Jason Lee Willis

Jason Lee Willis

Jason Lee Willis will be signing copies of his newest novel, “The Fire Handler,” at Paperbacks and Pieces, 429 Mankato Avenue, in Winona on Saturday, February 18, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Minnesota — the land of 10,000 legends? For Minnesota author Jason Lee Willis, he didn’t have to go far to find source material for his fantasy series, the Dreamcatcher Chronicles. As a veteran English teacher from southern Minnesota, he started his career teaching the classics from Greek mythology, and each year, he added new myths from around the world until his curriculum included legends from both the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and the Oceti Sakowin (Dakota) cultures. 

In recent years, literary series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson borrowed heavily from classic mythology, so when Willis began “world-building” for his own series, he wanted to pick something different and also close to home. Even though the Dreamcatcher Chronicles is fantasy in style, it is set in the very real context of modern Minnesota, so Willis chose to showcase legends that share common themes and aspects in the cultures that predominantly define Minnesota: Scandinavian, Christian, Anishinaabe, and Oceti Sakowin. 

For example, the malevolent Horned Serpent is found in all four cultures, ranging from the red dragon in the Book of Revelation to the Midgard serpent in the Norse tale of Ragnarok.  

In the first book of the series, “The Fire Handler,” the main character, Lily Weber, represents a melting pot of these four cultures. Her ancestry is a mixture of both Ojibwe and Dakota, and with a setting in the 1890s, she has also been exposed to her ancestral religions as well as Christianity. She is a young woman caught between changing worlds.

Similar to Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and Stephen King’s classic novel “IT,” “The Fire Handler” features a cast of young adults battling against the many-faced forces of evil. But unlike classic fantasy, the monsters and myths are uniquely Minnesota in origin.