Hillerman’s second novel about his ‘‘new’’ detective Jim Chee allows a rare insight into its process of composition. The author’s notes prefacing the book explain how he came by the knowledge of Hopi beliefs appearing in the text, while disclaiming any pretense to authority on the subject. In an essay about his writing published well after the appearance of The Dark Wind, Hillerman mentions the novel as an illustration of his practice of beginning with a thematic idea. In this case, he says, he ‘‘wanted to expose Tribal Policeman Jim Chee to a crime motivated by revenge—a white value which has no counterpart in the Navajo culture’’ (Winks 140). In an interview with Jon Breen, Hillerman states that he was stuck on the plot of the book until he and his wife went out to a Hopi Reservation where he read in the weekly newspaper that somebody had vandalized a windmill. The newspaper story got him moving again by providing a reason he could use to put Jim Chee where he had to be in the novel. Then, when he ‘‘began thinking why the mill would be vandalized [he saw] how it could be as important as the plot’’ (Companion 60).
Suggestive as Hillerman’s direct comments are, they are less important than the indirect evidence about composition of the novel that can be inferred from two related short stories about Jim Chee. The first story, ‘‘The Witch, Yazzie, and the Nine of Clubs,’’ was published in 1981, a year before The Dark Wind appeared. The second story, ‘‘Chee’s Witch,’’