Saturday, September 02, 2006

Marvels of Things Created, and Puppets

Gary and I are in San Francisco this weekend, having a wonderful time. Today we went to the Asian Art Museum, where we saw all kinds of beautiful and intriguing things.

I've always loved Islamic art. When I was in high school, one of my art classes went on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I stumbled onto the Islamic art exhibit and stayed there the entire time, rapt, trying to copy the intricate geometrical designs in my sketchbook. So one of my favorite pieces at the museum today was an illuminated page from a medieval Arabic book of wonders called, charmingly, Marvels of Things Created and Miraculous Aspects of Things Existing. The image in this post, of "dark-skinned dog-headed demons with pearls and feathers, both sticking out their tongues," is from that volume, although it isn't the one we saw at the museum.

I was also quite entranced by the description of Indonesian puppet theater. I haven't been able to find much about this aspect of the craft on the web, but according to the museum notes, the puppet-theater performances last a very long time (up to a day, sometimes). Interrupting them is forbidden, because they're about weighty real-world issues; the puppet world is believed to mirror the human world, so that disorder in the puppet realm will create disorder in the world where the audience lives.

Puppetry as magical ritual: cool!

Somebody has to have written a fantasy novel about this. Certainly there's tons of SF/F about simulacra of various sorts (ranging from golems to robots), so there has to be one about Indonesian puppet theater, doesn't there? If you know of such a thing, please point me to it! (And yes, I know, I really am woefully badly read at this point in my life, so I'm sure you're all rolling your eyes at my ignorance. There's undoubtedly some incredibly famous book about Indonesian puppet theater I've never heard of. Take pity on me a sinner.)

On our way out of the museum, we stopped in the gift shop, which was playing an album by the Yoshida Brothers that sounded for all the world like an Asian version of Steeleye Span. So we bought it. We also bought two soft, furry mouse puppets as gifts for our friend Ellen's little boy Paul (almost three) and her niece Lydia (almost four), since we were heading off to have dinner with Ellen and a large group of her family.

It was a terrific meal with wonderful company. Paul and Lydia loved their mice, which they promptly grabbed by the tails and began using as weapons with which to bludgeon each other. (Fortunately, these are very soft, furry mice.) They chased each other through the house, screaming in delight, mice flailing. The rest of us ate swordfish kebobs and blueberry cobbler. A fine time was had by all.

Tomorrow: Gary and I go for a long walk on the beach!


  1. Laurel11:28 PM

    I would love to read a fantasy about Indonesian puppet theater, so if you find any, do post about it. _Incident at Bada-Mya_, by Dorothy Gilman, although not fantasy, does treat Burmese puppets; I think it is a sweet, small, humane book.

  2. Hi, Laurel, and thanks for the book recommendation! If I can't find any fantasy about Indonesian puppet theater (or some fantasy equivalent thereof), I may have to try to write it myself. But there are a number of other projects in the pipeline, so I wouldn't get to it for a while!


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