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Picturing a World

Chinese Green Man?

A History Blog post on a 9th c. temple complex found in southwest China includes an image of tiles recovered from an ancient kiln. When I saw this one, my reaction was, a Chinese Green Man? Is that foliage on top of his head? Vines or snakes coming out of his mouth? A little poking around on the web turned up Kirtimukha, which may indeed be connected to the foliate heads of Western medieval art.

Green Man: Archetype of Our Oneness with the Earth by William Anderson was my introduction years ago to the idea that a medieval decorative motif could be associated with all sorts of myths, so after seeing the Chinese tile, I reread the book. In many ways it's bosh. Emily Tesh's essay, The Green Man: When Is a Myth Not a Myth is so on-target and so funny that I laughed out loud and immediately ordered her novel Silver in the Wood (I loved it!).

And yet, Anderson's book is also lovely and very moving in places, even if it is not entirely convincing; and Stephen Winick's response to critics of the Green Man as truly a folkloric figure is worth reading.

Meanwhile, what to do with the Chinese tile? Research Chinese ceramics, archeology, and mythology—or take it as the springboard for a story:

  1. An archeologist working in Scandinavia finds an ancient Chinese tile in a Viking grave and wonders how it got there (cf. the Buddha statue that really did turn up in a dig on a Swedish island).
  2. An archeologist awakens an actual demon or demigod when she unearths a temple.
  3. Someone finds an ancient tile in a junky antique store and is piqued by its similarity to a decorative figure on a local 19thC building.
  4. Someone named Kurt Mukha begins a correspondence with a Manfred Greene.

My point, as always, is that a writer's imagination may be sparked by just about anything and go in any direction. Have fun!

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