Patrick Ness was first told the story of The Crane Wife by his teacher when he was in kindergarten in Hawaii. A Japanese folk tale with many variations, the one he fell in love with tells the tale of a sailmaker who finds a crane injured by an arrow in its wing. He helps the bird to recover and it flies away. The very next day a woman enters his life, he falls in love and they grow rich from the beautiful sails she weaves. Her only condition is that he doesn’t watch her weaving – but he grows greedy. He forces her to work faster. And, finally, he bursts open the door – to see that she has been the crane all along, weaving the sails from her feathers. The spell is broken and she flies away.
“I’ve always been fascinated by The Crane Wife because most folk tales start with acts of cruelty,” says Ness, whose version of the story is published this month. “Someone imprisoned in a tower or abandoned in the woods. But this begins with an act of kindness. He saves the bird. And there’s something about that I like – he’s not a bad person, he becomes greedy and greed changes him. He ends up ruining the thing he loves because of it. So I liked that, it felt more recognisably human to me.”
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