Killing monstrous darlings

Wanyūdō (“wheel priest”) from Konjaku zoku hyakki, a supernatural bestiary by Toriyama Sekien (1779).

I have been relentlessly combing through the draft of Fire in the Mind, trimming it down by over 3000 words in recent weeks. In the process I have had to “kill my darlings,” as the saying goes. Perhaps they will still be of interest presented piecemeal here.

Several beta readers thought I was overly fond of fiery yokai in Japanese folklore, for example. The monstrous darlings I decided to kill include the wanyudo, which rolls along mountain roads and through village streets in the form of a giant, angry monk’s head framed by a flaming ox-cart wheel, hunting for souls to drag to Hell. A female version, katawaguruma, features a tormented, naked woman also riding a giant burning wheel.

Many yokai feature monks or other religious figures. Kazenbo (“monk in the flames”) resemble monks burning alive. In the tenth century CE, the story goes, a group of monks decided to leap into fire as a shortcut to achieving enlightenment. This experiment failed, and ever since their spirits haunt a mountain in Kyoto, wrapped in the fires of ignorance and sinful attachment.

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