PLUM RAIN SCROLL, THE DRAGON STONE AND THE PEONY LANTERN:
There is a fascinating and entertaining series of children's books written by Australian author, Ruth Manley in which she weaves characters and situations from Japanese mythology, folk-lore, legend and popular story-telling into a continuous narrative, describing the adventures of Taro, the Odd Job Boy at the Tachibana-ya Inn and his friends. The only other series like it I have come across in children's literature is Lloyd Alexander's 'Chronicles of Prydain' (Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, The Castle of Llyr, Taran the Wanderer, and The High King) which does the same with Welsh folklore and legend. The resemblance at times is quite close and one cannot help thinking that Ms Manley must have been influenced by the Alexander books. Even the heroes' names are similar, not to mention certain situations. Unfortunately, unlike the Prydain series which is complete, Ms Manley wrote only three books before her untimely death in 1986. Even though the first book was described as the beginning of a trilogy, she herself in later books describes them as a series. Indeed, at the conclusion of the third there are several themes that could be further expanded and certain conflicts unresolved which leads me to believe a fourth or even a fifth book might have been forth-coming.
Ruth Manley was born in 1919 in Barcaldine, Queensland. After gaining her Bachelor of Arts from Queensland University she taught German for many years before returning to university to pursue an enthusiasm for Japanese language and literature. Under Professor Joyce Ackroyd of the University of Queensland's School of Japanese, that enthusiasm became a passion. (Professor Ackroyd has been honoured by the Japanese government for her work, especially her translation and studies of the writings of Arai Hakuseki). Her first book, The Plum Rain Scroll, was published in 1978 and the following year she went to Japan on a grant from the Australia-Japan Foundation. This was her first visit, and she returned fired with even greater enthusiasm for the culture and history of old Japan. Her other interests included history, mythology, German folklore and Welsh. She died in 1986.
The three books in her series are: The Plum Rain Scroll, first published in hardcover by Hodder and Stoughton, Sydney, in 1978 was named Book of the Year by the Children's Book Council of Australia in 1979. It was published in paperback in 1980.
The Dragon Stone, first published in hardcover by Hodder & Stoughton, Sydney in 1982 and shortlisted for the 1983 Book of the Year by the Children's Book Council of Australia. It was published in paperback in 1983.
The Peony Lantern, first published in hardcover by Hodder & Stoughton, Sydney in 1987 and never released in paperback.
All of them are set in some mythical unspecified time which is no time, a parallel Japan almost, where figures from any age from the Age of the Gods onward may be encountered, a Japan of all times and eras. Their pages are filled with eccentric lords, dotty ladies, nutty monsters and ghosts and all manner of magical happenings in which favourite Japanese legends are incorporated into the story as part and parcel of the events befalling the heroes (one of the joys is that of recognition). All is written in a bright, descriptive down-to-earth style with some delicious turns of phrase.
The Plum Rain Scroll introduces us to the folk at the Tachibana-ya, an inn outside Akeshi. They will be our companions for most of the series. The hero is Taro, the Odd Job Boy, a foundling, taken in by Aunt Piety in exchange for a fan from a samurai during a civil war. Alert readers will notice similarities with Alexander's Taran, also a foundling, adopted by the magician Dalben after a civil war, whom he serves as Assistant Pig Keeper. Aunt Piety, apart from being a wonderful cook and efficient inn-keeper, is also a fox-woman who, unfortunately, knows little magic beyond how to transform herself. She is married to Uncle Thunder, a grandson of the Emperor, who is pretty useless despite his lofty manner. He is a failed soothsayer and inventor.
To the inn one day comes a troupe of strolling players led by one Henzo who pops up regularly in a variety of disguises in the series as he is an agent of Prince Hachi, a nephew of the Emperor and great hero and defender of the realm. In the troupe is a young girl named Princess Oborozukiyo (Oboro for short) and her talking panda, Tama, whom everyone thinks is a dog. Again, alert readers will notice a similarity between Oboro and Princess Eilonwy, particularly in their speech patterns, some aspects of their background and in some of the things that befall them. They are joined by other characters who become regulars such as Hiroshi the Umbrella Ghost samurai (an engaging character despite being dead),Beni, the fiery roof-watcher and Tsuki, a poetry-loving oni with nice manners.
The plot of the first book concerns the scheme of Lord Marishoten, a servant of Emma Dai-0 (king of the Underworld) to take the Imperial throne. To do this he needs the Plum Rain Scroll, a scroll as old as Japan, containing three secrets - (1) immortality; (2) turning base metals into gold; (3) the Unanswerable Word, a word of power that renders the enemy immobile. He needs Aunt Piety as she is the only one who can read the Old Language (probably Sanskrit, it occurs throughout the 3 books) in which the Scroll is written. She disappears from the inn and Taro, aged 13 in this, sets out to find her, on the way meeting up with Prince Hachi and the others. The only clue is a poem that Hiroshi overheard Marishoten's men recite but which he cannot remember.
