Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Talking of research and writing about other identities, I started work on the historic thread of FUR last weekend, and damned if I didn't hit paydirt straight off while having to completely relocate the entire thread. See, initially I'd planned on setting it on the East Coast in that period of puritans and pilgrims, all buckled hats and black suits; however... I wasn't sure if that location had an appropriate Native American tribe in the region -- totemistic with proper totem poles and all, dominant over their neighbours, and fierce enough that a five-year-old from another tribe could be orphaned and go feral (also... in area wild enough that the kid could hide for over a decade without being discovered). So I'm basically looking to figure out the where and when of the frontier culture I want to use. I start with the East Coast and gradually move out to Fort Detroit (fur trade, hmm? that might work), but I have this sneaking suspicion that I'm looking for a time and a place that doesn't exist.

Actually, I should have known (and I did sorta suspect it) as soon as Jim C started muttering that, well, weren't totem poles largely a West Coast thing? My advisor in all things historical, military, and military historical, Jim's my first stop for historical authenticity. (His one fault, perhaps, is a tendency to see the historical and the military as entirely inseperable, being a tad too fond of those Confederates-go-back-in-time-and-win-the-War-of-the-Roses kinda books. If I want to know what rifles Turkish troops would have been using in 1929, I ask Jim. I just have to bear in mind that I may have to steer him away from a two-hour conversation about an alternative history scenario in which Attaturk died during the First World War while trying to capture the German gunboats guarding Istanbul, and how that might have impacted the etc., etc..) Anyway, the point is, it's after my brief chat with Jim on Sunday afternoon. I've gone home, fired up the interweb, and found out that he's right. As far as I can see without digging my way through a thousand New Age web-sites aimed at dream-catching, crystal-fondling pseudo-shamans, the Pacific North-West is really the area where totem poles belong.

Bollocks, says I.

But all is not lost. Far from it. As I discard any idea of basing the thread in an East Coast settlement, and begin checking out the tribes who come up when you google "totem" in the vague hope of finding some clue, things suddenly start to click together, and a new picture emerges. The Tsimshian and Tlingit tribes of British Columbia seem to fit the bill nicely... As Wikipedia has it: "The Tsimshian and Tlingit shared a common way of life, and while this allowed for a great deal of trade, it also led to the two peoples ferociously battling for the best lands, the best fishing grounds, for slaves and plunder, or revenge for last time." They build totem poles and better still they build them out of Western Red Cedar. The Western Red Cedar isn't actually a cedar but that don't matter; what matters is that Gilgamesh and Enkidu slay the giant Humbaba in the Cedar Forest of Lebanon and chop down the biggest tree to take home. What matters is that the terrain and culture of that region is perfect for my 18th Century (Tlingit, I'm thinking) Enkidu to lose his clan at an early age, go wild in the wilderness, hiding from the hostile (Tsimshian) tribes around, too young to know that other clans of his tribe could be found outside the Tsimshian-dominated territory. What matters is that killing a tribal chief and cutting down his totem pole is a sacreligious act in the way that Gilgamesh and Enkidu cutting down the sacred cedar is, that I can maybe, by making that sort of connection make sure that the reader doesn't see that episode in the Epic as just yer standard fantastical heroic giant-slaying. What matters is that there's a fucking perfect book available over the interweb which includes excerpts from the early records of Fort Simpson, a trading post perfectly positioned for my story. Hell, there's even journal entries dealing with the fortifications which, fictionalised, will map perfectly to the early discussions of the walls of Uruk in Gilgamesh. And, and, and, and...

Ach, I'm not going to go into any more details. I'm just going to wait for the book to wing its way to me and enjoy getting stuck into Strand 2 as much as I'm enjoying the current process of adapting the source text.


Blogger Paul F Cockburn said...

Sometimes, it seems as if the world just wants to really help you; enjoy it while it lasts!

6:36 pm  
Blogger Jason Erik Lundberg said...

It's so very cool to see you making these connections at the beginning of your process. May your research continue to be fortuitous.

8:57 pm  
Blogger MJ said...

Avoid Wikipedia like the plague - it's unnaccurate!

10:52 pm  
Blogger MJ said...

I can get you loads of books on First Nations (as they are called nowadays) from the librarys anthropology section. Just tell me when! There are door stoppers in there, so you'd more than likely get what you need.

10:55 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Paul, Jason: Cheers, guys.

MJ: If you spot any on the Tsimshian in particular let me know.

As an aside: there were actually paragraph breaks in that shuge chunka text before I copied it into the Blogger window. Don't know where they went but, Christ, it reads like psychosplurge now.

9:55 am  
Blogger Bob said...

Hey Hal,
If you're looking for information on totems, you might want to speak (I'm not entirely sure he has e-mail) with Chief Tsungani of the Pacific Northwest Coastal Tribes (the Tlingit pow-wow with these guys). He's one of the last living traditional carvers; I met him in a seminar last summer and he's pretty enthusiastic when it comes to spreading the lore around. Here's his contact info:
165 Mervin Village Road, Ariel, WA 98603.
Phone: 360-225-8828.

10:38 am  
Blogger MJ said...

Can only happen to get you books by the most famous anthropologists on said group! I bet they're all in the special collection though! Franz Boas and Edward Sapir - it wouldn't surprise me!

11:11 am  

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