Friend of the Devil – Murikami’s A Wild Sheep Chase

There is a very special individual who uses his powers to conquer influential person after influential person to use them gain worldly powers. When the so-called sheep moves on to the next person, he leaves them desolate, insane and obsessed with finding the sheep again for the wisdom he bestows upon them. They long to find the individual who both enhanced and destroyed their mind, when they begin on the plot to find out what happened to them. The story begins in traditional Murakami style, with a story about the human characters, which include a prostitute with magical perception and sexual prowess through her very charismatic ears, ears which explore the curiosity of the location of the sheep the book is named after.

Although not a single character in the book is named, this seems to be for the purpose of not forming attachments to fleeting changes in the book. At first, they are random, and the reader simply acknowledges the presence of the sheep, girlfriend with ears, and protagonist, in addition to “The Rat,” who leads the protagonist and his girlfriend to the sheep’s location.  They find “The Rat,” at the location, dressed as a sheep. 

Fleeting memories may be a writer’s portrayal of insanity after losing the sheep’s presence -as if the story itself is told by a tired and insane individual. The allegory in this writing is complex yet illustrated in simple patterns not unlike the sun dappling through lace curtains onto a carpeted floor. “The difference between an allegory and a metaphor is that when an allegory is employed, the comparison reflects the entire work—or a large part of the work.” (Weidhart, Ginny; “Symbolism in Fiction Writing”)

The first observation to draw you in, it is unnecessary to be aware of why the book illustrates such freedom of access to the protagonists mind, expecting the reader to simply accept that the protagonist has trysts that are interesting, and his emotions are very human and understandable. Once the plot begins it seems unrelated to the previous chapters. However, if you look for meaning in the writing style and abandoned storylines, they tell a deeper story. The protagonist is not a madman, he just considers himself uninteresting. However, the narrator, in a tangle of words that describe the location which is the location of “The Rat,” illustrating seemingly metaphorical memories as well as piecing the puzzle back together, illustrating that the characters were victims of the sheep phenomena. Murakami takes for granted the readers intelligence and leaves clues well suited for a reader that possesses sluethlike strategy. 

The narrator portrays “The Rat” masquerading in the minds of his victims as a lost sheep which will heal him from his own loss of sanity. They illustrate “The Rat,” cunningly sending his pen pal (the protagonist) on a mission to kindle a friendship with his best friends and then disclosing his secret identity as the sheep to the protagonist.

Sheep could be symbolic for the old remedy for lost sleep which is to count sheep. Much of our genius is accessed while we are falling asleep. “When we enter sleep, the brain steadily dismantles the models and concepts we use to interpret the world, leading to moments of experience unconstrained by our usual mental filters.” (Bell, Vaughan; The Trippy State Between Wakefulness and Sleep; The Atlantic; Apr 20, 2016) Without REM sleep, it is said that we can go insane and lose our creative minds and health.  Loss of sleep is used as a torture method in prisoner camps. (Schrader, Jessica; “Why Sleep Deprivation is Torture;” Psychology Today, 12/15/2014)

            The sheep chase begins with the character called simply, “The Rat,” who provides us with the supposed evidence of the sheep with the star on it. Rather innocently, although paid a large sum of cash, our protagonist publishes aa picture of a flock of sheep in the mountains, grazing. Shortly afterwards, he is contacted by his business partner, and before his business partner can speak, he is told what the call is about by his girlfriend, the prostitute with magical astral ears.  It is about “The Sheep.” 

He goes to the office, and is told about “The Boss Man,’ a man who has been in bed for a long time suffering from a brain hemorrhage and who had received the blessing from the sheep. A well-dressed goon shows up to the office, a large man who is impeccably styled in white clothing and has a plain business card, who demands our protagonist take up the wild sheep chase. He doesn’t like being told he’s going, and being compensated well for his time, 

“To a greater or lesser extent, everybody’s always being ordered and threatened and pushed around. There may not be anything better we could hope for.” (Murkami, Haruki, A Wild Sheep Chase; pg. 135)

Set out runnin’ but I take my time
A friend of the Devil is a friend of mine
If I get home before daylight
I just might get some sleep tonight (Grateful Dead; “Friend of the Devil” 1970)

The dying “Boss” is demanding the location of the sheep, as he is going through sheep withdrawal. “The Rat” had given no return address when he mailed the picture of the flock of sheep, grazing.

