by Lara Dunning
Ravens, What a Free Spirited Bird
Living in Alaska for ten years I grew to love ravens. Each winter they would warble, cackle and crow outside my window. They’d bounce, prance and hop, so full of movement and character. Then when the warm days and long nights of summer would arrive they would vanish. I don’t know where they went. Even when I would go hiking I never saw one. I imagined them going to some otherworldly place to congregate and laugh at all the funny tricks they played on us humans over the winter. Then as soon as the “termination dust” hit the Chugach Mountains behind Anchorage I knew they would return and their playfulness would once again light up the long winter nights.
Recently, ravens have made an appearance in my stories. They start out raven-free, but as some point I say to myself ‘hey, a raven would work here.’ In my fantasy story Pearl of the Sea,
which is set in the Orkney Islands, I have a raven help the main character send a message to her Selkie village. I also wrote a flash fiction piece called Flight of the Raven
. Then, several chapters into Vampire Trackers
I had a scene that needed an ominous creature that wasn’t a vampire. As this is a paranormal story the first creature that popped into my mind was a raven. When I researched Egypt, sure enough, they have ravens too. So it fit within the perimeters of the character it would belong too.
As a writer that has uses ravens in her stories, I am impressed with how far spread and varied the myths about ravens are. To name just a few, in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, the raven is a central character in their creation story (and many other stories) and brought light (sun, moon, stars) into the darkness of the world. A story I heard at the Alaska Native Heritage Center storyteller sessions was about the mystique of baby ravens, as it’s a rarity to see one. This story was about a boy who captured a baby raven and was told the secrets of life.
In Norse mythology two ravens named Huginn and Muninn would bring Odin information of the world each day. They served as his eyes and ears, or rather messengers of thought and memory from what they had seen and heard. I’ve noticed in many European stories ravens as messengers are a popular theme. For example, the Grimm Fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty was brought to life on the silver screen by Disney. Evil Queen Maleficent sends her pet raven to scour the forest for Princess Aurora. When the raven finds her, he returns to tell her just where Aurora is hiding. In the paranormal genre, along with many scary movies, the raven is often depicted as the bringer of death, or associated with death in some way. But, knowing how funny ravens are I have a hard time associating them with gloom and doom.
Ravens are full of personality so it doesn’t surprise me that countries all over the world have made stories up about them and continue to revere them. A few months ago I watched a documentary about the ravens in the Tower of London, which are taken care of by royalty. Their well-being is believed to be tied to the prosperity of England itself. Now that’s something the Queen probably doesn’t want to test. Although if I was in charge of raising them I’d definitely be asking the baby ravens about the secrets of life.
Lara Adrienne Dunning currently lives on Fidalgo Island in the Pacific Northwest where she devotes her time to her family, her work as a Project and Administrative Manager forGEMS, LLC and her passion for writing. Lara grew up in the Mid-West and spent her childhood and teen years writing short stories and poetry. As a young adult she moved to Alaska where she lived for three years on a small island on the Aleutian chain and seven years in Anchorage. In Anchorage she earned her BA in Anthropology at the University of Alaska Anchorage as well as delving into photography and journalism. Lara continued her studies in the Indigenous Studies Graduate Program at SUNY Buffalo.Lara interests revolve around fiction, particularly fantasy, paranormal, a dash or two of historical fiction and a pinch of children's picture books.