Behind Bone Arrow: Folktales

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 a first post, a second post explains the cultural inspiration and this final post details folklore inspiration.

Bone Arrow includes many folklore references to several different Amerindian legends but does not aim to retell or recreate these. Instead, the vivid fables from many Amerindian cultures are the history and memories of these indigenous peoples. While all of the Amerindian legends and folklore traditions offered keen insights into acutely aware and adaptive cultures, a few were particularly special to me. In my research for Bone Arrow, I found Amerindian legends and folktales had a deep resonance for me that was unlike anything I’d encountered before. Many of the folktales have been preserved through oral traditions with changes reflecting the adaptations to conditions over generations.

Part of my research for Bone Arrow included these collections of Amerindian legends recorded into text as told originally in the form of oral stories. These include Tricksters figures, stories of reincarnation beliefs and the myriad of folklore beliefs and legends, revealing the distinct stories specific to the different geographical areas inhabited by the indigenous people of North America and Canada.

The Ijiraq is a humanoid mythical monster from the Inuit legends of northern Canada. Possessing powers making them visible only from periphery of eye sight, they dwell in frozen lands far from humans. The areas where the Ijiraq are believed to inhabit also contain underground fissures containing hydrogen sulfide gas, inducing hallucinations and mental confusion in high doses. A strange side-effect of the gas can include visual loss in the center of sight, reducing vision to peripheral eye sight. The exposure to harsh landscapes and the real risk to loss of life if straying from safety into the volcanic marshes of the arctic tundra are possible causes for the development of such a monster in local folklore.

Several indigenous Amerindian cultures have legends of Wakinyan, the Thunderbird, a massive black bird that appears physically to look like an Eagle or a Raven and in some legends is the northwestern coast, the Trickster figure, Raven is very similar in appearance. Legends of the Thunderbird stretch along much of the western coast and plains of North American and Canada. the Thunderbird is a respected mythic figure, the bringer of storms, both real and metaphorical. Wakinyan, as the physical manifestation of a storm possessed great wings that represented the clapping of thunder, while the silver eyes were a source of lightning. As such, the powerful totem was often the source of many ceremonies, rituals, dances and prayers for successful rain, the defeat of an enemy.

Many folktales have is a strong philosophical quality like many fables but a focus is often placed on the physical surroundings. The landscape where such legends and folktales were born remains a challenging environment and, one which many of the different Amerindian cultures consider with great respect. This is a two-fold sense of respect for an inherent wariness is clear when regarding the environment which is necessary for survival and the potential cause of destruction.The legend of the the wendigo, a humanoid monster of the Great Lakes region, is a common folktale among the Ojibwa and Algonquin indigenous peoples. It is a complex fable warning of the harsh realities of winter, starving, madness and the bitter cold weather. The wendigo was one of the first folktales I encountered and had a profound influence on the writing of Bone Arrow.

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