A recurring theme throughout The Legend of Tyoga Weathersby is the recognition that perception – more than design – determines the ultimate utility of manufactured goods. The first instance in the book is when Tyoga struggles to remove the bear trap for Tes Qua’s lower leg:
“ . . . Tyoga realized the odd transformation that had taken place in the macabre device. Designed to entrap, maim and ultimately kill; the trap had become an instrument of a new, merciful purpose acting as a splint, holding foot to leg.
The cruel jagged teeth that ravaged and sliced were now protective and conservatory. The trap hadn’t changed, and neither had its purpose, really. But the utility of its charge had been completely revoked.”
Another occurrence wherein the construction of an object for an intended purpose is changed by circumstance happens at Tyoga and Tes Qua’s camp at the confluence of the Rapidan and Rappahanock Rivers. Weather is moving in and the young men have built a simple lean-to to keep them warm and protected from the rain through the night. When unexpected visitors arrive in the early morning mist:
“They were unarmed and defenseless.
The sanctuary of their lean-to had been transformed into a trap.”
The instance of using this literary device to convey a subtle message – and the one in which I am most pleased from a writing perspective – occurs at Tyoga’s first encounter with slavery. Brister, the slave whose freedom Tyoga purchases and who goes on to be the foreman of Twin Oaks and Tyoga’s right-hand man, is ripped down from the auction block when no one will bid for his purchase. The make-shift “auction block” is an inverted wine cask:
“ . . . now, empty and upright, its entry into the perverse pageantry unfolding in Brick House’s town square mocked its very purpose and ridiculed its intent. Serving as a stage upon which men and women were bought and sold was in stark contrast to the promise of life and liberty its contents were meant to celebrate.
Yet, the barrel had not changed. It could once again hold promise and joy. It was only the will of man that debased its purpose and bastardized its employ.”
All three instances take an object manufactured by man with a single purpose in mind, and, by circumstance, employ and perception, change all three into traps. The barrel is the object least likely to be seen as a trap, but its employ in the sale of human beings – a commerce that trapped not only a man’s body but his soul as well – is not too big a stretch for readers of The Legend.
I have always been interested in this notion of utility and perception, and – as my family will attest – I am a regular MacGyver when it comes to creating a new use for almost any “thing.” I enjoy going to antique stores filled floor-to-ceiling with objects from our past, picking up something that doesn’t look like any “thing” with which I am familiar and asking – usually out loud – “What do you think this thing was used for?” My wife, Mary Ann, and I will hold it every which way and come up with about fifty purposes for the object in hand – most of them wrong – place it back down and move on. But I never really put it down. For hours on end, I will think about the hands that crafted the object and the problem that he was solving in its creation. What did he see that others did not?
So what does all of this have to do with The Legend of Tyoga Weathersby? As it turns out – a lot. Tyoga Weathersby – just like everyone reading the book and this blog – has an intended purpose. Without getting too theological about the construct, it seems that oftentimes that utility remains a mystery to us no matter how hard we try to define the purpose of our lives. And maybe that is where we make the mistake. Perhaps the purpose defines itself rather than the other way around.
Tyoga’s life is changed on Carter’s Rock at the moment of his awakening at the tender age of six:
“His spirit broke free of its earthly bonds and soared in weightless oneness with the beams of the rising sun. All that was malevolent in the primal forest was illuminated and cast aglow with the brilliance of the dazzling light. Sounds became sight, scents could be tasted, distance could be felt and time simply dissolved. The ancient mysteries locked deep within the very bowels of Mother earth—secrets of the natural world understood only in the truth of their being—disclosed themselves to him as unembellished natural law. Secrets revealed only to those who have been granted the wisdom to not only listen—but to hear and understand—were passed on to yet another Weathersby.”
At that moment – he was forever changed. His “knowing” made him different from others to whom the Promise did not speak. But his utility was not changed. Tyoga’s transformation occurs at the moment he defeats the Runion Wolf pack’s alpha male, Wahaya-Wacon:
Inches away from the pearly fangs that had lusted for the stain of his blood, he dropped to his knees and stared deep into the wolf’s eyes. He was shocked at the clarity of his own reflection mirrored from the glassy chasm of his eyes.
Rooted in the timeless rhythmic change, metered not in years but in millennia – the serenity spilled from the pools of cocoa brown and morning gold to fill Tyoga’s soul. He shivered as waves of sensation electrified his spent body with a curious urgency that he did not recognize but understood. With resigned acceptance, he welcomed its embrace. His blood flowed through his veins with a purpose and strength that had previously been shackled by propriety and convention. He sensed more than felt the transformation that was taking place within.
What he had spent to stay alive was repaid by what had been given. In their primal struggle to defeat and to conquer, both man and wolf had surrendered something to a cause yet unknown. The part of themselves they had given to the test was reborn in a communal exchange.
Both had given. Both had received.
It was as if they had perished together in their struggle to survive, and arisen as something new. They would never be the same.
It is in that moment that the Legend is born. It is what Tyoga makes of his legendary status that I want the reader to question. How much of himself is lost in the battle with the wolf? What does he receive from Wahaya-Wacon and what does he give up? If his utility changes, does he – just like the inanimate objects described – morph into a living, breathing, human trap that ensnares not only his own soul – but those of the ones he loves? How much of what Tyoga Weathersby thinks he knows about himself is the result of self-determination; and how much is the result of the Legend he has become?
How much of what you know about yourself is the truth as you know it to be; and how much of what you think, do and say is the result of others telling you who you are and what you should be?
Don’t be trapped. Don’t trap yourself.
There is a great deal to discuss about the Legend of Tyoga Weathersby.
But you knew that it was more than a story about a wolf . . . .didn’t you?