"And all the stars were crashing round / As I lay eyes on what I'd found." The epigraph to Patrick Ness's novel comes from The Decemberists' 2006 album also entitled The Crane Wife. Clearly artists of all sorts have been inspired by the Japanese folktale on which Ness's novel is very broadly based.
The legend, known as Tsuru no ongaeshi, tells of a young man who rescues a crane that has been injured by a hunter's arrow. Later that day, the young man is surprised by a beautiful young woman on his doorstep, who introduces herself as his wife. Admitting that he is poor and cannot support a wife, the young man is surprised to discover that the mysterious woman can support their new family by creating beautiful weavings that sell for a high price. The only condition is that the man is never to watch his wife create her artwork.
But curiosity overcomes him and, in a moment of weakness, he enters her weaving room, only to find the crane he saved, weaving cloth by plucking out her own feathers. The crane flies away, leaving the young man only with her final weaving. In some versions, the man, overcome by greed at their good fortune, pressures his wife to produce more and more, resulting in her declining health before the ultimate discovery of her true identity.
"The Crane Wife" belongs to a large group of folktales from different cultures about love interests, usually female, who shift shapes from animal to human form, rarely with lasting prospects for romantic happiness. The most familiar to us are likely the swan maidens of European folklore, who appear in various forms in Norse, Russian, and German tales. Variations of the story appear in the folklore of many other cultures, such as the Pacific Northwest Native Americans who tell tales of shape-shifting geese. Other animals can form the basis of these "animal bride" tales, such as the selkie (seal) brides of folklore from the Shetland and Orkney islands.
Such tales, which often explore the duplicitous nature not only of the shape-shifters but also of their human companions, continue to provide inspiration today, in all manner of arts including music, ballet (Swan Lake), in poetry and fantasy literature. Patrick Ness's The Crane Wife is a noteworthy addition to this tradition.
Picture depicting Crane Wife story from kawaix2.blogspot.com
This article was originally published in January 2014, and has been updated for the
December 2014 paperback release.
Click here to go to this issue.
This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.
Discover your next great read here
They say that in the end truth will triumph, but it's a lie.
Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!
Solve this clue:
and be entered to win..
Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.
Your guide toexceptional books
BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.