Tales of the Hermit:
Volume 1-The Castle In The Rain And The Judge
By Oscar Ratti & Adele Westbrook
Publisher: Via Media
Hardcover, 168 pages, 228 illustrations
Reviewed by Christopher Caile
This is the first in a multi-volume series entitled “Tales Of the
Hermit”. The book follows the epic adventures of the Western pilgrim
and scholar Père Dominic and his adventures in the Island Empire
after his arrival from traveling across Central Asia from Europe.
This fictional historic tale is accompanied by dramatic illustrations
-- many large, vivid drawings that portray both the action and intrigue
of the story. Here Ratti is at his best. Famous for his ability to portray
action and technique in martial arts line drawings, for this series Ratti
has developed a new, unique image style -- a combination of ink outline
and charcoal, along with a background wash that creates dramatic effects
with minimal detail-- from facial close-ups to wide-angle portrayals of
battle. There is still the action and movement of the old Ratti images,
but here there are also nuances of emotion and facial expression.
In total effect the combination of images mixed with narrative is reminiscent
of the picture books (e-hons) so popular in Japan through the centuries
-- volumes filled with dramatic and colorful woodblock print images used
to portray nature, the arts and society as well as samurai action.
Back to the story. Forced by political and military upheavals on the
Island Empire, Domimic abandoned his missionary efforts and fled from
inhabited areas. He was rescued and sheltered by a secretive group of
mountain dwellers who had isolated themselves within a hidden fortress
atop a high mountain peak in a remote corner of the Island Empire.
It is here that Dominic is introduced into the unusual society of his
refuge, where we are told he will spend the next 20 years. The place is
known as the Summit, and it is inhabited by an internationally diverse
population of warriors, scholars, healers, agricultural and other specialists
known as Residents.
The Summit also contains a huge library. Amongst the many documents are
scrolls which relay the personal history and adventures of many of its
current and past occupants. Two of these scrolls are the centerpiece of
this volume: “The Castle in the Rain,” and “The Judge’
-- which the reader experiences along with Pere Dominic. On their own
they are intriguing stories of warrior conflict and mystical experience
in a far away place and time.
After finishing the book the tales crept back into my mind. They provoked
me again and again to thought and introspection. This is perhaps their
real purpose. There are parables designed to provoke question and elicit
insight, to enable the reader to embark on his own journey. This method
of learning is the cornerstone of Zen and traditional Japanese martial
arts, one that emphases experience, intuition and insight over route learning.
The book’s prologue introduces Dominic, his journey and flight
as well as the Summit and its mystical and complicated world. Much more
remains to be revealed in future volumes. The reader is introduced to
many Summit Residents. Revealed too, are some of the secrets of the mountain
and four of its nine lower levels – housing, armory and warrior
training, aesthetic creations, and mystical and religious doctrines seen
in architectural motifs. Does the Summit represent an actual physical
place, or does it represent a structure of mind or human motivations –
a sort of Maslow hierarchy of human motivation and need on a societal
level? Equally it could represent some fanatical image of creation.
On another level the book raises issues of systematic violence, man’s
capacity to inflict physical harm based on survival instincts or as result
of his intellect constructs, as well as the nature of reality itself.
Pere Dominic had never been able to arrive at means or ways to resolve
these many conflicts. Is journey allegory for man’s journey itself?
The first tale, “The Castle In The Rain,” begins with a Samurai
flight on horseback, but quickly turns into a mystical subconscious adventure
and discovery of his own heritage – a story that raises questions
of collective karma and inherited social debt. It also exposes how a society
built upon force of weapons produces its own instability through a legacy
of hate and vengeance.
The second tale, “The Judge,” is a purely individual one
– a story of two Samurai fighting a challenge match. But it is equally
a story where ego and emotional bondage from the past overcome logic and
responsibility – something that calls into question logic versus
emotion in daily conduct.
Dominic then discusses these scrolls with other Residents. The questions
raised by this book are awesome: the balance between the mechanisms of
social order and the dictates of humanity, questions of logical action
set against subconscious dictates within human interaction and conflict,
and questions about the very premises of morality and action. The central
tales also illustrate the frailty of the humanity.
In the book, an emerging Summit Doctrine is also alluded to cryptically
– principles by which various forms of violence can be transformed
to enhance human existence – innovative and responsible ways to
face reality and to contribute to its balanced manifestation. But these
are not explained in detail in the first volume.
Dominic seems poised to play a role in the Summit’s evolution.
He represents a Western way of thinking and culture. This may prove to
be a critical part of the eventual amalgam of social ethos at the Summit.
His Western orientation of logic, science and focus on technology and
the material are balanced against the Summit’s Eastern orientation
-- a reliance on intuition and insight and priority of focus on the social
and psychological needs of man and society.
Will a new social/political ethos be slowly revealed by Ratti and Westbrook
in upcoming volumes, one that addresses the very root problem of human
interaction – how to deal effectively with issues of human conflict
that might otherwise revert of violence, and how to construct a stable
society rather than one with a inherent instability? These and other questions
are all too numerous, but future volumes will undoubtedly clarify the
direction and intent of this thought-provoking beginning.
The martial artist will find this volume particularly appealing. Romantic
visions of samurai, his society, ethos and motivation are examined and
challenged against both Western and humanistic ideals.
The Tales Of The Hermit is produced by the same husband and wife team
who also produced two martial arts classics - "The Secrets Of the
Samurai," and "Aikido And The Dynamic Sphere." This latest
epic series, an "Alice In Wonderland"-like tumble into 17th
century Japan, might just be their most successful.
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This book is available from the FightingArts Estore:
Published by Via Media
(Hardcover, 168 pages, 228 illustrations)