The Cross and the Cosmos Issue 12 - Tears of the Cat
The second story in the upcoming Issue 12 of The Cross and the Cosmos is “Tears of the Cat” by Jarkko Pylväs. Like Pylväs’s previous story, “The Byzantine Apple” in Issue 9, “Tears of the Cat” is written like a folktale, presenting mythic elements with an oral cadence.
“Tears of the Cat” probably seems less bizarre as it opens than “The Byzantine Apple” does. There is a much clearer frame story in “Tears of the Cat,” which not only helps to give a clearer sense of cohesive narrative by clarifying the change in narrators, but also fits perfectly with the folktale format. The narrative contains sections of near repetition that create natural divisions in the story, which are affirmed by section headings. The transitions from section to section are seamless and feel effortless to the reader, perhaps as effortless as listening to the voice of the wise old storyteller.
That storyteller speaks of the gods of ancient Egypt before they became myths. The mythological figures are portrayed realistically in their daily environment without being taken outside of the scope of mythology. There is a strong sense of the origin of myth, but there are still older myths that are mythic even to the mythological figures. Mentions of the “Seven Wise Men, who inherited the wisdom of the world in the beginning of days,” and of “Imentet, the dwelling place of the dead in Western Lands,” stir the sense of wonder that forms the essence of fantasy. The folktale presentation of mythology in this story is far less obscure than it was in the author’s previous story.
Not being obscure does not make the story shallow. On the contrary, it is very deep and probably contains several different threads of meaning. The imagery primarily involves the cycles of celestial bodies – the daily rising and setting of the sun, the movement of the star Sirius, and especially the phases of the moon. The most prominent theme seems to be death and rebirth or resurrection, but perhaps the more important theme is the difference between craftiness and true wisdom. At the end, the story presents a very explicit Christian message. I felt that the explicit message was a little unnecessary, because it didn’t seem directly relevant to the plot, and because I thought I already saw deliberate Christian symbolism in the selective use of pagan mythologies. However, the Christian message at the end might put the pagan setting into perspective, and it actually serves as the typical folktale Moral.
It would seem unlikely that such a deep story told through a non-standard narrative style could have very thorough characterization, but the two main characters feel real and almost natural despite the folktale narrative and the mythic setting. The reader’s sympathy is slowly and carefully traded from one character to the other based on the characters’ reactions, on what they suffer, and on their association with the themes. The imagery develops with the characters to reinforce the themes. My interpretation is that Sirius (mostly called by its Egyptian name Sothis), the Morning Star, represents one character. The sun represents the other main character, while the moon represents the “natural order of things” (in the words of the folktale narrator). The good-guy, the character who turns out to have very strong parallels to Christ, is not who you would think at first.
This is a great achievement. I think “Tears of the Cat” should be considered a masterpiece. That is not to say that there no rough edges. There are awkward moments in the usually flowing narrative, caused mainly by too-modern usage that feel anachronistic and out of place in the folktale. If the story had been written in modern prose conventions, there would have been no problem with phrases like “academic career,” “night vision,” and the modern use of “men and women” to specify a group of humans where the ancients would have used the generic “man” to represent all of humankind. However, “Tears of the Cat” still flows beautifully, enchanting the reader in living myth.