Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Two Gothic Horror Stories-Japan versus Ireland

"The Brown Man" by Gerald Griffin (1833, 7 pages, Ireland)
"In the Forest, Under the Cherries in Full Bloom"  by Ango Sakaguchi  (1947, 19 pages, Japan)

Japan versus Ireland
Two Macabre Tales of Demons
From Two Centuries and Two Continents 
The R. I. P. Reading Challenge

Every fall season as Halloween approaches, Carl V of Stainless Steel Droppings begins the R. I. P. reading challenge focusing on Gothic, paranormal and horror works.   (The full rules for the event are on the challenge web page but Carl has made it easy and fun for all to join in.)   I participated in the challenge in 2009 and am doing so again this year.   I recently reviewed Mitzi Szereto's collection of gothic paranomal short stories, Red Velvet and Absinthe:  Paranormal Erotic Romance which was a perfect fit for the challenge.

Today I want to take a brief look at two Gothic Horror stories I recently read and liked a lot, one from Japan in the twentieth century and one from Ireland in the ninetieth.  

Both stories are from Oxford collections of short stories, one stories from Irish authors, one of Japanese authors.   There are 10,000 miles and 100 years between these two stories but they are really very similar.   In the introduction to The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories, Theodore Goossen says that in Japan the short story was considered a purer art form as it was closer to Japanese literary traditions than the novel.   In his introduction to The Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories, William Trevor says the short story has evolved as the primary Irish literary vehicle.   In part this was due to seeing it as an extension of the folk tale and in part Trevor says for much of its history the Irish did not have the extended leisure for writing and even reading novels (he said that was for the English!).   Both of the stories are set in sort of haunted woods type of areas, both deal with ghoulish murders,  both have strong paranormal elements, and both end tragically.   Both of the stories are about very poisonous  marriages and about the contrast of the lives of the rich and the poor as well as city versus country people.

Gerald Griffin (1803 to 1840-Lemerick, Ireland) began his writing career working for a newspaper and then began to write fiction.   His most famous work is a novel centering on a murder, The Collegians.   He died at thirty six of typhus.   "The Brown Man" begins with a beautiful young maiden living alone  in a remote cabin with her widowed mother.   Suddenly a strange horseman rides up to the door of their cottage and tells them he is has come to marry the daughter.    He promises to make the daughter a lady with servants so the mother agrees.   He leaves with the daughter and they arrive at  his estate in the middle of the Mangerton mountains.   It  turns out his house is in a wild bog and  is much worse than that of her mothers.   She is to eat only potatoes and sleep in straw.  To make matters worse, in the middle of the night her husband will say, not to her even though they are alone, "I'm coming" and leave their bed and return an hour later as cold as ice.

One night there is a loud knock on their door.  Someone yells through the door, "The earth is tossed up, and I am hungry.  Hurry, Hurry, Hurry if you would not lose all".   The wife follows him about in secret.   Her husband and a wild dog go to an open grave in a church.    The atmosphere and locale are very well realized to make it scary.   Her husband, his horse and the strange dog like creature all have glowing red eyes and all are eating something.   I will leave the rest of the story untold other than to say that when her mother comes for a visit it does not end well!   This a first rate very well written example of the Irish Gothic horror  story.  In part  it is a  story of the consequences of the terrible Irish Famines of the  times.

"In the Forest, Under the Cherries in Full Bloom"  by Ango Sakaguchi(1906 to 1955-Japan) was written right after the Japanese psyche had suffered a terrible blow from multiple sources related to their defeat in WWII.    It was a time of great suffering for the common people.   His father  owned a newspaper and was a well known poet.     Sakaguchi (his name is sometimes reversed) first rose up in the public eye with a 1946 essay "Decadence" in which he indicated the Bushido code was in part responsible for the horrors of WWII.

Just like "The Brown Man", the lead  male in this story preys upon others for a living.   He is a country bandit who robs and in many cases kills city dwellers that pass through the remote mountains where he rules.  He has been doing this for many years.    He has taken seven women he made widows as his wives.    One day he kills a man in the course of robbing him and he is totally mesmerized by the beauty of his wife.   He tells her she will come back with him to his home and become one of his wives.   Once she gets there the other wives are appalled and horrified as she demands the bandit kill them all, sparing only the ugliest one to be a maid.    The new wife begins to make demands on  the bandit for expensive items beyond his understanding.    She also begins to make a collection of the heads of the people he kills.   She imagines the head of a merchant is having an affair with the head of a geisha.   We are given a very "creepy" description of  this and the decay of  the heads.  She makes him move to the city and he is miserable there.      The ending of this story is very scary and the bandit does get what he deserves.

Both of these stories are fun to read and are pretty scary.  I think both arose from and reflect very dark periods in the history of  Japan and Ireland.   I think both authors would like and relate to the story of the other.

I read both of these stories in the Oxford collections I mentioned.

"The Brown Man" can be read online  or downloaded along with a lot of his other work at The Internet Archives.

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

Fantastic post, loving the idea of linking the 2 nations via these similar tales, have ordered & am waiting on my oxford J-lit, am thinking of adding the irish one to my collection. Thanks.

Mel u said...

Parrish Lantern-thanks very much-the Oxford collections are both very good books-I will be eager to hear of your reaction to the works in the Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories

Órfhlaith Foyle said...

Hello Mel u,
I recognised Brown's story as I read your post- I must have read the story once and it has now re-ignited in my memory.Sakaguchi's story sounds brilliant. A reversal of 'BlueBeard' in a way with the extra twist of an evil wife. I will search out both.
Best, Órfhlaith

bookspersonally said...

These sound fascinating - & chilling. So interesting to consider the idea of a novel being a luxury for the wealthy and the short story being literature for the people!

Carl V. Anderson said...

Oh wow! Both of these sound like the kind of creepy old horror stories that first made this kind of literature appeal to me as a young man. I imagine I would enjoy the thrill of reading both of these and now must see if I can track them down in a collection at the local library.

I agree with the Japanese idea of the short story being a purer art form in that I've often said that there is simply nothing like a well written short story. Sure, not all, and not even many, are that well written, but when they are they exist as pieces of pure magic.

Thanks for the review. I loved the comparisons of the two stories from two different cultures in two different centuries.

Mel u said...

Órfhlaith Foyle-thanks so much for your comment-the Japanese story is the best of the two-there is a lot I left out concerning it-

bookspersonally-I like to compare books from cultures where comparisons are often not made-in Australia, the short story was at first much more read for this very reason

Mel u said...

Carl V-thanks very much-these were two very well done stories-the Japanese story also had a great section on folk beliefs revolving around the evil spirits of Cherry trees that was really well done-I am having fun reading the posts for your great reading event

Risa said...

I love this post! I enjoyed reading your initial comparison between the Japanese adn Irish short story writing traditions. That was news to me.:D But, yikes!...I don't think I'd ever want to read that particular japanese story. However, the Brown Man sounds intriguing. It has a Sleepy Hollow quality to it, and that bit about the famines, might make the reading more layered. I'll see if I can find that online...