Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Night Wanderer

In 1992, the Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon staged A Contemporary Gothic Indian Vampire Story, a play commissioned by The Young People's Theatre of Toronto. Directed by Tibor Feheregyhazi, the story was written by Drew Hayden Taylor, who in 2007 adapted it as a YA novel called The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel. Although I wasn't familiar with the original play, I came across the book while researching Canadian horror literature, and was instantly intrigued by the title.

The Night Wanderer is a coming-of-age tale about a First Nations teenager, Tiffany Hunter, whose family boards a mysterious stranger from the East named Pierre L'Errant. Turns out the man is no longer quite human, and is returning to his homeland after centuries abroad. It's a very interesting premise that unfortunately didn't quite hold up to my expectations--although I suspect the target audience will get much more out of it.

The tale takes place in and around a fictional reserve on Otter Lake, in the central lake region of Ontario. Aside from the odd trip to Sudbury, Toronto, and Ottawa, Tiffany Hunter has spent her entire life within 45-minutes of her home. She goes to high school in the small community nearby, and has a white boyfriend named Tony--although both his parents, and her father, don't approve of the relationship. Much like with many of her generation, she's disconnected from the history of her own people, and is disillusioned about what the future may hold.

Things take a supernatural turn upon the arrival of Pierre L'Errant, who was born in Europe but has come to Otter Lake in order to see his ancestral home and reconnect with his roots--or so he claims. He explains that his great-grandfather had been in the First World War, while his great-grandmother was part of a traditional Native dance troupe that had been touring Europe at the time. They met overseas, and settled there. Tiffany and her family buy the story, even though they're quite amazed by the fact that Pierre's features are more strikingly Native than their own--not diluted through generations. He simply chalks it up to strong genes. The family also overlooks his peculiar diet (he's not able to eat any regular food), and his "skin condition" means that he has to avoid sunlight. Therefore, he spends the moonlit hours not eating any food, and wandering around the surrounding landscape. Tiffany finds Pierre to be quite odd, but as her family notes, "he is European after all."

That's one of the issues I have with the story: Pierre is just too odd to not raise more red flags. But I digress. Without giving away more of the plot, I will add that there are some good elements to this folk tale, especially regarding Pierre and his attempts to reconnect Tiffany with her ancestors (and the world around her). What disappointed me was that there was not really much of any First Nations lore at all; based on the title, I thought Pierre may have been a wendigo, or at least he'd cross paths with more traditional beasts during his nighttime excursions (this is a fantasy tale, after all). But he's simply a traditional vampire of European folklore--which is not a spoiler, really, since this is pretty much clear from the outset.

What really stands out is Pierre's story, and the glimpses of his historical journey from Canada to Europe, where he was eventually turned into a vampire. This would make for a very interesting prequel story, so perhaps one day this character will live on in his own tale.

The book was also recently adapted as a graphic novel, which can be purchased through Annick Press.


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