When people think of books featuring fairies, elves and pixies, they usually assume it's patterned off of a Northern European culture, typically the Irish. This time the wee folk are of northeastern Native American origin. Instead of an incantation, Native American Chanting is used to open a portal between realms. Jamie Sutliff's elf trilogy is a breath of cool, fresh air.
Question: You describe the anatomical features of an elf as the main character of the first book, Mitchell, turns into one. Mitchell sprouts the traditional elf ears, grows smaller, his hair takes on a mane like appearance, but he also has strength, boundless energy and wings! How did you come up with this alternative anatomy and physiology?
Answer: There are only a few historical references on Native American elves, which they describe as “Little People,” or “Nen Us Yok“ literally translated means “Spirit Dwarf People.” I found an old book by Rev. Wm. A. Beauchamp written in 1870, “Iroquois Folktales” published in 1901. Beauchamp translated Algonquian, Iroquois languages that were already classified as archaic and melded into Mohawk. The little people were described as tiny beings some no larger than the human hand. They had large pointed ears like a fox and huge feet like a snow shoe hare. The little people could move so fast at times they were seen only as a blur and they possessed great strength. An Algonquian tale tells of elves that uprooted large trees and boulders to make dams for people to catch fish. Most of the little people were kind, showing where to hunt and fish, they watched over children and left gifts at night such as moccasins, clothing and food. The stories handed down over centuries in oral history pre-date all European descriptions. If this claim upsets historians who think Native Americans have stolen their concepts of elves they should consider the time line that predates Stonehenge.
Question: Mitchell can travel through spiritual realms, do you do astral travel in any kind of Shamanic work?
Answer: Not really, unless we accept that the mind projects astral realms all of which are individual private mental landscapes of the writer. An author’s role and challenge is to make their personal astral travels believable and compelling.
Question: How did you get started learning about the northeastern Native American tribes and why did you focus on the Alqonquin?
Answer: The Algonquians were one of the few socially, communally adept early peoples. By virtue of their kindness and generosity toward all living things they were victimized by warring tribes and driven to extinction by the end of the 17th century. Missionaries gleaned history from the few remaining descendants along with fragments of their language. I live in the Adirondack Mountains. The Mohawk drove the Algonquians into these mountains in order to starve them out. The plan worked – over 50,000 people died the first year in “Hade-Ron-Dah” the Land of Many Trees. Many survived by eating the inner bark of pine trees and thus were labeled “Tree-Eaters” and “Bark Eaters.” This is also where many legends of little people surfaced and they helped the Algonquians.
Question: Tell me about one of these legends.
Answer: A young Algonquian girl picked berries with her mother on the riverbank and as time passed she wandered too far away. The setting sun made her aware that her mother was no longer at her side. She became frightened and began to cry when she heard a small voice with a sound like raindrops on the river. “Why do you cry little sister? I will show you the way back to your mother if you promise not to tell people that you have seen me.”
“Oh yes, I promise not to tell.” The little girl wiped away her tears and stared curiously into the brush.
A tiny man emerged no larger than her hand. His eyes were slanted and dark and his ears were long and pointed. The little girl gasped when the tiny man turned into a rabbit right before her eyes and hopped away glancing back now and then to be sure she followed.
Before too long the rabbit led the little girl back to her mother. As the rabbit hopped along the bank in the brush his foot landed in a snare and he dangled upside-down by his big feet. The little girl ran to the rabbit and pulled it free from the snare.
The girl’s mother cried, “What are you doing? We need that rabbit for food.”
The little girl held the rabbit for a moment then set it down and shooed it away. It hopped into the brush and changed back into the tiny man. With a smile the little man said, “I will always be your friend and if you come to the river again I will teach you magic.” Thus the first encounter between humans and elves formed a lasting friendship and the tiny man taught the girl the ways of magic until she was a young woman and she became the first witch in the world.
Question: Tell me about some of your Native American teachers and/or mentors.
Answer: Most of my references come from old history. Rev. Beauchamp mentioned above and the most thorough historian Alfred Billings Street published in 1840 by Hurd and Houghton. He is the author of Indian Pass, the real life adventure of the discovery of the source of the Hudson River, which is Lake Tear of the Clouds on Mt. Marcy. Algonquians believed the lake was formed from a giant’s tears weeping over a lost love.
Question: Many authors write about fairies, elves, pixies and wizards. Who are your favorite authors and why?
Answer: This is a tough one. My favorite of course is Tolkien who is the only one I’ve read and that was many years ago. I do not read other authors on this subject simply to present a clear personal view untainted by other concepts.
