Friday, May 15, 2009

Native American Twilight Lore and New Moon Quileute Legends

Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga has introduced a deep historical layer of Native American history into her popular series of Twilight novels by delicately mixing fact and fiction. Native American lore has long been a source of interest for anthropologists and historians who have dedicated scores of books to the stories of different tribes that include everything from creation stories to the changes in weather and placement of the sun and moon. Twilight brought parts of the La Push legends of the Quileute tribe to a mass audience. La Push itself is a real location and the home of the Quileute tribe in northern Washington State. The characters of Jacob Black, played by Taylor Lautner, and his father Billy are members of the tribe as well as a much bigger secret that has been well hidden for years. In the Twilight sequel New Moon, Stephanie Meyer allows her characters to tell their own stories concerning the legends, especially Jacob since he is an integral focal point in Meyer’s layers of Native American history.

Although the story of vampire versus werewolf is nothing new, the conflict raises a compelling question. Why choose that particular duel? Meyer herself has stated that the Twilight Saga is a completely fictional story from the vampire clans to the werewolf pack. The only part that was borrowed from real Quileute legend was the lore that the tribe was descended from wolves able to convert themselves into humans. Like the allure of the vampire, the werewolf story is far from defined. There are basic guidelines, for example, that reveal how the Twilight werewolves can change on a full moon or that a silver bullet similar to their vampire counterparts can kill them. In weaving her own creative Twilight tapestry while using both convention and her own originality, Stephenie Meyer has given Twilight Saga readers and New Moon fans an ultimate battle, pitting one supernatural creature against another, both with their own strengths and weaknesses.

History and the Werewolf

Although the Quileute tribe is said to be descended from wolves, there are a variety of Native North American tribes that have similar folklore in their rich lineage. The Navajo tribe (also known as the Navajo nation), the largest tribe in the United States, has a legend that is almost akin to the werewolf clan in the Twilight Saga. The Navajo version of the werewolf originates from the “Skinwalker” who actually attains the power to shape-shift. But in order to acquire the “evil” abilities of these shape-shifters, tribe members, as the legend goes, must kill a family member. On the other hand, the Quileute legend is much less gruesome as a Skinwalker is said to have encountered a wolf and then transformed it into a human being, thus the legend’s origins.

In relation to Twilight and New Moon, Stephanie Meyer takes it one step further by explaining in great detail how Jacob and the rest of the werewolf clan actually transform from human to werewolf from the angle of inner turmoil and the experience of the transformation. In New Moon, the transformation of Jacob Black is filled with questions surrounding mental pain and how the change is also linked to self-control. What’s different about how the legend and lore play out in New Moon with regard to the actual transformation, as compared to other werewolf based stories and films, is that it goes well beyond the visual transformation to a intriguing human level of emotion.

The Vulnerable Warriors

Although werewolves have long been looked at as villainous monsters , Meyer’s Twilight Saga exposes the emotional vulnerability of the creatures. Since the Twilight novels are deeply romantic in nature, what works so effectively for the Saga and New Moon is that the fear and intimidation associated with its “monsters” gets stripped away to large degree by pitting vampire against a werewolf for the love of a girl. And making Bella Swan human is all the more appealing since it taps into the timeless classical elements of the “forbidden” love story.

Twilight actors Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner already bring their striking physical appeal and charismatic charm to the Twilight films. Although Pattinson joined New Moon in relatively the same shape as Twilight, Lautner had more to prove for New Moon since he worked tirelessly to add 30 pounds of muscle to his frame in order to meet the physical requirements that Jacob Black endures in New Moon. Interestingly, both Jacob and Edward are not the typical, bloodthirsty monsters that they could have been portrayed as in similar stories. Instead they both fight their true non-human natures, rebelling against them with Bella’s help. Edward is eternally beautiful and elegant but deadly. Jacob is strikingly handsome but vicious. Their conflict is much more internal than solely overtly physical, which adds involving and relatable layers to the Twilight Saga.

Facts, Fiction, Legends and the Twilight Future

There’s no doubt that the Twilight Saga has generated an incredible, even phenomenal, amount of interest among fans, but it has also cast a huge spotlight on Native American culture and the origins of the Quileute legends. Unlike so many characters that are as fictional as the storylines surrounding them, Native American lore, whether from the Quileute tribe or others, is still being passed down through new generations while still being recorded by anthropologists and historians eager to preserve the various versions of similar stories. After all, the United States and Canada didn’t exist first, but the legends were alive well before borders were drawn on a map.

In Vancouver, British Columbia where New Moon is almost about to wrap up production, the Haida tribe off the B.C. coast in the Queen Charlotte Islands also have their own legends of shape-shifting, which center around bears instead of wolves. Interestingly, legends about shape-shifting humans are also similar to vampire lore throughout the ages and the ability of various bloodsuckers to change and transform. Still, Stephanie Meyer conceived two lead male characters, Edward Cullen and Jacob Black, as surreal heroes while tapping into similar stories and legends of the past to create a fresh new stage to showcase their supernatural abilities.

New Moon shifts the visible focus away from Edward and Robert Pattinson and directs it to Jacob and Taylor Lautner who undergoes an emotionally gripping, perhaps startling and compelling physical transformation. The challenge for director Chris Weitz and the production crew will be how they manage to create the transformations while maintaining the storyline from the New Moon novel.

Since Stephenie Meyer has created a new awareness concerning Native American culture, Twilight and New Moon have turned a bright spotlight on the many rich and deeply intriguing legends that have existed long before European vampires first settled on the shores of North America. In relation to New Moon and Native American legend, Jacob and his Quileute wolf pack have to prey on the facts in order to get the most out of the fiction. New Moon is a challenging responsibility for Taylor Lautner. If Lautner can execute the internal character evolution in concert with the physical challenge, Twilight and New Moon fans will get their money’s worth from the final edit of Jacob Black and his transformation.


1 comment:

bkstiff said...

Nice article adn a good read. The quileutes have a mysterious history Like most Native American Tribes the Quileute had their own set of legends that were passed down from generation to generation to explain events and occurances in their history. Many of these legends have survived the passage of time while others have been lost. Many of the Quileute legends can be found on this website.

Post a Comment