As those of you who follow my blog probably know, I live in Japan. But it’s difficult to overstate just how rural the area I am located in actually is. Though I live next to a city, it is incredibly isolated from other towns and cities by the surrounding mountains. And the region is an island, so to travel anywhere significant you must go by plane. Twenty minutes in almost any direction from the city and you hit rice fields, followed by unkempt mountains, or simply, the sea.
I like it, of course. I would have shrivelled up and rotted in a big city built by men. But what I have always found especially interesting (and moreso the longer I live here) is the local library. There are plenty of radical feminist works to be found here, plenty of obscure books written by women, both by Westerners and Japanese women.
What is most interesting is the children’s English book selection. I am forever searching for anti-patriarchal girls’ stories for my daughter and again, here there are plenty. It’s like a treasure trove.
How bizarre. How did they get to be here?
The African children’s stories have been dedicated to the library by various countries. These tales are supremely feminist and gloriously matriarchal. I hope to write about them someday. Then there are all the Western children’s stories, written by women,which should have become great European classics due to their authors’ genius, but ended up on the back-shelves of a library in rural Japan: dusty, exiled, never to be read.
And what about all the beautiful feminist books such as Hearts of Fire, which I blogged about recently? How did they get here? Perhaps they have all been banished from Western libraries in case young women chance upon them and become revolutionaries. Libraries are probably not allowed to burn “unacceptable” books, but they can send them to places where nobody can understand what is written inside the covers….
The late great elemental feminist philosopher, Mary Daly, would not have been at all surprised to learn that there were a great pile of radical jewels here, planted by the universe, for me to share with the world one by one.
And in fact this very subject–keeping women away from books and knowledge– is the theme of the beautiful fairy story I have decided to blog about today. The writing is so perfect that it’s will be hard for me to paraphrase, so I’m going to quote sections and hopefully transmit the essence of it:
The Enchanter’s Daughter
“In the cold white land at the top of the world there once lived an Enchanter and his daughter. So great was the power of the Enchanter that, even amid the frozen wastes, the gardens of his palace were bright with scented flowers and sweet with the music of singing birds. Beyond the walls, green fields and woods and lakes of shining water stretched right to the top of the icy and impassable mountains that ringed them around.
Here the Enchanter and his daughter lived alone, for they had no need of servants. Whatever they wanted, whether food or warmth or comfort, the Enchanter had only to pass his hand through the air and everything was as he desired. All his long life he had studied the books of the old magicians and necromancers until he had mastered their arts one by one. But each power once gained, whether to conjure gold out of the earth or music out of the air, left him dissatisfied. For he had no need of the gold, nor time to listen to the music.”
He was the inevitable control-freak and refused to allow his daughter to leave the valley. When she expressed curiosity about what might be beyond the mountains he opted to bring the world to her, first by transforming the valley into a tropical island with beaches of white sand and a lagoon where she could swim, then when she grew tired of that, by transforming the palace into a castle on a high crag amid pine forests, where deers roamed and eagles soared.
“Then the Enchanter filled the valley with jungle forests where brilliant snakes and butterflies shone like jewels in the green shadows, and tribes of chattering monkeys swuing through the treetops for his daughter’s amusement. Watching them as she played, she longed for company.”
She had no name. The Enchanter called her “Daughter” and she didn’t think this was strange because she called him “Father”. But sometimes in her dreams she felt that she may have had another name. And yet,”At other times she dreamed she was a small flying bird and did not have a name at all.”
As she had nobody else for company she would turn to her father for companionship. But in time, he grew more consumed by his books and his work, and gradually seemed to lose interest in her. He became obsessed with mastering that one thing all men (and men alone) wish to master, but cannot. That one thing men feel will compensate for their impotence in life– for the fact they, as males, have no elemental connection to nature and the universe:
“For having gained by his magic all that life could offer, he found he was growing old. He saw that age and death would rob him of all his power and possessions unless he could unlock the one secret that had defeated all other sorcerers before him: the secret of eternal youth.”
He grew irritated by her interruptions. One day she leaned over him to look at one of the books more closely, “but he turned on her in anger, forbidding her to touch the books in which his power and knowledge lay.”
And so she begged for books of her own.“The Enchanter’s mind was on matters of life and death. He raised one hand and waved it distractedly. “You will find storybooks in your room”, he said.
“She read adventure stories and fairy stories, tales of heroism and tales of romance. She read of happiness and sadness, pain and courage, hope and despair, friendship and love. She learned that there were many lands beyond the mountains and that they were full of people. She found that there were mothers as well as fathers–and brothers and sisters, cousins and friends. And all the people in the books had names, which made her wonder again about the name in the dreams she could never quite remember“
She approached her father again, and asked him what her name was. He told her she did not have one. She asked about her mother. He was taken aback, demanding to know where she had learned about mothers. “I have read in the books” she replied.
