Spoiler Alert – Shadow of The Conjurer
THIS PAGE PROVIDES KEY PLOT, CHARACTERS, AND STRUCTURE THAT REVEAL THE REASONS BEHIND THE ATTACKS ON THE MCNALLYS AS WELL AS NIKA, JACOB, AND MUSO.
IF YOU DO NOT WISH TO HAVE THE PLOT REVEALED, USE THE BACK BUTTON TO RETURN TO THE PARENT PAGE FOR STEVE GIERHART (PAGE ONE) AND BUY A COPY OF SHADOW OF THE CONJURER (or you can go to Amazon’s Shadow of The Conjurer sales page directly HERE).
IF, ON THE OTHER HAND, YOU HAVE ALREADY BOUGHT YOUR COPY OF SHADOW OF THE CONJURER AND HAVE ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS ABOUT THE CHARACTERS, MYTHS OF THE MANDE, AND THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND SURROUNDING THE TIME AND LOCATION OF THE NOVEL, CONTINUE ON.
The Mande Legends of Pemba and Muso Koroni
I don’t want to mislead the reader. I expanded beyond the myths of the Mande to make my story interesting, a storyteller’s prerogative. Nonetheless, I felt it appropriate to add detail for background. I extrapolate most of this from Yves Bonnefoy’s Mythologies.
Steve’s backdrop to the plot line in Shadow
Apparently, Halla, Jikindi’s daughter, was so virtuous that she refused to give in to either threats or temptations from Pemba (we won’t know for sure until the prequel is written). As a result, Pemba destroyed her soul, and Jikindi refused to interfere for fear of losing her own soul in the process. Jikindi was converted to a White Witch due to her guilt over the death of her daughter, opting to renounce everything she was and become everything she wasn’t. It was Jikindi’s search for penance and peace that resulted in the conversion of her master, Koroni, Pemba’s twin sister and lover.
In Shadow, Pemba seeks his vengence against Jikindi who takes the body of Muso, accepting slavery and an escape to America in order to protect her granddaughter, Nika.
To bring about a more complex story I read into the legends of the Mande (the tribe from whom the Conjurer’s slave girl, Nika, is taken). The Mande, or Mandingo as popularly recounted, are a large group of West African people (as well as a term relating to the region and language) encompassing several related tribes such as the Malinke, the Dogon, and the Bambara. Despite Islam’s deep inroads starting in the twelfth century, their mythology has survived, still substantial, still robust. I want to acknowledge Yves Bonnefoy’s American, African, and Old European Mythologies, a wonderful and detailed compilation of these myths and legends. Though it is an academic work, its background was lovingly compiled from a number of sources and written so a layman can understand its abundance.
Pemba and Muso Koroni, The Celestial Twins-First Offspring of Mangala
Pemba and Muso Koroni, the Celestial Twins, powerful spirit entities, who command my protagonists’ attention, are named from the Malinke and Bambara tribes or language groups of the Mande. The same goes for Mangala, or God. However, in the Dogon version of the mythology Pemba goes by the name of Ogo while Muso Koroni is named Yasigui. Mangala is named Amma.
Twinning is a dominant theme of West African mythology. Mangala created Pemba and Koroni as a mixed set of twins and anticipated that humans would always be born as mixed twins if it had not been for Pemba’s interruption of Mangala’s intentions. Even after Mangala’s attempts to rectify his mistakes, humans would be born with twin souls, one male and one female. One of the souls animates the body while the other remains in the power of the Creator, so Pemba or Koroni’s crimes will not be repeated.
Pemba or Ogo later took the form of a fox who became known as the Trickster. In all of the versions Pemba and Muso Koroni were mischievous, their impure and licentious acts having dire consequences for mankind and for Mangala who desired that his initial creation of them be changed for the better.
Both blood and placenta take an expansive role in their myths as does the tiny seed of the African grain, fonio, a member of the millet family. I thought it interesting to see the analogy of the tiny seed of the fonio to a small, almost invisible star in the vicinity of Sirius. The “Star of the Fonio” was animated by the word or thoughts of God (Amma or Mangala), exploded, and became the universe. Consequently, their myth of the creation is much like a cosmologist’s theory that our universe is born a tiny pinprick that exploded in the ‘Big Bang’.
Bonnefoy dwells on many more aspects of ‘twinning’, but I won’t go further into those. The reader may check Bonnefoy’s scholarly work for more information into the myth’s various twists and turns.
Muso Koroni Captures Jikindi – Drawing by Erin Gierhart
My daughter, Erin, after reading my novel was moved to sketch her impression of a key scene late in the book when Jikindi voluntarily enters the dark dimension of the thorn in search of her former liege and friend, Muso Koroni. (click on the image at right to enlarge it on a separate webpage)
Renee Dawson’s Geometric Fantasy and The Infinitesimal
(click on the image on the left to enlarge it in a separate webpage)
I saw this painting online by Renee Dawson of Carrying Place, Ontario, Canada and was blown away at how it approximated my idea of how The Infinitesimal would look in Shadow of The Conjurer. In my version of the The Infinitesimal, it is compared in the novel to a bright image of a far away galaxy, but in much more depth than one would see, even with a Hubble Telescope. Each orb within The Infinitesimal are globes (I even used the term “spatters”) of afterlife containing unknown thousands of interacting souls, family and friends enjoying their dreams of a “rich brocade”. These cities of souls represented individual spirits who found family and friends and experienced the ever-lasting dreams of their own choosing. In fact they are so “bright”, so complex in color, in my version that I used the term the “kaleidoscope universe” to convey to the reader what this universe of spirits (or heaven) was like. Of course, I also conveyed the idea of hell as part of this universe as well. However, for those lost souls, they were stuck within self-created purgatories where they could not find their loved ones. Those places were referred to as “dark spots” within The Infinitesimal, black and cold places in between the bright worlds of living souls or spirits.
