Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The myth of Izanagi and Izanami part 2

A while ago I wrote a post about the myth of Izanagi and Izanami, the Creator God and Goddess of Japanese mythology, which provided a substantial part of the backstory for my novel, At Yomi’s Gate. There’s more to the myth, and I really meant to get back to it sooner, but life got distracting and demanded my attentions elsewhere. But now I’m finally back with Part 2. Go here to read Part 1.

When we last left off, Izanami had just died giving birth to the fire god Kagu-tsuchi and her husband Izanagi slew said god in his grief and anguish.

Unable to accept his wife’s death, Izanagi journeyed to the gate of Yomi, the land of the dead, to see her once more. In the Kojiki- the primary source for much of early Japanese mythology- Yomi is presented as a real place under the Earth rather than a separate metaphysical realm like the Buddhist or Christian Hells (my version, though, is more like the latter two, in that it is another plane of existence). At the entrance, Izanagi calls to his spouse, begging her to return to the land of the living. She appears, obscured in deep shadows, but laments that she cannot leave Yomi because she has already eaten the food of the underworld and has thus become a part of the realm. She does, however, promise to speak with the mysterious gods of Yomi and see if she can strike a deal with them. It’s worth noting that these rulers of the underworld are never elaborated on anywhere else in the Kojiki. It’s possible the reference to them came from another source, now lost, that was consulted when this book was compiled.

Izanagi soon grows impatient and, grabbing a torch, goes in after his wife. When he finds Izanami at last, his light reveals that she is a rotting corpse crawling with maggots. Horrified, Izanagi flees back towards the surface.  Ashamed at being seen in her decayed state, Izanami flies into a rage and sends the Yomo-tu-siko-me, or hags of Yomi, after him.

My attempt at illustrating in the Ukiyo-e woodblock print-style. Except without the wood block.    

To evade his pursuers, Izanagi flings down the comb and leather string binding his hair which magically transform into, respectively, bamboo shoots and grapes that the siko-me eagerly stop to eat. But Izanami won’t let him escape that easily. She sends a massive army of demonic warriors to continue the pursuit, backed up by eight gigantic maggot-demons that grew from her own body. Despite the tremendous odds against him, Izanagi manages to fight them off using his divine sword- and also a handful of peaches (a weird little detail derived the ancient Chinese practice of using peaches to dispel evil spirits).

Another Ukiyo-e attempt. There's a reason this isn't my primary style...
After finally driving back the Underworld hordes, Izanagi seals the entrance to Yomi with a massive boulder. Izanami herself comes to the blocked entrance and calls out to him, threatening to kill a thousand people each day. Izanagi responds by saying that each day he will, in turn, build one thousand five hundred birthing huts to help mortals replace the people she takes.

Putting the whole Yomi debacle behind him, Izanagi purifies himself by bathing in a river. During this ritual multiple deities sprout from the clothes he leaves on the shore and from the cleansing waters that touch his body. The most prominent of these beings are the three major deities of Japanese Shinto mythology: Amaterasu the sun goddess and ruler of the mortal world; Tsukuyomi, god of the moon; and Susano-o, god of storms and the sea.

Delighted by these new gods, Izanagi gives them control over the mortal world. While Amaterasu and Tsukuyomi are content with their stations, Susano-o is deeply unsatisfied and weeps day and night, desperately begging to see his mother, Izanami. Even though he was technically spawned from just one parent, he clearly still considers Izanami his mother since he was born from the pollution of her realm that washed off Izanagi’s body.

Enraged by Susano-o’s petulance- and by this painful reminder of his former wife- Izanagi banishes his son to exile. After this final act, Izanagi ascends to the Heavenly Palace and leaves the Kojiki narrative.

At least that’s how it happens in our world. In the world of the Magma Sea Cycle, Izanagi’s tasks on Earth are not quite done thanks to a certain fire god that he thought he’d killed....

You can get a copy of my novel, At Yomi's Gate here and here.

The information for this post was taken from Doland L. Philippi's translation of the Kojiki for University of Tokyo press.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Review: The Loved Dead and Other Tales by C. M. Eddy, Jr., edited by Jim Dyer

Clifford Martin “C. M.” M. Eddy, Jr. was a pulp writer known today primarily for his tale “The Loved Dead”, which was extensively rewritten by H.P. Lovecraft.  Eddy was a close friend both to Lovecraft and to Harry Houdini and even worked as a ghostwriter and investigator for the latter. After the pulps vanished, Eddy’s work was largely forgotten until recently when his stories were reprinted by his grandson, Jim Dyer, under the small press Fenham Publications.

