Sunday, December 19, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 319 (12/19) -- Dawn Land by Bruchac & Davis

There's a fine line between mythological and mythologizing: between stories of gods and heroes in a misty world of the past and sustained hagiography of the greatness of a particular culture. So-called "primitive" cultures -- hunters and gatherers, non-agricultural types that only lightly affect the lands they live on -- are particularly subject to this effect; the stories from the last generation or so about aboriginal Australians or Americans are incredibly prone to rhapsodize about how their subjects are so much truer and braver and more special than we poor fallen urban dwellers in modernity.

Dawn Land, I'm happy to say, is entirely free of that impulse: it may be a story set ten thousand years ago, in the lands that would eventually become New England, but the people that live there in this story are just that: people, who laugh and cry and fight and pick on each other. Some of them are very good people -- our hero, Young Hunter, is one such, as he has to be -- but his people aren't plaster saints, just the folks that lived on a particular plot of land longer ago than any human memory can remember.

This is a mythological story, and so there are mythological dangers: the Stone Giants, or Fire People, who are the Titans of this cosmology. They're older than humanity, larger, stronger, crueler, exulting in destruction and death. As the world is warming up from the last glaciation period, they're returning to the lands of men, and they will kill and eat every last human if they're not stopped. They attacked when Young Hunter was a baby, killing his parents and close family, and permanently marking his older cousin, Weasel Tail -- and they're now working their way through settlements not too far away, with some unexpected human aid.

So Young Hunter is sent, with one of his people's most secret possessions (the Long Thrower, a longbow) to confront the Fire People to save everyone he knows. He travels around the Great Lake (Lake Champlain, I expect), into the lands of a different people, with a different language and different villages. And he does, in the end, find the Fire People, learn of their plans, and use the Long Thrower against them.

Dawn Land was originally a novel -- the old-fashioned kind, with just prose -- by Joseph Bruchac, originally published in 1993, and since considered something of a major work in its genre. Animation artist Will Davis discovered Dawn Land over a decade ago, and decided it should be a graphic novel as well -- so he adapted it, and drew it. (And, equally as important, got Bruchac's agreement, and got a publisher to bring it out to a wide audience.) Davis took most of a decade to finish adapting Dawn Land into this graphic novel, but the work doesn't show it: it's a single, coherent artistic work, unified from beginning to end, with a soft pencil-and-tone look very suitable for the early days of the world. And this may be a a pretty typical hero's journey, but Young Hunter is a fine hero to follow on his journey, and his enemies are ones we entirely want to see defeated.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

James Davis Nicoll said...

They must have been too successful at keeping the Long Thrower secret: bows show up in the far north in the New World about 5000 years ago but are not seen on the east coast for another 3500 years.

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