Sunday, 2 November 2014

Grick's Adventure

I wrote about The Adventurers (冒険者たち, 1972) by  斎藤惇夫 (SAITOU Atsuo) a while back. グリックの冒険 (Gurikku no bouken, Grick's Adventure,  1970) was the first book written in the series; but The Adventurers was written as a prequel as an origin story for a minor character in Grick's Adventure, the rat Ganba. The hero of Grick's Adventure is a chipmunk, Grick. According to Saitou's afterword, the name is meant to recall the sound of a chipmunk eating a nut and the German word Glück (fortune, happiness).

As the story starts Grick is one of two pet chipmunks in a city house. He and his elder sister Frack are kept in a cage most of the day, but let out for an hour to play in a room of their owner's house. For Frack her present state is a relief after the cramped pet shop she had known before; but the more energetic Grick has no memories of the pet shop and feels confined. From time to time the chipmunks get out into other parts of the house, and on one such occasion Grick meets a pigeon, Pippō, who tells him that he doesn't belong in the house, he should be outside; Grick's real home is a forest Pippō had visited in the north, filled with chipmunks. In the days that follow, Grick cannot stop thinking of this forest.
In a voice just short of crying, he interrupted Pippō. 'I want to go there too,' he shouted.
'Eh? To the forest?' Pippō stared astonished at Grick. 
'Yes. I want to go. To the forest. To where I there are other chipmunks like me.' ...
Pippō looked at Grick for a while, then said, 'Well, if you had wings, you know? I reckon walking all that way would be incredibly difficult. It's a huge distance. Just flying there and back leaves me quite exhausted. It's hopeless.  Firstly, you can't even get out of his town ... And suppose for the sake of argument (that's just supposing, mind you), suppose you manage to get out of the town, there's fields going on for ever, after them a hill. I call it a hill, but it's pretty high. Then more fields, then there's a big river flowing. Mmm, that river, right, it's fed by all the small rivers. That river goes down to the sea. Then the coast keeps going northward and there's a mountain. Cross that mountain and you come to your home. It's hopeless. Really it's hopeless.'
'But didn't you tell me to leave here?' Grick said, his eyes filled with tears.
'I did. But I meant you should find some garden near here.' Pippō answered, looking apologetically at Grick.
'I'm not going out to live in a garden. How much different is that to the parlour? Where I want to go is my real home. If I can't, I .....
For the most part, Grick's adventure is a kind of animal odyssey. The first part of the journey, however, has a different character. Grick meets the brown rat Ganba, who with his companions is helping in a war against the black rats. Frankly, this makes uncomfortable reading. At best, you could say it resembles a turf war. But when the leader of the town's brown rats is making demagogic speeches against the black rats, and the brown rats are hunting through the town to find where the black rats are hiding from them, to kill them or drive them out of town, it basically reads like a story of ethnic cleansing. The episode ends inconclusively (it is not after all Grick's story); and, Saitou does make it clear enough that the black rats would have a different view of the story to the one that we get following Ganba. Still you have to wonder what children are supposed to make of it all.

After this, the narrative is more straightforward. The various stages that Pippō describes in the quotation above make up the stages of the book. First however, Grick acquires a companion, Nonnon, a female squirrel with a wounded leg who follows him from a zoo on the outskirts of town where he stays for a while. At first, Grick resents her, but he comes to recognise that he might never have left the zoo without her prompting. 

The story is mostly episodic, with various dangers from predators or hunger  appearing at intervals. Running through the various adventures is awareness of the passing year and the approach of winter, making any delay a new kind of danger. 

  As I mentioned in my earlier post, the book was made into an anime film with the same title in 1981, released in English as Enchanted Journey.

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