Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Dear to My Heart
Ichinori had never seen a demon.
She was as nothing he had imagined. He had read about demons in the sacred texts, seen them depicted in paintings. This was not the raving, bug-eyed, horned giant he had been expecting—and almost hoping—to meet and tell harrowing stories about someday. She was really only a woman, but tall and sleek as a panther. Maybe a demon, but nevertheless gorgeous and dangerous as a summer storm. She was wrapped in gleaming white silk, her waist bound with a light blue obi sash, with something tucked into it. That aristocratic face was unforgettable, adolescently arrogant and sensuous. Her unbound hair reached past her obi sash in cascades that blew freely in the wind, brushing over her eyes, giving her an appearance of insanity.
She watched him guardedly, without hostility, as though waiting for him. With a hesitant step forward, she folded her hands into her wide sleeves and seemed about to speak.
“I am Ichinori—the exorcist!” he shouted. “I have come here to banish you back to the Sixth Hell of Sho-Netsu!”
She stopped and stared at him, aghast. I have her now. She is afraid, because she knows she cannot seduce me. It’s time to take charge of the situation. “Obey me, demon!”
Her face changed to a mask of insult and her large eyes glittered with fury. The air around her exuded her outrage and he could clearly see the glimmer of the lamplight shining through her. There was an approaching sound, rising to a roar like an earthquake. Ichinori saw them descending on him from the dark in a huge cloud. The air filled with a hailstorm of feathered wings. He fell to his knees and covered his head as they rained down around him, his ears ringing with their shrieking, despairing cries. The air battered and vibrated with beating wings and the splatters of their falling bodies as they landed in the sticky pitch. When it was over, he lowered his arms and saw birds all around him. Trapped birds had covered every inch of the pitch-covered ground. He was surrounded, held in siege, by a living carpet of warblers, hummingbirds, finches, seagulls, nightingales, canaries and crows. The only bare ground was the tiny patch he kneeled in and the path to the road. Blocking the path, on the far side of the trapped birds, she was looking down, reaching into her obi sash.
“Demon! Dammed monster!” he cried. “Obey me! These innocent birds! How dare you harm them? They’ve done nothing to you. It is right to rid this world of you! Obey me!”
She didn’t seem to hear. With a flourish, she threw back her wide sleeves and removed the object from her obi. It was a wakizashi, and at the sight of it, Ichinori fell speechless. With a soft click and long sigh of steel, he could hear even over the clamor of the birds, she drew the bright blade from the saya, and tucked the saya back in her obi sash. Refusing to kneel in her presence, Ichinori stood up defiantly. The book of the sutras was at the demon’s monument, with several feet of birds between them. He reached for it desperately, but it was too far away. He tried to step to it, but there was no way to reach it without trampling the birds. He turned around, thinking to chant a sacred mantra to banish her, but she was already there.
She lunged at him, the wakizashi stabbing for his eyes.
* * * *
When I look back on this passage, which I wrote many years ago, it seems to me the key parts are in the lines “She watched him guardedly, without hostility, as though waiting for him. With a hesitant step forward, she folded her hands into her wide sleeves and seemed about to speak.” There’s something going on in those lines that’s worth understanding.
When I first began writing erotic stories and love stories, it seemed to me the women characters were always turning out to be dangerous and other worldly. It made me wonder if there was something going on in my attitude towards women, some kind of hostility, so I made an effort later on to make the female characters a little nicer. But I still love my early dangerous ladies. Lady Dainagon was my first love. In spite of her aristocratic arrogance, and occasional outbursts of malicious cruelty and Freudian violence, she’s really not a bad person. If you stay on her good side, she can be very sincerely sweet. We see when she meets Ichinori, who after all has come into her territory to do away with her, that her first impulse is to speak to him, to talk things over, state her case. She’s prepared for a fight, but it’s not her first choice to grapple in the dust with a peasant. Culturally, for a member of the Imperial court of Heian era Japan to even say good morning to someone as far down the social ladder as a Buddhist monk is wildly liberal and egalitarian. Lady Dainagon can be patient up to a point but her problem is respect. She’s mid-level royalty. She can’t stand being treated disrespectfully. Rudeness makes her furious. So when this guy starts shooting off his mouth - oh boy.
I recently saw a movie called “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. It was okay. One of the villains is a sorceress named Morgana. You can hardly call her a character, because we only see her briefly at the beginning and briefly at the end. For the rest of the movie she is what Alfred Hitchcock called a “MaGuffin”. A Maguffin can be a diamond, or a person or a suitcase nuke, any old thing will do, but its something the hero cares about a lot and spends most of the story chasing after. It moves the plot along. If Morgana is set free the world will end etc etc. You know. So the hero and the main villain both chase after her. The thing is, Morgana, who is supposed to be this terrifying person doesn’t come across as frightening at all. She’s a special effect with nice tits. Part of the problem is that during her brief appearances she is thoroughly evil with no redeeming features at all. A villain that is purely villainous will usually fail to frighten. The best movie monsters have a certain pathos to them. Boris Karloff’s version of Frankenstein. Hannibal Lechter. The Phantom of the Opera. Characters who are just gleefully nasty, they never seem to get to me. Maybe that's just me.
Lady Dainagon was at least partly modeled on two women I once saw in a Japanese horror flick from the ‘60s called “Onibaba” which more or less means “Demonic Old Lady”. There are these two women in the movie, during the feudal wars of medieval Japan, who trap and murder wounded samurai, steal their armor and sell it. One of the women is middle aged and the other is her nubile young daughter in law. Because it’s the dog days of summer, these two women spend a great deal of screen time naked, as Japanese cinema in the ‘60s was never self conscious about nudity and often worked it for narrative purposes. This had a lingering erotic effect that made these women and their problems stick in my mind. By the end of the movie, when the Very Bad Thing was about to happen to the older lady as a consequence of her evil deeds, I found myself cringing in genuine fear for her, which almost never happens. The reason being – I liked her. I felt sorry for her. It was one of those relationships, where I fell in love with her breasts first but then stayed because I grew close to the woman. I’ve seen other film makers try to win my heart through the nudity thing, but it never seems to work as powerfully as it did with these two desperate, impoverished women. It’s not because they’re nice, they’re so not, it’s because they come across as real people doing evil things to survive from day to day in a bad situation.
Even cruel dictators love their grandchildren. Adolf Eichmann was identified by Israeli Mossad agents the night they saw him bring flowers to his wife. I think dangerous women and their games and duels work when they come from some place in the heart.
My opinion anyway.