Traditional Literature Motifs
From Bamboo Stalks to Red Eggs:
Reminiscent of how Christ’s immaculate conception was a sign of his grand destiny – his fate as man's Savior from sin – many traditional tales from East Asia involve miraculous births that precede, and thus allude to, characters' grandiose futures. In other words, their miraculous births foreshadow their special predestinations, their extraordinary lives. So from rocks and peaches to red eggs and bamboo stalks, prominent figures from Japan, Korea, and China’s traditional literary works are born from inanimate objects to lead lives of epic proportions.
Japan's the Tale of the Bamboo Cutter:
Credited as the world’s first dabbling in the genre of science fiction, Japan’s “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” or “Princess Kaguya,” dates back to the 10th century, making it the oldest existing Japanese narrative. A bamboo cutter discovers a girl with ethereal, iridescent hair inside a glowing bamboo stalk. Although at first sheltering his beloved daughter from the outside world, the bamboo cutter eventually relented and challenges five prospective husbands with impossible tasks to win the hand of Kaguya in marriage. Kaguya even rejects the Emperor of Japan’s marriage proposal. Revealing her obligation to return to the Moon to her adopted parents, Kaguya becomes depressed and erratic. Several reasons have sprung up in the oral retellings of this tale to explain Kaguya’s temporary Earthy residence: transient exile to punish her criminality or ensured protection during a celestial war. Leaving behind a distraught Emperor and saddened parents, what will happen in the aftermath of Kaguya’s departure?
Although translated by Ralph F. McCarthy in “The Moon Princess,” the bilingual printing juxtaposes the original Japanese writing next to the English text, preserving the cultural integrity of the story.
In this animated clip of “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter,” the traditional tale is narrated in English and presented as a moving pictures, rather than true animation. As a visual representation of the tale that stays true to the original, the video provides a fun alternative format. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=NM9ObFClDpg#
As the most popular hero in Japanese traditional literature, Momotarō – which translates to “Peach Boy” in English – originates from the Edo period. An eldery woman saved a giant peach from floating farther down the river, intending to eat it with her husband when she returned home. However, giving birth to Momotarō before the couple could gobble it down, the peach reveals its divine interior. Fast-forwarding to Momotarō’s adolescence, the Peach Boy travels to Onigashima, or the land of ogres, to defeat the demons who have been torturing the Japanese people for decades. Reminiscent of how Dorothy befriends the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Cowardly Lion on her yellow-brick road journey to the city of Oz, Momotarō also accumulates loyal companions and allies: the Dog, the Monkey, and the Pheasant. Be will he triumph against the ogres?
Although translated by Ralph F. McCarthy in “The Adventure of Momotaro, the Peach Boy,” the bilingual printing juxtaposes the original Japanese writing next to the English text, preserving the cultural integrity of the story.
Captured in Japanese anime, the crisp video clip below presents the traditional tale of Momotarō in Japan’s characteristic and unique cartoon style. Although narrated in Japanese, English subtitles accompany the oral retelling of the story, yielding an engaging, smooth, and vibrant version of the traditional hero. Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Yu1vJPf2OJs
China's The Monkey King:
McElwain, Chris (2011). The Monkey King Book One: Sun WuKong. Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
As a child-friendly, palatable retelling of the traditional legend of the Monkey King, or Sun WuKong, Chris McElwain’s The Monkey King Part One: Sun WuKong significantly condenses the original as it appears in one of the “Four Great Classical Novels” of Chinese traditional literature, Xiyouji (“The Journey West”), which was written in 16th century Ming Dynasty. Although undergoing myriad translations, the Monkey King’s story remains intact, as all stay true to the essence of Wu Cheng’en’s original. The retellings only serve to make the text and traditional hero accessible to a younger and wider audience. McElwain’s is the most creative and the most approachable version for younger readers. Told in rhyming verse with sketchy black-and-white illustrations, McElwain captures Sun WuKong in a way that allures and engages readers. Born from a rock, the Monkey King battles demons and dragons. The digital copy of the text is linked here. Graphic novel picture book.
HyokKose, Chumong, and T'arhae
Chumong from a South Korean 81-Episode TV Series
In traditional Korean mythology, Chumong was born from a “pottle-sized egg." All were intimidated and frightened by its unnaturalness, and upon hatching, Chumong became a “redoubtable warrior” who wielded great powers with his bow and arrow. T’arhae was separated from his mother after she gave birth to him in an egg. Locked in a casket that was placed on a boat, T'arhae was exiled, since the villagers were fearful that the egg was a bad omen. Once ashore, T’arhae sagaciously convinced homeowners that a house was rightfully his and won King Yuri’s eldest daughter’s hand in marriage, which would eventually result in his kingship. Pak HyokKose hatched from a red egg near a bowing white Pegasus, and became King, successfully ruling the country, Silla, for sixty-one years.
Myths Can Be Accessed Here:
“The Legend of HyokKose,” “The Legend of Pak Hyokkose, the Founder of Silla,” & “The Legend of King T’arhae of Silla” under Korean Creation Myths. Retrieved from: http://www.crystalinks.com/koreacreation.html
“The Lay of King Tongmyong” under Chinese Creation Myths. Retrieved from: http://www.crystalinks.com/chinacreation.html
Myths Also Summarized In:
Lee, Peter H. (2004). “Biographical Patterns of Heroes” In A History of Korean Literature. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press (p. 59-60).