Two Natural Oddities

{Long Citation: “A Brief Disproof of the Claim for Identity of Two Natural Oddities” H. Crun, C.F. Whaklow, D. Futtle.  PSANP Vol. CCLXI, pp. 847-851}

This paper is presented as a response to Dr. Heinrich Metzger’s publication in the last volume of The Proceedings of the Society of Abnormal Natural Philosophy¹, in which he attempts to prove that two of the more unlikely creatures described by previous authorities are in fact simply aspects of the same being.   While mindful of Dr. Metzger’s triumph in presenting the life-cycle of the lesser reticulated mendacipod², it seems in this case that he is painting with too broad a brush, metaphorically.  While the beasts are superficially similar, it is the contention of this paper that any seeming identity of the two creatures is simply a result of parallel evolution, which as in the case of the flying squirrel and the honey glider results in similar attributes found in entirely unrelated species.  It should be borne in mind that this paper is tentative and preliminary, admittedly hurried into publication to strike while Dr. Metzger’s own words are fresh in the public imagination.  The similarities which struck Metzger will be examined here with commentary in the hopes that members of the Society will find themselves persuaded by what we feel is the evident truth.

Hokusai, detail of a bestiary drawing showing a kappa. {{PD-art}} Category:Kappa Category:Katsushika Hokusai Category:Paintings of Japan
Traditional rendering of Kappa from the early 19th century.

The first subject is the Kappa, which is found in the mythology of Japan; signs warning of its presence are found near bodies of water even to this very day.  They are described as scaly, with a hard shell reminiscent of a turtle, and variable in hairiness; few living witnesses to their existence can be found, but there are many legends regarding their nature.  They are known by many names, depending upon specific appearance, habits and region.  A willing mind might contemplate whether the Chupacabra of the Americas is a variation of the Kappa, although specific descriptions are sufficiently at odds to prevent this speculation from carrying any weight.

EH 8124P Ernest Hemingway fishing, Key West, 1928. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
One of the more terrifying examples of fiction writer, this one found in Florida in the 1920s.

The fiction writer has a wider distribution, with well-documented reports of appearances in the wild of all the continents, although writers found in Antarctica should be considered an introduced species.  Frequently scaly through poor hygiene, writers are also often reputed to have a shell resistant to any critique; any penetration of that shell is usually fatal, although this is more commonly seen to happen in young writers with insufficient development.

Kappa are said to inhabit swamps, bogs, streams, and larger bodies of fresh water.  Writers are found under bridges, on university campuses, and in basement apartments.  These are suggestively similar environments, which Metzger uses as his entry to the topic, and he also points out that both creatures take a curious interest in the communities they dwell near, and both are almost always capable of speaking the local language.  He fails to account, however, for the appearance of a few more successful writers in expensive restaurants and well-appointed retirement lodges, settings in which kappa have yet to be observed.

Both the kappa and the writer are considered trickster figures in stories concerning them.  The lesser antics of both are considered mere mischief, with kappa peering up the kimono of passing ladies and writers committing puns.  There are darker tales of each, though.  Kappa abduct and drown people while writers point out the failings and hypocrisies of society; both activities are considered profoundly antisocial, and result in both creatures being called “monsters” when they are seen, however limited the individual’s outrages might be.  In this, we cannot fault Metzger’s examination, as there is little to tell between the two species.

There are also parallels which are suggestive in the reported habits of the two creatures.  Passing travellers may placate and even engage the friendship of either sort by making correct offerings.  However, the sort of offering seems to us to indicate two different beasts.  Cucumbers are most effective in the case of kappa, while writers will fasten upon a bottle of whiskey; in either case, these idiosyncratic treats are sought out in preference even to the usual staple of human children, and it is the strength of this appeal rather than the nature which seems to have moved Metzger.

There are several legendary examples of both kappa and writers accepting challenges without careful consideration of the possibility, and in this we fully agree with Metzger’s assessment of similarity.  For example, a kappa was thwarted in its design to take a human wife by the requirement to irrigate her father’s field in a single night.  Consider this example against the well-documented habit of writers to take on impossible project deadlines.  However, equally striking similarities occur in other creatures for which no relationship is proposed– the tamandua of South America and the Australian echidna may feed in the same way, but none would suggest a close relationship between a placental mammal and a monotreme.

One of the more alarming aspects of both the kappa and the fiction writer is the reputation for vampirism.  The kappa approach is the more traditional of the two, simple drinking of a victim’s blood which sometimes branches out into the eating of specific organs if not outright anthropophagy.  Vampirism in writers is usually more metaphorical, the creature turning upon friends for character inspiration, although accusations of parasitism in the traditional sense are frequently made by people who wonder when a writer will “give up that artsy crap and get a real job”.  It is also likely that writers are venomous, as a great number of other parasites pretend to be writers (the corn snake’s defensive colouration comes irresistibly to mind); there is no indication of kappa having a similar attribute, nor does one find anyone claiming to be a kappa who is not.

Some kappa lore, connected to this already unsavoury lifestyle, refers to the monsters’ attempts to draw out the shirikodama. This is a small mystical organ of sorts, a roughly spherical object said to contain the soul.  It is found, as the kanji for it suggest (尻子玉), in the anus or colon, and the mode of extraction in many stories is by sucking.  Metzger appears in his article to have placed too much reliance on the purely metaphorical and unfortunately coarse expression of popular opinion regarding many authors: “That guy sucks ass!”

Kappa are deeply concerned with decorum and politeness, although not to the point of asking permission to drown people.  They will never renege on an agreement, nor will they fail to respond to correct greetings.  This is a marked point of difference from writers, who are often poorly socialized at best and are given to long introspective silences which disrupt conversations.  It is known that males of both species will importune young human women, without regard for propriety.

Perhaps the most striking similarity of kappa and writers lies in the depression both carry about in the top of their heads, but this similarity is misleading.  In kappa, spilling the water carried in this depression deprives the monster of its power.  Writers, on the other hand, will pour out the contents of their depression at the drop of a hat, and are usually understood to gain in power whenever they do so.  There are some reports of writers without a depression, although we acknowledge this may be no more than the result of a camouflaged version of the iron hat kappa sometimes adopt.

It is said that in the winter, kappa withdraw from their watery abodes and take up an alternative lifestyle as yama-no-kami, mountain spirits of substantial if ill-defined power.  The vast majority of writers make little impression on the consciousness of the world around them, and even those who achieve notoriety will generally fade into obscurity, their final whereabouts shrouded in mystery.  A very few, though, spend their personal winters in a state of deification by fans and critics, retiring to a mountain of royalties, frequently becoming sullen and often losing the capacity to produce engaging writing.  This habit of living, and the previously mentioned similarity of habitat, are no doubt the driving forces which result in the superficial similarities of writers and kappa, but we are convinced that they are related in no meaningful way.

This is, admittedly, a tentative overview.  The Society should, in the interest of furthering the studies its members are dedicated to, provide the authors of the above a substantial grant, preferably without particular directions for its use.  Only with lavish funding to underwrite travel and living expenses will it be possible to make a careful, thorough documentation of the two species (for such they certainly are) in the environments they naturally occur; such funding will also be required to devise appropriate traps and provide the crates of cucumbers and barrels of whiskey necessary as bait.

“Two Natural Oddities” text ©2015 Dirck de Lint.  Images of placid kappa and ferocious writer taken from Wikimedia Commons