Download Skinwalkers Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Hillerman's novels about Chee and Leaphorn are fun to discuss, as well as to read. Mystery fans love the interaction of the main characters with the sometimes conflicting cultures of the Navajo and America-at-large. Skinwalkers offers ample material for stimulating discussions of cultural beliefs at variance with one another, for instance the Navajo supernatural beliefs that differ from those of Leaphorn and other police investigators. By placing Chee and Leaphorn in the same novel, Hillerman emphasizes the differing approaches to living represented by Chee's immersion in the Navajo culture and Leaphorn's rationalistic views. The characterizations are fun, the conflicts are interesting, and the mystery is engrossing, making Skinwalkers ideal for group discussions.

1. Should Chee learn to live in Landon's world? Should Landon learn to live in his? Which one is right?

2. How well depicted is cultural conflict in the novel? Does Hillerman take sides?

3. What is the Fort Sumner treaty?

4. Who is the better detective, Chee or Leaphorn?

5. How important is Navajo folklore to the plot of the novel?

6. How good are Hillerman's descriptions in Skinwalkers? Do you have a favorite one? What do you like about it?

7. Is the mystery complicated? Would it be interesting even without the cultural setting Hillerman provides?

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As in his earlier novels, Hillerman interweaves the beliefs and customs of the Navajo throughout the plot of Skinwalkers, creating a tapestry of culture that forms the backdrop to the often violent and puzzling incidents that demand the investigative talents of Leaphorn and Chee. Incorporated into the narrative are clan tales, genealogies, local folklore, even words and phrases in the Navajo tongue — all elements that lend authenticity to the novel and depth to the characters.

Hillerman also uses interior monologue — in this novel to characterize a desperate mother whose baby is dying from a congenital defect and to provide motivation for Jim Chee's often impulsive decisions — and impressionistic description — to evoke the dry beauty of the desert, the blackness of night, the smell of rain over a butte. Most characteristic of Hillerman's prose is its evocation of locale, its creation of the ambiance and moods of the Southwest desert country with its dry creek beds, mesas and buttes, rocky peaks, and dramatic sunrises and sunsets. Hillerman peoples his fictional landscape with characters whose stark lives he sketches in the vivid detail that he uses to highlight human presence in a vast landscape.

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In Skinwalkers, Hillerman highlights the clash between Navajo beliefs and white skepticism, a conflict caused by the intrusion of the modern world into traditional native American culture. At issue is the Navajo belief in the skinwalker, a witch who possesses the power to fly, to run faster than the wind, and to become a dog or a wolf. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, both Navajos, educated in state universities in the white man's world, and both policemen, embody the collision between old tribal beliefs and modern-day skepticism as they investigate a series of seemingly perpetrated by a skinwalker. Leaphorn represents logical thinking, rational questioning, and a healthy doubt about the existence of skinwalkers. Chee is more involved with traditional culture and religion, more intuitive and idealistic, more troubled at the encroachment of Western culture, and more inclined to attach importance to stories about the existence of skinwalkers.

Also personifying the conflict between white and Native Americans are Irma Onesalt, a social worker and one of the murder victims, and Dr. Bahe Yellowhorse, founder and chief benefactor of the Bad Water Clinic that provides free medical care on the reservation. Onesalt seems to have spent her last days investigating possible Medicare abuses at the clinic; Yellowhorse justifies overcharging the government by reminding himself that the Native American population has yet to receive most of what the government promised...

(The entire section is 990 words.)