Today I am very excited to welcome author Cornelia Grey to Joyfully Jay. Cornelia has a new book out called The Ronin and the Fox and today she is here to share a bit about the trickster spirits and an except from her book. Welcome Cornelia!
I’ve always been fascinated by trickster spirits – I don’t even really remember when I first came across them. They are spirits who elude the normally rigid rules of the gods or of nature; they play tricks, make practical jokes, create illusions, steal, sometimes maliciously, sometimes taking enjoyment in punishing the prideful. They are present in the legends of dozens of different cultures, from different times, and I find it endlessly fascinating how a similar figure, with similar attributes, was created independently in so many different places: another thing that goes to show that humans, across time and cultures, are deep down always very similar.
Some tricksters are cunning and malicious, like Loki from the Norse mythology; Prometheus, who brought men the fire in the Greek mythology, is a heroic, dramatic trickster; African spider god Anansi shifts from being a light-hearted prankster to a wise teacher, dispensing wisdom. There is never an Italian trickster listed among them, but I believe that the character of Harlequin – who is not a god, but a mask from Venice’s carnival, a servant who keeps trying to trick his master out of food or money – is the perfect example of the foolish trickster, funny, selfish and distracted, but whose tricks ultimately have a positive effect.
The Japanese fox spirit, the kitsune, is particularly fascinating. Kitsune actually means fox, not fox spirit, because according to the lore, every fox could potentially be a fox spirit. They can have any number of tails, up to a maximum of nine: the more tails a kitsune has, the older and wiser it is. Once the ninth tail is aquired, the fox’s fur turns white or gold. Some legends say that the fox then gains the ability to see and hear everything that happens in the world.
Some kitsune are tied to the god Inari and messengers or guardians of his shrines: there are celestial foxes, called myobu. Those who don’t serve Inari and live independently are called nogitsune, wild foxes. Kitsune are pranksters, rather than malicious; they are thieves and often live in abandoned homes. They respond kindly to favours, and can bring prosperity to a man who is generous with them. Sometimes, rich, isolated families were accused of owning foxes, which were the reason of the family’s prosperity. This accusation was often enough to ruin families, and there are cases in which a daimyo ordered the removal or relocation of a family accused of fox-owning.
They can also be very sensual spirits – often they take the shape of beautiful women and seduce men. Sex with a kitsune is more pleasurable than most mortals can handle, and often a man ensnared in loving a kitsure is consumed by his passion and wastes away. It was commonly said that ‘every beautiful woman met after dark could be a fox,’and men should be wary.
So, what kind of trickster is Katsura, the fox protagonist of my novella, The Ronin and the Fox? I like to think that he’s a light-hearted, fun trickster, who enjoys pulling silly pranks on people who are a bit too full of themselves. We don’t get to see much of this side of Katsura in this story, due to the very particular situation he’s in, but I like to think it’s his dominant side nonetheless. That doesn’t mean he can’t become scary; his pranks can turn dark and frightening if the victim has done something terrible, and deserves punishment. Katsura has no mercy for cruel men.
I also think that, as a younger kitsune—say, a couple of centuries ago—Katsura was a brilliant thief. Perhaps he was still a bit immature, and his moral compass wasn’t that steady yet, so he made an art out of thieving: fast and silent and unstoppable. I like to imagine him running away from a daimyo’s house, together with a bunch of other young kitsune, laughing and exhilarated because of a theft well accomplished. And now that I think of it, seeing Katsura interact with other foxes might be very interesting in a potential sequel…
Not to mention – if Hajime finds it so hard to keep up with one kitsune, what will he do if he finds himself surrounded by a dozen? I foresee sake aplenty in his future! 😉
Thank you very much for having me, and have a good day, everybody! 🙂
Buy Link: http://www.stormmoonpress.com/books/The-Ronin-and-the-Fox.aspx
Hajime flexed his fingers, trying to warm them up, before resting them on his katana. The night air was cool. Gravel crunched too loudly under his boots as he walked across the village’s alleys.
He’d been patrolling the town for three nights, and still nothing. During the daytime, he’d explored the bamboo forest surrounding the village, setting a number of traps between the tall bamboo stalks where the ground appeared recently trampled. He’d spoken to several villagers, alerting them of his intentions and giving them instructions on how to behave at night. He was sure they would obey. No one would dare disobey the orders of a samurai, and even though he wasn’t exactly… any longer… Damn. They would listen to him, and that was enough.
