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From: Alice Turner <al@ny.playboy.com>
Subject: (urth) BackTrack
Date: Mon, 08 Sep 1997 14:17:26 

[Posted from URTH, a mailing list about Gene Wolfe's New Sun and other works]

mantis----you're back! I missed you.

Re your thoughts about Cutthroat's not being from the Great Sleigh: My
kneejerk reaction is that this is wrong. My second reaction is that Wolfe
wants us to have a kneejerk reaction and then second thoughts. I've been
doing so much reading about Native Americans in my (so far vain) effort to
find the language cognate (I still think Athabascan, of which I have not
been able to find one word, is the key), that I am more inclined to be

For example, there's the issue of cannibalism. If you take these tribes as
simply animals, well, there's no question that in hard times a vulnerable
animal will have to be sacrificed to the needs of the (meat-eating) tribe.
But there's a vigorous debate among anthropologists about NA cannibalism
too, focussing on the Anazazi tribes of the Southwest.

And in the Northwest, where I'm sort of focussed, there are three distinct
racial groups--the Indians (this is where the Athabascans are; that's the
language name--there are several tribes), the Eskimos or Inuits, and the
Aleuts (not many of the last left when the Russians got through with them).
Needless to say, they all despise each other and were actively at war with
one another when circumstances permitted (not as often as in more moderate
climes). The Eskimos and Aleuts are much more recent than the Indians, and
are thought to have arrived from the Old World (Mongolia, Siberia) after the
landbridge was already submerged (we're talking about 4000 years ago, not
too recently) in their skin boats and kayaks. 

I realize this is sort of beside the point, and probably pretty boring to
most of the group (I never worry about boring you, mantis--you're interested
in everything!). But for someone who knew as little about NA culture as I,
it opens up all sorts of possibilities. I don't for a minute think that Wolfe
literally followed any kind of "real" Indian setup for this story, but he
happens to live quite near one of the most important anthropological digs in
the country of the Mississippi mound culture of about 3000 years ago (far
more sophisticated than any of the North American tribal cultures in the
16th century), and it very probably caught his imagination, at least at the
time he was planning this story.

I am completely perplexed by the wand, to get back to the subject. It reads
to me like a super-cattleprod, and what a mink would be doing with it is
beyond me. It's the reason I thought Cim was a dog at first, to have a
man-made object that she uses so carelessly (kills her mate).

And the winged figure. Well, Great Raven is important to the Eskimos as well
as the NW Indians, a little cross-fertilization there. And, get this, from a
description of frequent enigmatic figures on Mississippi Mound art--"Thus we
have not a man disguised as a bird, but another case of a shaman having
*become* a supernatural being...we see portrayed the god himself." I wish I
could send a picture. 


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