A Hero’s Journey Guided by Hindu Deities: Tiger Moon

By Judi Moreillon, Texas Woman’s University, Texas Ambassador for USBBY

In the theory of “suspension of disbelief” as suggested by British poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge, it is the storyteller or author who must spin such a compelling tale that the listener/reader will accept a fantasy as a plausible reality. In Tiger Moon, author Antonia Michaelis takes readers on a magical journey of love, deception, courage, fear, and sacrifice in India. Framed like the story of Scheherazade who told her tales for 1,001 nights in order to escape death, Safia tells her tale to Lalit, a servant who is supposed to be guarding her while she awaits her marriage night. On that night, her wealthy husband will learn she is not a virgin and will have the right to kill her.

The story Safia tells Lalit is of the thief Farhad, an unlikely hero, who is chosen by the Hindu deity Lord Krishna to rescue his daughter who happens to be Safia herself. While Safia is telling the story to Lalit, Farhad is retelling the same story to listeners on his journey. He tells of the tests he has faced on his quest to deliver the bloodstone to ransom Krishna’s daughter and save her from the evil demon Ravana. (See a review in WOW Reviews.)

“Once upon a time… While he [Farhad] told the story, it was as if he were listening to someone else tell it. His spirit rose above the river and saw the big thief and the little one lying on the banks of the Ganges under the starlight, listening to words running through the night… [The story] told itself more easily every time, and its words were scented with jasmine and tasted of dates from the palm under which the princess had been dreaming when the demon carried her away. And there was hope in them—a hope so improbable that a fairy tale was the only place for it: the hope of freedom” (Michaelis 242). In many cultures a variant of “Once upon a time…” has the power to transport the story listener/reader to another place and another time and the possibility of traveling vicariously on someone else’s journey.

Author Michaelis weaves the stories within the story seamlessly into the text. Born in Germany, Michaelis taught for one year in southern India, where she was introduced to Hindu religion and culture. Hindu deities and the ancient stories about their lives and interventions in human affairs permeate this novel. Readers who are familiar with these gods and goddesses and their stories may connect more completely with the characters and situations presented in Tiger Moon. Readers who may not be knowledgeable may be motivated to learn more about Hinduism, the third largest religion in the world that predates Christianity by about 1500 years.

In Tiger Moon, Krishna is the god who sets the story in motion by commanding Farhad to secure the bloodstone and use it as ransom for the life of Krishna’s daughter Safia. In order to achieve this feat, Farhad changes his identity multiple times. This parallels the incarnations of the god Vishnu, the “Preserver,” who in his eighth reincarnation was Krishna. The Hindu gods and goddesses are often known by different names based on their incarnation and depending on their karmic task and their involvement in mortal affairs. When Farhad changes his name, he is able to slip from the clutches of his nemesis and progress closer and closer to success on his hero’s journey. (Likewise, his nemesis often changes his identity and tricks Farhad over and over again.)

Like Minli who is accompanied by a flightless dragon in Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Lin), Farhad has a “helper” animal on his hero’s journey—a white tiger named Nitish, which means “Lord of the Right Way” in Hindi. In choosing this name, author Michaelis seems to assure readers that in the end righteousness will prevail and good will win out over evil. The names of Hindu gods and goddesses who have parts to play in this novel carry meanings that illuminate their roles in the story.

The same is true for the characters in Tiger Moon. Safia, whose name means “virtue,” does not believe she is as virtuous as her name suggests. She adopts another name “Rafa,” which means full moon, for on the next full moon she will reap the effect of her previous actions, her karma. Lalit, whose name means “The Beautiful One,” listens to Safia/Rafa’s story and falls in love with her. But Lalit is not his real name; it is Lagan, which means “The Right Time.” These characters’ names carry meaning and suggest their karma, or actions. Karma proposes that what happens in our lives is a direct consequence of our actions. Life, then, is about learning through one’s actions.

“The best stories we can give our children, whether they are stories that have been kept alive through the centuries by that word of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation we call oral transmission or the tales that we were made up only yesterday—the best of these stories touch that larger dream, greater vision, that infinite knowing. They are the most potent kind of magic, these tales, for they catch a glimpse of the soul underneath the skin” (Yolen 57). In this quote from her book Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood, Jane Yolen could have been talking about the story and the stories within the story of Tiger Moon. By the end of this hero’s journey, readers have seen the souls of Safia, Farhad, and Lalit and are better for having lived through their stories.

