Literary Techniques

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439

Although Sacred Ground has many plot devices of the mystery novel, its structure is unusual. Lackey uses a multiple point of view approach, following several different characters as significant things happen to them, although most of the novel focuses on Jennifer. This in itself is not unusual. But early on, the villain is shown planting the artifacts and the bomb charge. Furthermore, because this scene is told from his point of view, the reader also learns his reasons. Thus the traditional mystery question of "who dunnit" — or, in some newer mysteries, "why he did it" — cannot provide suspense to drive the story.

In its place the author uses two methods common in modern fantasy: the parallel battle on a supernatural plane and increasing danger, building up to a series of action-sequences. These are employed very effectively, so that the story acquires more tension just at the point where it seems Jennifer has solved the mystery. When she is thrown into the dark waters of the reservoir, the reader is likely to know that she will emerge somehow, to face even greater tests ahead. But there is still fascination in the suspense of seeing how she is saved. The biggest surprise in the book's latter half is the discovery of Watches-Over-The-Land's devouring antagonist, and how Calligan's crime has turned him loose on the world. In the final scenes, Jennifer's pursuit of Calligan's goons in a car chase up a winding road parallels Kestrel's aerial pursuit of three Black Birds. And a knife-fight and narrow escape at the developer's shack is preceded by a struggle in the spirit realm. Kestrel and Mooncrow face the taunting evil force there and survive by shape changing into the different animal forms they have met in their spirit travels.

Lackey has added a curious one-page postscript to the novel. In it, she cites the source she used as background for the tale and denies having expertise on Native American religions. It seems written to ward off any criticism the book might draw for inaccuracy, or for an outsider attempting to understand Indian ways.

In this note she repeatedly states that the book was written for entertainment only. A similar statement frequently appears in fanzines which consist of stories set in media-based science fiction worlds such as that of Star Trek. Its purpose there is to disclaim a profit motive and thus avoid copyright problems. This is obviously not Lackey's motive. Perhaps one should take her at her word — that she means only to tell an entertaining tale — but the popularity of magic in her books seems to indicate they have a deeper appeal as well.

Social Concerns

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 596

Sacred Ground is full of social concerns. The plot revolves around stolen Native American remains and relics. Much pain — both human and supernatural — follows their disturbance.

Four men are killed when a bulldozer blows up, just moments after the bones are rediscovered on a building site. As the story unfolds, we learn that they were taken for even worse reasons than the usual collectors' motives: to use as bait in a complicated insurance fraud scheme.

In placing these remains and relics at the story's center, Lackey makes three related points. The majority white culture has exploited and disrespected Native Americans' sacred beliefs and objects. As the Native American characters explain several times, we would be horrified to have our own ancestors' remains dug up and holy objects from our churches sold at collectors' fairs. Additionally, it is not merely a question of respect for Native Americans' sensibilities and culture. As events go from bad to worse, it becomes at least thinkable that the buried objects may actually contain forces which are loosed at our peril. Finally, the disturbed relics serve as a metaphor for the bad treatment and broken promises to Native Americans in American history.

While these issues are discussed at length in the narrative, the protagonist's attitude toward them is more moderate than that of many Indian rights advocates. Jennifer Talldeer, a P.I. (private investigator), does seek out unaware holders of tribal artifacts, trying to regain the objects for their rightful owners. She even does this as an uncompensated sideline. But she sees no harm in university experts holding them temporarily for study. All the Native American objects in the story date from the nineteenth century and clearly belong to some existing tribe, so the thorny issue of the ownership of very ancient, unidentifiable remains does not come up. Jennifer even has some kind words for the modern Bureau of Indian Affairs and has broken with her former boyfriend because he seems more interested in declaiming about Indian rights than in finding a calling for himself.

Another featured social issue is domestic violence. It enters the story when Jennifer interviews the developer's wife, becomes her friend, and soon realizes that Toni is deathly afraid of her own husband. This issue also is treated didactically as well as dramatically. The working-out of this subplot shows that a man who does not hesitate at violence in his business dealings will probably use it at home too, or vice versa. Toni eventually flees to a shelter. The author's purpose seems more to raise awareness than to suggest further solutions of the problem — a point which echoes our society's present approach.

Environmental wholeness is a third major concern. The developer's riverside project disturbs more than bones; it threatens an eagle nesting site. There are implications that global warming is making Oklahoma's summers wetter and causing large chunks of land to wash away. And during Jennifer's experiences in her other identity as a Medicine Woman apprentice, she comes to see the world as a web of living things, and its animal inhabitants as archetypal, sacred beings.

Other contemporary problems also enter the story briefly. Ticky-tacky suburbs, intimidating male body language, and New Age exploitation of Native American religion each get a page or two of attention. Bizarre features of Oklahoma law affect the way Jennifer operates. In whole, the novel seems consciously to be aimed at "political correctness." Such messages do not interfere with the fast-paced story line, but a sophisticated reader, even one who holds similar views, may wish they had been treated a bit more subtly.

Literary Precedents

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 106

The book's Native American characters and setting inevitably suggest comparison with Tony Hillerman's Navajo mysteries and Jean Hager's recently published Molly Bearpaw series. Hager's mysteries are also set in Oklahoma with Cherokee characters and a female Native American protagonist.

Jennifer Talldeer more closely resembles Hillerman's Jim Chee, however, in her ambition to become a shaman. Like Jennifer, Chee frequently uses his knowledge of tribal lore in solving seemingly mundane crimes. Unlike her, he has not yet had to battle evil beings on a supernatural plane. Hillerman's mysteries, with the same protagonists in an ongoing series, show more main character development and more about the cultural background.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access



Teaching Guide