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

Friday, April 24, 2015

"The Corpse Rider" by Lafcadio Hearn (1900, a retelling of a 12 Century Japanese Folk Tale)

I recently was kindly given an interesting anthology of in the public domain horror stories, In the Shadow of Edgar Allan Poe edited by Leslie Klinger.  Upon looking it over I was delighted to discover it included a story by Lafcadio Hearn (1850 to 1904).  I do not recall exactly how this came about, but I read a good bit of Hearn over fifty years ago.  I think I was fascinated by his tales based on medieval Japanese folk culture and the seemingly depth of his erudition in areas then way beyond the depth of anyone with whom I had ever had contact. Hearn lived in Japan many years and married the daughter of a Samurai.  (His wife and children are in the picture above.)I wondered just now what the lives of the children were like.  You can probably find his work online, he was a very prolific writer.  He did a great deal to make Japanese culture more accessible to the Anglophone world.

"The Corpse Rider" is a very good story that will scare you if you can enter into the spirit of Lafcadio.
Based on a 12th century story, a woman has just died from heart break because her husband divorced her.  The husband is in great terror that she will curse him.  She cannot be buried as long as she is a danger to the living as the explosive force of her anger can cause the earth around her grave to explode with great force.  The man goes to see an Inyôshi, which in a footnote Hearn explains was a priest adapt in 12th century religious believes based on the opposing forces of female and male nature in the physical universe.   Here is the advise the Inyôshi gives the man.

"The dead woman was lying on her face. “Now you must get astride upon her,” said the inyôshi, “and sit firmly on her back, as if you were riding a horse. . . . Come!—you must do it!” The man shivered so that the inyôshi had to support him—shivered horribly; but he obeyed. “Now take her hair in your hands,” commanded the inyôshi—“half in the right hand, half in the left. . . . So! . . . You must grip it like a bridle. Twist your hands in it—both hands—tightly."

Hearn takes us through a horrible night.  "The Corpse Rider" is a very well done story.  It first appeared in 1900 in Hearn's collection of Japanese folk tales, Shadowings.  

Lafcadio Hearn, it has been a long time since I first read you. It felt good to revisit an old friend.   You deserve a place of honor on The Reading Life.   

Mel u

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