Tag Archives: hannya

Session 23: March 10th, 2010 – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, chps 3-6

Arthur Rackham, illustration to Hansel and Gretel
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Today, we summarized chapters 3-6 of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

We discussed archetypes – the witch is an archetype. This character exists in many different cultures. Does it not also exist in Japan? Some people thought not. Later, I got this comment from a participant:

today’s talk on the archetype and the witch made me rethink about the difference between Western and Japanese culture. And it also reminded me of my childhood when I was always wondering if there are any witches in Japan. It might be difficult to find an exact image of “witch” in Japan, but “yamanba” may be the closest.

I have to correct what I have said when you have mentioned about “noh” masks. There is a “hannya,” who turns into an “oni” due to her jealousy, but perhaps you were suggesting “yamanba” instead? (In Japanese here).

Update: It might be interesting to compare Lewis’ White Witch with the Japanese character “Yuki-Onna“. Or perhaps also with Andersen’s Snow Queen. That would make a good essay for students, don’t you think?

What interests me in the idea of archetype is that there are similar types that exist in the minds and cultures of human beings who live in very different places. Dragons, for instance, are found in the myths and legends of China and Japan. This is understandable, as the two countries are close geographically and culturally. Perhaps the notion of dragon came to Japan from China. However, dragons also appear in Norse, Celtic and Indian myths.

A New York Times article (2003) about dragon is titled From Many Imaginations, One Fearsome Creature. It suggests that the origin of the dragon idea was the bones of dinosaurs, particularly of pterodactyls. However, dragons exist in Inuit mythology, yet no dinosaur fossils have ever been found where the Inuit live:

For thousands of years, cultures across the globe have feared different versions of overgrown reptiles. GREEK MYTHOLOGY — Perseus fought to spare Andromeda from a sea dragon, perhaps inspired by sightings of oarfish (right), which grow up to 30 feet long. THROUGHOUT EUROPE — Roman accounts of dragons spawned many legends; biblical dragons gave them credibility. THE INUIT — They had visions of dragons in a region where no reptiles exist. This one, confronting a caribou, was carved in bone. MT. PILATUS, SWITZERLAND — Pterodactyl fossils (below) are plentiful in this area. CHINA — Flying dragons could be harnessed for transportation. THE AZTECS — Their serpent god Quetzalcoatl had various guises and was seen as a protector usually.

Peter Schaker writes of the White Witch,

She is, of course, the evil force in the traditional fairy-tale separation of good from evil… She is simply the archetypal figure of the temptress witch, whom we respond to quite directly as “bad.” And that is how Lewis himself viewed her: “The Witch,” he wrote in a letter, “is of course Circe, . . . because she is . . . the same Archetype we find in so many fairy tales. No good asking where any individual author got that. We are born knowing the Witch, aren’t we?” [In a letter to a friend, 1954.]  Circe, in the Odyssey, tempted men with magical food and turned them into animals. The Witch, by her affinities with Circe, fits the same pattern, or archetype, as the witch who caught Hansel and Gretel, the old witch in Grimm’s “Sweetheart Roland,” and the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz: each tempts its prey, hates human beings, and epitomizes selfishness, cruelty, and desire for control. Each suggests to children the nature of evil..

Lewis seemed to believe that the witch was an archetype, in other words, a universally recognized figure.  However, if the witch archetype, for example, does not exist in Japanese culture, that would suggest that the witch archetype is not universal. Perhaps some archetypes are universal and some are not? What are some Japanese archetypes?

Finally, the differences between Japanese and Western culture are obvious and easily explained – geographical distance, and historical isolation. What, to my mind, are more surprising than the differences are the similarities. Dragons, for example, are part of both Japanese AND Western cultures. Isn’t this odd!

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