Merry Jones Talks About Her Latest Harper Jennings Novel, BEHIND THE WALLS
So picture this. You’re alone in an old, rambling, decrepit mansion, unpacking ancient Pre-Columbian artifacts for your professor. The sun’s going down; the place is getting dark. You’re packing up for the day when, suddenly, something flies at your head. Is it a bat? Before you can decide, you hear a low, feline growl and fur brushes your arm. Its shadow looks like a big cat, maybe a jaguar? Suddenly another creature swoops at you from the rafters, flying again, but bigger than before. An owl?
What’s going on? Well, for Harper Jennings and other characters of BEHIND THE WALLS, what’s going on appears to be a Nahual, or a shape-shifter. You might have heard of these, but I hadn’t, not until I did research for this second Harper Jennings book, in which she encounters this eerie and possibly supernaturally powered character while working on a university archeology project.
Nahuals, it seems, had the power to change forms. They embodied shamanic powers of enlightenment and transformation, appearing as deer (symbolizing the hunt), jaguars (symbolizing power), owls (omens and messengers from the dead), dogs (guides to the underworld), and so on.
The job of a Nahual was, among other things, to protect his village, his people and their possessions against anyone who threatened them. Which might mean anyone who took their property even a few thousand years later, in the form of artifacts.
In doing research for BEHIND THE WALLS, I learned a lot about early beliefs in spiritual protectors. They weren’t limited to the Americas. All the way in Australia, Uluru (Ayers Rock) is believed to have invisible guardians; taking away pieces of rock will lead to disaster.
In Utah, arrowheads and other relics of the Ojibwe tribe are said to be cursed, leading those who plunder them to sickness, alcoholism, even suicide. (See The Guardian.co.uk)
There are dozens, maybe hundreds of such stories. Among my favorites is one about Montezuma’s gold and Peek-a-boo Canyon, Utah.Â In 1914, a guy named Freddy Crystal got a map from a medicine man in Mexico, leading him to the treasure, supposedly buried in caves in Johnson canyon.
Crystal dug for years, eventually realizing that the gold was in nearby underwater caves. But it wasn’t until 1989 that sonar detected an underwater tunnel and a chamber with high concentrations of metal. Divers successfully entered the tunnel, but each one claimed to have been chased by ghostly figures, and some experienced choking sensations. (One reportedly had had hand marks on his neck.) Every diver who entered the tunnel swore never to dive in the lake again, and residents of the area still report seeing ghosts patrolling the lake, canoeing in moonlight, etc.
So. Nahuals? Protective curses? Ghostly guardians? Do they exist? Are they merely mythical or are actual spirits timelessly protecting the treasures of their people?
Tell you what: This writer isn’t going to find out. I’m not digging or diving, not taking any old arrowheads for souvenirs. And my research is staying strictly–and safely on the Internet.
Merry Jones is the author of the Harper Jennings thrillers BEHIND THE WALLS, SUMMER SESSION. She has also written the Zoe Hayes mysteries (THE NANNY MURDERS, THE RIVER KILLINGS, THE DEADLY NEIGHBORS, THE BORROWED AND BLUE MURDERS), humor (including I LOVE HIM, BUT…) and non-fiction (including BIRTHMOTHERS). She’s a member of the Philadelphia Liars Club, Mystery Writers of America, and The Authors Guild. Visit her at MerryJones.com