Myth Monday: Inuit Folklore for Dummies

I read The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling recently and enjoyed a story called “Quiquern” about an Inuit boy and girl. It included a number of references to Inuit folklore, and for the readalong posts I wanted to include some background information on that, but it turned out to be surprisingly difficult. In my online search for Inuit folklore in general and “quiquern” references in particular, I found:

  1. legitimate sites that weren’t in English, to my great chagrin
  2. possibly-legitimate blog posts that didn’t credit any sources which made me side-eye and look elsewhere looking for online
  3. a hundred sketchy sites that merely quoted Wikipedia in its entirety

I also noticed that the main source for the creature “quiquern” or “qiqern” was, in fact, The Jungle Books, so I’m reallyyyyyy questioning its existence.

I then took my search to where I should have begun it:

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The library had a lot of books on Inuit history and culture, which are good and relevant, but not precisely what I was looking for. They had exactly one book with “Inuit Mythology” in the title, in kids’ nonfiction. They had many picture books that retold Inuit tales (or at least claimed to).

For those of you adrift on the same ice floe as me, I’m going to share the results on my search. Obviously, I came at this topic from a place of extreme ignorance; I did my best not to spread misinformation. If you have some great sources on Inuit mythology, hook me up. Otherwise, you can check out my sources at the end of this post.

Important fact: there are lots of different Inuit tribes, just like the Native Americans of North America, but in the broadest survey they’re divided into: Central Inuit, which is mostly super far northern Canada; Alaska Inuit; and Greenland Inuit. A lot of the folktales can only be found in one of the distinct geographical swathes.

Like other mythologies, Inuit folklore and tales are deeply rooted in their religious beliefs. The core of their belief is that everything has a soul. Once a person or animal dies, their soul becomes a spirit, and it’s REALLY IMPORTANT to keep the spirits happy. If you’re dealing with a good spirit, you want to befriend them. If you’re dealing with an evil spirit, you want to not piss them off. Angatoks, or shamans, interact and communicate with spirits the most.

Often a main character will get a seal-skin, or an ermine-hat, that will allow them to transform into that animal (or at least disguise themselves?) when needed. One boy gets a beluga canoe that can go really fast and underwater when needed. Sometimes these items rely on the animal’s goodwill, other times it isn’t mentioned.

Most of the folktales involve humans dealing with animal spirits, whether dead or alive. If you’re dealing with a dead animal, especially, you want to treat its body with care. If you killed it for food, for example, there are rules on how you skin it or treat it. You don’t want its spirit to come after you later.

Inuit folklore doesn’t have a single accepted creation myth. One thing I found interesting is that the Alaska Inuit have a lot of Raven stories, similar to Raven stories in other North America native mythologies. The Alaska Inuit have some stories about Sparrow and Raven being the first, and creating the earth by forming things out of clay, including people. Raven directs the first people to kill a giant sea monster and use pieces of the carcass to create more islands for them to live on.

The mythological figure that recurred the most in my search was Sedna. She is referred to sometimes as a sea goddess, sometimes as the mother of all sea creatures. She also possibly has some role in the afterlife: CANNOT CONFIRM. Her story is pretty dark: she starts out as a human girl. The version from Greenland has a loon who tricks her into marrying him by taking on human form. Once Sedna realizes what a mistake she’s made, her dad rescues her from the loon’s island, but the loon chases after and the dad realizes what a mistake HE made.  He tosses Sedna into the ocean, but she holds tight to the boat, so he has to cut off her fingers one by one. She drowns and becomes the sea goddess; her fingers turn into sea creatures.

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Art by Sraiya: Source

Greenland has a story about a girl who marries one of the “little people” or “gnomes” (it’s translated in different ways so I’m not sure of the exact connotation). The girl’s father has had to fight off a bunch of normal-human suitors because they’re jerks, but the gnome son-in-law wins him over and eventually the family gets to gloat a little over the girl’s previous suitors by sharing the food their gnome friend acquired for them.

