The Storm: A Lovely Illustrated Parable of Fear, the Frustration of Uncontrollable Events, and the Redemptive Power of Surrendering to Life’s Ebb and Flow
By Maria Popova
I have shared a good portion of my life with a dog afflicted by what animal behaviorists call “storm anxiety” — a phobia of thunder so acute that it renders him a terrified, trembling ghost of himself, heartbreaking to witness and nearly impossible to comfort. This despairing helplessness to help led to the purchase of the gimmicky-sounding but surprisingly effective ThunderShirt — a contraption that achieves, cognitively speaking, the opposite of what a canine raincoat does and calms the shaking pup down by simulating the sensation of being tightly held.
One of the lovelinesses of dogs is that they have a great deal in common with children — a vast capacity for playfulness and a largehearted, jubilant curiosity about the world, but also some intense, primal fears of phenomena like storms and the dark. And one of the lovelinesses of children is that they remind us of the most elemental parts of ourselves — parts that only get covered up by our grownup masks and coping strategies, but never quite leave us. That classic childhood fear of the dark, for instance, becomes the less obvious but equally paralyzing adult fear of the unexplainable.
In The Storm (public library) — a contemporary counterpart to Moomins creator Tove Jansson’s marvelous vintage weather-based parable of control, surrender, and self-transcendence — Japanese children’s book author and artist Akiko Miyakoshi presents a subtle and sensitive fable of fear, the frustration of uncontrollable events, and the redemptive power of surrendering to the ebb and flow of life.
The story unfolds from the point of view of an androgynous child who has been anticipating a trip to the beach, but learns that a formidable storm is on the way.
As the clouds darken and the parents prepare the house for nature’s onslaught, it becomes dismayingly clear that the beach is out of the question.
As the wind howls and the heavy rain bombards the roof, the child’s disappointment swells into distressing fright. The storm — a stand-in for life’s mercurial way of throwing unexpected and unwelcome events our way — has not only snatched the promise of tomorrow’s pleasure, but has invaded with palpable peril.
Our young protagonist finds refuge under the covers, which muffle the baying of the storm and open a portal to a safe wonderland of limitless possibility.
Carried away by a dream, the child boards a giant wind-propelled ship that floats up through the thick, dark clouds and emerges into clear skies.
When morning arrives, the storm has died out, sunshine has returned, and beach plans are being made anew.
Undergirding the story is a reminder that, as Henry Miller memorably put it, “all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis” — like the weather itself, even life’s stormiest spells eventually come to pass, and although we can’t will them away, we can surrender to the credence that the unclouded blue skies will return.
Complement The Storm with Miyakoshi’s modernist fairy tale The Tea Party in the Woods, then revisit the psychology of why cloudy days help us think more clearly and artist Lauren Redniss’s extraordinary illustrated investigation of the weather and its role in the human experience.
Illustrations courtesy of Kids Can Press © Akiko Miyakoshi
Published May 17, 2016