It took me a bit to get used to Eddy’s style. After his first story, the titular, Lovecraft-reworked “Loved Dead”, the clich├ęd caveman-adventure “Weapons of Stone” and the supernaturally-tinged (or maybe not) “Red Cap of the Mara” seemed a bit of a come-down. But the speed and energy of the stories eventually warmed me to them. Eddy’s works are fairly typical of the stuff appearing in the pulps: thrilling adventures deliberately meant to be read quickly. “Pot-boilers” so to speak. To make a living as a pulp writer, one had to be fast. The most successful (though not necessarily most famous) authors could churn out multiple stories in a week. Eddy was one of these fast, successful authors and, as a result, his writing sounds very much like the expository dialogue of old-time radio programs. Characters talk out their emotions and inner monologues in what I can’t help hearing as that crackling, rapid-fire style common to films of the 1940s. Think of His Girl Friday or anything with Humphrey Bogart. Eddy’s stories may not have been particularly memorable, but they were never meant to be. They were created to be an evening’s entertainment, not enduring classics.

To make a living as a writer one also had to be diverse. There were dozens of genres to write in: Romance, Western, Science Fiction, Adventure, Crime, Sports, Weird, Horror, Sword and Sorcery, etc. Plus some genres that are uncommon or non-existent today such as Oriental stories- basically anything set east of Constantinople- or what could be called Paleolithic Adventures- stories about prehistoric men and women living in an age of stone tools and megafauna. Eddy, like most pulp authors, wrote in multiple categories.

Here’s a run-down of the stories contained within this collection.

The Loved Dead
The most well known of Eddy’s stories. When the tale was first printed in Weird Tales magazine, it quickly gained infamy for its alleged references to necrophilia. Several decency societies even tried to have the issue it appeared in banned- an effort that only succeeded in driving up sales of Weird Tales and actually saved the pulp from bankruptcy.

As for the plot itself, the Loved Dead is rather tame by modern standards. It is a lurid tale of a man’s obsession with death and corpses. The necrophilia elements are subtle if they’re even there at all.

A few of the stories in the book included story heading artwork created by Andrew Brosnatch for the original 1920s publications.

With Weapons of Stone
Stories set in the Paleolithic age were popular in the old pulp magazines and this one seems pretty typical of the genre. Two men are competing for the right to take the same woman as their mate. To settle the matter, they must fight and defeat the dreaded Smilodon which is the enemy of their people. This story is notable in the fact that the woman who is the “prize” actually takes matters into her own hands to aid the man she prefers instead of waiting passively at home for the winner.

Red Cap of the Mara
A modern-day (well, 1920s) retelling of the myth of the swan maiden or selkie who becomes a man’s bride when he steals her magical garment. It’s one of those romances where the characters fall in love five minutes after meeting, then get married two months later, only for the man to find out his wife wasn’t at all what he was expecting.  Reminds me a little of the Val Lewton 1940s version of the film Cat People.

An Arbiter of Destiny
An odd crime tale of hypnotism and long-delayed revenge. The explanation of what’s going on at the end gets kind of confusing.

The Cur
This story feels like 1920s “torture porn”. Certainly an extreme example of a “true crime thriller”. An unsuccessful writer goes crazy, ties up then torments his wife in order to write a story about a man who ties up and torments his wife.

The Better Choice
John Castle has perfected a machine that can return the dead to life. It only needs one final test, for which John goes to the extreme. He kills himself with poison, leaving instructions for his business partner to revive him with the machine in a few hours. But the being who greets John on the Other Side has different plans.

Another tale of fearful science. Brilliant chemist Arthur Van Allister has developed a chemical that will reduce anything it touches besides glass to a pile of white ash. He knows this chemical will revolutionize the world. He just needs one final test subject. And unlike the protagonist of the previous story, he has no intention of testing his creation on himself...

A strange vampire story with shades of Dorian Gray and perhaps even a bit of Asenath Waite from Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep.   

Arhl-a of the Caves
Another paleolithic tale of two men fighting over a woman. Again, though, the titular woman, Arhl-a, takes matters into her own hands to be with the one she wants.

The Ghost-Eater
An eerie story of phantoms and werewolves in the vein of a Victorian ghost story. The Ghost-Eater was partially revised by Lovecraft, though his signature style is not nearly as apparent here as in The Loved Dead.

Another neat header illustration by Andrew Brosnatch

Deaf, Dumb and Blind
Another Lovecraft revision. This is my favorite story in the anthology.
Richard Blake is a famous writer of Weird fiction. After being injured in the Great War, he is left without sight, hearing or speech, though he is still highly sensitive and articulate with the written word.
Blake spends his days weaving stories at his typewriter in an ancient but comfortable house on the edge of a swamp with only his loyal aide for companionship. Blake’s is a quiet life, until the day the nameless thing haunting the old dwelling finally makes its presence known.

Souls and Heels
A classic pulp detective story with a bit of a supernatural twist.

Sign of the Dragon
An epic-scale adventure novella about spies and global conspiracies.
Chester Brent receives a gift from his dying father: a ring in the shape of a Chinese dragon. With the ring comes a pledge. Should Chester ever meet someone who bears the ring’s twin, he must render them assistance to the limit of his abilities. You can guess what happens, of course.
Sign of the Dragon is quintessential pulp adventure. While not especially memorable, it is a fast, entertaining read as long as you can get into the spirit of it.