"Kintaro and Carp in a Waterfall," ca. 1820 by Japanese artist Totoya Hokkei.
There are all kinds of stories as to how Kintarō was born, from being born in the forest after his mother (a princess) escaped fighting between his father and uncle, to one story where his mother is Yama-uba, a mountain crone, impregnated by a clap of lightning sent by a red dragon. He was said to be extremely strong even as a very small child – where he ran around naked, except for a bib around his neck with the kanji for “gold.” He was said to be very close to animals. They did his bidding, let him ride them, and possibly even taught him their language. From the time he was a small child he was fighting monsters and helping local workers.
When Kintarō grew up, he met samurai Minamoto no Yorimitsu, who was very impressed by his strength, and so made him a personal retainer. Kintarō was going by the name Sakata no Kintoki at this time, after Mt. Kintoki where he was raised. Kintarō trained in Kyoto, learning martial arts under Yorimitsu, and eventually became the leader of Yorimitsu’s Shitennō or “four braves.” Eventually he brought his mother to Kyoto as well.
Today in Japan Kintarō is a very popular figure, with his face on art, manga, and even candy. (Actually, the candy’s been around for centuries). If you’re interested in Kintarō, there is an anime called Golden Boy that is based on the legend.
A quick little post for today. You’ve probably heard the phrase “into the ether.” What you might not know is that Ether – or rather, Aether, is actually a Greek God—and one of the very first.
Aether was one of the Protogenoi, or an elemental god, like Chaos and Gaia. Aether was the embodiment of the upper air or space or heaven. He is also the pure air that the gods themselves breathed—which is different from the air that mortals breathed. Aether is supposedly the son of Erebus (Deep Darkness) and Nyx (Night) but may also be the son of Chaos. The Orphic hymns mention him as the “soul of the earth” from which all life emanates. He is the father of Uranus (Father Sky) and possibly Aergia (Inactivity).
His realm encompasses the mountains, clouds, stars, sun and moon, and it is said that the stars were forged in the Aether’s fire. Aether was also meant to be Zeus’ defensive wall, blocking Tartarus from the rest of the Cosmos.
This book has been stalking me. Every few weeks I’d see it (or its sequels) referenced on blogs, GoodReads, reviews, Facebook. It was everywhere and I couldn’t be sure it wasn’t following me. Considering it was originally released in 1998, its sudden ever-presence did seem rather strange. But then I realized that the fourth book of the series, A Conspiracy of Kings, was just released. Ok, so the book wasn’t following me. But the buzz was so enthusiastic that I was already hooked.
Though its not technically YA fantasy, it is a sort of historical YA with some great mythology and a touch of the fantastical. The world is slowly and beautifully revealed, and the landscape is both foreign and familiar.
The story starts with Gen, a thief who claims he can steal anything. He’s currently locked in the King’s dungeon in Sunis for stealing his signet ring, but is released by the King’s scholar, the magus, to go on a quest he’s told very little about. As the story unravels, we find that there is much more to all of the characters than meets the eye, and that Gen, though apparently a tool for people more powerful than he, has several tricks up his own sleeve.
This story is a delightful blend of mystery, twists, adventure, quest, and mythology. I loved every moment of it. Rating: A. Expect to hear of the other books in the series. I will certainly be ordering them soon.