Monday, December 21, 2009

The Story of Noichi the Blind

Chet Williamson’s short novella The Story of Noichi the Blind has an interesting fictional back story. It is presented as a Japanese folk tale, purchased in Japan by Williamson’s son, and written a century before by noted folklorist Lafcadio Hearn or one of his disciples. This is detailed in Williamson’s introduction, although the idea is discounted in the afterward by Hearn expert Dr. Alan Drew. Of course, Drew doesn’t exist, but it does add an amusing note to the story.

The story itself is written in the style of Hearn, and concerns a simple woodcutter named Noichi, who lives alone in the remote forest. Noichi is kind to all of the animals, who have in turn befriended him. One day Noichi happens upon Noriku, a servant at a brothel who has killed a samurai (by bizarre accident) and fled for her life. Noichi takes her in, and eventually marries her, and they are happy together.

The happiness ends when Noriku sickens and dies. The animals of the forest, when are so distressed to see their friend in pain, take action to make Noichi believe Noriku is still alive by inhabiting her body. The, er, interaction between Noichi and the late Noriku causes the corpse to give birth to a Tengu, a type of demon which wreaks havoc on the creatures of the forest.

The story is more interesting in concept than in execution. The "documentation" surrounding the authenticity of the story is better done than the story itself, which seems to try too hard to shock, with depictions of necrophilia and bestiality among other things. Ultimately, something of a letdown, although I imagine someone who is more of a fan of Japanese folk tales than I am might be more pleased with it.

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