The Animal in our Natures

by Chantal Boudreau

Maybe it’s the sunny weather or the more common random encounters with wildlife, but summertime always makes me long to get back to nature – to a simpler way of living where a person had to exist in harmony with nature in order to survive. In primitive times, you had to understand how the world around you worked, develop your skills to match the demands of your environment and adapt to the flora and fauna occurring locally. I still get a taste of that by gardening, trips to the park or camping in some forested area, but it really only is a taste. Living completely off the grid will likely remain one of those daydream fantasies for me that will never be realized.

I think that’s why low-tech tribal fiction, and primitive fantasy fiction in particular, has always appealed to me. Writers from Jean Auel to Wendy Pini (some of her elves, the wolfriders and the go-backs, live primitive lifestyles) struck a real chord with me growing up, their stories involving characters in tune with nature, facing down-to-earth hardships and challenges and seeking solutions in magic, spiritualism and resources occurring naturally in their environment. The protagonists have strong bonds with animals and a profound understanding of beneficial properties of plants and minerals found in their particular terrain.

But Clan of the Cave Bear and Elfquest weren’t my only influences (although they were significant ones). My Snowy Barrens Trilogy would likely not exist if I hadn’t had the opportunity to read such novels as The Reindeer People and The Wolf’s Brother by Meghan Lindholm (aka Robin Hobb), or The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, tales with hunter-gather backdrops exploring old ways and rudimentary lifestyles (and all of them written by women, for some strange reason.) These are books I would highly recommend to anyone with an interest in tribal fantasy fiction.

This is also what generated my fascination in old-world mythologies, ones that have been somewhat abandoned by modern people, although they aren’t completely extinct. It’s why I chose to explore Native American mythology in the Snowy Barrens Trilogy, and Sami, Serbian and Thracian mythologies in my three yet to be published Darker Myth novels. They are all mythologies that explore the relationship between man and nature, between animal and spiritual. I would recommend reading tales from these mythos as well – the Glooscap stories are some of my favourites.

So if the next time you go strolling along a woodland path and find yourself imagining a sprint through the forest, spear or bow in hand, clad in leathers, furs, carved bone, teeth or claws, maybe you should consider adding these books to your to-read list. They all make for exciting summer reading.

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