by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten
Kitsune-Tsuki, by Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Indianapolis, IN, Æclipse Press, September 2012, trade paperback $4.99 (v + 96 pages), Kindle $1.99.
Kitsune-Mochi, by Laura VanArendonk Baugh
Indianapolis, IN, Æclipse Press, October 2013, trade paperback $8.99 (xiii + 291 pages), Kindle $2.99.
Are Baugh’s Kitsune Tales Books 1 and 2 anthropomorphic or not? It’s impossible to tell until about halfway through Kitsune-Tsuki, defined in the glossary as “state of being possessed by a fox spirit”.
These two books are set in Heian Japan, the historical period from 794 to 1185 A.D. This was the period of the most formal Imperial courts, and when the belief in Shintoism, Buddhism, and Taoism were at their height. The imperial court’s most influential courtiers may have been the onmyōji, the practitioners of soothsaying, divination, astronomy, and other forms of fortune-telling. Hardly anyone, from the emperor to his concubines to their servants, did anything without checking with an onmyōji first to find out whether it would result in good luck or bad luck. The most famous onmyōji was Abe no Seimei (921-1005), who was believed to also be a powerful wizard. See the 2001 Japanese feature Onmyōji (it’s on YouTube) about Abe no Seimei as a good wizard battling evil onmyōji trying to destroy the emperor.
This was also the period when belief in ghosts, demons, and shapechanging spirits was at its height, including belief in nine-tailed kitsune (foxes) and fox-spirits possessing people. The insane were believed to be possessed by a fox-spirit. So in Kitsune-Tsuki a short novella or even a novelette), belief in fox spirits is not necessarily a fantasy about their reality. But yes, unmistakable fox-spirits do finally appear.
Tsurugu no Kiyomori is an onmyōji called to the court of Naka no Yoritomo, a powerful daimyō (regional lord) with a court rivaling the emperor’s.
“Naka no Yoritomo believed that a local kitsune meant to work mischief upon him or his new wife, Fujitani no Kaede. There had been strange incidents in the countryside of late, with objects of value disappearing and irrational stories offered by confused laborers for missing goods and missing hours. There had even been a recent case of kitsune-tsuki in the farmers’ village below, a poor young girl possessed by a fox spirit and driven to madness.” (pgs. 2-3)