Ravens get a bad rap. They have been cast as harbingers of death and doom, immortalized in mythology and literature. In Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem, The Raven, his midnight corvid visitor is described as having eyes that “have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming.” They are opportunistic feeders, known for consuming carrion, and are as willing to feast on roadkill as they are on human remains on the battlefield. Even in the shamanic cultures of indigenous North American tribes, Raven is seen as both a creator deity and a trickster, driven by his greed for food. Raven is powerful—a clever shape-shifter who can change into anything or anyone to obtain what he desires.
It is true that ravens are intelligent. Ravens and their smaller corvid cousins, crows, are social creatures that brilliantly adapt to their environment. According to John Marzluff, Professor of Wildlife Science at the University of Washington, and his co-author Tony Angell, a member of the American Ornithologists Union, ravens and crows have large forebrains similar to mammals, and demonstrate innovation in using tools and solving problems. In their book, Gifts of the Crow, Marzluff and Angell offer many examples of how corvids learn to manipulate their environment to obtain food. They recount an incident in which they observed crows working together to herd doves into high-speed traffic on an interstate near San Francisco, and then harvesting the roadkill. Near Seattle, corvids drop clams on a stretch of road near the ferry docks. When the ferries unload, cars drive over the shells, crushing them and releasing the mollusk meat. Once the unloading lane is empty, the crows converge and feast. In Tasmania, forest ravens have learned to check the pouches of dead marsupials in case there is a baby inside. Corvids also form alliances with people who feed them regularly, and remember and mob humans who have done them harm (Marzluff & Angell, 2012).
One of the reasons I feature ravens in Sign of the Throne is I admire their intelligence and ability to ad apt. When corvids bond with humans, they can be very loyal, even bringing the person gifts. I remember, as a child, hearing the Bible story of the prophet Elijah, who survived his time in exile because ravens brought him food. This story was the inspiration for Queen Eulalia’s corvid companions.
Another reason I wanted to include ravens in Sign of the Throne is that I too have a raven story. My mother told me that when I was 17 months old, I was eating crackers in our yard when a raven approached me. I shared my food with it, and it must have sensed that it was not in danger, because it stayed around long enough for my mother to grab a camera and take photos. Because of this experience, it was important to me to portray ravens in a positive light as clever, social animals. Abby, as an empath, bonds easily with animals. She and the raven Brarn become friends after she saves him from being mauled by a gang of stray cats. He becomes a guide to her, leading her to the queen, and joining her on adventures throughout The Solas Beir Trilogy. Brarn is a raven who never forgets, and always pays his debts.
Melissa Eskue Ousley