A lot of interesting events blend in this one. The Alexander influence can also be seen in the segment near the beginning where Taro dashes headlong out of the inn in pursuit of Aunt Piety's fox form and runs into Lord Marishoten's Guards and Black Warriors from whom he is rescued by a scruffy looking old man who turns out to be Prince Hachi in disguise. This parallels Taran's dash after Hen Wen, his encounter with the Horned King and his rescue by Gwydion, also in disguise (both boys display similar disbelief at the identity of their rescuer, both are cured by herbs by him and so forth). Gwydion and Hachi share many traits in common - they are both heroes, both instigators of action, both typify the older, dependable role-model, both have famous steeds and swords.
As in the Prydain books, there is mention that the age of magic is drawing to a close and soon humans must do without divine intervention. This theme, however, is not pursued in so many words in the Manley books, though it is germane to the structure as I see it of the whole series which becomes plainer in the third book.
Another theme that crops up again is the withdrawal to an otherworldly, magical place in a time of crisis. In the first book it is a trip through 'fairyland' and meeting the King of Freaks and his court which consists of ghouls, oni, vampires, long-necked ghosts, nupperabo and so forth. In The Book of Three, Taran and company also visit the Fair Folk and the Dwarf King and travel through their realm to avoid their enemies. But theirs is a somewhat different encounter. People in Manley's books tend to be nicer, even the totally evil have their dignity pricked ever so slightly by someone's disparaging recollections of them as a child. Alexander's Cauldron Born (from The Black Cauldron) are paralleled in Marishoten's Black Warriors but these are far less of a menace, being handily disposed of by Oboro's and Tama's karate, the throws causing them to shatter.
A more substantially other world place is Inari's abode where time stands still; there is no decay or death; where Inari tends growing things and creates them for human pleasure (he bestows his newest invention, strawberries, on our heroes for their delectation). In The Dragon Stone there is the Lost House another place outside time and space where memories and lost and forgotten things can be found. The Lady there can return people's memories such as the lullaby Taro recalled his mother singing. In a way, Oboro's trip to the Dragon King's palace under the sea, to escape her enemies, in The Peony Lantern also belongs in this category.
More interesting is the way Manley has taken people from Japanese mythology and folklore and put flesh on them, adding her own ideas, idiosyncrasies or humour to them and made them part and parcel of this never-never-land Japan. Prince Hachi is a case in point. Here she has really taken little more than the name and his heroic background for Prince Eight-Thousand Spears (Yachihoko-no-kami) is another name for Okuninushi-no-mikoto, a son of Susano-o (Amaterasu's brother) who became lord of Izumo. According to the Nihon shoki, after trouble with his brothers, a descent into the Underworld, hard trials, he returned in triumph to lzumo. He had many children, two of whom were obliged to hand over Izumo to the grandson of the goddess Amaterasu. He withdrew to the Underworld and ruled over the evil deities there to prevent them from harming the living. However, in Manley's books, Prince Hachi is a nephew of the Emperor (in other words, a descendant of Amaterasu himself). She also has him actually marry Princess Kaguya (of The Bamboo Cutter's Tale) before her return to the Moon and father Oboro, tying him in with several other legends.
The Emperor is Hikohohodemi (sometimes called in English versions of the old legends, Prince Fire-flash) - he who lost his brother's magic fishing hook, descended to the Dragon King's palace beneath
the sea to retrieve it, stayed and married the Dragon King's daughter, Toyotama-hime, then lost her when he returned to the land and looked on her, against her wishes, in her dragon form as she gave birth. In Manley's books he is a wise old patriarch, very much the king whose subjects' welfare are his first and last concern, even at the cost of his own life.
In addition to these, characters from the Kojiki and Nihon Shoki ,there are characters from folklore and popular religion like Inari, god of rice and food and foxes; tengu, particularly the Tengu of Vast Supernatural Wisdom who becomes, in the books, a lofty being who prefers to stay out of human affairs, at least directly, and prattles on beside the point; baku, a dream-eater (a lavender tapir-like creature who eats bad dreams) - Manley has her not only devour the dreams but, at the request of one of the characters redirect them at an enemy, making for a most unpleasant night for him; assorted ghosts, including a lovely throwaway reference to the famous ghost of a girl forever counting plates because she broke one of a valuable set and threw herself in a well, a tale told with variations in various parts of Japan; oni; shokera (roof-watchers) (this leads to an excruciating pun. Nupperabo recalls Beni's roof-watcher father: "Alas, poor Yoriku, I knew him well - and you have the look of him."); fairies (the Lady Kokiden, an old, wizened fairy always searching for a bright shiny object talks much like the enchantress, Orddu, in The Black Cauldron, though with different intent). There is a medusa-oni who has the unlikely name of Forget-me-not and nice manners, despite her unfortunate tendency to turn people to stone when angered. The nureonna, a water woman and servant of Emma Dai-O is wholly unredeemable, being a cruel shape-changer whose true form is a giant serpent.
