May 21, 2008

Quileutes and werewolves

Stephanie Meyer's TWILIGHTMany people have written to ask me about a young adult novel called Twilight. Written by Stephanie Meyer, Twilight is the first book in the "Twilight Saga." The "Twilight Saga" has been on the New York Times best-seller list for 40 weeks and as of this day, is in the number 1 spot.

I've been asked about it because the books include werewolves who are Native. Quileute, to be precise, from the La Push reservation in Washington. Quileute is not made up, and neither is La Push. Both are real.

I read the book, quickly. Here's [a passage] that begin on page 124.

"Do you know any of our old stories, about where we came from--the Quileutes, I mean?" he began.

"Not really," I admitted.

"Well, there are lots of legends, some of them claiming to date back to the Flood--supposedly, the ancient Quileutes tied their canoes to the tops of the tallest trees on the mountain to survive like Noah and the ark." He smiled, to show me how little stock he put in the histories. "Another legend claims that we descended from wolves--and that the wolves are our brothers still. It's against tribal law to kill them.

"Then there are the stories about the cold ones." His voice dropped a little lower.

"The cold ones?" I asked, not faking my intrigue now.

"Yes. There are stories of the cold ones as old as the wolf legends, and some much more recent. According to legend, my own great-grandfather knew some of them. He was the one who made the treaty that kept them off our land." He rolled his eyes.

"Your great-grandfather?" I encouraged.

"He was a tribal elder, like my father. You see, the cold ones are the natural enemies of the wolf--well, not the wolf, really, but the wolves that turn into men, like our ancestors. You would call them werewolves."

"Werewolves have enemies?"

"Only one."

I stared at him earnestly, hoping to disguise my impatience as admiration.

"So you see," Jacob continued, "the cold ones are traditionally our enemies. But this pack that came to our territory during my great-grandfather's time was different. They didn't hunt the way others of their kind did--they weren't supposed to be dangerous to the tribe. So my great-grandfather made a truce with them. If they would promise to stay off our lands, we wouldn't expose them to the pale-faces." He winked at me.
(Excerpted from Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature, 5/19/08.)

Comment:  If this Quileuete lore is genuine, I don't necessarily blame Meyer for using it. But I wonder how much of it she made up.

For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Books.

P.S. It's "Stepenie," not Stephanie.


Anonymous said...

Meyers is a writer of FICTION....making up anything seems to be a rule of fact its required....its how the west colonizes others and develops their young....Bildungsroman is I think the genre....its a western priviledge to PACMAN the OTHERS....English does it linguistically...its hard work not to do so in English...Cannibalism is what the NW Coast Indians are famous for...Cannibalism is akin to vampirism of course but with vampirism....well, theoretically at can keep the victim alive so that the bloodsucking can continue....and more books can be written....much more productive that...

Rob said...

Realistic fiction requires verisimilitude. Which you can't achieve if you falsify the historical record.

No, the Northwest Coast Indians were not known for cannibalism. Here are the facts on the subject:

Q: Were Native Americans cannibals?

A: Not for the most part, no, but there were some groups who were. The Aztecs were notorious for ritual cannibalism (warriors would eat a strip of flesh from enemies they had slain in combat). Some people dispute this, but the Aztecs' own written and oral histories seem to support it as the truth. The Karankawa tribe of southeast Texas was also said to practice ritual cannibalism on defeated enemies. There were a few Amazonian tribes who practiced funerary cannibalism (family and friends would eat part of a dead tribal member's body as a religious ceremony at the funeral). Finally, the Carib people of South America were said to kill and eat prisoners of war, though it's been pointed out that the Spaniards who made this claim were lining their own pockets by doing so (Queen Isabella had forbidden her subjects from selling Africans, or Indians, as slaves unless they were cannibals).

None of the other 1200 Native American cultures engaged in culturally sanctioned cannibalism at the time of European contact.

Anonymous said...

There are no werewolves that are enemies. The vampires are the pack of "Cold Ones." You are right, you DID read it quickly. :D Please pay attention to the rest of the book when taking excerpts so that you can not post false things. Sorry, but that just irks me that you said that the werewolves have enemies. *I am an extreme Twilighter!*

Rob said...

Blame Meyer's inferior writing skills, not my inferior reading skills. Few writers use the word "pack" to refer to anything but animals (e.g., dogs or wolves).

Moreover, when you're writing about werewolves and vampires, it's confusing to refer to them both as "packs." The clever writer would call the werewolves a pack and the vampires something else--perhaps a crew or clan or band.

Anyway, I've updated my posting to eliminate the confusion caused by Meyer's poor choice of words. Thanks for alerting me to the problem.

bkstiff said...

Jacob Black's story of the "Cold Ones" is really disturbing. The stories were passed down from generation to the next, the Quileute Legends were told and retold and have remained a vital part of the Quileute’s heritage. I suppose they could of changed over the years.