How did the stories within the story of Tiger Moon impact your understanding of the novel? Were there stories that encouraged you to learn more about a particular Hindu god or goddess? How would changing the cultural context change this novel? Is that even possible?

 

Next Week: Heartsinger by Karlijn Stoffels, translated from Dutch by Laura Watkinson

 

Works Cited

Lin, Grace. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.

Michaelis, Antonia. Tiger Moon. Trans. Anthea Bell. New York: Amulet Books, 2006/2008. Print.

Moreillon, Judi. Tiger Moon. WOW Review: Reading Across Cultures. Aug. 2010. Web. 20 Feb. 2012. <http://wowlit.org/on-line-publications/review/reviewii4/12/>.

Yolen, Jane. Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie and Folklore in the Literature of Childhood. New York: Philomel, 1981. Print.

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14 thoughts on “A Hero’s Journey Guided by Hindu Deities: Tiger Moon

  1. Anne says:

    I have to say that I loved this book. At first it was a slow progression as I tried to comprehend what was going on, but then it picked up. Moreillon wrote, “Readers who are familiar with these gods and goddesses and their stories may connect more completely with the characters and situations presented in Tiger Moon. Readers who may not be knowledgeable may be motivated to learn more about Hinduism, the third largest religion in the world that predates Christianity by about 1500 years.” I have to admit that I am one of the latter. I never read any of the Arabian Nights tales, so I was going into this book with very limited knowledge of the Hindu religion or gods. I felt like it was a good introduction to the Hindu gods, especially because it whetted my curiosity about the religion. I’d even liken it to what author Rick Riordan does in Percy Jackson series to introduce readers to the Greek gods. If anyone has a suggestion as to a good book that introduces the Hindu gods, would you post it? Thanks in advance!

  2. Isaac Barrett says:

    In “Tiger Moon” I feel that the author could have presented the plot a little bit more. The moral of the story was well presented. I also feel that the author could have brought up more details in the males point of view. I understand that the book is written in India (setting). The gods and goddesses were well presented just like the stories were well presented in “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon”. This story was inspiring to learn more about Hinduism, which is the third largest religion in the world, predating Christianity by 1,500 years. This book was also a very interesting read. The author presented everything very well. The idea of talking animals was so interesting to me, that I know what to write about for my next essay.

  3. Dani says:

    “How would changing the cultural context change this novel? Is that even possible?”

    I don’t think it’s possible to change the cultural context of this story. The Hindu religion is the backbone of this story in that the tale cannot exist without the reincarnations of various gods, such as Vishnu, or the beliefs and superstitions. I can’t think of another religion that has beliefs/superstitions that would fit this story nearly as well. For example, I can’t think of another religion that would create a holy white tiger who can’t be touched by water without being turned to stone (Nitish). Also, how would Farhad pick his new persona if he wasn’t going with reincarnations of Vishnu? I just don’t think the story would be nearly as engaging or well written if it was based on a different culture.

  4. Anon says:

    Tiger Moon, by Antonia Michaelis is a book with such an educatinal value for kids! This book concentrates more on entertainment than education.It teaches kids a little bit about India’s culture and more beyond it’s hidden history.This book delivers a message to the readers about courage(being able to face your fears, and difficulties you may be facing in life. Learning the true meaning about friendship is also something accomplished by the authors writing.
    It also teaches readers to have hope by giving examples of greed and selfishness all throughout the book.This book is more than just a book.
    It’s a great gift you can treasure for all your life! And just like James Bryce said:
    The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it! ~James Bryce

  5. Dani says:

    Jabnia makes excellent points. I loved this book as an introduction to Indian culture because it shows how diverse and expansive the culture is. All of the superstitions and beliefs played an important role in the story. My discussion partner, Anne, made the point that it is also an impressive book because it is a translation from the original language. The translator did an amazing job of keeping the story’s personality.

    I definitely noticed quite a few life lessons in this book. For example, Farhad starts out as a loner but builds a meaningful relationship with Nitish throughout the story which teaches a wonderful lesson about friendship.

    I agree that it teaches hope but it also furthers the example that good will win in the end and cheaters never prosper. The Frenchman keeps trying to trick/steal the stone from Farhad but never accomplishes it.