Giants tend to be pretty nice dudes in these stories, rather than monsters and/or villains like I see them in other mythologies. One story I particularly loved (from the Bering Strait Inuit) is about a woman named Taku who escapes her abusive husband and befriends a giant named Kinak. Kinak looks after her for a while, and even after she returns to her husband, Kinak continues to look after her and, ahem, take care of anyone who makes her unhappy.

There are quite a few stories where family members or in-laws try to murder the main character. Women are scarce so sometimes a freeloading bachelor will come along and decide to murder her husband and “liberate” her. Another story has a boy go into some kind of berserker rage and, after killing his enemies, accidentally kills his grandmother as well. Usually the murderer or attempted murderer is punished in some way; often a murder will be “justified” because someone broke the rules of hospitality (as guest or as host).

“The Adventures of Kiviog” (Central Inuit) combines a few different common themes that I’ve touched on. The boy Kiviog is given a seal-skin by his mother, which he uses to go avenge the murder of his father (killed before Kiviog was born). After he’s completed that, he gets a little entangled with a witch, and uses his seal-skin to escape. He eventually marries a wolf-girl, who is in human form but is also a wolf???? but Kiviog’s wolfy mother-in-law gets super jealous and murders her daughter, and takes her skin as a disguise. Kiviog realizes what she’s done and escapes. If there’s a moral, I’m guessing it’s something along the lines of “humans and animals shouldn’t get too cozy.” It also implies that the treacherous wolf mother-in-law will starve to death, because she’s too weak to hunt her own food.

I’m still really ignorant of this branch of mythology but it was fun and stretching research Inuit stories. Again, if anyone can point me in the direction of some good sources, I would appreciate it.

 

Sources:

Angutinngurniq, Jose. The Giant Bear: An Inuit Folktale. Inhabit Media, 2012.

Bial, Raymond. The People and Culture of the Inuit. Cavendish Square Publishing, 2016.

Christopher, Neil. On The Shoulders of a Giant: An Inuit Folktale. Inhabit Media, 2015.

Wolfson, Evelyn. Inuit Mythology. Enslow Publishers, 2001.

 

 

 

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Scripture Sunday (36)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

 “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

“But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

“But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.

-Ezekiel 18:19-24

Why I chose it:

Fortunately for us, God’s mercy isn’t fair. It’s not a scale of deeds, where all the bad goes on one side and all the good one the other. If it was, NO one would make it out okay. Fortunately for us, God has mercy on the sincerely repentant, the humble, and those willing to change.

The Turn of the Screw Readalong (schedule)

 

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“The Governess” by Amanda Sartor: Website

Our upcoming readalong is The Turn of The Screw by Henry James! This is one of my favorite books and a controversial ghost story. As with previous readalongs, I will be posting a couple of times a week here on the blog. If you have specific topics you want addressed, or you want to do a guest-post (a ghost-post?), leave me a comment on this post.

We will be discussing the book here and/or on Twitter at #turnofthescread (I know I know, this is possibly the weirdest one yet but all the non-weird ones were taken! LIVE LIFE WITH NO REGRETS).

Reading Schedule

Have the Prologue read by October 3rd

Have Chapters 1-6 read by October 10th

Have Chapters 7-12 read by October 17th

Have Chapters 13-18 read by October 24th

Have Chapters 19-24 read by October 31st

I hope you join us!

August Reading Wrap-up

Sooooooooooooo many good reads last month! I tried something new this time to give you a better idea of what each one’s about and which ones I really loved.

Fiction

I Want This To Last Forever

More Than This by Patrick Ness (5/5 stars)

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan (5/5 stars)

Hippos In America?!

