Modernized Folklore: Blending the Natural, Spiritual, and Technological in A Snake Falls to Earth

Heavily influenced by her own Lipan Apache heritage, Darcie Little Badger’s second YA novel, A Snake Falls to Earth, expertly tells the story of an unlikely friendship. In her novel, Little Badger manages to discuss difficult and potentially controversial topics in a casual context that young adults will easily be able to understand, philosophizing on humanity’s role in topics such as climate change, cultural preservation, and extinction. A Snake Falls to Earth alternates its chapters between two protagonists: Nina and Oli. Nina is a young Lipan girl trying to understand the mysteries of her culture and the wisdom of its ancient stories. Oli is an animal spirit, a young cottonmouth snake that is the last of his siblings to be sent from his childhood home to find his own path in life. Nina lives in our world while Oli lives in the Reflecting World, a world separate from Earth inhabited by spirits and monsters. Nina and Oli have a thirst for knowledge regarding each other’s worlds, and eventually must rely on each other to save those precious to them. Little Badger manages to simultaneously tell both Nina and Oli’s coming-of-age stories, masterfully merging them in the climax so that each character can benefit from the experiences and skills of the other. As the novel shifted between the two protagonists I became more and more invested in both of their stories, my anticipation for their fated encounter growing with each passing chapter.

Nina and Oli both function as non-traditional protagonists in that their identities are not the norm for YA fiction main characters: Nina being a Lipan girl and Oli being a snake. Furthermore, many of Little Badger’s characters lend to the diverse representation present in the novel. Subtle nuances regarding identity found in A Snake Falls to Earth impart an important lesson about making assumptions based on stereotypes and provide an inclusive narrative that normalizes LGBTQ+ representation and non-binary gender expressions. Little Badger’s decision for one of her main protagonists to be a snake defies the typical representation of snakes in popular folklore and mythology as deceptive and dangerous. The same can be said about Oli’s friends, the coyote sisters Risk and Reign, since—as Oli explains but clarifies he does not believe—coyotes are stereotyped as tricksters. Little Badger’s casual inclusion of they/them pronouns and same-sex couples feels refreshingly natural, so much so that I had not noticed that a character was non-binary until I was two-thirds through the novel. Such inclusion is important for normalizing underrepresented identities and contextualizing them for young adult readers.

Extinction is a major topic in A Snake Falls to Earth, with the extinction of species on Earth having a direct and equal effect on the animal people of the Reflecting World; when a species on Earth suffers or thrives, so do their animal spirits. Little Badger points to the Bison as an example of an animal hunted to near extinction and how their extermination had an adverse effect on their spirit animal counterparts. In the present, climate change has become the newest threat to species living on Earth, with approaching hurricanes and tornadoes acting as the looming threat throughout the novel. Little Badger’s focus isn’t limited to the extinction of species, but of cultures and groups of peoples as well. In the novel’s first chapter, nine-year-old Nina struggles to understand a story told to her by her dying great-great-grandmother Rosita, a story she tells Nina is an important part of their family history. The Lipan dialect Rosita speaks has almost been lost completely, with no fluent speakers alive left to document the language after the attempted genocide of Texas natives perpetrated by the U.S. Government. Relying on a language translation app, Nina manages to save a semblance of Rosita’s story in hopes that she will one day be able to translate it accurately. A Snake Falls to Earth acts as a cautionary tale, warning readers of our potential to either intentionally or inadvertently eradicate entire species and cultures, but also offers hope for our ability to reverse the effects of such dramatic devastation.

Darcie Little Badger’s inclusion of her own Lipan cultural heritage contributes to A Snake Falls to Earth’s unique and captivating narrative while simultaneously preserving and modernizing Lipan folklore for a new generation of young readers. Little Badger’s novel refreshes these older stories in a more contemporary context, applying timeless lessons to today’s problems all while defying stereotypes and expanding identity representation in popular literature. The novel feels very personal to the author, which made it very easy to empathize with both Little Badger and her protagonists. A Snake Falls to Earth manages to satisfy while also leaving me curious about how Nina and Oli’s stories might continue; Little Badger’s novel is likely to leave readers waiting with anticipation for a sequel, just as it has left me.