This year I’m selecting a series of Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on Twitter @molly_the_tanz.
A brief note before we begin: The Pleasure Merchant is up for Kindle pre-order! If you’ve enjoyed these blogs, or hey, even if you hated them but love Pygmalion stories, or know someone who does, boy howdy I’d appreciate it if you pre-ordered, or schlepped on over to Amazon on November 17th to pick up a paper copy.
Anyway, with that out of the way… it’s my birthday, and it’s also close to Halloween, so it’s time for some horror content. Read on with caution, as this month’s entry is pretty brutal. I mean, it’s literally titled…
“Corpse Dagger (Necrophallus)”, by Makino Osamu, translated from the Japanese by Chun Jin, 2005, in Night Voices, Night Journeys, ed. Asamatsu Ken and Robert M. Price.
With a title like that, how could Osamu’s Lovecraftian tale of pain and desire not be an instant classic?
“Necrophallus” is the first person account of a junior-high art teacher, father, and husband who in his spare time is also a brutal sadist and tormenter of women. He is a Pygmalion figure of sorts, albeit a dark one. He contacts women, lures them to hotel rooms, and then remakes them in his desired image. A body doubled in pain; a jaw distorted by pressure. This is not consensual S&M, but rather the work of a sculptor on a block of marble. Who considers the opinions of a block of marble?
I leave her cheek red. The red is real. Even more real are the moment that my hand strikes her face and her face immediately after it is struck. To feel my real, I need to get the details right. Yes, I sharpen the edges of my world, and I find my real. I slap her right cheek. I slap her left. The vague world around me gradually comes into focus.
It requires technique. The human body is amazingly frail. My aim is not to destroy flesh. I chase limits—the limit beyond which damage to flesh would be irreversible. It’s a delicate task, knowing just the right amount of force to administer.
Our narrator has done this before, where our story begins, and it is implied he will do it again, and again. It is his secret life, his passion. He might have a fine job, a child, a wife who always cooks him a hot breakfast, but it is not enough. He has an artist’s eye, and women’s bodies are his medium of expression. And, to a certain extent, their minds:
Her arms are crushed under her and she cannot move. I box her head a few times with my fist. I stop for a minute, call out to her, then box again. If I see resignation or despair on her face, I give her a break and start all over again.
Fear always takes birth in these intervals. I savor her fear. I swirl it around on my tongue to taste my real.
Our narrator is not the only one with this passion, however. One day, after watching a disturbing scene of violence at his school, he is lured away by a strange schoolgirl who invites him to “come over to see.” What he will see, we don’t know, and neither does he, but he quickly divines that something odd is happening. The house she takes him to is more like a fortress, an internal maze of rooms. This is when we get our first taste of the Lovecraftian in this story, when the girl confesses that her grandfather built the house; he was American, and taught at “a Massachusetts university.” (Miskatonic Miskatonic Rah Rah Rah!)
Eventually, she presents him with a box, opening it to reveal a swaddled object, that when uncloaked, is a dagger—but a dagger with a blade made of metal that our narrator cannot identify, and its handle and sheath are goosepimpled leather with “pores with sparse downy hair growing out of them.” Gross! Our narrator is already concerned—understandably—but that’s nothing to when she begins to work him over the way he has worked over so many. She punches him, drives a knee into his crotch. He asks what she’s doing to him, and she replies, “I thought, Sensei, that you were the expert on that.”
Only when our narrator has been sufficiently reduced, then does his tormentor summon her “pet,” a creature called Chi-chan. She waddles out of the darkness on the stumps of severed legs, armless, a mass of intestines spilling from her abdomen, her neck broken. Who Chi-chan really is I shall not reveal here; suffice it to say that she was changed into what she appears to be by the schoolgirl, who is revealed to herself be a Pygmalion figure. Chi-chan is described by her as “a work of art,” but Chi-chan is not this Pygmalion’s only Galatea… by the end, she has a gallery of creations, all made over to her unique desire, her individual vision.
“Necrophallus” is a brutal, often disgusting story, but a fascinating one. So far this year it’s the only Pygmalion story we’ve found with a female Pygmalion—and she is perhaps the most brutal, violent Pygmalion of all, thus far. The act of changing someone into something else is physical in “Necrophallus,” a literal sculpting of flesh and bone (though to be fair, there is a mental element too—I just don’t wish to tell all, because the story is really worth your time).
As the introduction to “Necrophallus” from Night Voices, Night Journeys remarks, the story is Lovecraftian. Whether Lovecraft could have conceived of it, or would have approved of it… well, I don’t feel bad saying “probably not?” But, as a Lovecraftian writer myself, it’s neat to see two of my favorite things collide so beautifully: cosmic horror and Pygmalion myth. The intersection works better than one might think, and manages to evoke an “ick” reaction stronger than most “horror” stories while still being incredibly cerebral. I highly recommend it!
Next Month: to celebrate the release of The Pleasure Merchant I’ll either write a long thing about Hannibal, post-finale, or possibly check out Ex Machina.