Question: Have you had any dealings with fairies, elves, pixies or wizards? Describe an encounter or two.
Answer: The elves and pixies in my books are shape-shifters with the ability to transform themselves into any animal they see. When I encounter a small animal friendlier than normal such as a chipmunk that will eat out of my hand, I imagine them as shape-shifters, friendly elves that will repay my act of kindness with one of their own. Imagination is a powerful tool that enables writers to paint mental pictures for others to view. One must always maintain a sense of reality in imagination – we can’t live there all the time – to do so is not healthy or wise.
Question: I hear that fairies, pixies and elves love the wilderness, especially patches of wild growing woods, garden, lawn, etc. where they can play undisturbed. Do you have a patch on your land which is "reserved" for the wee folk?
Answer: Yes, I have three acres in the middle of a six million acre state park. There are nine wild apple trees that squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, black bears and deer love. I have three bird feeders and a hummingbird feeder. Watching the wildlife is a source of entertainment for me and all appear as characters in my stories.
Question: Author Doreen Virtue says that people should give fairies, elves, pixies a mental warning when mowing the lawn or doing weed whacking, so they can get out of the way. How do you feel about that?
Answer: I do not own a lawn mower as I live in the woods. I do own a weed whacker that I use just around the stairs and doorways. Most of the weeds I have are there as wild bird food and there are hundreds of wild berry vines, blueberry bushes and I have two springs on the property one of which is deep enough for the frogs(Spring Peepers) to breed in. Sometimes they’re so loud during mating season I yell at them to shut up.
The elves series I’ve written is for children and young adults and more as a tribute to Native Americans who have lost their cultures and identities. Native Americans gave the first settlers life, saved them from starvation and taught them how to grow maize, the first form of corn, which became the number one cash crop in the world. In return, the settlers gave the Native Americans small pox, typhoid, scarlet fever, took away their lands and forced them to adopt the white man’s religions. I don’t think the elves and pixies hear our warnings and I truly wish we could hear them. What do you think they would tell us?
Question: Are you affiliated with Pagans, Wiccans or any other practitioners of magic? If not, what is your spiritual background?
Answer: This is another tough question and honesty is always best. Before white men came to the new world, Native Americans believed in their own gods and goddesses. They had many, but the primary deity was “Oh-Ke” translated “Earth Mother.” They believed the earth was a woman from whom all life came - from her oceans, her soil and her air. Oh-Ke could be seen, touched and tasted unlike the white people’s god who they claim is a ghost that lives in the sky. Oh-Ke gave life to all livings things and took all living things back inside herself when they died. I find this belief easier to accept than a story of a supernatural being that pointed a finger and made everything at the same time. I find Pagans, Wiccans and even Satanists on the same flimsy threshold as Christianity, Judaism and Islamists. All preach a doctrine of “our way is the only way” and most are willing to kill in the name of their god. Algonquians believed the only true sin was to take a human life. When all the choices are before me I can easily determine that Native Americans were much more spiritual than Christians and their God was much more benevolent.
Question: What are your favorite magical movies and what makes them special to you?
Answer: The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and the Two Towers. I loved the artistry in cinematic technique and especially the story line which was followed surprisingly well for such long books.
Question: If you didn't grow up in the Adirondack Mountains, where are you from and what led you the Adirondacks?
Answer: My family is from the Adirondacks and my father was born in Raquette Lake. He was a tool and die maker during the war and traveled all over the US setting up factories to make weapons. He was part of the team that designed machinery for Singer sewing machine company and the Underwood typewriter company to make weapons.
Question: What is the best wood for sculpting?
Answer: Several different woods are wonderful for sculpture. My favorites are Butternut and Black Walnut (same species different color), Tupelo, white pine and tulip wood. A good carving wood allows a chisel to move through the grain without binding and leaves a beautiful patina(soft glow) on the grain.
About the Author:
Jamie Sutliff is an artist/sculptor/author living in the Adirondack Mountains. He specializes in life-sized wildlife sculpture for museums and private collections, including two Museums of Natural History. His work has appeared in over a dozen national magazines, most recent, The Smithsonian, Oct., 2004. His research on early northeastern Native American tribes has led to the writing of three novels on the subject. Two of these novels in a three book series, “The Elves of Owl’s Head Mountain” and “The Land of the Nen-Us-Yok” were published in 2007 (regional small press) and awarded four star reviews from Foreword magazine for the learning curve offered to young adults with lessons in Native American languages, math, global warming and modern day issues woven through fast-paced fantasy plots.