With an unknown leviathan on the loose and another week of deaths, it might be a good time to learn about the mysterious enigma that is the Tuunbaq.
Another episode down and still no Tuunbaq. We have seen the aftermath of encounters with this mythical beast(bodies parts and brains galore) but not even a hint of the beast itself. No shadows, no tufts of hair, not even any obligatory drool. I wrote before that this anticipation was purposeful and very effective and I still believe it. This is, after all, a beast that does not exist. It could look like anything and everything. This is the crowd funding stage of suspense. The collective imagination of the audience is creating something way worse than the showrunners or Dan Simmons could ever dream up. The mind is a tricky, scary place and given enough hints and time it will create a nightmare. Whether it’s an actual polar bear or something more sinister that is after the men of the Franklin Expedition the uncertainty is what the men latch onto and fear takes root. With that in mind, the beast has still conclusively entered the stage. In fact, last week’s heavy breathing routine outside Lady Silence’s igloo was the closest we have come so far. To help us bide our time here’s a complete guide to all things Tuunbaq to keep you occupied. In creating the monster for The Terror, Dan Simmons borrowed from many different Inuit cultures and melded together his own killing machine part polar bear part saber tooth tiger. Contrary to popular belief, Tuunbaq is a fictional creation of Dan Simmons rendered from the Inuit religious concept of Tuurngait which translates roughly to “killing spirit” In the Inuit faith Tuurngait can be either good or evil depending on the person summoning the spirit and the purpose. It is thought they were responsible for the destruction or loss of weapons, household items, and crops. They could also be helpful in protecting their master, finding food or animals for hunting and healing. Depending on the particular Inuit culture, tribesmen could invoke a particular class of things like fish or caribou or polar bears and harness the power of the animal. This could also be accomplished only by Shaman in another Inuit culture and still a third believed this could be done through idols or trinkets worn on their person. In some cases, the trinkets could number so many it was difficult to perform everyday tasks. In many ways for the D and D nerds out their Tuunbaqs sound a lot like animal familiars.
It seems Simmons and AMC preferred the idea of an idol wearing Shaman. In the last episode, several amulets were removed from the Inuit man before he was unceremoniously dumped down the ice hole. Shortly after the taking of the idols by Captain Franklin and others, Franklin is attacked, leg ripped off and also dumped down the same hole. I doubt that is a coincidence. In fact, it appears to be the invasion of the foreign expedition into the sovereign territory that is met with violence. Long before the Inuk Shaman is shot it is hinted that he either killed the sailor with tuberculosis by scaring him to death or something far more sinister. After being shot and subsequently dying the Shaman’s beast presence is felt keenly as the body count grows ever higher.
The key spirit said to be the basis for Simmon’s beast is the Innuit goddess Sedna. Said to be the ruler of marine and sea life she was as comfortable on or off the land and controlled all life within the sea. She is thought to be a vengeful goddess and would require placation to avoid her wrath in the form of favors and gifts. In addition to controlling sea life, she is also credited with controlling the weather and supernatural creations. Everything from werewhales (that sounds bad ass), seals, fish and ice tornadoes (also cool) are in her wheelhouse. There are many variations of this myth but all of them feature the gross mistreatment of a woman or girl at the hands of men, usually her father as a triggering event. It is interesting to note that with Lady Silence’s Father dead she may be the only person immune to the claws of the beast as it very well could be her father instead of a woman. It did pass by her igloo without attacking. Since we know the beast has no problem getting on and off the ship at this point it stands to reason the beast could have come into her igloo and attacked her without issue. The goddess although vengeful is nowhere near as terrifying as the beast created for this novel and series.
In the making of the AMC surprise hit, Netsilik Inuit and Inuk people were consulted and hired almost exclusively as actors and consultants (bravo AMC). Costumes were fashioned from appropriate materials and translators were used to facilitate communication between the primarily English speaking crew and actors and Inuk actors and authority. This attention to detail offers an authenticity to a show already steeped in historical content. It provides an atmosphere and environment primed for the acceptance of a mythical killing machine rooted in Inuit lore.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.