CM . . . . Volume XXIV Number 16 . . . . December 22, 2017
Huuq, a teenaged Inuk boy living with his family in a winter camp in a mythological Sky Time, feels he does not fit into his community that he finds banal, cruel, and ignorant. Avoiding work and pestering the people with minor acts of thievery, he is chased away by a group of bullies and finds a mysterious egg. When he breaks the egg, he is turned into a half-human monster in revenge by spiritual creatures called the Its. Exiled from his community by its shaman, Akiraq, for his own protection, Huuq sets out on a mission to find out the meaning of the egg, return the land to its natural balance, and save himself and his community from an unknown enemy. In a series of discoveries that are as much about the land as about himself, Huuqe learns that Akiraq is the enemy and that he has manipulated the community into turning against itself. Using his newfound strength and knowledge, and aided by the spirits of his ancestors, Huuq defeats Akiraq and saves his community. In an epilogue, readers learn that only Huuq's immediate family members have continued as humans, with the rest of his community being turned into caribou to ensure continued balance.
A highly original and fantastical tale by a couple with alternately Arctic and Ontario roots, this book is a much-needed and eye-opening look into the Inuit worldview, and, at the same time, a journey into highly imaginative fantasy that draws on Indigenous and other mythologies from around the world. Befitting a story set among people living on the remote edge of the inhabitable world, every object has symbolic importance, every creature is part of a balance, every part of the land has meaning; the land, in fact, speaks to them in a way Western modes of knowing would never understand. Huuq ("why" in Inuktitut) lives in a remote past, undoubtedly pre-European contact, where survival is never assured and communities thrive only when they cooperate. The concepts explored through Huuq's quest are hard to grasp, often contradictory, with fleeting meanings that mirror the bizarre qualities of the spiritual beings Huuq encounters.
To illustrate these concepts, the authors use a combination of stunning descriptions and complex inner thoughts, overlaid with the frequent use of capitalization (as in Land, Strength, etc), sometimes using Inuktitut vocabulary (as when Akiraq is revealed to share a root with the word for Enemy), sometimes translating into English to show the starkness of the meaning (Huuq and his people are referred to as Inhabitants, a literal translation of Inuit; their homes are "snow houses" rather than igloos). The stark beauty of the land comes across, as does the meaning the people derive from it, and Huuq's self-discovery is at once his discovery of the land. The book's very design, with its stunning embossed cover and windswept, blurred charcoal illustrations (by Toma Feizo Gas), contributes to the feeling that this book is not only a true original, but a marvellous editorial feat by the first independent publisher in Nunavut.
For those not accustomed to reading fantasy, the constant and almost arbitrary introduction of new creatures and beings, each one with a more bizarre appearance and baffling meaning than the last, might occasionally become tedious. But the ultimate feat of this book, the thing that lifts it to the level of the best classic fantasy, is the human relations that it illuminates, the sideways and latent way in which it explores the theme of family love, and even the theme of surly teenaged rebellion. Huuq slowly realizes that he loves his parents, that his community is more than just an annoyance, and that his actions can mean survival or death. Particularly moving is when Huuq, having defeated Akiraq, realizes his enemy was feeding on his people's fears:
Akiraq then asks him why he would care about them, to which Huuq replies "Because they're mine."
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and Past-President of the Ontario Library Association.