Who would have though that a three century old woodcut of two octopi performing cunnilingus on a woman could inspire you to write a great story instead of just giggling like a 13 year old?
While looking at Japanese woodcuts one day, I found that image. A woodcut by Hokusai associated with the Kinoe No Komastu [young pines] from a three volume book of Shunga erotica published in 1814. It is the most famous shunga Hokusai ever produced. Wood-prints like this were popular during the Edo period when the merchant class [the lowest in Japanese pecking order] found themselves growing more wealth and able to afford woodcuts of stories,landscapes,erotica, and flora and fauna.
But the story by A.C Wise, which I found after more reading, that appeared in Shimmer magazine did something that seemed to give the silly woodcut far more meaning than anyone seemed to have intended.
The word slams into him, sudden certainty. He must follow his wife down; he must find her under the waves. They must find each other. As the sun passes the apex of the sky, the fisherman strips and describes a perfect arc into the blue.
The water slices him open, steals his breath. Cutting knife-clean through the dark, he swims down”
The story isn’t particularly long. A fisherman’s wife becomes enthralled with the ocean, while the small town where they have struggled to make a living, is slowly abandoned. They decide to stay[and possibly kill themselves]. This is used to symbolize love, belonging, loss and freedom.
Firstly the manner in which we know the wife- as something that belongs to the fisherman- is a deliberate attempt to make a statement on the condition of women in 18th century Japan. More interesting is the fact that it is the wife who leads the husband to the ocean. It is the wife and not the husband who drives the story. It is the wife who is able to stop their suffering.
The husband is in the role that women are usually cast in. He seems to exist to offer support to his wife, but the loyalty and dedication he shows makes him compelling in his own right. The ocean which radiates atmosphere ever time it is mentioned seems to gleam with possibilities. you wonder why they hadn’t thrown away everything else and dived in earlier.
The octopi in the image aren’t just octopi anymore. They’re just symbols of the oceans of a world below that seems to be growing more preferable as the wife and husband look at their fading lives and passion interrupted by the world they live in.
That is the best way I can describe the story, but the story loses much of its appeal when you strip it down to its plot. The gears that drive the story are the symbols lurking in ever corner. Wise takes women in the 17th century, the wide possibilities and freedom the ocean expresses, the changing social structure of Japan and mixes them up to make a statement on passion,love and freedom. With rich, enticing images and poetic descriptions The Dream of the Firshermans wife makes you wonder how something so beautiful could have been written based on a rather perverted woodcut.