Japan's sacred sword, the Murakumo (one of the three imperial regalia) makes an appearance as a sword of power given to humans by the gods which only one of noble blood may draw. Taro uses it to cut a way through burning grass to save his companions because their cause is noble even if he isn't. This echoes the legend of Yamato Takeru no Mikoto who used the sword in a similar incident and, as a result, the sword was also named Kusanagi or Grass-cutting Sword, which also happens in this book. The Plum Rain Scroll itself is one of those scrolls with which Japanese legend abounds which contains a great secret which must never be read in sunlight or the writing disappears.
But there are other sources in Manley's melting pot not so obvious. One which cannot be ignored is her interest in Welsh and German mythology which lends a certain colour and universality to the story as certain motifs are common to both European and Japanese myth (swords of power, magic scrolls, 'fairies', supernatural aid to heroes, heroic quests and so forth). It also results in the Sea People being blond and blue-eyed like European mermaids and mermen.
Then there is Tama, Oboro's panda companion. Manley follows Japanese tradition about dogs being able to speak in ancient times (until one used his speech for betrayal and murder of his master) but Tama speaks in the amusingly circumlocutious flowery style made famous in the delightful Ernest Bramah books Kai Lung's Golden Hours, Kai Lung Unfolds His Mat, etc., e.g. "'This person," said Tama, "offer wholly superfluous suggestion: by concerted effort, could throw oni into river if otherwise intractable."' or "'Kowtowing before authoritative intellect of illustrious Prince," Tama said in her small, sweet voice, " humbly offer threadbare suggestion that, when sword-arm useless, cunning still remain."'
And the other source which is not Japan's myths or folklore but a piece of very recent (compared to the Kojiki - what's 25 years when you're comparing it with 1200?) Japanese popular culture, namely the television program, Onmitsu Kenshi, shown in Australia in the mid-60s under the title, The Samurai. From this she has drawn various things such as the name of her villain, Lord Marishoten ('Marishoten' was the name given to a temple of a god in one story which served as a meeting place for the villainous Fuma ninja. It was a misromanisation of the name 'Marishiten' ,a god of light, war and invisibility); and Marishoten's Guards are ninja in all but name, not only in their garb but in their abilities. Hiroshi's physical appearance suggests the hero of The Samurai, Akikusa Shintaro, namely the neat ponytail and the lovely smile, though he is rather more impetuous.
Finally, Manley's own characters (though nearly all could be said to be her own since she gives them unique personalities that may or may not have much to do with their origins). Uncle Thunder, Lord Sweet Potato, the Mampukuji family, Oboro, Aunt Piety, Aunt Akiko, to name a few, all display varying degrees of casual eccentricity. While Hikohohodemi had four grandsons ,little information is given about the three elder ones beyond some typically jawbreaking Kojiki-style names (I found reading both the Nihon shoki and Kojiki a trial while I was at university). Thus Uncle Thunder is wholly Manley's creation. And he is a delight. Pompus, self-indulgent, charmingly oblivious to everything, he carries all before him. "'Augustly deign to enter my lowly and uninviting abode," said Uncle Thunder. Actually, he had the highest opinion of his abode which, after all, was lit by his presence; but his manners were impeccable.'
Lord Sweet Potato or Mouse is a sort of Japanese Johnny Appleseed, only it's sweet potatoes he's into. He makes up for this peculiarity by being an excellent swordsman. His family is even stranger. "My parents have seven children ... but it is not too much to say that I am the only normal member of the family... " Taro reflecting on some of Mouse's utterances, could not help wondering what the rest of the family was like if their friend was normal. "Not to bore you with lengthy tales of their odd interests and goings-on, I shall just give you an example or two," said Mouse. "My honourable second-eldest brother's hobby is breeding long-tailed cocks ... well, he keeps the whole three-hundred and nine of them in his bedroom; which might not be so bad, if you don't mind the noise they make, especially crowing at daybreak. But our Lady mother's main interest in life is moving things about... Well, of course there aren't many things in the homes of this nation to move about; so Mother moves us... One was forever coming home ... to find hordes of servants changing over our apartments - a crowd of them carrying roosters on those tall perches in one direction colliding with another party toting Grandmother's collection of old geta and zori in another...Or there'd be a traffic jam between my elder sister's servants carrying her paintings - all of cats, some of them are enormous and all of them are terrible - and the ox-carts carrying father's astrology charts and other aids to understanding the wishes of the stars ... Bearing with Grandfather Fujiwara who spends the whole day and half the night making noises like a Pekingese caught under a gate, to the accompaniment of an ill-tuned harp, takes a great deal out of one. He says he is chanting stories; and declares that what Idzumo needs is more Theatre, so he is inventing Musical Drama... "
Other characters are often 'inventing' things. Tsuki, the blue oni, compiles the Manyoshu and invents haiku in later books; a Yuki Onna (Snow Woman) is whiling away the time writing Genji Monogatari as she finds humans so interesting and exciting; Aunt Piety conjures up Mt Fuji when challenged to create an island by magic, and so on.
Hiroshi became a ghost because of an umbrella and now hates the sight of them, jumping up and down on them in his fury despite being outwardly mild-mannered (somehow, one does not envision samurai, no matter how provoked, leaping up and down on umbrellas in rage. The noble Shintaro would never have tried it. This is yet another instance of the delightful incongruity that informs all three books.)
