How “The Reckoner” trilogy contributes to TRC

The Reckoner: Even in Fiction, There Is Truth!

If you haven’t been following Indigenous teen superhero Cole Harper’s adventures in Wounded Sky First Nation, now is the time to catch up. The third book in David A. Robertson’s The Reckoner trilogy, “Ghosts”, is finally here—and fans will finally learn the fate of Cole’s community. While the books are fun and riveting to read, the series also invites readers into some very real topics. We spoke to David about the series, portraying mental illness, and what the series could mean for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

You mention in the acknowledgments of Strangers that the stories were really born ten years ago, while discussing stories with a friend. What were the stories you discussed that compelled you to produce The Reckoner trilogy?

Originally, The Reckoner was envisioned as a television show. A friend of mine, Jeff Ryzner, and I were discussing TV: what worked in shows we loved, what didn’t. And from that conversation, the concept of The Reckoner was born. It was really a product of influences. I think those influences are reflected, even today, in the tone of the series. Shows like Lost, X-Files, the kind of claustrophobic mystery that The Reckoner can be at times. You know, what would happen if all these terrible things were taking place in a remote community, where there was nowhere to run? Of course, over time, the series became so much more than that, but that feel is still there. Now it’s about relationships, about contemporary issues that First Nations people face, about representation, etc.

Why was it important to you to create a protagonist, Cole Harper, who struggles with the effects of trauma?

I wanted Cole Harper to be authentic. I wanted him to be an authentic representation of a Cree teenager who had become detached from his community, and what would happen if he had to return, and I wanted him to be an authentic representation of somebody living with anxiety. We don’t have a lot of protagonists who live with a mental illness, and I wanted him to be somebody that readers of all ages could relate to, people who are going through what he is going through. I think it’s empowering to know other people are living with mental health issues, whether they are real or fiction. If the representation is real, that’s what matters. Because I live with it, I could write from a place of truth. And the whole idea of Cole being a superhero, accepting that he can be a superhero, that he can be strong, even with this perceived weakness, was very important to me.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s final report illustrates how “reconciliation” means something different to everyone, but many contributors agree that reconciliation must be preceded by a time of healing and learning to decolonize. Do you believe that the Reckoner trilogy plays a role in this process, and if so, how do you hope it can impact the lives of Indigenous readers?

Sure I do. We need more stories like The Reckoner, because even in fiction there are important truths. If we read between the lines, this series addresses a lot. It has a lot to teach. It’s not for me to say what I want people to learn from it, but it’s there. You know, reconciliation is all about connecting with each other at a human level, through a lens of truth and respect, to listen and learn from each other, and to shove all the preconceptions and stereotypes aside. Books can facilitate that process very effectively. Maybe more effectively than anything else.

Did you receive any meaningful feedback from readers of the first two books in the series that stayed with you through the creation of Ghosts?

Mostly, it’s kids and adults who are living with mental health issues. And reading Cole and what he goes through, and listening to me talk about what I go through and have gone through, has helped them. This series has become a series that is at its most effective in the area of mental health awareness, and I’m proud of that. The theme of
Ghosts is really Cole accepting his anxiety as a part of who he is, and a part of what makes him a hero. That’s an important message.

Where there any scenes in Strangers, Monsters, or Ghosts that felt especially challenging to capture?

I think any scene that requires a significant emotional investment is challenging. Where you have to put a lot of yourself in it, and go places that will take something out of you. This book required a lot of that, but at the same time, it was cathartic. It’s healing to share, and I found that to be true. But, you know, writing about Cole having a panic attack can be anxiety inducing. But writing about Cole going through coping mechanisms reminds you of things you need to be doing in your own anxiety journey. 

And in terms of the subtext of some of the story, the contemporary or historical issues that The Reckoner addresses, like experimentation on kids, that can be hard, because you know it’s happened in the past, and you want to be respectful and do it in a subtle but appropriate way, with the right tone and message. So, yeah, all of that was pretty challenging. 

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