Friday, 27 September 2013

The Adventure of Little Kamu

KANZAWA Toshiko (神沢利子, born 1924) is a prolific and successful Japanese children's writer. She was born in Fukuoka, but spent much of her childhood in the northerly Japanese island of Hokkaido and in the yet more northerly Sakhalin, at that time controlled partly by Japan, partly by Russia. Her first novel ちびっこカムのぼうけん (The Adventures of Little Kamu, 1961) set in Kamchatka a little to the north of Sakhalin, is influenced by these childhood memories.

The hero Kamu is a young indigenous boy, living with his sick mother in a tent, who sets off to find the 'herb of life' which can cure any sickness. His way leads him through a variety of adventures, some with magical spirits, such as the giant Gamurii, who dwells at the peak of the region's great volcano, but more with the land's various wild animals, such as bear, salmon, eagles, reindeer, puffin, seals, and the landscape, an icy world of glaciers, sea ice and snow, dominated by great volcanoes.
Far away in a land to the north of the north, there towered a great mountain, all year round covered in snow.

From its peak, billowing clouds of smoke, as if a giant were breathing out, poured forth from a pillar of fire, that reached into heaven in the darkness, and could be seen even from the distant sea. 

Much like Taro the Dragon Boy the book divides into two halves. In the first adventure, while Kamu is saving his mother, he also learns of his missing father. Gamurii had thrown him into the northern sea, where he had turned into a white whale (no, I don't know either). Kamu sets off to find him and in doing so discovers that he must defeat the killer whale that is attacking the animals of the bay.

The similarities to Taro the Dragon Boy go beyond the larger structure. Both are made up of episodes that individually resemble traditional folk tales. Both have a young boy as hero, with a similar character in each, thoughtless, brave, assertive, good natured. Tellings of traditional Japanese stories of strong child heroes sometimes go in the same direction. It seems to me that in English children's stories such characters are rare, at least as anything like an identification figure. In Stevenson's Kidnapped for instance, the serious David Balfour is the figure with which the reader identifies, not the reckless Alan Breck; and in Arthur Ransome's books, Nancy Blackett is a strong character, but almost always seen from outside, while we are shown more of the inner life of more sensitive or responsible characters.

No comments:

Post a Comment