The Tale the Owl Told

An owl who wanted to tell a story and "I" who knew the owl's intention One of the things that draw the reader into Kenji's stories is his ingenious depiction, through their vivid verbal exchanges, of the psychological maneuverings of his characters, both people and animals. The story "Down in the Wood" presents a perfect example, with its conversation between a bird and a human being. The bird is an owl with a story to tell; the human is identified merely as "I," but "I" knows the owl's story and just wants to see how the bird will tell it.

A device to retell anew the famous story of the kite who took up dyeing

The maneuvering between the owl and "I"
This setting, where "I" listens to the owl tell the story, is actually a device that Kenji used so he himself could retell a famous tale anew, in his own way.

"Our ancestors, now-- Around the time when the birds first came down from heaven, they were white all over, every one of them," began the owl; but "I" was immediately suspicious, figuring that the owl was going to tell the famous story of the kite who took up dyeing. So "I" decided to listen, to see if the owl could get through the narration without talking himself into a corner with contradictions: "So," questioned "I" in a provocative tone, "How did they come to be all different as they are now--I mean, some of them tortoiseshell and some red and some a sooty color?" At that, the owl turned peevish and snapped, "
'Tortoiseshell' is used of cats. There aren't any tortoiseshell "birds"; but "I," figuring he had caught the owl in a contradiction, "I" probed further: "I'm sure I heard that there was a cat among the birds. The nighthawk mentioned one, and the crow too." This put the owl on the spot, and he had to begrudgingly admit that "cat" was his nickname. "Your nickname, eh? So they call you 'the Cat,' do they? You don't look a bit like one" replied "I," pretending he didn't think the owl looked like a cat when in fact he really did.

Hooting of the owl in the forest night In this exchange, we find depicted the type of maneuvering between the owl and "I" that draws the reader deeper and deeper into the story. Kenji's choice of the owl for telling the tale and "I" as his willing listener is exemplary character casting--the low hoo-hooing of the owl as he spoke in the forest night is alone enough to conjure the scene as Kenji described it: "the wood was a still as a millpond, with an aging silver sickle in the western sky, and oaks, pines and the rest all standing hushed--yet not asleep but listening, it seemed, to his story."
Material in quotation marks is
from Once and FOREVER, the tales of kenji miyazawa,
translated by John Bester, published by Kodansha International.

Humor in Kenji's Stories
Rhythm in Kenji's Stories
Poems and Stories: Gifts of the Stars, Wind, and Animals
Various professions
The World of Kenji's Works
The World of Kenji Miyazawa