In 1980,Ruth Manley was given a grant from the Australia-Japan Foundation to spend a year in Japan.
This further immersion in Japan's myths, legends and culture shows in her later books where she increasingly uses Japanese terms (a simple example being the change to 'shuriken' when she'd used 'star knife', the term used in The Samurai) and makes wider use of legends and myths.
The Dragon Stone begins with a disastrous New Year for the family at the Tachibana-ya (whose circle
has now been increased by Oboro, Tama and Hiroshi). All the omens are bad and things go wrong, especially for Uncle Thunder whose 42nd year this is (for a Japanese man,42 is not the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything. In fact, quite the reverse.) The troubles are compounded by the well-meaning but clumsy Cousin U from Korea, another dotty character whose favourite exclamation, "See How Good!", like Avon's smile, presages disaster. The Emperor has been kidnapped and Prince Hachi and Uncle Thunder's two brothers, Arihira and Yugiri come to the Tachibana-ya secretly. Lord Marishoten,now calling himself 'Lord of Night', is free and looking for the Dragon Stone, a stone of power which can bend people to his will. This is in Uncle Thunder's ring. Tied to the Stone are the five dreaded Fuma, the dark wind of hell who can assume human form and who belong to the Hag of the Three Ways, also known as the Jewel Maid, who created the Stone to steal power from her brother, Emma Dai-O. The only way to save the Emperor and the country is for the Stone to be unmade. To do this, the friends seek help from the Three Monkeys, then the Earth Dragon who gives them an apparently meaningless prophecy which will mean the unmaking of the Stone if it is fulfilled.
In this Taro is now 15 as is Oboro and is still no wiser about his parentage, though still dreams of becoming a samurai. Oboro, however, discovers she is Prince Hachi's long lost daughter, born of his marriage to Princess Kaguya. Hints are given at the end of this story of the next book with Oboro's premonition of a dark castle by the sea and Hachi predicting the return of the Jewel Maid and dark times ahead. However, it was to be 5 years before the third book appeared, though it was scheduled for publication in 1986,not 1987.
Once again Japanese myth, legend, Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles and The Samurai blend to form an entertaining tale.
Elements of The Black Cauldron (Alexander's 2nd book of his series) can be seen in the Three Monkeys (Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil, though given their Japanese names in the book) sequence which is like Taran's encounter with the three enchantresses, Orddu, Orwen and Orgoch in the Marshes of Morva, who are a set of similarly 'chaotic' characters. Likewise, just as Taran has to give up a brooch which enabled him to dream 'true' to the enchantresses in return for their help, so Taro had to give up his native-born gift to dream 'true' to the Nuye Bird in return for his help.
This story features Taketori Monogatari (The Bamboo Cutter's Tale) retold, first in its usual form, then again to create connections with other, non-related characters and to provide an overall motive connected with the Dragon Stone, Kaguya-hime, Amaterasu and Susano-o. In this version, the Moon Princess, instead of being exiled, was sent purposely to Earth to regain the Dragon Stone and made it one of the five 'impossible' tasks she set her suitors. One of them, Otomo no Miyuki, in turn, is promoted from just some dainagon from court and a bit lazy at that to be made the instigator of the Genpei Wars (12th century civil wars between the Taira and Minamoto clans) because he possesses the Dragon Stone and it compels him to. Miyuki is a name in Taketori Monogatari, certainly, but has nothing to do with the much later and historical Genpei wars.
The Jewel Maid makes her first appearance here and returns in the third book. She is a character much like Alexander's Achren, an ambitious enchantress of splendid appearance. The original Hag of the Three Ways (Sozukaba) is one of a number of lesser deities in Hell, an old woman who, together with an old man, sits on the banks of the Sanzu no Kawa or Sozuka, the equivalent of the River Styx, and separates the crimes of the dear departed into light and serious and strips them of their clothes. The 'three' in both her soubriquet and the name of the river refers either to the three streams which make up the river or the three hells. Manley has the three refer to past, present and future which ties it in with the three in much European mythology and the Alexander books. However, there is another "Jewel Maiden" in Japanese mythology. This is Tamanoi, made famous in a noh play, who was an evil fox woman who bewitched first an Emperor of China, then the Emperor of Japan and sought to destroy the imperial line until driven out. She was exceedingly beautiful and accomplished. She took refuge in a stone, which became known as the Death Stone and was poisonous to all who came near it. Finally she was set on the road to salvation by a Buddhist priest. This 'Jewel Maid' is closer to Manley's both in her ambitions, her beauty and her accomplishments. She is also a shape-shifter who deceives our heroes on more than one occasion.
