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.