What is so unusual in my mind is that according to Bonnefoy, the Mande legends used a term that he likened to “The Infinitesimal” (page 138 of Mythologies). God (Amma or Mangala in their terminology) whirled the embryo of creation (I found the term reminiscent of how galaxies look in the cosmos), ejecting seeds of the fonio that “distributed germs of divine life”. How convenient and cool is that? I just had to use their own term for the afterlife of souls in Shadow of The Conjurer.
ALSO FROM STEVE:
Acknowledgments to Background Resources
My wife, Bonny, and I live on a small acreage in North Alabama near the vibrant city of Huntsville. It lies at the foothills of the Appalachians, just as in my novel, Shadow of The Conjurer.
We have a wonderful view of the mountains between where we live in Brownsboro and Huntsville to the southwest. The Ardent Writer Press banner is a photo of our pastures pointing toward those mountains at sunset. If you look carefully you can see the elevated railroad tracks that cross our property. In fact, during the Civil War, a Union colonel used the old plantation home our property is built on as his headquarters to guard the Brownsboro depot about a half mile west. The Memphis and Charleston Railroad crossed several states, running along the northern borders of Alabama and Mississippi. It was of great strategic importance. That photo was taken by me on a winter evening with the snow melting on the fields below our house. You get a feel for the beautiful sunsets noted in Shadow of The Conjurer as the basis for name of the fictional plantation, Fiery Hill.
I even caught my daughters fever a bit and attempted the sketch at your right of my version of the fictional Fiery Hill Plantation in Shadow. I’m not comfortable with the relative sizing of the house among its pieces, especially the roof; but, hey, I don’t claim to be the artist my daughters are. (click on the image on the right to enlarge it in a separate web page)
I’ve had a wonderful journey so far with Shadow. During that time, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the descendents, both black and white, of the old plantation owner and his slaves that still live in the region. Of course, Shadow is not based in any way on any of those descendents. It’s just a fun work of fiction. However, having that history near by is comforting to me. They have a remarkable respect for their mutual history. Despite the sadder aspects of its cultural and historical roots, that respect reflects the families’ ability to move on, especially as time reveals our nation has been made stronger by change, sometimes long in coming. Importantly for me, I like to think that respect has survived because all of us in our human frailty are also strong in our ability to love and to forgive.
While Bonny and I cannot share their olden history, the fact and daily reminders of their existence brings us closer in a kind of familial way, much like the protagonists in my novel.
We thank them for their warm embrace.
John Blassingame’s – The Slave Community and T. Lindsay Baker’s – The WPA Oklahoma Slave Narratives
To appreciate and fashion a more realistic portrayal of slave life on a cotton plantation in 1830s Alabama, I drew heavily from the following two source materials, John W. Blassingame’s The Slave Community, Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, and T. Lindsay and Julie P. Baker’s compilation, The WPA Oklahoma Slave Narratives.
Blassingame’s work has gained widespread acknowledgment as pioneering the study of slave life in the South, especially so because it describes such from the slave’s perspective. I deeply desired a realistic and empathetic brush of their life for the reader. If I have done that, I must credit Dr. Blassingame’s remarkable and vivid work.
From 1935 to 1939 Franklin Roosevelt’s administration sponsored The Federal Writer’s Project (FWP). Though its driving force was employment (it was the Depression), the effort employed thousands of writers, editors, historians, and researchers in an honorable effort to not only foment cultural awareness, but to especially capture the plight of the socially deprived. One of the most meritorious of their efforts was the Slave Narratives. Field workers for the FWP took word-for-word transcripts of the narratives of individual Americans who were slaves as by 1930 survivors of that era were living out their last years. In many cases the transcripts were based on actual sound recordings. The individual transcripts selected by the Bakers from FDR’s ground-breaking and history-saving work reflect the daily applications and tone of slave lives, revealing linguistics, thought, and action that would otherwise have been lost to history.
Reverend Maxwell MacBrair’s Mande Translator from 1837
I took an unusual step during my writing. I wanted to clearly present the chasm in cultures and language between the plantation owner’s son, Jacob, and the newly servile Africans. On the internet I found a Mande translator that was written in approximately 1837 by an English Methodist missionary and scholar, the Reverend R. Maxwell Macbrair. He had other works printed between 1839 and 1863. A PDF of some of the key pages can be seen here (Macbrair Translator). Though I tried to substantiate the accuracy in Rev. Macbrair’s translation, I was unsuccessful. Nevertheless, I used his pamphlet as well as some of the translations of Professor Bonnefoy (his compilation translated under the direction of Dr. Wendy Doniger, University of Chicago) to articulate a kind of conversation in Mande with English translations included. I also used Rev. Macbrair’s translation to select the name of the slave girl, Nika, who falls in love with Jacob.
I hope you have enjoyed the background information I have provided. Here’s hoping it increases your interest in reading up on the numerous myths and legends that give a dizzying and interwoven structure to the various tribes of the African continent.
And for me, I hope between the time I must give to making Ardent Writer Press successful, that I have time to visit Shadow again. I, myself, wonder what happened to Mathias, Josey, and Sarah in those years after 1837 until Fiery Hill burned down in 1875, or just how dark was Jikindi’s soul allowed to sink before her daughter, Halla, woke Jikindi to her sins in Africa?
Regards, Steve Gierhart