Hajime had never before met a fox spirit. The trickster spirits haunted houses and villages, stealing food and whatever tickled their fancies from the inhabitants. They could shift shape as they pleased, possess people, and ensnare a man’s mind with their charms and illusions. Hajime had heard that they could change a field into a kingdom or a cave into a sumptuous palace. They could create pockets in reality and trap a man there for years if they so chose. Hajime fingered the deep red silk ribbon securely fastened around his right wrist. He’d received it from Tanaka-san. The man claimed a priest had blessed it years before, and that it would grant Hajime protection against the fox’s enchantments. Hajime hoped he was right. He was not keen on losing his mind and spending the next decade frolicking in a cave at the mercy of some horrific spirit.
The sharp sound of a bell broke the quiet. Hajime stilled, every muscle tense, and listened. It came again, a single silvery sound somewhere in the alleys to his right, and then a loud, jingling noise cascaded through the night, dozens of bells tumbling to the ground. In an instant Hajime was running, the thrill of the chase sizzling and burning in his veins. He’d tied strings of bells up all around the village, in the hidden passages he’d pinpointed between roofs and back alleys, and summoned his powers of intimidation to order the citizens to keep indoors at night. The fox must have stumbled across one of the strings and snapped it. It was incredibly careless of a spirit, but Hajime had been counting on the fox feeling so assured in its supremacy over the village that it lowered its guard.
He’d been lucky. He knew he wouldn’t have a second chance.
A small vulpine shape caught his eye, shifting quickly from shadow to shadow. As he watched, it hopped onto a cart and then jumped to a roof and set out running, betrayed by the moonlight.
Hajime was fast. He jumped, grasping the copper rain chain hanging from the nearest house and reaching up to grasp the edge of the slanted roof. He hauled himself up, the chain clinking wildly below him, and sprinted. The village’s roofs were nearly level, but still slanted enough to make running on them dangerous—Hajime nearly lost his footing twice and cursed. He might survive the fall, but he’d surely break bones, and his chase would be in vain. He leapt between the close houses, struggling to retain his balance. The fox was some ten yards ahead, small and fast, taking impossible leaps and all but flying across the roofs, its balance perfect and a fan of tails fluttering behind it. Hajime abandoned all caution, leaping across a wide road, suspended in the air for a long, exhilarating instant where he wondered whether he’d make it to the other side or plummet to the ground. He landed heavily on the very edge of the roof, wobbling backward for a dreadful moment, but was quick to regain his balance and sprint again.
For all his prowess, Hajime was losing ground. The little fox had reached the last houses of the village, and it jumped easily off the buildings, diving for the forest. Hajime ran, the chase making him careless and only luck preventing him from falling when he dared jumps too broad for him. He followed the fox down, bending his knees to absorb as he landed on the ground the impact, and scanned the bamboo frantically, trying to guess which direction his prey had gone.
A loud, pained yelp tore the night, and Hajime sprang up, unable to contain a wild grin. The fox must have fallen into one of his traps. He launched himself between the clumps of bamboo, following the whimpers and yelps, and only slowed down when he saw the small shape of the creature twisting fruitlessly, one of its hind legs caught in the jaws of a trap.
As he approached, the figure shifted and blurred, stretching and growing, making Hajime’s eyes ache until he had to look away. When he glanced back, Hajime could see a human where the fox had been, bending to pry the trap open with frantic hands.
“Not so fast,” Hajime growled, his hand shooting out to grasp the man’s arm. Before the fox spirit could react, Hajime tied a red ribbon like the one he was wearing around the man’s wrist, knotting it maybe too tight. The man cried out as the fabric touched his skin, trying to tear his arm out of Hajime’s hold. When the fox spirit turned around to face him, Hajime gasped.
The man had wild red hair and two furry fox ears flattened over his head like those of an angry cat. His face was contorted in agony and anger, covered in scratches and with a large bruise marring his cheekbone, but there was no mistaking his delicate features or the unusual, rust-brown eyes that fixed on Hajime with fury, and which had been full of pleasure the last time he’d seen them.
“You,” he gasped, his grip on the stranger’s arm faltering.
The fox snatched his wrist out of Hajime’s hold and snarled, his head held high. “Surprise,” he said, sharp teeth gleaming in the moonlight.
Thanks again to Cornelia Grey for stopping by today and sharing her book with us!