From the Kojiki and the Nihon shoki comes Sarudahiko, who led the vanguard of the escort of Ninigi, Amaterasu's grandson when he descended to Earth, but in Manley's book he becomes a rather lugubrious Marvin-esque deity who helps the heroes, all the while protesting he has no time for the Imperial house as he had to give up his throne to them. Also from the Nihon shoki is the Leech Child (Hiruko) who was the brother of Amaterasu and Susano-o. Manley 'civilised' him (through one of her characters, the badger-priest Tatsu) and makes him come to the side of good, eventually giving up his strange lifestyle (sleeping and destroying those who disturb him) by becoming the first sumo wrestler. (His reaction to Marishoten: " 'Something tells me that even Tatsu would approve if I removed you,' continued the Sleeper. 'You are the most entirely do-without-able person I have ever encountered.'"
The Heike Monogatari provides (in translation) a speech from a noh play entitled Miyuki. recited by Uncle Thunder actually the opening lines . It also provided the Nuye Bird (who turns out to be Susano-o in disguise) but Manley gives him his distinctly annoying personality. '"Whatever you portend, our situation can't get much worse," Taro said dispiritedly. "Oh, can't it!" the Nuye Bird told him cheerfully. "Care to guess who's coming up the garden path, spoiling the moonlight and exploding with fury because the Mikado isn't obligingly waiting in the Wind Fort to be despatched?" ...A moment later Lord Marishoten accompanied by Lord Owari, six soldiers and the four Fuma burst in...... The doom-laden Black Iris Lord himself!" announced the Nuye Bird. "Shoot that intolerable bird!" cried Marishoten, shaking with rage. "You must be crazy if you imagine I'd let the Mikado out!" Saruda spoke with more spirit than Taro had expected of him. "Why should I? He has my throne, hasn't he? ... But I don't like you, Marishoten, and I've never met anybody else who did, either. You have absolutely no redeeming qualities."
"'A simple yet astute judgment," remarked the Nuye Bird.
"'Curse you, you abominable bird!" screamed Marishoten, turning purple with fury.
"'Be careful," warned the Nuye Bird. "He who curses another does well to have two graves ready."'
The Heike also provides the name of the great sword in this story. the Shishi-O, which was presented to Minamoto Yorinaga (1106-1180) for killing a monster which sat on the roof of the imperial palace and disturbed the emperor and made him ill, in 1153. This monster was, interestingly, said to be the Nuye Bird. In Manley's story this sword is given by the Leech Child to Taro. It had been the treasure of the Moon Lords and given to humans to help them. Prince Hachi believes that it was given to Taro because he has great work to do in the future to defend the land, possibly from the Jewel Maid who will want vengeance:.
However, much of the details comes from folklore, some very familiar. One major character is Hoichi, the blind minstrel who performs for the dead Heike warriors, made famous by Lafcadio Hearn's short story. Another is Lady Yuki, also famous in Hearn as Yuki Onna, but here quite transformed, unlike Hoichi. She is a friendly soul, a novelist who craves adventure and comes out with inappropriate responses to extreme peril like 'How exciting!'. Then there is Kozeri, who is borrowed from the folk story, "Princess Parsley" about a girl who gathers parsley for soup for her grandmother and who fails to notice an imperial procession. In this the grandmother is O-Iko, an old but strong lady who teaches wrestling to mountain giants and invents kites. O-Iko is a legendary figure from Ishikawa Prefecture and is one of a number of strong old ladies in Japanese folklore. The imperial prince whom Kozeri fails to bow to here is Uncle Thunder's pompous younger brother, Yugiri. Hearn's story of the crying girl who turns to reveal a smooth blank face and subsequent encounter with an apparently normal noodle-seller nearby , who also reveals a blank face occurs as a segment near the beginning, involving the Fuma girl, Nyosan,in the crying girl role, and Taro and friends the horrified witnesses. This incident helps establish Nyosan's basic humanity unlike the other Fuma. Another popular story, the 'How Now Tea Cup', forms one of the themes of the book, viz. a scruffy teacup purchased as a gift by Cousin U in the belief it was of value because a well-known tea connoisseur studied it, and goes on to become an even more wonderful piece of 'art' with assorted magical properties, finally being signed by the emperor and purchased for a fantastic sum, is an important clue in the unmaking of the Dragon Stone. Jinnai the Highwayman (the 17th century hero of The Tale of Jinnai and His Thirty Rogues) appears as a cheerfully disinterested party helping neither side, only himself. Folklore characters such as 'kobito' (quite literally 'little people'), yama-otoko (mountain giants),a tanuki who's a priest and others also appear.
From The Samurai comes the name Fuma, though in the TV series, it referred to a ninja group. As 'Fuma' literally means 'wind demon' it is not hard to see how Manley derived her Fuma who are hellish, unkillable creatures whose touch, when their faces are blank, is deadly. Marishoten's ninja-like Guards feature in this again, under the command of one Genjiro. The alias Marishoten used, 'Lord of Night' was used by the Lord of Owari in one story in The Samurai (interestingly, Lord Owari turns up in Manley's book but as a tea connoisseur and ally of Marishoten),one of the shogun's cousins who was plotting against the shogun and using seven Phantom Ninja, under the command of Kongo of Koga, an alias of Fuma Kotaro,to carry it out. Susano-o's fan which he used to draw the Dragon Stone to him and to protect himself from its influence is called not only the Undying Rose or the Heavenly Rose but also the Wind-Thunder Fan (and was used to raise storms). 'Wind-Thunder' was the name of one of the mirrors leading to a secret treasure in another story in The Samurai, a story which dealt with the Fuma ninja at length. 'Wind Fort' a set of caves where the Emperor was taken for Marishoten to collect, was the name of a location in the same Samurai story, also connected with buried treasure.