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey (4/5 stars)

Feminist Superhero Fiction

The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne Valente (5/5 stars)

McMaster of the Novella

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold (5/5 stars)

Rereads Are Good Reads

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater (5/5 stars)

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (4/5 stars)

Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Steifvater (5/5 stars)

The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (4/5 stars)

And The Rest

A Crimson Warning by Tasha Alexander (2/5 stars)

Burn For Me by Ilona Andrews (3/5 stars)

Graphic Novels

Personal Faves

March: Book One by John Lewis (5/5 stars)

The Backstagers by James Tynion IV (5/5 stars)

Marvel

A-Force: Rage Against the Dying of the Light by Kelly Thompson (4/5 stars)

Mockingbird: I Can Explain by Chelsea Cain (4/5 stars)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now by Ryan North (4/5 stars)

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: I Kissed A Squirrel and I Liked It by Ryan North (5/5 stars)

Star Wars

Doctor Aphra by Kieron Gillen (no rating)

Poetry

The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton (4/5 stars)

Nonfiction

Beowulf, a Translation and Commentary by JRR Tolkien (4/5 stars)

 

 

 

The Jungle Books: Week 6

It’s the final countdown! do de do do doooooooo

“Red Dog”

Mowgli is shown at the height of his jungle powers in this story. After all of the adventures and work he’s gone to in previous stories, “all the Jungle was his friend, and just a little afraid of him.” Times are changing, though; Akela is ancient, Mowgli’s wolf-parents are unforgivably dead, and the wolf Pack has a new leader, Phao. When the pheeal comes, Mowgli is the one to react and take charge. PS why is it called “pheeal,” I want to laugh every time I see the word even though it apparently represents a death-scream of terror and despair??

Mowgli has to organize the other animals to defend themselves against the dhole, ravenous mindless tiny red dogs that want to eat everything in their path like a plague of locusts: “until they are killed, or till game is scarce, they will go forward.”

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Oh no they’re cute. Source

The way the dhole are described, and how the other animals fear them, really built the suspense of this story; it was only afterwards that I realized how scared I was of a pack of small wild dogs.

“But this is new hunting,” Mowgli remarks, which is all that matters to him; new experiences and interesting fights. Mowgli as a character is often stuck in this childlike attitude of ignoring consequences and relishing conflict, as long as he has the upper hand. To succeed in his fun new campaign against the dhole hoard, Mowgli asks for advice (from Kaa, MY FAVORITE MURDEROUS PYTHON) and masterminds a plan involving a swarm of bees to take out the swarm of dholes. Nice.

“Red Dog” is surprisingly violent and gory for a kid’s story. Much of this story is one big action sequence, following Mowgli as he sics the bees on the dholes, and then the wolves and other allies surround the dholes and fight to the last tooth, as it were. RIP Akela. Akela is the one who recognizes the power Mowgli has over the jungle: “Thou art a man, or else the Pack had fled before the dhole.” Mowgli has come a long way from being kidnapped by monkeys!

“Chil’s Song”

Chil is a very chill kite because he knows that sooner or later he is going to eat you. This song is chilling because it has a pretty happy, comradely tone, but the subject is how eventually Chil will scavenge the dead bodies of everyone, friend or foe.  “Here’s an end of every trail…”

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Brahminy Kite Source

“The Spring Running”

Subtitled: Mowgli turns into a big whiny man-baby.

That’s kind of harsh but I really was frustrated by him in this story. On the one hand, Mowgli is more powerful than ever; all of the jungle animals yield to him, and all of them obey him unless they’re overtaken by SPRING FEVER. Mowgli is aware of his status, as he tells Bagheera: “Remember, we be the Masters of the Jungle…” but is furious that his power isn’t 100% all of the time. He feels betrayed by his friends; he feels misunderstood; he spends a lot of time running around feeling sorry for himself. He even feels that he is changing physically, and is convinced that he’s dying: “I have surely eaten poison,” he keeps repeating.

Of course, he is a teenager at this point so it makes sense.

I don’t know how much of this is crazy teenage hormones and how much of this is his human self getting in conflict with his animal upbringing but wow, Mowgli is a big mess.

