Wednesday, August 5, 2009
BLOG TOUR (6) SAMURAI KIDS: MONKEY FIST
Although Monkey Fist is a stand-alone story it is also Sandy Fussell's fourth book in the Series.
In preparing questions about the cultural setting and background to Samurai Kids: Monkey Fist, I picked up two the earlier books in the series - White Crane and Owl Ninja hoping to taste something of the flavour of the series and learn about the characters. I found myself immersed in layer upon layer of Japanese culture, mysticism and folklore. The stories read like an enlarged Haiku offering so much more than the words themselves.
1. As I read your Samurai books I am struck by the underlays of Japanese culture, folklore, mysticism waiting to be uncovered. How did this relationship come about?
I did a project on Japan when I was nine. I thought it was the most beautiful, magical place. And I still do. I’ve never been there and some of my friends say I wrote Samurai Kids in the hope of one day going on a research trip! Oh, I wish. From Japan the Kids travel to China, where Monkey Fist is set. I have been to China but only barely. I did a day trip from Hong Kong which saw the group venture just far enough inside the border to need a visa. China is on my wish list too. I would love to see the Forbidden City where much of the action of Monkey Fist takes place. Later titles will see the Samurai Kids journey into Korea, the Kingdom of Joseon. The culture and history of north-east Asia fascinates me.
2. I am most intrigued by the relationship between the names of the Cockroach Ryu members and their totems. Tell me about them.
What I didn’t anticipate was how children would love this feature. In truth, I was a little wary as this is the one aspect which does not have a firm footing in Japanese history or culture. It belongs to Sensei’s wisdom and the children’s sense of identity. Now kids often approach me brandishing imaginary swords, saying: “I’m Mikko and my spirit is the Striped Gecko.”
3. Tell me more about the Samurai - Ninja relationship.
The samurai and the ninja were traditional enemies so it was only natural that eventually the Kids would come in contact with ninja. Plus my youngest son insisted on it. After I read the original manuscript to him he asked: “Where are the ninja?” I was trying to think of a clever-parent answer when he said: “I know, they’re in Book 2”. So when Walker Books later asked me if I had any ideas for a sequel – ninja immediately came to mind. The other thing that fascinated me about the samurai-ninja relationship was the irony - while the proud noble samurai despised the sneaky, deceitful ninja, when he wanted someone assassinated in the middle of the night, he employed a ninja!
4. Can you describe something of the significance of Zen and Tao in the Samurai Kids generally but particularly with reference to Monkey Fist.
The samurai practised Zazen meditation; they believed it was as important to care for the mind and the body. There are many things about Zen which fascinate me. I love the simplicity of its wisdom – that nothing could be the ultimate answer. Zen is everything and Zen is nothing. This is intrinsic to the humour of Samurai Kids where as a Zen Master, Sensei is a Master of NOTHING and the kids spend a lot of time learning about NOTHING. Zen koans are heaps of fun. Like: What is the sound of one hand clapping? Kids are very Zen and have immediate answers. We adults are the one who think too much!
The Tao way was one of going with the flow and of being one with nature. It too was a popular thought in Japan and China in the mid seventeenth century. Sensei’s teachings are mainly based on Zen with a Tao influence. In Samurai Kids the focus is not on the religious ideology but the positive values of these beliefs and their historical context.
5. What part do the almost casual references to Japanese folkloric icons such as Tanuki, fox, shape shifters etc play in the overall telling of the story.
The samurai and people of seventeenth century Japan believed in creatures like the Tanuki. They believed the fox, or Kitsune, was a shapeshifter. They believed in monsters and ghosts. The people of isolated mountain areas were as superstitious as the members of the Imperial Court. What we now call folktales were accepted parts of the samurai kids cultural world. These elements add a historical perspective and an exotic flavour to the storytelling. What kid doesn’t love a good fairytale or ghost story?
I don’t exactly know where the name came from. I made it up and it sounded right. In retrospect, not choosing authentic Japanese names is my greatest regret and a mistake I will never repeat. But my initial feedback was no reader would remember seven Japanese names. I have since found that only applies to adults!!! Kids could have easily remembered twenty!!!
Ki-Yaga’s name was originally Ki-Yoda but some felt it was too similar to Jedi Master Yoda (A wise teacher is a wise teacher in any galaxy and yes, I am a Star Wars fan!). Kids often ask me where Ki-Yaga gets his sayings from and I tell them about the one I found in a fortune cookie “Never use a hatchet to remove a fly from the face of a friend.” But when my eldest son read White Crane he said: “It’s you. Sensei talks just like you do.” Hmm….
7. I found the term ‘Monkey Fist’ used to describe a nautical type of knot. How does the term apply to the Samurai?
1 Aug Dee White http://tips4youngwriters.wordpress.com/
2 Aug Dale Harcombe http://www.livejournal.com/users/orangedale
3 Aug Claire Saxby http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com/
4 Aug Sally Odgrs http://spinningpearls.blogspot.com/
5 Aug Mabel Kaplan http://belka37.blogspot.com/ [That's right here]
6 Aug Sally Murphy http://sallymurphy.blogspot.com/
7 Aug Robyn Opie http://www.robynopie.blogspot.com/
8 Aug Rebecca Newman http://www.soupblog.wordpress.com/
9 Aug Susan Stephenson http://thebookchook.blogspot.com/
10 Aug Jeffery E Doherty http://jefferyedoherty.blogspot.com/