We all know that the mood and story of Balto II had a mystical connection to the Native Inuit people of Alaska, but do you know how similar Aleu's search of self really was to an actual vision quest?
"Balto II: Wolf Quest" followed the story of the heroic half-wolf
Balto and his wolfish daughter Aleu as they discovered and learned of their
proud, wild heritage, as we as Balto fanatics all know far too well. However,
the main theme of this tale isn't just about accepting your destiny and reminding
overprotective parents to let go of their children as they grow - the journey
of discovery seems to be the more obvious theme, which is perfectly set within
a world where the native peoples believe in the mysterious spirits of nature
and the importance of a normal ritual in most Native American society - the vision quest.
Vision quests are considered as a common rite of
passage for young members of a tribe or a group of Native Americans. The normal
age for a person to go on one of these quests is usually around their preteens
probably around twelve or thirteen but sometimes the spirits of the tribe
may tell children as young as five to be summoned to intake this most important
task. During these journeys, the person travels alone in the wilderness,
leaving all family behind until they receive a vision of their guardian spirit,
a creature or a person that will guide and assist the receiver for the rest of
its life. They will possibly go without eating or drinking for days (they would
have prepared themselves for this prior to setting off on their quest) and
cannot return back to their home until they have met their guardian spirit in a
vision. If they decide to eat while in the wilderness and they have yet to
receive their vision and guardian spirit, they must return home immediately and
wait a year before attempting another vision quest. The results of the person's
visions or dreams during his or her quest may show that they are meant to do or
be something great - like becoming a mighty warrior or future chief - or that
they have special power - like to become the next shaman or medicine person
within their tribe. Boys may have a ceremony once they return home to their
tribes to receive a name more suited to the results of his vision quest, just
like a young man could be given a powerful warrior name that better fits his
achievements in combat or his personality at any time. Because of this, boys
may go on many vision quests throughout his lifetime and receive numerous
names; unlike boys, girls will usually maintain their birth name after
returning from a vision quest, but depending on the situation and the vision,
they may receive a new name to reflect their spirit or the meaning of their
vision. Girls in some areas also go on vision quests themselves, but there are
some tribes that limit vision quests to boys only.
relates a lot to the events of "Wolf Quest" - not just because of the
obvious thing that they are both quests.
Aleu, Balto and Jenna's daughter and the main focus of this story, runs away from home angrily after learning the truth that she is actually part-wolf and that, unlike her brothers and sisters, she looks more like a wolf as well. She naturally goes out into the wilderness without a clue of where she was headed. After many hours of traveling and thankfully having a moment of rest inside a mountain cave, she meets a small but wise mouse named Muru that teaches her that knowing what she is ("I am Aleu, daughter of Balto and Jenna . . .") is completely different that knowing who she is, but soon he vanishes into thin air and all seems as if it was only a dream. Her father catches up with her, and despite her seriousness of wanting to discover her true purpose in life ("I know what I am but not who I am, and I'm not stopping until I find out . . ."), Balto is willing to join her on her search. Before they can settle their unsteady relationship, she scuffles with a pack of wolves and after understanding the wolf pack's problem and the solution, she ends up realizing that she is meant to be the one to lead them to where the caribou herds have traveled to ( . . . but I do belong here its my destiny.).
Many of the events of 'Wolf Quest' resemble the ritual of the vision quest:
- Going into the wilderness on a journey:
Both Balto and Aleu do this - Aleu goes to be
away from the protective eye of her father after she learns that she is
part-wolf because of his mixed blood, and eventually Balto goes off into the
wilderness to find her once her scent becomes detectable. Throughout their
separate journeys, both Father and Daughter learned something about themselves,
although they probably wouldnt have realized it; when she met Muru, Aleu
learned more about the wolf that was inside her through her singing and
actions, while Balto was more focused on finding Aleu instead of just bringing
her back to Nome. However, the only difference with this journey to the vision
quests is that vision quests are meant to be journeys taken alone; when the
bear attacks Aleu, Balto helps fight it off and soon joins her on her own
quest. I dont know whether the spirits of the Native Americans would punish
those that dont follow the rules of the vision quest, but I guess well never
- Meeting the spirit guardian:
- Having a vision:
During their first night with Nava's wolf pack, someone has a dream of the caribou crossing the ice across the water to another land - at first, we think it's Balto's dream, but Aleu awakens because of it as her father remains asleep. Apparently this is one of her first longer and more clearer visions of caribou crossing the water, for she had caught a glimpse of caribou earlier that day when Nava was speaking with Balto on his strange dreams and what they may mean. She was more confused after the glimpse, but by the end of her longer dream, she wanted to learn more about the motives of Niju and why he thought the pack was better off where they were. Because of her visions, she grew wiser and eventually learns her purpose. Also, Nava's prior words to Balto seemed to be more toward Aleu when you think about it: "Each of us has a unique gift - perhaps your dreams show us the way."
