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

Thursday, December 29, 2011

“The Boy Who Drew Cats” by Lafacdio Hearn (1898, four pages, Podcast 14 minutes)

1850 to 1904
with Wife and Son
I have a very long history with Lafcadio Hearn.    In my very early teens I developed a great interest in his work and read all I could find at the time.   Numerous decades have gone by since I last read anything by Hearn and I was glad a twitt from @EstherHawden motivated me to read him again.

  Of course I wondered if I would still enjoy his work or if would it seem somehow juvenile to me.  I decided to read his “The Boy Who Drew Cats” because it is available online and also as a podcast on Miette’ Bedtime Podcasts, the premier source of podcasts of literary short stories.    I loved the story and am happy to endorse it to any and all.  

Hearn had a very interesting life.   His life is so international it is not even easy to classify him as to nationality but I think in his heart he was Japanese.   He was born in Greece to a Greek mother.   His father was from county Cork Ireland and he was serving in the British Army.   At 19 Hearn immigrated to the United States, settling first in   Ohio area where he got his start in writing as a journalist.   From there he moved to New Orleans where he lived and wrote a lot of journalism aimed at promoting the city as a tourist destination.     In 1890 he got an assignment to go to Japan as a journalist and report on the country to American newspaper readers.  He ended up spending the rest of his life in Japan.   He became fluent in the language.   He married a Japanese woman and supported himself and his wife through payment for his articles and teaching at Japanese universities.   He began to write a lot of short stories loosely based on Japanese folk tales as well as serious works on Japan.

I am posting on Hearn because I want to have an old friend on my blog and maybe other readers will enjoy his stores (a lot of his work can easily be found online.)   He also wrote articles and longer works describing Japan in the 1890s to Americans.   I know it is not accurate but if you recall the American journalist in the movie The Last Samurai  you will see how I picture Hearn.   The dates are off but I wondered if the director of the movie based that character on Lafcadio Hearn.  

In these opening lines you can get a representative sample of the prose style of Hearn:

A long time ago, in a little Japanese village, there lived a poor farmer, with his wife and family. The oldest son was strong and healthy and helped the farmer in the fields every day, planting and harvesting the rice. The two daughters worked with their mother in the house and the garden. They they had been able to work hard from the time they were very little . But the youngest son, although he was extremely clever, was also quite small and frail. He could not work in the rice fields with his father and brother.
One day the boy's parents began to discuss his future, since he was not suited to being a farmer. His mother said, "our younger son is very clever. Perhaps we should apprentice him to the priest in the village temple. The priest is getting old and it may be that our son will make a good priest and will make a suitable helper for the old one." The father agreed that their son's cleverness might make him a suitable candidate for the temple. So the boy's parents went to the village temple to ask the priest to take their son as an acolyte.
The boy begins to develop an obsession with drawing cats.    He is  so into this that he neglects his work and is asked to leave.   He has heard of another monastery 12 miles away so he walks there hoping they will take him in.   When he gets there he sees a fire inside but there are no people.   He needs a place to stay and he gets very excited when he sees there a lot of blank white canvases set up that are perfect for drawing cats on.     The boy does not know that goblins use lights to lure in travellers.    He ends up drawing giant pictures of cats on the canvases.   The next morning he finds a dead goblin in the form a a rat as big as a water buffalo.   Who could have saved him from death at the hands of the goblin.   He then notices the cat pictures have changed.   The mouth of each cat is blood stained.
  This not great art but it is a fun read and a look at a very lost way of life.  
  You can read it Here
  Miette’s beautiful reading of the story can be found here.
I read the story then listened to it and I found this seemed to deepen my experience of the story.
You can read in just two or three minutes tops.   

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

My first Hearn was a book I won from an "In Spring it is the Dawn" competition & that was Kwaidan (ghost stories & strange tales of old Japan) I've got a couple more on my Kindle since then & there was a new one published(I think) recently on my Wishlist. Making this a post of interest to me. Thanks.

bokusenou said...

Ah, that story was great! I didn't know Hearn had written anything besides Kwaidan (the book which started my interest in youkai legends).

Buried In Print said...

::sounds of scribbling on TBR list::

Mel u said...

Buried in Print-Lafcadio Hearn is a very quirky kind of writer-I hope you enjoy his work-all of his work is online