Sunday, May 16, 2021

Something About Lafcadio Hearn

Big in Japan.

I went back and reread the entry I had about John Bellair from a few days ago and was interested about this Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), best remembered for numerous writings about Japanese culture and legends. Bellair was right to title his book In Hearn's Footsteps. Hearn was born on the Greek island of Lefkada, later moved to Dublin, was sent to Cincinnati, then New Orleans, and yet still to the French West Indies. In 1890, Hearn went to Japan where he would remain for the rest of his life.

What caught my eye was Hearn's ghost stories, or kaidan. But these are not mere horror stories, as explains author Zack Davisson:
Translators have always had a difficult time deciphering the word. Kaidan often ends up as ghost stories or mysterious tales or some such variation simply due to lack of options. In fact, many kaidan are not intended to be frightening at all. The stories can just as easily be funny, or strange, or just telling about an odd thing that happened one time. This element of kaidan often confuses Westerners, and a common complaint heard...is that they “aren’t scary.” This is because they are not intended to be. They are kaidan.
Hearn's In Ghostly Japan (1899) collects a handful of stories, including one about a mountain of skulls and another of vengeful hands keeping abreast of a strange situation. I’ve read a handful of other stories and thought I’d share some of what I’ve found. I’m somewhat curious how Japanese readers respond or relate to the ghosts appearing in the Bellairs Corpus - since so many Lewis Barnavelt titles have been translated into Japanese - verse their native kaidan.

1 comment:

Russ said...

As a lifetime Cincinnati resident and book collector I have long been aware of the Lafcadio Hearn connection to this city. Besides working for some of the local newspapers, Hearn also produced his own short lived paper in Cincinnati "Ye Giglampz". It was "A weekly illustrated journal devoted to art, literature and satire." but it only lasted for nine issues. He produced this along with famed Cincinnati artist Henry F. Farny. I once held one of the rare issues in my hands when a friend and fellow bookseller showed me the issue and asked if I had any idea what it was worth. My only reply, was "alot". I am not sure how much he got for that paper.