The Peony Lantern is set a further two years later when Taro and Oboro are 17. It is spring and a series of disasters, especially in Settsu, are attributed by the people to the loss of divine favour. Notices appear about the coming of a new emperor fanning belief that somehow the current emperor is at fault. A great bell rings once then is silent as are all the bells in the country. Is this a warning? Or acry for help? Oboro and Taro are growing up. Oboro is to go to the capital to train with Aunt Akiko(Prince Hachi's sister) to be Empress. Akiko is dismayed because she considers Oboro hoydenish and wants this honour to go to her own daughter, Kesa. Taro is to train as a samurai (having been made a minor one by Hachi in view of the crisis) with Mouse. He needs to learn how to use the Sword of Life (Shishi-O) which so far has done nothing spectacular or unusual.
The Jewel Maiden and Marishoten, now brought back from the dead by her magic in an undead state, have returned. The Jewel Maid has learned dark magic in Mongolia to replace the powers she lost when the Dragon Stone was destroyed. She plans to seize the throne, first causing disquiet among the people so they believe the emperor has done wrong and angered the gods (the notices are her work), then by finding the treasure of Settsu, a great wealth created by the Sea People for the people of Idzumo. To do this she employs a band of ninja (now so named for the first time) to search out the clues to its location. Finally she captures Oboro, with the aid of a Mongolian magician, Uzbeg Toktu,to force out of her the whereabouts of the Windflowers or Tide Turning Jewels, given to Hikohohodemi by the Dragon King to aid him against his brother. She also impersonates Oboro so as to be able to marry Marishoten and place him on the throne. (The emperor must marry a princess of the Tenson line, which Oboro is but the Jewel Maid is not). She needs the Tide Turning Jewels to aid the Mongol fleet to invade Japan, and to restore Marishoten to life. The emperor is placed under a spell, Oboro is held captive in a castle near the sea, one of the band of heroes gives up his life to save her, and Taro learns his true parentage before the story's end. The Jewel Maid and Marishoten, now restored to life, manage to escape with the treasure.
This one really is a cocktail what with not only characters from Japan's ancient chronicles and folklore but the addition of the 13th century Mongol Invasion and the 17th century Chinese pirate, Kokusenya (sometimes called Koxinga). Like Alexander's 3rd story, The Castle-of Llyr, the princess character goes, very much against her will ,to learn how to be an empress, from a rather stuffy aunt who thinks her rough and unruly. Like Eilonwy, Oboro is captured by the villainess but she is not under the same pressure nor does she have the same heroic struggle to make her choice between good and evil. She must either escape or die.
Just as in The Dragon Stone where the focal legend was The Bamboo Cutter's Tale, so in this it is the story from the Kojiki and Nihon shoki about Prince Fire-flash and Prince Fire-fade and the magic jewels. This is the story alluded to earlier about the two sons of Ninigi, one of whom was a hunter with a magic bow, and the other a fisher with a magic hook. One day they changed places and Prince Fire-flash lost his brother's magic hook and went to the Dragon King's palace to find it, met and married his daughter but eventually returned to the land with two magic jewels, one of which caused the tide to ebb, the other to flow.
Whereas in the first book, the sacred sword, Kusanagi or Murakumo, was featured, so in this story another of Japan's imperial regalia appears, namely the magatama beads, i.e. the sacred necklace, which turns out to be the necklace Oboro always wears, given to her by her grandmother.
Also from the ancient chronicles comes the Red Crow of the Sun, a bird sent by Amaterasu to help the Emperor Jinmu in his conquest of the East. In this story it has a 'walk-on role', seeing Oboro in danger and reporting it to Kokusenya and Taro, with the notice that it always appears when a new emperor is to be chosen (though, it points out, that is not why it was there at that time).
From folklore we have a charming nushi girl, Green Willow, who is the black sheep of her family because she is kind and doesn't lure people to their deaths but wants to help. She makes Taro's acquaintance because, being such a poor cook, she is hungry and attracted by his lunch-box. However, her mother, the nushi queen, is ill-tempered and a true nushi, but her hatred of the Jewel Maid and liking for Lady Murasaki (actually Taro's mother) saves him. Then there is the samebito (shark-person who cries jewel tears) who originally appeared in a folk tale about a samurai, Totaro, who finds one on Seta Bridge and takes it home to live in his pond, feeling sorry for it for it is an exile from the Dragon King's palace. It repays his kindness, inadvertently, by weeping in sympathy at Totaro's illness caused by love for an unattainably wealthy maiden. With the jewels wept by the samebito, Totaro is able to marry her. Large white sea serpents and wooden statues buried undersea in caves to bewitch people occur in a somewhat more sinister mode in the story of Tokoyo who finds an image of Hojo Takatoki while battling a white sea serpent who demanded a sacrifice of a young girl. In The Peony Lantern, however, the sea serpent is a gentle agent of the sea king who finds the wooden image of the Emperor in a cave. The shojomin, the pink-skinned, red-haired small human-shaped sea beings who brew a special sake capable of curing illness in humans and bestowing immortality on themselves, also appear to cure Prince Hachi of a poisoned wound inflicted by ninja.
