GUEST POST: TALL EAGLE: The Origins of Tribal Fantasy by John R. Fultz

Written by / Guest Post

Risingshadow has the honour of publishing a guest post by John R. Fultz.

John R. Fultz lives in the North Bay Area of California but grew up in Kentucky. John's Books of the Shaper trilogy includes Seven Princes, Seven Kings, and Seven Sorcerers (Orbit Books). His short story collection, The Revelations of Zang, is a series of interrelated tales born in the pages of Wierd Tales and Black Gate. John's work has also appeared in Year's Best Weird Fiction (Vol. 1), That Is Not Dead, Shattered Shields, Lightspeed: Year One, Way of the Wizard, Cthulhu's Reign, The Book of Cthulhu II, and other fine publications.

John R. Fultz's latest novel, The Testament of Tall Eagle, will be published by Ragnarok Publications (June 8, 2015).


GUEST POST: TALL EAGLE: The Origins of Tribal Fantasy by John R. Fultz

THE TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE is a tale of high adventure born from the mysteries of pre-Colonial North America. It's also what I call a Tribal Fantasy. The protagonist is a young Native American fighting to lead his people from the jaws of extinction to a new life in the Land Beyond the Sun. While most traditional fantasies evolve from pseudo-medieval European concepts, this one grew directly from distinctly Western roots.

The events of TALL EAGLE take place somewhere around the year 1700 A.D., about twenty years after the "great horse dispersal." Around 1680 the Puebloan peoples rose up against their Spanish conquerors and held onto their independence for the next ten years. During this decade the great herds of horses imported by the Spaniards were allowed to run wild, an era that created the wild mustang herds of the Southwest.

During the next few decades various tribes discovered "horse power," i.e. the mastery of horse training and breeding. Some of these tribes rose to prominence during the 18th Century specifically because of the power, speed, and range their new horse culture made possible. Perhaps the greatest of these tribes was the Comanches, who ruled the plains for a hundred years from the backs of their war ponies. However, the endless waves of incoming European invaders would not stop.

Various European cultures came west and decimated the populations of indigenous North Americans. But WHAT IF--and here's where a lot of great ideas are born--what if ONE of those lost tribes was exposed to a "culture of the fantastic" instead? What if that changed everything for that particular tribe?

That "what if" was the seed that grew into THE TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE.

Tall Eagle's tribe is loosely based on early tribes whose southward migration eventually created the horse tribes of the Great Plains. Many of those tribes did not survive the transition from mountains to plains. Many were consumed by inter-tribal warfare, and many fell to enemies who had discovered horse power first.

Tall Eagle's people--a tribe of my own invention yet based in historical fact--discovered something amazing that changed their destiny. They discovered Mharinu, City of the Myktu, sitting atop the Mountain of Eagles. The novel isn't meant to recreate history, but to inject it with traditionally fantastic elements. On that note we have flesh-eating monsters, giant eagles, and mystical alien races. It's a coming-of-age story, a romance, and a tale of primordial survival. A Tribal Fantasy.

My primary historical inspiration was a non-fiction book called COMANCHES: THE HISTORY OF A PEOPLE by T.R. Fehrenbach. The Amerindian cultures documented in this volume are presented in stunning detail and are completely fascinating. While reading Fehrenbach's book, I decided to set TALL EAGLE during that transitional period when the first few native tribes were discovering the "magic" of horse power. This discovery transformed American history for the next hundred years or more.

Tall Eagle's tribe discovers their own horse power in the early chapters of the book, while Tall Eagle himself discovers the great eagles of Mharinu. These simultaneous revelations lead to a juxtaposition of "horse power" and "eagle power," establishing an important conflict for Tall Eagle's people. Will they choose the way of the horse, or the way of the eagle? Which way lies salvation, and which way lies destruction? Along with the otherworldly eagles, something far more terrible has also entered the tribal lands. Something that crawls the night with an appetite for living flesh. Yet another threat to the tribe's survival, one which Tall Eagle himself will have to face.

Another inspiration for the book was the 1980 film WINDWALKER, a forgotten classic starring Trevor Howard and James Remar. It features very little English, as the languages of the Crow and Cheyenne are spoken for most of the movie, supported by English subtitles. It has always been one of my favorite films, a timeless story of prehistoric North America, and a powerful tale of love, family, and survival.

A third influence on TALL EAGLE was Max Brand's classic THUNDER MOON series. These were pulp western tales featuring a white youth raised by the Cheyenne to become a legendary warrior. Brand's THUNDER MOON stories reflect the dignity and wisdom of the traditional Cheyenne way of life, while offering plenty of rip-roaring adventure. Combining pulp thrills with psychological depth of character is something I've always tried to do, and TALL EAGLE was the perfect opportunity to do just that. The more real and complex the characters, the more effective the adventure.

TALL EAGLE embodies the culture, philosophy, and spirit of the ancient Amerindians, who inhabited a pristine magical world long before European invaders took it away from them. It combines traditional fantasy-adventure tropes with a Western flavor, spiced with elements of horror and romance. A bit Fantasy, a bit Western, it offers the best of both worlds.

THE TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE is set for a June 8 release from Ragnarok Publications.