I’m glad we see Messua again, and that she is doing well! Her sub-plot through the stories shows her to be credulous, but good-hearted and someone who cares a lot for Mowgli. She’s gotten her life together since she left that village that got eaten by the Jungle. I like that she can never really decide if Mowgli is her son reincarnated, or her foster son, or a demigod of some kind; even at the end, she is “not quite sure whether he were her son Nathoo of the long ago days, or some wonderful Jungle being.” 

Through this story, Mowgli comes to realize and accept that his mentors were right, after all: he doesn’t really belong in the Jungle, and he can’t stay there forever. His time in the Jungle was more of a liminal period, and now he will have to leave it and be a “real” human, or at least live among other humans as one.

Mowgli’s mentors have shorter life-spans than him (except Kaa, I guess???). How do you think this affects their relationship with him? Is the real reason he has to leave the Jungle because all of his “elders” will soon be dead, leaving him with WAYYYY too much power over the other animals? DISCUSS.

How do you think Mowgli will cope? Do you think he’ll keep his temper? Do you think he’ll lose all of his Jungle power and animal magnetism (ahahaha) once he’s living with humans all the time? DISCUSS. I have a feeling he’s in for a life of frustration, and possibly jail.

“The Out-Song”

It’s like Mowgli is graduating from Jungle High and all three of his living mentors are signing his yearbook with one last piece of advice. Good luck, Mowgli….

I hope you enjoyed the readalong! I’ll be around next month for a readalong of my favorite ghost story, The Turn of The Screw by Henry James (schedule TBA).

Scripture Sunday (35)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

-Lamentations 3:19-26

Why I chose it:

I’m really bad at waiting quietly.

The Jungle Books: Week 5

We’re almost done with The Jungle Books! I feel great. How do you feel? I love books (obviously), more so than movies because the book-medium has so much more capacity for complexity in tone, plot, and characters. I’m glad we’re reaching the end of this collection of stories, but I’ve been impressed with each one how much more intense and complicated the story is than the movie versions would lead you to believe.

This post contains spoilers for “The King’s Ankus” and “Quiqern.” Next week we will be finishing up with “Red Dog” and “The Spring Running.”

“The King’s Ankus”

YAY KAA STORY! Kaa is my favorite there I said it. I really enjoy that Kaa and Mowgli are such good friends and play-wrestle with each other all the time even though Kaa could eat Mowgli at any time. FRIENDS DON’T EAT FRIENDS. I still feel like I’ve been lied to about Kaa my whole life.

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Ankus: Source

Anyway.

Mowgli’s “Good hunting!” phrase is repeated many times in this story, both as an acknowledgement of fun (the play-wrestling with Kaa) as a greeting (from the rando cobra that passes them) to a praise of a successful venture, even if it doesn’t result in a hearty dinner. “Good hunting” is all Mowgli wants.

Kaa, however, has learned of some human treasure, and is determined to find out if this is something Mowgli requires to be a happy fulfilled human. Kaa recognizes that Mowgli has the best right to the treasure, since it is human treasure and Mowgli is the only human around. The White Cobra, also, acknowledges that Mowgli must desire the treasure, although he does not consider Mowgli has a right to it. The White Cobra is so aware of human greed that he considers the treasure as synonymous with death, because he knows humans will kill each other to possess it: “They will kill and kill and kill for its sake! My strength is dried up, but the ankus will do my work.” Mowgli has a terrible opinion of other humans, and his experiences in this story really do not improve his opinion. Humans are greedy and cowardly, treacherous and grasping, as far as his experience has shown. However, he is drawn to the ankus. He tells the White Cobra: “If thou wilt give me the ankus to take away, it is good hunting. If not, it is good hunting nonetheless”, because Mowgli has seen and done something new.