    Overall, I LOVED this book and have recommended it to many people.

  6. Dear Helen,
    Thank you for sharing the link to “How to Structure a Successful Story.”

    Last weekend, at the Texas Storytelling Festival, I attended a workshop in which we talked about myths and religion. It is important to note that when we talk about “supernatural aids” in other people’s religions, they are “myths.” When we talk about them in our own, they are religious “truths” of great significance.

    Something to think about…

  7. Tiger Moon is such a great book! The story Safia tells Lalit is of the thief Farhad, an unlikely hero, who is chosen by the Hindu deity Lord Krishna to rescue his daughter who happens to be Safia herself. The Hindu religion is the backbone of this story in that the tale cannot exist without the reincarnations of various gods, such as Vishnu, or the beliefs and superstitions. The same is true for the characters in Tiger Moon. Safia, whose name means “virtue,” does not believe she is as virtuous as her name suggests. She adopts another name “Rafa,” which means full moon, for on the next full moon she will reap the effect of her previous actions, her karma. This book has a great culture attached to it, and such wonderful life lessons that are told. It also teaches readers to have hope by giving examples of greed and selfishness all throughout the book, and what can be learned from it. This great story is even better than a book. I hope that whoever reads this fantastic , adventurous, and well written book can enjoy it as much as I do. In overall I would recommend anybody to read this great book.

    By Luis Esquer

  8. Anne says:

    Like Dani, I appreciate the comments from Jabnia and then Luis. The book is a long journey of courage, good vs. evil, the evolution of one’s self and so much more.

    In a discussion we had regarding this book, Dani pointed out that she was impressed with the way Michaelis wove the stories together in the end. As I read towards the end, I kept wondering how things would work out with so few pages left in the book. I couldn’t agree more. I’m glad Lalit and Safia’s story connects with Farhad in the end.

    The humor in this book was subtle yet so helpful in keeping the story moving along.

    I have recommended this book to several people, much like I did The Hunger Games and Percy Jackson and the Young Olympians. I hope it receives just as much notoriety!

  9. Adinawa Adjagbodjou says:

    Tiger Moon is a book like none I have ever read. The story is quite intruiging and the setting takes it to another level. Antonia Michaelis has a creative style of writing that tells the story in a fascinating way.
    Safia is a bride,destined to certain death. She meets Lalit and every night, tells him a story. The story is one of a hero on a journey to save a princess.
    Tiger Moon is a great book. It is a modern fairy tale set in a beautiful India. It is a book full of enchantement, danger, and the power of the spoken word.An absolute must read.

  10. Before reading Tiger Moon, I knew a little bit about the story of Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, and his wife Sita from the “Ramayana” the epic poem by Hindu sage Valmiki. Antonia Michaelis’s book has inspired me to learn more. I am conducting research in hopes of telling a small part of the epic as an oral story. I have consulted with a storyteller who has extensive knowledge of the Ramayana, and I will have support from daughter who reads and speaks Sanskrit, the original language of this epic. My journey with Tiger Moon is continuing after reading and discussing it with WOW Currents contributors…

  11. This book is a great book. I love how it uses the Hindu gods with modern day things. It’s so great I can’t find a way to write about it with giving to much away. So it’s up to you to read this marvelous book.

  12. julian says:

    So, tiger moon over all was a great book. I loved the whole Hindu gods thing. It really made this story interesting. My favorite part was through water.

  13. Kassidy says:

    A really neat story, that did NOT end the way I thought it would. It’s almost two stories in one, but it’s hard to tell where the story ends and reality begins, which is part of the charm. The unwitting and reluctant hero of the story, is charged with trying to rescue a princess from a demon. He is aided by a sacred white tiger, a tiger with a sarcastic tongue and issues of his own. Meanwhile, in a distant land, the young bride of a tyrannical, wealthy merchant keeps her spirits up by telling a story of rescue to a house servant. It’s engaging to watch Farhad and the tiger Nitish race against time against seemingly impossible odds to rescue the princess. Both grow in confidence as the story progresses. At times, this reminded me of Arabian Nights in the storytelling, although the bride’s tale is one continuous story, rather than many stories. Also enjoyed the symbolism, especially with the valuable but trecherous bloodstone, which tended to cut (literally and figuratively) the hands that possessed it

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