The young adult literary world has become inundated with supernatural beings: werewolves, zombies, and vampires abound, in a multitude of previously unrecognized forms. It seems the Twilight saga has much to answer for. Wading through the paranormal and mythical chaff, however, we occasionally stumble upon a brilliant, innovative use of the supernatural tropes so lately bent into any narrative form authors see fit: for zombies, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s movie Shaun of the Dead (2004); for werewolves, perhaps Annette Curtis Klause’s Blood and Chocolate (1997); for vampires, until recently, Scott Westerfeld’s Peeps (2005). Now we have a new player on the field: Drew Hayden Taylor’s The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel.
The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel
Initially given to me by a colleague who is teaching it at the university level, I was uncertain what to expect, but the novel is billed as Taylor’s “first novel for young people” (backmatter). Superficially, it provides a lot of what Twilight fans are looking for: a young female protagonist, an attractive male vampire who for unexplained reasons is abstaining from feasting on human blood, a forest setting near a Native community. What is positively, powerfully different is that Taylor’s heroine is herself Anishinabe, or what less-aware readers would call Ojibwe, as is our vampyric lead. This set-up allows Taylor to integrate into his mystery a significant number of social issues that face contemporary Native communities in Canada.
Tiffany Hunter lives with her father and grandmother, “Granny Ruth,” on the reservation at Otter Lake, Ontario. Granny Ruth represents the old ways, one of the community’s last fluent speakers of the Anishinabe language. Through her mixture of traditional ways and common human wisdom, we see hope for Tiffany’s future, despite her seemingly bleak present.
Tiffany has recently started dating a chuganosh, a White boy, which accentuates the tension building in her family since her mother left them, moving to Edmonton with her White lover. Tiffany’s relationship with Tony, like so much in the novel, could go either way. The result is thus neither surprising nor unbelievable; the deep realism of the novel lies more in the details, the little things that both her friends and family, and his, say. This realism coexists with a paranormal mystery that draws equally on Native mythology, contemporary YA literary tropes, and more traditional vampire lore. Readers aware of any of these will recognize early the nature of “monster” (4) that Pierre L’Errant (“The Wanderer”) has become; the mystery springs from being unable to predict what he will do, and how Tiffany will fit into his plans.
While Taylor is not as successful as some authors at entering into the psyche of his young female protagonist—his prose feels sometimes more like an adult male describing a teenaged girl, than the thoughts of a teenaged girl herself—his prose is lucid and at times beautiful. When Pierre describes his life, or forcefully reminds Tiffany of the joys in her own, there is a poignancy in the message that will, I think, reach the YA reader effectively. Similarly, when characters are in the woods of Otter Lake, there is no doubt of the power—for both good and evil—that the land holds. The final scene, in which the mystery is ultimately resolved, is a magical blending of Native belief with Taylor’s fictional narrative. More than just superior to Twilight and novels of its ilk, The Night Wanderer is a fabulous blend of realism with the supernatural, both Native and Non.