Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Monster in the Rice Field

On the fifth floor of the St. Olaf College Library, there is a statue titled "The Purple Dragon." It was made by Joanna Newell. I do not remember the first time I saw this statue, but in recent days I have been paying special attention to it. It reminds me of "The Monster in the Rice Field," one of the tales in my Matengo Folktales. This is a tale about a monster that takes away members of a family as they take turns watching over the rice in their field. No one knows what the monster in the tale looked like, and the Matengo tradition offers not a clue. I guess that is why I like the dragon in the St. Olaf Library. About seven foot high, this seems to me the kind of monster the Matengo tale describes. Of course, in creating this monster, the artist was not thinking about the Matengo tale.
Perhaps she was thinking about a monster in a different tale, but the monster she created works for the Matengo tale quite well. It is amazing what the human imagination can do to bridge cultures. There are monster tales in all human societies, and they seem to have been there from the dawn of story telling. We never tire of the stories, scary as they might be.

Folktales inspire the imagination of audiences everywhere. After reading the tales in Matengo Folktales, students at Colorado College decided to perform them. As their professor told me, "One group did the Monster in the Rice Field complete with puppets they had made to represent the children and parents and which made it all too vivid how people just kept disappearing." Art is a universal language, and the monster is part of that language. To paraphrase Carl Jung, the monster, just like the bogeyman, is a product and manifestation of our psychic experiences. We encounter monsters, typically, in our dreams. No wonder stories of monsters have such a hold on us.

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