5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully illustrated collection of Japanese fairly tales
Originally published in 1923 under the title “Green Willow and Other Japanese Fairy Tales,” Grace James collected various Japanese fairly tales and re-wrote them to match the style of Western British children’s literature of the time. As a result, “The Moon Maiden and Other Japanese Fairy Tales” is one of the least authentic yet most readable and child-appropriate books in the genre.
The stories are a mix of Japanese legends from various sources such as the The Kojiki, known in English as The Records of Ancient Matters, Lafcadio Hearn’s books such as Kwaidan: Ghost Stories and Strange Tales of Old Japan, and various other native fantastic stories. There are thirty stories in all, most of which take up a few pages at most.
Included are the various origin stories of Japan, such as the creation of the country by the gods Izanagi and Izanami, as well legends such as the creation of the jellyfish, the tanuki tea-kettle, the Bell of Dojoji and Urashimataro who is Japan’s Rip van Winkle character. Some ghost stories are included, such as The Peony Lantern and Karma, and a few monster legends such as The Cold Woman, which is a retelling of Hearn’s Yuki-onna.
James’s writing style is very light and easy, and her word choices help establish a fairy-tale mood. She tends to use very fanciful translations, such as calling Otsuyu from The Peony Lantern “The Lady of the Morning Dew” and always refers to the Emperor as “The Mikado” or the “August Child,” all of which are appropriate terms but rarely directly translated.
One of the real treasures of this Dover edition of “The Moon Maiden and Other Japanese Fairy Tales” is the inclusion of all sixteen color illustrations by artist Warwick Goble. The pictures are really beautiful, and capture the magic of the stories perfectly, as presented by Grace James. Many of these re-print editions come with black-and-white illustrations in order to save money, so I was thrilled to see them here as originally intended.
If you are seeking authenticity then “The Moon Maiden and Other Japanese Fairy Tales” is probably not the book for you. There are many other books that present the legends as they are, such as the scholarly Myths and Legends of Japan or the sociological Tales of Old Japan. However, if you just want to drift away to fantasyland or have a child interested in Japan but not interested in studying about Japan, then this is the perfect book.