            The first letter from “The Rat,” gives a sense that he is very much tired of being a drifter. It states:

 “. . . Otherwise, I might end up opening the wrong door someday, only to find I can’t back out. Whatever, if the door’s been opened, I better make a go of it. I mean I can’t keep buying my kicks for the rest of my life, can I?”  (Murakami, Haruki, “A Wild Sheep Chase;” pg. 121)

Our protagonist read the letter three times, but it was from a place he had never heard of. 

The second letter from “The Rat” claims: 

“In a sense, I’ve reached what is for me a final destination. I feel like I’ve come to where I was meant to come. What’s more, I feel I’ve had to swim against the current to get here. But that’s nothing I can pass judgment on.” (Murikami, Haruki,  A Wild Sheep Chase;” pg. 124)

This statement illustrates the finale of the book which has ends which are given over to the imagination of the reader. “The Rat” sent letters about lending his attractiveness to the protagonist so the protagonist could use them as he wished, however there were people whom “The Rat” missed whom he enjoyed vicariously through his friend – while he satisfied those specified last wishes for “The Rat” for his money. 

The “Sheep Professor” had been on a wild sheep chase in his studies and disclosed to the girl with ears and the protagonist the exact location of the specific flock of sheep where “The Rat” had retreated to. Once they discovered that “The Rat” was at the location with the sheep, they maneuvered to the secret mountaintop, the location where the picture of the sheep and “The Rat” were.  

After the girl with the ears and the protagonist arrive to the house at the top of the mountain, they make themselves at home and become curiously health obsessed. They wonder where the owner is, and the girl with the ears disappears after one night. The protagonist begins cleaning the house and exercising, and one day notices the presence of a man dressed as a sheep. Outside of begging for cigarettes, the man dressed as a sheep is silent. The protagonist, during his spell of healthy behavior, discovers the sheep-man cannot be seen in the mirror. Strangely, this comes to no surprise, since his discovery is that the sheep is the afterlife of “The Rat.” The protagonist has to scream to confirm “The Rats” identity. He had longed to see his friend but was afraid and undead and had dressed like himself in Sheep’s clothing.” 

This fear of discovery supports that “The Rat” had been having his friend tie up his loose ends and was in fact the last loose end to be shamefully tied up after “The Rat” committed suicide. Supported by the lifespan of the rat, driven to suicide by his empty and careless sex life, possessing world leaders, and inability to disclose whom he was, he committed suicide after communicating through the vicarious unrelated experiences the protagonist experiences while fulfilling “The Rats” duties in letter one and letter two. 

The knowledge of the sheep may be unremarkable but the significance of the “Sheep Professor” is the subconscious hunt for the sheep which represents that which gave him the temporary powers his mind was searching for. “The Rat’ had been in his mind and shared with the “Sheep Professor” his memory and awareness of the flock of sheep.  The “Sheep Professors” awareness was that “The Rat” was at the house where the sheep grazed in “The Rat’s” picture. Also at that location was a list of people who had been possessed by “The Rat” during his lifespan, not the sheep’s, as we were given no clue as to the specific sheep’s lifespan.  However, modern data suggests even if the sheep were to have intelligence and supernatural powers, the Ovus Aries, the domestic sheep, has a maximum lifespan from 10-22 years of age according to AnAge, the database for animal lifespans. (Ovus Aries, AnAge

The clue of sheep was due to the “Sheep Professor,” whom may have acquired the location of the demon by the awareness of the demons proximity to a specific flock of sheep, which the professor drew and sought to differentiate from other flocks. 

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(Murakami, Haruki; A Wild Sheep Chase; pg. 339)

In the story, the specific flock at the specified location was never examined. It is suspected that the story ended up according to plan without finding the sheep with the star on it. The real supposed culprit is assumed to have given itself away.

Possession is sometimes referred to as a type of dissociation. It is a part of possession to have the entity within the subject. This describes a few phenomena which may explain why the “Sheep Professor” knew where “The Rat” was.

“Dissociation is a term used to describe ‘both a set of behaviors and experiences involving functional alterations of memory, perception and identity as well as the psychophysiological processes presumed to underlie these phenomena.  It should be noted that this kind of possession contains a spectrum of possession concepts from fusion (the spirit becomes part of the medium) to oscillation (where spirit and medium vie for control) and displacement (where the own self is overshadowed).”  (Craffert, Peter F. “What does it mean to be possessed by a spirit or demon? Some phenomenological insights from neuro-anthropological research”)

The protagonists girlfriend used her ears to find the hotel and the clue about the sheep. There is no mention of how the girl with the ears received her astral hearing to find the Dolphin Hotel and the “Sheep Professor” which had lost his mind due to the absence of the inspiration. We do know “The Rat” claims that she went back to the Dolphin Hotel. 

