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Cry of the Taniwha, Des Hunt

May 14, 2011

Cry of the Taniwha Book blurb

Cry of the Taniwha First Page

Themes in the novel


Possible directions for study/questions to apply to Cry of the Taniwha:


  • The novel starts over a hundred years ago, switches to the present, then proceeds quickly into an action-packed mystery.  Is the mystery solved? By whom? Is there a reward for solving the mystery (and of what kind – monetary, personal growth, communal, etc.)? Who is (or are) the criminal(s)? Are they punished? By whom? How?  Are we invited to empathise with the criminal(s)?  How does this influence the story-telling (of crime fiction, for example)? Is the ending culturally acceptable in New Zealand society?
  • Why have Matt as the protagonist? … How would this book be different if Juzza told the story (or became the protagonist)?
  • How do Matt’s actions define him? (or Juzza’s or Eve’s…)  In the novel, how do one’s actions lead to consequences, that in turn, determine a character’s (or his community’s) fate? Is this a belief you agree with?
  • How is family depicted in this novel? Consider race relations, extended family, neighbourhoods, inherited forms of knowledge, etc.
  • Is there a strong sense of place in this novel?
  • How important is the setting to the story told?
  • What role does the taniwha play in this novel?  What power does the taniwha invoke?
  • Are these characters strong/weak?… (how do you know this?) How does this shape the story being told? If strong – where do they get their strength from; if weak – where does this come from?
  • Where do the main characters’ strengths/weaknesses come from/lie? Are they social, physical, internal, familial, communal, economic, spiritual, etc.? Do the characters have imagination, ‘inherent’ abilities, ‘taught’/’learned’ skills, ‘personalities’ to draw on…?
  • How are the gang members characterised? Consider different characters’ descriptions of them (Juzza, Matt, Hone, the policemen, etc.)…
  • What does Ana add to the story as a character?
  • It seems we are asked to accept that the gang members are not wholly ‘bad’.  What redeems them? Are all characters fallible in this novel?  (NOTE: I borrow this question from The Fat Man, a novel which may suit a parallel reading)
  • Is there such a thing as ‘pure evil’? Where do you stand on the nature/nurture debate?
  • Does this novel invite analysis through a lens of mana / tapu / utu?
  • Des Hunt is celebrated for his treatment of environmental issues.  What concerns are evident in this novel?  How do they influence the story told?
  • The ending is really quite utopic in its depiction of gangland behaviour.  I wonder if this very hopeful twist will ostracise certain readers (I am thinking of those who actually live in a community where they have to cope with gang behaviours and action on a daily basis).  What would such readers make of this, I would like to know…
  • A question worth asking, within a critical reading, is – how many ‘outs’ are there from ganglife?  How does this story fit with the majority of gang stories?
  • However, in spite of this utopic, hopeful twist, the text could be used to invite discussion of gangs; what makes them work as communities, within communities (and as antagonistic towards other communities); what connection do gangs have to violence, leadership, bullying, local politics, etc.?
  • To be cont…
Do visit Des Hunt’s own website:

Texts that invite comparison

Basically forthcoming…

I’m really tempted to suggest Maurice Gee’s books, but I haven’t finished thinking about it… on one level, it’s the notion of there being ‘consequences to our actions’ (that can be both simple and complex as well as minor and personal or extreme and far-reaching).  On another level, I think both authors seem to share a certain willingness to place human villainy within its everyday context… The Fat Man, which ends on a much less utopic note, might prove a worthy comparison!…

There’s a list of NCEA level 1 books online (in which The Fat Man is included) and which may offer a path for potential comparisons.  English Online have something similar.  … still thinking…

How to use this blog

Mindmaps help me think critically.  They help me see the links between things and plot a course through all the observations and questions that a text provokes when I read it ‘as a text.’  This blog is a mindmap of sorts; full of random thoughts and relevant-seeming quotations or ideas.

  • There is a tag cloud to the right of the blog, which shows the topics I am exploring as ‘tags.’
  • You can also use the search bar at the bottom of the page to see if a particular word/book/author/theme is mentioned.
  • Each time I bring an author into the discussion for the first time, I add an “Introducing the author” blog. This is easily found at the beginning of the section under that author.
  • I have a section titled ‘Blog Notes’ in which I explain my blogging style.
  • I have a ‘Literary Resources’ section which includes general ideas on literature and its study as well as the questions I apply to any text I study.
  • These questions (eg. Character Questions) may be useful to any other reader wishing to look at this text differently (refer to very early on in the blogging history of this section).
  • I absolutely welcome discussion: comments, suggestions, ideas, criticisms… please do!

Hunt’s Cry of the Taniwha: a History


None as yet, but it was a finalist in the NZ Post Book Awards, 2010, for the Junior Fiction Award

Publishing History:

First published by HarperCollinsPublishers, 2009.

Bibliography of secondary literature:

  • there’s not been much academic criticism done on Des Hunt! (14 May 2011).
  • That said, there is some reader response out there in the blogging world; check out Miss T’s Classroom, for example.  It is certainly interesting to see younger readers’ responses in their own words!!!
  • Harper Collins have put out Teachers’ Notes (freely available as a download).
  • There are interviews and reviews around the place; check out the Bay of Plenty Times or  Good Reads, for example.

Author information:

Refer earlier blog: Introducing Des Hunt  

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