Strangely, there is something odd: Balto also receives visions in his dreams that haunt him throughout the film, so one may think that he too is on a vision quest. I believe that this may be correct, despite the fact that Balto's visions span through over a year - from the day of his children's birth until the morning after Aleu's escape - and that he had a connection with the spirits from the get-go. As mentioned above, he did go on a search for his daughter, but he ended up meeting the spirits that were mentioned to him through his last dream after Aleu ran away.
- A new name:
Or in this case, a title . . . because Aleu chose on her own to complete the journey of the wolves. She knew that Nava lacked the strength to swim to the pack (also because he told her this after she offered to help him: "Only my spirit is strong now.") and since Balto returned to save his daughter, I guess he didn't seem worthy of leading them (especially if your own child is more important than your pack). Once she realized this aloud, Nava knew his automatic judgment of Balto was wrong as well: "Aniu told me it would be the one who is wolf but does not know. I believed it was you, but I was wrong - it is your daughter." After a final farewell to her father, Aleu leaps into the water and swims to her new family and the title of Alpha that both awaited her. Although the title is not officially given to her, she still receives this new responsibility and proudly accepts it with a howling chorus once she arrives to her pack.
I suppose that by now youre wondering: "If Balto was on a vision quest, wouldn't he have a spirit guide too? I mean, Aleu met hers in the form of Muru - why not Balto?"
did - I believe that the white wolf Aniu was actually his
spirit guardian. She leads him to the different animal spirits (which she was
seen the most often as the Raven, but also she was most likely all of the other
animals he encountered - the Fox, the Wolverines and the Bear) to test his
strength and willingness to press onward to find his child. Several times in
the film, Balto tells the spirits exactly what he wanted: "How did you know
I was looking for my daughter?" - Balto to the Fox; "I'm afraid for
my daughter, and I have to find her - so get out of my way!" - Balto to
the Wolverines; "Okay, but only if you help me find my daughter." -
Balto to the Raven - and each time, they helped him by drawing him closer and
closer to where they would eventually meet.
feel that she actually meant for him to reunite with Aleu, but he was not meant
to follow her the entire way just like it was shown in his dreams, he was
constantly blocked off by an ice barrier. Perhaps that is why the ice bridge
was created - to allow Balto to remain in his world with the rest of his family
and the life that he chose (because we all know, Balto could have probably
followed the wolf roots from his mother instead of the dog-sledding genes from
his father when he was young) and let Aleu realize and accept the fate that was
meant for her by going on where he could not. And in the end, of course, Balto
learned that Aniu was his mother, the one with the same warm voice that he had
remembered when he was young (as well as the voice he heard in both his dream
describing the animal totems that he would meet and once he eventually
encountered each spirit), as well as the dark Raven that he and Aleu had seen
both in dreams and reality.
conclusion, the writers of Wolf Quest may not have meant for the story to
have so much more than just the journey
of Father and Daughter following their wild heritage in the Alaskan wilderness.
However, we as fans can no longer deny the obvious similarities with the Native
American ritual of the vision quest, as well as the many other Inuit cultural
notes and facts that lie right underneath our noses - but alas, those things
will have to wait until the next article . . .
Screenshots - taken by Juuchan17
Information about Vision Quests from the book,'North American Indian Ceremonies' by Karen Liptak(Article written 4/16-17/08 by Juuchan17)