many more that have been lost. I acknowledge with respect, that these symbols are not exhaustive nor do they belong to a single tribe. The markings explained below will have different interpretations specific to each tribe.
The markings painted on a war horse signified aspects of the warrior’s prowess, symbols defining the number of enemy horses captured, the number of battle honors earned and wounds received in battle. Other markings like the red handprint signify a completed mission while the red handprint on the shoulder symbolizes the warrior’s oath of vengeance and the intended completion of his mission, to be interpreted as the impending death of his oath-sworn enemy. Other markings are specific to the war horse, offering protection in battle. There are several sets of markings painted around the hoof, eye and nose imbuing the war horse with increased ability to sense and see danger, to be faster and stronger.

Writing

Behind Bone Arrow: Influences

I am often asked what motivated me to write Bone Arrow, a Fantasy novel inspired by indigenous North American folktales and legends. My inspiration behind Bone Arrow is discussed in this first post, a second post explains the historic cultural inspiration and a final post details folklore inspiration.


Bone Arrow draws on what I have always felt a firm connection to the natural world. From adolescence to when I wrote Bone Arrow in my mid-twenties, the impact of human-induced climate change and environmental damage was becoming apparent in Australia during the “Millennium drought” as the decade-long drought in the 2000s became known. ​In this context, I crafted a story where conflicting personalities battled for dominance and where the survival of the the natural world was paramount. This became the basic outline for Bone Arrow.

One of the earliest and most influential books I read in my adolescence was by American author Dee Brown Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee. The honest and often incredibly harrowing description of the American-Indian Wars, from the institutions of Reservations to the final surrender of Amerindian leaders in order to save their people had a profound impact on me. The historic fight begun by indigenous Amerindian leaders to preserve their culture and histories, their attempts to make American leaders understand the philosophies of their culture is a story that sadly continues today.


The influential historic indigenous writings by Amerindian leaders included Geronimo, Black Elk, Chief Joseph, Sitting Bull, Chief Seattle and Red Cloud and among many others, led me to write Bone Arrow, to incorporate the past history and present issues into a story that might inspire a present world to listen to the wisdom of the past and not repeat it.

research

Tariaksuq & Ijiraq

Amerindian cultures in the Arctic regions including the Inuit, mention in folktales, the “shadow people” or the Tariaksuq and Ijiraq, elusive, shape-shifting and malevolent spirits known for kidnapping children. These spirits, often mentioned in close association, can take the form of a humanoid-caribou like the Tariaksuq, or can lack consistent physical forms like the Ijiraq. Yet both the Ijiraq and Tariaksuq are believed to kidnap children who are either stolen or led astray, and once lost, the children are kept hostage unless they convince the spirits to release them. Not only children could fall prey to these elusive spirits with adults becoming confused and easily lost while trekking.


The Ijiraq, like the Tariaksuq, are reported to have powers which make them visible only from periphery of eye sight. The frozen lands where these spirits are believed to dwell have underground pockets of hydrogen sulfide gas. This noxious gas is capable of inducing hallucinations and confusion. The combination of noxious gas in these frozen lands is thought the reason for why the Tariaksuq cannot be seen directly. These strange and temporary vision loss issues may be the result of exposure to the gases released from vents in the arctic marshes and volcanic landscape.

reads, Recent Reads

Amerindian Folktales

The anthology Coming to Light was originally published in 1996 and edited by respected academic Brian Swann. The collected literature comprise translated oral tales, songs and poems sourced from numerous Amerindian cultural traditions throughout Canada and the United States. The anthology provides an introductory note by at least one academic or respected source detailing and explaining the historical, cultural and linguistic context of each literature item and thus, allowing insight to better understand each tale. The translations are honest and, without attempted re-fashioning by the translator, each piece is has the sensation that it is told directly to the reader as if by the original orator first-hand. The literature collected within the anthology covers an immense span of style from creation mythologies and stories to cautionary fables of legendary figures and events, tales of heroes and monsters always combined with tasks and tests of moral character.
Coming to Light is an invaluable resource for academic, literature or anthropological pursuit, providing all audiences with a way to appreciate the richness of traditional Amerindian oral traditions.

research, Writing

Wakinyan

Wakinyan or the Thunderbird is an important and mythological figure in many North American folktales, stories and cultural traditions.


Wakinyan is described as a giant bird, much like a raven in coloring but often with some aspects resembling an eagle. The Thunderbird of the Plains and mid-western Amerindian cultures is often associated with the months of summer while on the Northwestern coast, the mythic figure is often depicted holding a killer whale grasped in its talons. The Thunderbird is a mythic figure, inspiring many different forms of artwork and oral stories. Uniquely to the Amerindian tribes of the Northwest Coast of United States and Canada, the Thunderbird can be a symbol or totem associated with specific families or kinship ties. This is how the Thunderbird is often depicted on totem poles. The mythology and legends surrounding the Thunderbird are as different as the Amerindian tribes associated with the mythic creature. To the indigenous cultures surviving on the Plains and mid-western regions of the United States, the Thunderbird was associated with the summer storms, the giant wings of the Thunderbird caused the claps of thunder during a storm while the bright silver eyes were the source of lightning. The Thunderbird was also associated and invoked during ceremonies and dance relating to warfare.


In the nineteenth century, the Ghost Dance tradition became sacred among many indigenous North American cultures. A drum, created by the indigenous Pawnee man George Beaver in 1891, was part of the sacred Ghost Dance movement. The drum depicts the Thunderbird as a harbinger of war showing the bird descending from a storm bringing with it war and battle. Many of the tales, poems and dances about the Thunderbird associate the storm-bringing mythical being with the approach of warfare and the bringer of battle.

research

Wendigo

The wendigo legend forms a central part of tales and lore from Amerindian tradition in the forested areas of the Great Lakes in Canada and the northern United States. Despite numerous indigenous cultures inhabiting this region, the legend of the wendigo remains consistent with only two main variations. The majority of tales describe the wendigo is a giant or monstrous human-like creature associated with the harsh winters, insatiable greed, violence, murder and cannibalism.


The wendigo is reported as a giant, often several times the size of an ordinary man or the wendigo can be an evil spirit capable of possessing humans. If possessed, the individual becomes afflicted with traits associated with the wendigo, including, lying, acts of violence, murder or cannibalism.Among the Ojibwa, the wendigo lore is detailed. For example, the wendigo is an evil spirit but takes the form of a giant monster with glowing red eyes, fanged teeth and a lipless mouth. The wendigo consumes anyone who ventures into its territory. Lore states a wendigo is also capable of possessing a human, turning that individual into another wendigo. The afflicted person now enacts the traits associated with the wendigo with cannibalism, often acting without compunction and consuming those once held dear.The common and underlying theme of the wendigo legend is the damned nature of the monster. The wendigo is often described and depicted as both gluttonous but emaciated, suggesting that despite the craving for human flesh, no satiation exists once cannibalism is committed. Doubtless the legend of the wendigo serves as a ghost story and warning fable of times when harsh winters and famine were real concerns and reminding those of the desperation resorted to in acts of cannibalism.