Inhabit Media, a publishing start-up specializing in Inuit-themed books, scored a 2011 Q&Q Book of the Year with The Qalupalik, the tale of a boy who must trick his way out of the clutches of a creepy monster.
The Legend of the Fog follows a similar trick-the-beastie narrative track but is much less lighthearted, revelling in unrelenting darkness – both tonal and visual – that may disqualify it as a bedtime read for toddlers, but makes it all the more appealing for older children who have a taste for ghoulishness.
A young man named Quannguaviniq heads out for a spring walk after a cold, uneasy winter. On the tundra, he encounters a tuurnaq, an evil spirit in the form of a large, ogre-like man. Quannguaviniq plays dead, and the tuurnaq carries home the supposedly frozen corpse to cook and eat. When the tuurnaq falls asleep, Quannguaviniq beheads him and runs away, just ahead of the tuurnaq’s equally ghoulish wife, whom he tricks into drinking all the water in a river until she explodes rather spectacularly, leaving a thick fog on the land, the very first of its kind.
There is no real moral here – Quannguaviniq is not particularly clever, just resourceful and ballsy. The story, from octogenarian Nunavut storyteller and throat-singer Qaunaq Mikkigak and stylized by Toronto’s Joanne Schwartz, recalls the amorality and cold-bloodedness of the best ancient fables.
The prose has numerous poetic touches that complement the grim illustrations by Danny Christopher, a Toronto artist who teaches in Nunavut. Christopher’s images are worthy of a graphic novel. Small details like ghostly clouds and half-hidden skulls add to the creep-factor, and he makes the most of an Arctic colour palette, bringing much drama to a story that takes place – as befitting such a tale – primarily at night.