Asleep at the Real
Mythologies are elaborate lies with deep roots and long lives. They can also be expired religions: when it comes to Zeus, we’re all atheists now. Frequently, mythologies are anchored in a culture’s folkloric past. Like their close cousins legend, lore, and religion, over time a mythology can come to support Byzantine superstructures of belief. Functionally, a mythology’s misty history confers power and credibility that a newly arrived lie cannot easily claim. Thus, mythology supports lies the way a Cottonwood tree supports parasitic mistletoe.
Mount Susitna is a landmark visible across an arm of Cook Inlet from much of the city of Anchorage. Photographed from the air, the mountain—known as the Sleeping Lady—looks fantastically, uncannily like a recumbent woman. The aerial photograph piggybacks its visual claim on a more profound assertion—that Native Americans are the first to have called the mountain the Sleeping Lady. According to legend, the mountain is a woman in a deep sleep waiting for her beloved to return, unaware he has been killed in battle. The overhead view, usually billed as a drone photo, spread widely on social media.
The aerial photograph is a purely digital creation of French artist Jean-Michel Bihorel. Not only is it an inventive fiction but it is unconnected to the Alaskan legend. The artist’s title is Winter Sleep. Moreover, the fabricated photo is paired with a fabricated fable. The indigenous legend of the Sleeping Lady waiting for her lover is an ancient legend invented only a few decades ago. As a precocious high school student in the early 1960s, Nancy Lesh, who went on to a career as a University of Alaska Anchorage librarian, wrote a story about the Sleeping Lady. She published it in Alaska Northern Lights magazine. This was followed in 1964 by a 32-page children’s book, text by Ann Dixon and paintings by Elizabeth Johns, telling the story of betrothed lovers Nekatla and Susitna. The Sleeping Lady, paperback $8.99, remains in print.