“Andthewomanleftlaonethisafternoon.”

“You watched that too, did you?”

“Watchedher? Wedroveheraway.”

“Drove her away?”

“Sure. Stuckourheadthroughthekitchendoor-saidyoubettergohome.”

(Murakami, Hiroki; The Wild Sheep Chase” pg. 415)

Her purpose in the story is taken for granted and simply a muse, although she has powers. Her early accomplishment is to direct them to the dolphin hotel where they meet the “Sheep Professor,” before she unpredictably leaves her boyfriend while up at their destination where they discover “The Rat.” After he discovers “The Rat,” she returns to the Dolphin Hotel without saying goodbye.

We only know that “The Rat” had committed suicide after he had an epiphany (Fagan, Abigail; “How Do You, We, I Define Epiphany Exactly?”  Psychology Today) and he felt he was going to heaven and chose instead to kill himself and haunt the farmhouse in the mountain to avoid human society. It was to end the poor political obsession, and his physical desires, the leaving of clues for insane people to pass to his friend he wanted to see dearly, and the paying thugs to watch his friends’ dying cat and bullying the protagonist into coming as if it had been an evil Easter Egg hunt. He never describes desperation, only that he has problems that others would not begin to understand and transitions to happier topics.

Some of the signs of suicidal behavior include, according to the article from WebMD and echoed across the web: dangerous behaviors, withdrawal from family and friends, changes in personality and behavior, making preparations, threats of suicide, and sadly in the rats case, complete hopelessness, followed by success in suicide. He exhibited these signs and more, leaving clues to his location scattered about and stuck around even in the afterlife, with changes made to his appearance to shamefully take pleasure in his friends difficulties in finding him. 

When the protagonist found out his girl with the ears which gave her sexual powers had left without an explanation, he was paid a large sum of cash by the bosses driver as soon as he began his way home. There was no explanation for how the limo driver knew to be at the base of the mountain.

The individual who had influenced worldly leaders over and over had written carefully in a book on the shelf a record of the dates and who they were. The individual who represented themselves as a sheep at the end of the story was “The Rat.” The person with the lifespan to encompass those dates would be “The Rat,” the one whom wanted to demonstrate his money and influence to the protagonist and help him to put the pieces together after “The Rat’s” suicide. 

Citations

Schrader, Jessica; “Why Sleep Deprivation is Torture;” Psychology Today, Dec 15,2014 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dreaming-in-the-digital-age/201412/why-sleep-deprivation-is-torture Jul 24, 2021

Bell, Vaughan; The Trippy State Between Wakefulness and Sleep; The Atlantic; Apr 20, 2016; Jul 24, 2021

Fagan, Abigail; “How Do You, We, I Define Epiphany Exactly?”  Psychology Today    Jan 21, 2011, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/epiphany/201101/how-do-you-we-i-define-epiphany-exactly Jul 24, 2021

Craffert, Peter F; What does it mean to be possessed by a spirit or demon? Some phenomenological insights from neuro-anthropological research; Herv. teol. stud. vol.71 n.1 Pretoria 2015; SciFlo; http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0259-94222015000200024 Possession states amongst the people of the world; Cohen 2008:8; Bourguignon 2004b:558; Jul 24, 2021

Cassarella, Jennifer; Recognizing Suicidal Behavior; WebMD; Mar 11, 2020, https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/recognizing-suicidal-behavior; Jul 24, 2021

Weidhart, Ginny; Symbolism in Fiction Writing; the balance careers; Jun 25, 2019, https://www.thebalancecareers.com/symbol-definition-fiction-writing-1277138; Jul 24, 2021

Garcia, Jerry; Friend of the Devil; Grateful Dead; Dawson, John; Hunter, Robert; Nov 1970; https://jerrygarcia.com/song/friend-of-the-devil/ Jul 24, 2021

            Murakami, Haruki; A Wild Sheep Chase; Translated by Alfred Bernbaum; Vintage Books; Apple Epub; 1989

Ovus Aries; AnAge; AnAge Database of Animal Ageing and Longevity; https://genomics.senescence.info/species/query.php?search=sheep; Jul 24, 2021

Published by: Elaine M

I’m a magical 44 year old who bargains she will experience joy and happiness someday and has aversion to the great pain and suffering from the past, who longs for the enlightenment of all in a gentle and loving way. Email me, elaine@reversekundalini.net

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