There are some nice parallels in this story, such as between material wealth (the treasure the cobra is guarding) and life experience (or “good hunting”); each character expresses their views on which of these they value more. Mowgli literally casts away material wealth (the ankus) in favor of being free to pursue his own “game.”The White Cobra is the guardian of the old Jungle and its reigning human kings. Mowgli is the guardian of the present Jungle and its reigning animal kings. The White Cobra is clinging to his old responsibilities and reasons for living, denying the fact that the old world is dead. Mowgli is aware to some degree of his role in the new Jungle: “The fault was mine,” said Mowgli, who spoke as though he knew all about everything. “I will never again bring into the Jungle strange things.” In other words, he will be responsible for maintaining the current status quo and hierarchy of the Jungle.

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Source

“The Song of the Little Hunter”

This is a chilling song about cobras, because we needed more of that in our lives.

I like the juxtaposition of the terrifying cobras in this story: there “comes a breathing hard behind thee-snuffle snuffle through the night-it is Fear, O Little Hunter, it is Fear!” with the toothless old cobra we just saw in “The King’s Ankus.” The White Cobra’s glory days are behind him, but he still remembered when humans sang songs like this about him, when just the thought of him meant “thy throat is shut and dried, and thy heart against thy side.” We saw “Fear” as a personified creature already in “How Fear Came,” and the repetition of it in this story as a different animal is a nice continuation of that idea.

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A 6.5 foot cobra Source

“Quiquern”

This story is similar to “The White Seal” in that the protagonist has to explore the freezing wilderness in order to help his people, and the villains of the story aren’t animals or humans but the ice, the cold, and starvation. Kipling makes a lot of absurd generalizations about the Inuit in this story; please be aware and critical of them.

Also, in my opinion, he made a huuuuge mistake in naming the dog and the boy THE SAME NAME. Fortunately, the dog is absent for much of the story so I don’t get too confused.

 

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Lancaster Sound, Canada Source

This story is divided roughly into three parts: the training of Kotuko the boy and Kotuko the dog; the loss of food/ Kotuko the dog/hope; and the success of their previous training that brings back their losses and reunites them.

Kipling really hates superstition, as we’ve seen implied in other stories so far. Here, he undermines Kotuko’s people’s beliefs and folklore at every turn; for example, Kotuko doesn’t actually have a guiding spirit, he is just mad from starvation and hallucinating. The village sorcerer dismisses the “real” physical accomplishment of the two explorers and claims all the credit for himself, explaining that he magically guided them. Since the reader knows that the village sorcerer did no such thing, this deception and dishonesty is attributed as a fault of superstition as well. The “Quiquern” isn’t a legendary eight-legged creature after all, but two dogs tangled together. That being said, Kotuko’s belief in the supernatural is the catalyst he needs to leave home and find the seals, and he and the unnamed girl get a happy ending for their work.

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Source

Speaking of the unnamed girl, she is a badass and I love her. My favorite part was probably at the end where Kotuko’s mom gives the girl a dowry so that the girl doesn’t come penniless to her marriage. The girl deserves it, too after all; she supports Kotuko through the story, and searches just as fiercely as him for some food for their village.

In general, there’s a huge emphasis on community in this story. Besides Kotuko’s mom taking in the girl and supporting her as mentioned above, all of the villagers know that they have to take care of each other, and even strangers. There’s no one to trade with out there, and you never know when you yourself might have to go begging to whoever else you can find. The two dogs that make up the titular “Quiqern,” Kotuko and the black leader, are accidentally tied up together with their harness. They have to work together to survive and make their way back to their humans. The girl and boy-Kotuko are tied together through their village, their conviction that the tornaq is guiding them, and their care for each other.

Fun fact: Kotuko, just like Mowgli in “The King’s Ankus,” “was more than sure that he knew more than anything.” THESE BOYS.

“Angutivan Tina”

Did this song make anyone else think of this? No? Just me?

Read this song, and then go back to “The White Seal” and reread “Lukannon.” They make a very nice pair of songs about survival in the face of pervasive death.

See you next week for the wrap-up on The Jungle Books!