One of the most important characters in the story is quite minor in folklore and that is Shippeitaro. In the book he is looked on as someone who will come to save the people of Idzumo and is equated eventually with the spirit of the cherry blossom, of the great bell of Idzumo and of the land itself when one of the chief villains reveals himself to be Shippeitaro in disguise and to have been helping the side of good all along. This is a logical expansion, in all senses of the original story which appears in the Konjaku Monogatari (Tales of Times Now Past) and various parts of Japan. In that, a wandering abbot (or samurai, etc.) is passing through a village and finds in one house great sorrow as the daughter is to go to a temple in the mountains as a sacrifice to a god. He goes to the temple at night and finds a crowd of phantom cats (or monkeys, badgers, foxes, etc.) who say to each other, "Tell it not to Shippeitaro" over and over again (this cryptic line is used in The Peony Lantern only it is the ninja, not cats, who utter it). On making enquiries in the village, the abbot discovers that Shippeitaro is the name of a dog, which he secures. He then dresses as the girl and gets into the cage with the dog in which she is to be taken to them temple. On arrival he sets the dog on the cats. Shippeitaro kills the leader and the rest run away, leaving the village in peace. This story is generally seen as an explanation of the origin of dog-worship or festivals in some districts of Japan.
Another well-known story, that of the shirabyoshi and the painter, forms an important part of the novel with Lady Murasaki and Taro in the prominent roles in a sequence as poignant as the original, though Taro is not a painter and the scene leads directly to the uncovering of one of the clues to the Treasure of Settsu. History and mythology mix with O-Kuni, a friend of Oboro's and strolling player, for she is that O-Kuni who created kabuki in the 17th century but in The Peony Lantern, she is also the fairy who came down from heaven to bathe in the sea, leaving her feathered robe on a tree branch where it was stolen by a fisherman who would not return it unless she married him. She refused and was stranded on Earth. (This story is the subject of the noh play, Hagoromo).
History is poached (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) for the Mongol invasion and 'kamikaze" (here the result of the Tide Turning Jewels) and Kokusenya, that big fierce pirate, turns out to be Baron Hojo's old mother as all the people of Settsu are pirates. Kokusenya, or Tei Seiko (1624-1662) was half Chinese and half Japanese, his father having founded a great commercial empire and supported the Ming dynasty against the Manchu, a fight carried on by Kokusenya who went to Taiwan and expelled the Dutch who supported the Manchus. He died aged 39 while preparing for an expedition against the Philippines.
Princess Akiko is an original character, very ladylike but hypocritical and spiteful, the epitome of those females (usually headmistresses) who admonished one about 'unladylike' behaviour. "'Aunt Akikonomu says that a nice little girl is Never Too Young to start training herself to be a gentle and docile wife," Oboro told him. "Whenever my cousins do anything even slightly spirited, Aunt looks reproachful and says, 'Mother grieves so when Her Girls forget that they're little ladies; it hurts Mother so to see hoydenish behaviour...'". However, her younger daughter, Haruko, collects caterpillars and seems to be modelled on the young lady in the Tsutsumi Chungon Monogatari segment, 'The Lady Who Loved Caterpillars' in her non-conformity.
Lady Murasaki is modelled on the shirabyoshi in the above mentioned story while her nameless, high-born, consumptive lover becomes Prince Ugai Fukiaezu, son of Hikohohodemi (Prince Fire-flash) and Toyotamahime (Princess Abundant Pearl), the Dragon King's daughter. (Prince Ugai actually married his aunt, Tamayorihime, in the ancient records). Taro was the only child of that marriage and was given away because Murasaki also had consumption and didn't want to infect him. Anyone who knows anything of Japanese legend would realise who Taro really is - or will be: none other than Jinmu Tenno, Japan's first mortal emperor. Confirmation of this is given when it is announced at the end of The Peony Lantern he will bear the honorary title Kamu Ihare Biko no Mikoto, which was one of Jinmu's names. This ties in, too, with the Alexander books for Taran is left as the first mortal High King of Prydain (Wales) though his birth is nowhere near as exalted as Taro's (great-great-grandson of the Sun Goddess on his father's side).
