Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, September 2019
Reviewed by Tara Grímravn
This month, Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores has chosen to feature a story by the late, award-winning Japanese author Naoko Awa, a fitting choice considering that Japan’s Moon Festival takes place this month. Although Awa passed away in 1993 at the age of 50, this is the first time “A Ladder to the Moon” has appeared in print. In it, we meet a young girl named Keiko and her rabbit, Mimi. Mimi had been a birthday gift from Keiko’s great-grandmother, who warned her of the power that the full moon has over bunnies. With the approach of the Moon Festival, Keiko becomes increasingly worried that Mimi might be stolen by the moon and takes every precaution she can think of to keep her beloved Mimi safe. One night, she wakes to find the rabbit missing and goes outside to search for her, only to see Mimi and others climbing a silver rope ladder to the moon. Keiko follows her bunny up the ladder and finds herself in another world.
Folklore plays an important role in Japanese culture, and Awa’s well-known love of fairy tales shines through in this sweet little story. For those seeking entertainment, however, this may not be the right tale. “A Ladder to the Moon” is a charming, gentle read—one that may be too mild for readers expecting excitement or the usual villain/hero conflict. Keiko never experiences a genuine threat, nor does she confront a physical antagonist. She still goes on the hero’s journey but it doesn’t play out as one might anticipate. Awa’s intent seems to be focused on communicating a morality lesson more than anything else. In this case, the overarching moral is that spiritual beauty is more important than physical beauty, which is a common theme in Japanese folklore. It’s subtle and possibly easily overlooked by many readers, but it’s there in the contrast between Keiko and the hunter’s daughters. In addition to this, there are other lessons hidden throughout, some found in the symbolism of the rabbit and the moon. Unfortunately, that also means that there is the potential for a few readers to dismiss it straight away as too simplistic or shallow. To do so would be a mistake, however, as there’s much more to this story than is evident at first glance.