He explained that she had no mother. That once, when he was lonely, he had made her from a rose with a powerful spell.
So she asked to become a rose again, in order to know if it was true.
“She felt the morning dew on her petals as the sun rose through the early mists. She felt the rich perfume drawn out of her by the warm rays as the day went on. She felt the many small feet of a caterpillar which passed over her in the early afternoon, and the gentle movement of the breeze which sprang up at sunset. But deep within her petals there was a strange longing which told her she was not a rose.”
She told her father to stop playing games, that she knew she had never been a rose. He confessed that she had not been a rose, but a beautiful fish that he had caught on a line for sport. When she pleaded for her life he decided to turn her into a daughter for company.
“Then let me be a fish again,” said his daughter, “that I may know my true self”
But as she plunged through the water there were thoughts in her head which told her she was not a fish.
“On the following morning, she went to the Enchanter again and said, “Father, you tease me with your stories. Tell me, please, where my mother is?”
“You grow troublesome,” he said. “I wish I had not made you a daughter but had left you a fawn in the forest. For such you were before my spell was cast, and as for your mother, she was a wild deer.
“Then let me be a fawn again,” begged his daughter, “that I may run by my mother’s side.”
At a wave of his hand she felt the dry leaves beneath her tiny hooves and smelled the warm, comforting shelter of the doe beside her. All day, they wandered together through the shade-dappled forest, nibbling young leaves and grazing in sunit clearings. The doe was gentle and caring and the Enchanter’s daughter began to understand what it was to have a mother. And the knowledge stirred old memories deep within her which told her that she was not a fawn.”
Sensing her father was growing angry, she knew she must outwit him, and convinced him to turn her into a bird, specifically requesting to become an eagle. Her father would not grant that request. A bird he would allow her to become, but only a pretty flying bird.
“For he read her secret thoughts in her honest eyes and knew she would escape him if she had power.”
But she stretched her tiny wings and managed to fly a distance that would have been difficult even for an eagle. She suffered and felt pain for the first time, growing tired and frightened and cold in the snowy peaks of the mountains. Her tiny wings failed her and as she fell to the ground, the spell broke.
Presently, a young man found her lying there in the snow. He carried her in his cloak down the mountainside to a small house where a warm fire burned within.
“For many weeks the Enchanter’s daughter lay between life and death. She tossed and turned in her fever, and as she did so, she heard a voice in the darkness and dreamed that it was her mother’s voice. Sometimes she would feel a cool hand upon her forehead and it seemed to her that it was her mother’s hand. The longing of the rose, the thoughts of the little fish, and the memories of the fawn in the forest all seemed to come together, and when at last she opened her eyes she knew that she looked upon her mother’s face.”
The woman leaning over her had tears in her eyes. When she asked her why she was crying she explained that she was reminded of a daughter she once had. The Enchanter’s daughter asked her to explain.
“The woman took her hand. “When I was young,” she said, “my husband died, leaving me with a young son and daughter. It was hard for me to work on the farm alone, for the mountain land needs a strong hand. One day when I sat weary and sad, a rich man came by on a fine horse taking the road up into the mountains. He stopped to rest and we made him welcome. My little daughter climbed onto his knee and made him laugh with her childish play. We talked, and learning of our hardship, he offered me gold if I would let him take my daughter for his own. He promised she should live like a princess, but still I could not part with her.”
The mother refused to part with her daughter, and did not allow the man to take her. So he wandered off up the mountains alone. But the next day when she went out to play with her brother on the mountainside she disappeared and when night came she was nowhere to be found.
“What was her name?” asked the Enchanter’s daugher, for she knew that she had once had a name and she would know it again.
“We called her Thi’ Phi’ Yen,” said the woman, “for she was like a pretty flying bird.”
Thi’ Phi’ Yen and her mother embraced and held each other close to wipe out the memory of the long parting.
“Now I have found you and my brother too,” said Thi’ Phi’ Yen, ” and if you will have me, I will never leave you again.
“But we are not rich,” said her mother. “We work at the farm and live a simple life. You have grown used to jewels and clothes of silk: you have had everything you could desire. You will think our life hard and unrewarding.
“You are wrong, Mother,” said Thi’ Phi’ Yen. “The Enchanter gave me everything except freedom and love: now I have both. No riches can compare with freedom, and no power is greater than love. Am I not your daughter? I can work as hard as you and live as simply. Please tell me that I can stay.”
“With all my heart,” said her mother, “for life can give me no greater gift.”
So it was that the Enchanter’s daughter came home again. And from that day she lived happily with her mother and brother at the foot of the high white mountains that lie at the top of the world.”