The Myths Behind “THE RED ROAD”
THE RED ROAD‘s creator Aaron Guzikowski drew from the myths of many cultures—many of them Native American—for inspiration for the series. Along with the video companion “So It Begins,” the descriptions below allow you to dig deeper into the rich stories that inspired each episode’s title in Season 1.
Episode 1: Arise My love And Shake Off This Dream
Origin: The Netherlands
This Dutch fable is also a folk song about newfound wisdom emerging from the loss of something beautiful. A man filled with happiness and prosperity plants a flowering tree. During one cold harsh Winter, the beautiful tree loses its flowers, withers and dies. But the earth absorbs this tree back into the soil so that in the Spring, new plants and life emerge from the decaying remains. Life feeding off death reflects both the past glory of the tree and what beautiful things can come from something grievous. The past will not be forgotten. To the contrary, it echoes and haunts the present.
Episode 2: The Wolf and the Dog
Culture of Origin: Cherokee
In this Cherokee myth, a dog is put on the mountain while a wolf stands by the fire. When winter comes, the dog confronts the wolf and chases him away from the fire so the wolf runs to the mountain where the dog came from and ends up prospering there even though there’s no fire or warmth in the mountain. Eventually, the wolf returns to his own hunting grounds: He comes down from the mountain and eats the livestock. The people and the dog—angered by the wolf’s actions—track him down and kill him for raiding their territory. In revenge, the wolf’s brothers find the people and the dog and execute them. Ever since this event, the people and the dog have been afraid to hurt a wolf and the dog and the wolf have been enemies, even though the wolf and the dog are part of one another and closely related. This Cherokee myth, like many other Cherokee cultural teachings, is concerned with balance and interconnections.
Episode 3: The Woman Who Fell from the Sky
Culture of Origin: Seneca
According to a Seneca legend, a Chief’s daughter fell ill so to cure her, he had to lay her beside a tree then dig the tree up. The chief then dug a hole and carefully placed his daughter beside the tree. But the tree caused a hole and the daughter fell through. The new world she finds herself in is our world except at the time, it’s all water. The chief’s daughter lands in the water with a splash, and a turtle, hearing this, goes to see what fell from the sky. The turtle finds the Chief’s daughter and puts her gently on his back and carries her. After the turtle gets tired, Earth is created from his back so that the woman has a place to live. This place grew wide and strong. The woman’s resting place becomes the start of a new existence for the Seneca people.
Episode 4: The Bad Weapons
Culture of Origin: Blackfoot
In this Blackfoot legend, an old man loses his weapons while hunting. Since he still needs meat, he quickly makes weapons out some wood he finds. These weapons are not particularly sturdy so he has to make them work until he had time to craft new ones. The man forgets about hunting when he came upon a bear and decides to have some fun. The old man calls the bear names while hiding behind a log: “HEY! You dirt-eater!” The bear tries to ignore the man and keeps foraging for huckleberries, but the man continues his taunts. “No-tail animal: What are you doing?” The bear is not amused. He starts to chase the man. The man falls and tries to stab the bear, but his knife handle breaks because it isn’t well-made. He shoots arrows at the bear, but the points break off the arrows. He runs some more because there’s no one to help deep in the woods. By this time, the man is desperate and fears for his life. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a bullhorn on the ground. He pauses, picks up the bullhorn and places it on his head. He then bellows as loud as he can and shakes his whole body. The bear, surprised by this sudden outburst, stops in his tracks, and runs away from the man in confusion.
Episode 5: The Great Snake Battle
Culture of Origin: Seneca
According to the Seneca myth, you reap what you sow. One day, a hunter tortures a rattlesnake because he is bored. Over the course of a week, word spreads to the other snakes about this horrendous act. The snakes gather to take revenge by battling the man’s tribe. The tribe hears about the snakes’ preparations for battle and build a great fire to surround the Seneca people to protect them because everyone knows that snakes are afraid of fire. But so many snakes come to avenge their snake brother that the snakes are able to put out the fire and reach the people. The Seneca Chief realizes that the snakes beat the tribe and he promises the Chief Snake that they will never injure or torment snakes ever again. Although misunderstandings occasionally occur, snakes and humans share the earth in relative peace since this agreement was made. Senecan people don’t abuse their power over snakes because they know there are more snakes than people.
Episode 6: The Snaring of the Sun
Culture of Origin: Winnebago
According to this Winnebago legend, a little boy wearing a beautiful prize feather-robe made by his aunts goes on a long journey. He becomes tired from this trip and falls asleep under the sun. While he sleeps, the warm, bright sun ruins his prize robe. The destruction of his beautiful robe makes the boy very angry so he decided to catch the sun and punish him. To do this, he creates a special snare that’s long and strong. He waits until the middle of the night when the sun is sleeping the he catches it. As a result of his actions, there is no day, no light and no warmth from the sun. This worries the animals and they get together to discuss what should be done. They decide that the giant door mouse should go and free the sun from the boy’s snare. She chews through the snare and releases the sun back to its rightful place in the sky. All the animals realize that the boy who snared the sun is the most powerful being in the world and they make him Chief to honor his importance and power among the living.
Author Bio: Chris Finley is a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes and co-editor and contributor to Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature (2011). Currently, she is a visiting instructor at Oregon State University.