The indigenous nations of America have always faced a sinister form of erasure. As their social and political issues continue to go ignored, so does the matter of their very existence. When observing the genocide that took place amidst colonial invasion, many people will assume that this led to the complete loss of an entire population. However, authors like Rebecca Roanhorse have emerged throughout the years to challenge this narrative.
Due to having very little media exposure, adaptations of indigenous people typically fall into retroactive depictions that hardly surpass the 1400s. In her novel Trail of Lightning, Roanhorse offers a futuristic depiction of an indigenous individual through the eyes of Maggie Hoskie, a Dinétah monster hunter and supernaturally gifted killer.
A Complex Character
Roanhorse’s novel takes place in a post-apolayptic setting called The Sixth World. Due to climate change, large floods have taken over most of the land. Maggie is one of the survivors of this cataclysmic event called the Big Water. When a girl goes missing in Maggie’s small town, the people look to her for assistance.
Maggie is far from one-dimensional. With her being a female character of color, it would have been easy for Roanhorse to fall into the “model minority” trope. With diverse protagonists, this is a common route to take when facing their white counterparts in the literary world. They must be written as “perfect” characters, because some readers are already scrutinizing them by appearance alone.
Roanhorse’s strays away from this trope, and compellingly so. Maggie starts out not all that likeable at first, making far more enemies than friends wherever she goes. She grows as a person and befriends other characters like Kai Arviso, an unconventional healer. Maggie is a character that represents one’s ability to rise above a difficult past and pursue something greater.
Incorporating Indigenous Mythology
There is also a heavy depiction of Navajo mythology within the story. In this world, technology is crumbling, which seems to reawaken some of the old world legends and magic systems that were once hidden away. For example, she introduces the Navajo trickster, Ma’ii, as an intrigal part of the plot.
This representation is pivotal considering that most fantasy novels are heavily influenced by European folklore and history. Her decision to forgo common fantasy tropes in exchange for her own cultural inspirations is a notable feat. This forces readers to travel outsider of the world of familiarity and immerse themselves in another perspective. A Native American fantasy can be just as captivating.
These are just a few of the many aspects that make Roanhorse’s novel so captivating. It serves as a challenge for readers with its themes of self-reflection, culture, and community effort. Trauma plays a role in the story, but it does not define the character, nor does it hold her back. Her origins merely contribute to her overcoming adversity while cherishing her powerful roots.
As indigenous stories continue to spread around the world, more authors will have the space to offer their own unique narratives to the mix. For most, this is only the beginning of making their voices heard!
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