Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Boy Who Drew Cats

Magic: the Gathering's Throne of Eldraine set has reawaked in me an interest in fairy tales; and no, I am not ashamed about in the slightest because, to quote C.S. Lewis, "When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." Not that I am fifty nor was ever really embarrassed at ten, but one gets the idea. Anyway, I am going to start posting about the odd, lesser-known fairy tales as well as all else, with a particular focus on those whose themes and/or titles remind one of commonly known ones. 

To begin, we all grow up hearing about the The Boy Who Cried Wolf. But what about The Boy Who Drew Cats? A Japanese fairy tale, the story is as such:

A farmer has many children, who are all hard-working, except for his youngest, who is small and weak and only interested in drawing pictures of cats. He decides his son is not cut out to be a farmer, and sends him to a temple to study with a priest. The boy spends all his time drawing cats instead of studying. The priest tells him he's better suited to being an artist and should return home. As he sends him on his way, the priest warns the boy: "Avoid large places at night. Keep to the small."  

Ashamed of being dismissed, the boy decides not to return to his father's farm. Instead, he travels to another temple in the hopes he can ask for a night's shelter, not realizing all the priests living there have long-ago been driven away by a giant goblin-rat. When the boy arrives, he finds the place deserted and decides to draw cats on the walls. As he begins to feel tired, he remembers the old priest's words and climbs inside a little cabinet to go to sleep.  During the night he hears horrible sounds of screaming and fighting. 

When morning comes and he finally climbs out, he discovers the corpse of the goblin-rat. As he wonders what could have killed it, he notices that all his cats now have blood on their mouths. He is hailed as a hero for defeating the monster, and grows up to be a famous artist - one who only draws cats.

This is just a summary of course, yet one of what I deem to be a charming story. A fairy tale whose lesson is no less clear than that of the justly famed The Boy Who Cried Wolf. A lesson which, I think, is captured by a quote from Sir Philip Pullman: "You have to go with the grain of your talent, not against it. If your talent is inert and sullen in the face of business or politics...but takes fire at the thought of ghosts and vampires and witches and demons then feed the flames, feed the flames." In this case the boy's talent took flame at cats and the priest in the story was right; the boy was meant to be an artist and that skill served him well (albeit in an initially atypical manner). As mythologist Joseph Campbell says, "follow your bliss," which is a lesson everyone should take to heart.

No comments:

Post a Comment