Finally, from The Samurai ninja, this time mentioned by name and described: "Black Assassins, creatures of dark places, of night and death.. The most dangerous foes on earth ... Merciless ,highly trained and disciplined killers, expert poisoners, peerless spies versed in hypnotism that verged on Kurokage, Black Magic." Their leader, Spider Dogan, bears the name of several from The Samurai. Dogan was the name of a master Iga ninja who trained one of the villains, Momochi Genkuro. And there were a number of Spider Ninja in the series. 'Genkuro' is the name of one of the ninja Henzo follows and is killed by Beni. More interesting is 'Saji Kongo' who is Shippeitaro in disguise. 'Kongo' was another name for the chief villain in The Samurai, Fuma Kotaro,
and the description given of him in the book is as he appeared in the Fuma story, right down to the brocade haori and his "all-seeing" bright dark eyes. The section where Saji Kongo is introduced is actually a sequence taken directly from the Fuma story. In that, Shintaro disguised himself as a ninja and infiltrated a meeting of the Fuma in a deserted temple of Marishiten. Kotaro emerges from behind the statue of the god, starts to speak but senses strangers in their midst, whereupon the assembled ninja rise and pursue Shintaro to the river where one cuts him down and he falls wounded into the water. In The Peony Lantern, it is Spider Dogan who conducts the meeting in the temple and who senses Henzo disguised as a ninja. Henzo flees with the ninja in pursuit to the river bank where he is wounded.
As in the Fuma story, there is a secret treasure (that in the TV series was buried by the Hojo family in the 16th century) and mirrors give clues to its whereabouts (three in The Samurai, four in The Peony Lantern). In The Samurai there were also three maps; in The Peony Lantern there are three verses. The mirrors in The Samurai were Wind-Thunder, Fire-Dragon and Water-Tiger. In The Peony Lantern, they are Black Dragon Wind Mirror, Red Phoenix Fire Mirror, White Tiger Water Mirror and Yellow Tortoise Earth Mirror. Like those in The Samurai they are silver 8-sided mirrors with part of a map on the back.
One final item of great amusement to fans of The Samurai is the name of the disappearing pig - Shusaku. Shusaku was the standard obnoxious 8 year old brat with which many Japanese children's TV shows are cursed. Naming a rather useless pig after him is poetic justice. This pig ties in with the Alexander books which also had a prophetic pig ,Hen Wen. But Shusaku turns green when there's trouble and if things are going to be really bad, it gradually disappears (turns invisible.)
As intimated earlier, this series doesn't actually end as there are loose ends, though the stories are complete in themselves. If we regard The Peony Lantern as the equivalent of The Castle of Llyr (though it is more sombre in tone), there would be room for an equivalent of Taran the Wanderer (where Taro grows up - Oboro having done that in The Peony Lantern) and The High King where he comes into his inheritance. Parts of The Peony Lantern, towards the end read a little rushed and there is one startling switch of scene that seems as though something got left out. It may well be that Manley died before quite finishing it or polishing it.
At the end of The Peony Lantern, if we look at the main characters, this is the situation. Taro has been made a samurai at 17 by Prince Hachi, he has a great sword destined to do great deeds which has protected him twice, once of its own accord. He had learned fencing from the inn handyman but is still not a good swordsman yet. Although he set out for Kyoto and training with Mouse, events intervened and that training has not yet begun. So he still has to undergo training, an important part of sagas like these and Japanese stories especially. There is still the prophecy of the Sword of Life being used by a great hero to defend Idzumo. There is also the question of vengeance on Spider Dogan (who was still alive at the end of The Peony Lantern) for killing his mother, Lady Murasaki. The Jewel Maid and the fully restored Lord Marishoten are still alive. Shippeitaro said he would be needed later and will return so obviously a future confrontation was planned. To date Taro's role has been fairly passive. He has come up with some good ideas and suggestions, has been the leader for a short period, but has not really acted independently, not done any real fighting himself, though unlike Taran, he knows who he is and displays more maturity at an earlier age. What of his relationship with Oboro? And there is also the question of vengeance for Prince Hachi's death, the fate of Uzbeg Toktu, who was also still alive and a prisoner of Kokusenya at the end, and the question of who, out of the four grandsons of Hikohohodemi will be he next Emperor (we know it is Jinmu but this still has to be resolved especially given Yugiri's ambitions). And there is considerable scope for further books on the adventures of Jinmu after he became emperor and conquered Yamato (though this may have been beyond Manley's intentions). There is the possibility of a story involving the sacred mirror as we've had stories involving the sword and the jewels.
Oboro's case is a bit more set. She has been depicted growing into her role as Empress. She's kind and generous and has a naturally regal bearing. However, she, like Taro, never actually undergoes formal training because the Jewel Maid takes her place. Nor is there any indication she will resume it at the end of the book, unlike with Eilonwy in The Castle of Llyr. Also to be resolved is the question of her husband out of the various possibilities (Taro still does not see himself as a contender and is still a very long way from the imperial throne); her reaction to her father's death; her future relations with Aunt Akiko and family after Kesa's betrayal and her reconciliation to her destiny as Empress.
However, we can only speculate how the series might have turned out. The three books are all. we have unless someone else feels emboldened to carry on, which is rather unlikely (Ruth Manley herself spoke of the heaviness of the problems and burdens of writing such a series, though considered herself well rewarded by the enthusiasm of her young readers). We should just be grateful that we do have those three books for their imagination and charm and the fact that they make so much of Japan's legends and folklore familiar in an accessible way to a whole generation of children.
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