Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Monk, a Fox, a Bitter Man and the Three Goddesses of Destiny

Sometimes I enjoy revisiting the same books. A good language experiment is learned from reading a book in a new translation and then thinking of the subtle differences in expression relative to the original language. Recently I re-read “The Sandman: Dream Hunters” by Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano. I was fascinated by this book for the first time some 16 years ago in its original English edition and now I bought it in a Spanish translation.
My second reading of Neil Gaiman’s tale made me think about the power relationship between men and women. In the story a monk and a fox with the spirit of a woman fall in love, but their idyll is disturbed by a powerful wizard who wants to rob the monk’s happiness. The wizard commands three witches to aid him, one is an old woman, the second a beautiful and naked youth, and the third is a woman neither young nor old. He asks the witches why he suffers with fear and cannot feel tranquility. The young woman, who possessed an eerie beauty for one could not say whether she was alive or dead, answered that the magician was afraid because he was alive. The old woman replied that men only achieve peace in the grave or for a brief moment while contemplating the sunset. The woman who was neither young nor old offered a solution to the magician, pointing out that a young monk who had no wealth or power nevertheless enjoyed all the tranquility of this world. The wizard must therefore kill the young monk to rob him of the tranquility and love in his heart!

It is a beautiful tale, full of meaning, and it captured my imagination all these years. I am particularly fascinated by the intense relationship of the male characters (the monk and the wizard) with the women (the fox and the witches). In my personal interpretation Gaiman’s story is a dreamy and emotional retelling of the difficult choices men face when dealing with beauty and loneliness. In ancient cultures men use their power and strength to get what they want and desire, but it is not the same to possess something out of force or fear than receiving love freely. Men, especially the most powerful, dominate their women, first their mothers (the old woman), then their wives (the woman neither young nor old), and finally their daughters or second brides (the young woman) whose youth shows a vigor that instills awe and jealousy in the older men who fear death. But what does the Wizard get out of his power? The Beauty in his captive witches (for they are his servants) is enthralling and yet it feels as something terrible for it is devoid of any real affection. Instead of love the master wizard only receives spite, resentment and hatred. The wizard understands this, but it is different knowing the truth and relinquishing control to free one’s destiny. Power is too seductive and no person in its possession gives it up freely. Kings, but also parents, spouses and each one of us experiences such temptations.

The old woman’s reply that Man only lives tranquil briefly while enjoying the dying sunlight at day's end is also an implication on how Beauty relates to us. The sunset is beautiful and yet it is a beauty outside the influence of men. It shines for everyone equally, poor or rich. Yet the monk owns things even more prized than the radiant sun. One, the buddhist peaceful enlightenment. Two, he is loved by the fox spirit who never wishes to abandon him. Unlike the sun which shines independently of our merits these loving gifts are only received from others’ free choice and that makes them even more precious. Generosity and love are more prized than sunlight!

Neil Gaiman wrote an epilogue that erroneously claims the story to be based on a Japanese folk tale, which was a joke intended to deceive those who dislike giving the due worth to modern authors. However, the love story between the fox spirit and the monk does resemble some Japanese and Chinese folk tales, which remain popular even nowadays and have been adapted to the cinema. Other elements of Gaiman's book do differ a lot from these eastern stories, so one cannot state the book is a simple adaptation of an old tale or that its inspiration is based on a single source. What matters is that The Dream Hunters is my favorite book by Neil Gaiman and it is definitely an original work and one deeply imbued with lessons, passion and dreams.

No comments:

Post a Comment