1. As the narrative begins Snapping Turtle has not yet recovered from his wife’s death. He feels older than he is and lives only to find her in his dreams. How does his love for her unify the novel? How does Snapping Turtle’s wife help him throughout the story? What other dreams are important?
2. Snapping Turtle lives in North American before European settlers have arrived. His religious devotion is not Christian. Describe his attitude toward his deity and his concept of heaven. When a natural event suggests a sign from the Manit’towuk, why doesn’t he accept it without question?
3. The Lenni Lenape believe the spirits of the natural world sometimes played tricks on people. Where in the story are characters fooled? There is a saying, “Be careful what you wish for because you may receive more than you asked for.” Is it possible that the Manit’towuk used Snapping Turtle to reach a larger goal than freeing his family? When does Snapping Turtle believe the Manit’towuk have helped him?
4. What causes Snapping Turtle to awake from his lethargy? Describe his physical condition at the beginning of the story, and then cite episodes where he changes. When and why does he become more aggressive? Is his change believable? Why is Snapping Turtle able to survive while hunting and plotting against Gamek?
5. Is Snapping Turtle a hero? Is he a Christ-like character? Of which other literary characters does Snapping Turtle remind you?
6. What actions do Snapping Turtle and Osprey take that show they are caring, thoughtful, and courageous? What lessons does Osprey learn that will make him a strong leader? Does he demonstrate that strength as he assumes responsibility for the group?
7. How are we introduced to Songbird? Describe Osprey’s initial reaction to Songbird. What is Songbird’s response to Osprey? Why are they a good pair even though she is older? What do you see in their future? How did she manage to escape physical abuse from the men and boys in Gamek’s palisade? How does her role change as the story progresses? What role might she play during their final journey home?
8. What is the purpose of introducing Willow into the story? Why is her death especially sad? How does her death foreshadow a later event?
9. What helps Waterlily and Sunflower endure Gamek’s brutality? What is Waterlily’s strategy for survival? Should she have resisted Gamek more courageously? What happens to Waterlilly’s mind after she realizes her husband is dead?
10. Long before we meet Gamek, we know he is extremely dangerous. What makes him so evil? Gamek told everyone he was the son of a river spirit, making him invincible and supernatural. Does he believe the myth he spreads? Out gunned as he is, Snapping Turtle manages to inflict considerable injury to Gamek while trying to free his daughter and granddaughter. What accounts for Gamek’s recoveries?
11. When Gamek turns the table and begins hunting Snapping Turtle, what makes him seem like a beast from anticuity? The struggle between Gamek and Snapping Turtle becomes a battle between good and evil. How does this become a larger than life conflict? How is the supernatural introduced into the struggle? Who is responsible for Gamek’s death, and why do we suspect the Manit’towuk set him up? Why is there doubt in the reader’s mind about whether or not the Manit’towuk are actually helping Snapping Turtle?
12. What role does Lion play in the story? Why are many of the young women attracted to Lion? Why doesn’t Songbird respond as they do? When Lion continues his journey to visit his relatives, he leaves additional responsibilities for Snapping Turtle and the group. Do you think he will return and become a leader among these people?
13. Snapping Turtle’s death is especially sad to the reader because Snapping Turtle has worked so hard to help first his children and grandchildren and then the freed slaves and their children. How does he die with honor?
14. Some stories go in a circle, ending where they began. In what way is this true of Symphony of Spirits, and in what way isn’t it? Could you justify the thought that the novel ends happily?
15. The Lenni Lenape were called the “Peace Makers” by the warrior peoples who lived outside of their territory. Some even called the men “women” because they did not attack their neighbors. What did their neighbors misunderstand about them?
© James and Marion Applegate 2008