"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Fool and The Phoenix: a Tale of Old Japan

The Fool and the Phoenix: a Tale of Old Japan by Deborah Nourse Lattimore, 1997.

Although this is Lattimore's original story, it has the feel of a folktale. The author has set her tale in feudal Japan during the Tokugawa dynasty, which was from 1603 to 1868. It was a period of peace and plenty for the royal classes. This was not so for the farmers, who had to pay a rice tax to the shogun. Lattimore says that when creating this story, she imagined what a jealous small town official might do if he knew of the riches of the shogun.

Hideo is a mute birdcatcher who has captured a hawk and hopes to head to a nearby village to sell it. Before he arrives, he is knocked down by a scarred bandit on horseback and then turned away from the village by Nobu, the village council head, because he is judged a fool and considered a bad omen. Alone in the forest, he hears a noise in a pine tree and casts his net, only to catch a beautiful maiden/Phoenix. After he releases her, the two fall in love and stay together, until the day when the shogun's men come to find the bandit that has taken the shogun's treasure. To save the village, Hideo must find the thief who has stolen the riches, as well as life from town. The Phoenix maid gives Hideo a magical feather to aid him. Will he find the thieving man and retrieve the treasure ? Will his voice be restored? And will Hideo be reunited with his true love?

Lattimore's endpaper illustrations introduce  readers to some potentially unfamiliar ideas such as the shogun in his armor, an official's house and what a rice paddy looks like. Throughout the book, she uses a neutral beige background to make the greens, violets and blues of the story really pop. The pictures are very pretty and beautifully balanced.

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