“You have traveled far, hunter. Why not sit with me by the pond for a spell?” The woman asked in a voice like birdsong. Lie Ren looked around. “What is a young woman like yourself doing out here all alone?” he asked. The woman smiled. “I live out here. This is where I bathe myself.” Lie Ren sat down next to the woman. “Yes, but there are wolves out in these mountains. How do you stay safe?” The woman just laughed. “I don’t bother the wolves, and they don’t bother me. Now, enough talk. Why don’t we have some fun while you’re here before you return to your journey? Fox spirits can be… very illusive.” Lie Ren smiled dreamily and began taking off his clothes.
I have always loved stories. All the way back in 6th grade, I would draw comics almost every day. Even when my passion switched to video games, I loved making stories for them more than anything. So when I heard that I could do pretty much anything for my final project in COR, I immediately knew I wanted to make a story. I considered making a game for a new moments, but decided that was way too much. So I settled on the next best thing: writing a ghost story I specifically decide to try and match the style of the Strange Story as described in Pu Songling’s Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, as they were more detailed than the Weird Account, and thus provided more of an opportunity for storytelling..
Fox Spirits have always been my favorite chinese mythological creature, so that bit was easy. I had the feeling I wanted the setting to be a mountain, maybe with a hunter getting lost and meeting a fox spirit. I then started my research with a book called The Cult of the Fox, suggested to me by my instructor. And it this book, I struck gold. In the first chapter of the book, there is a section discussing the fox as an omen. It mentioned how there are legends about how a nine-tailed fox appeared to some emperors as an auspicious omen.This sparked an idea. Instead of being lost in some mountains, the hunter would be sent there by an emperor wanting a nine-tailed fox to appear during his ascension to the throne. I decided to make this emperor a pretty nice guy, trying to avoid a sibling war with the appearance of the fox because I thought it would make a better story.
Probably the most interesting research I did was on names. I have always loved giving my characters names with double meanings such as Kitai (hope), Hikari (light), and Ken (blade). I tend to use Japanese names, but for this story I obviously chose Chinese. For the prince who wanted the fox spirit, I named him Shan Zhai. In my story, Shan Zhai is trying to follow in his father’s footsteps; a nine-tailed fox spirit appeared to him on his day of ascension, and Zhai wanted to replicate this to assure China he was the rightful emperor and he would lead them in prosperity. Shan Zhai is derived from the chinese word shanzhai, which can mean copycat (or counterfeit, depending on translation). I chose this name, as Shan Zhai was trying to mimic his father. As for the hunter, the other main character, I named him Lie Ren. Lie Ren simply translates to Hunter in english. Pretty straightforward symbolism there. I decided to not give the old emperor a name; this way, the reader could identify him as any of China’s great rulers.
After exploring Chinese succession rites, I found information about how sometimes the throne would be contested, usually by brothers or half-brothers of the old emperor’s eldest son. I used these wars of succession to lend a bit more weight to Lie Ren’s quest; if he didn’t find the fox spirit, China may have been plunged into chaos.
Lie Ren’s interactions with the fox spirit are based on the fox spirit stories we read in Strange Tales. Of course she would seduce Lie Ren as soon as he saw her; that’s what Fox Spirits do in Chinese lore. I decided to make her a kinder spirit because that style of spirit is rarer in chinese stories, and quite frankly more interesting. As for Lie Ran’s wish, I felt this was in character for the hunter. Additionally, it reflects China’s more collectivist views that we discussed in class; people in China are more concerned with the greater good than themselves. I intentionally left the end of the story a bit open ended, similar to Pu Songling’s stories.
In the end, regardless of the research I did, regardless of the symbolism and details, what I set out to do with this project was tell a story. And I think it turned out to be a pretty good one.