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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lombard

Inspriations - The Three Heads


Let's talk a little about the ideas that went into 'The Three Heads'.


As you may have been able to tell, I'm interested in Japan's warring states era (the Sengoku

period from 1477 - 1573), when this story is set. In particular I love Oda Nobunaga, the first of the three unifiers of Japan.


Nobunaga doesn't feature in this story, but at the Battle of Okehazama in 1560, Nobunaga defeated a vastly larger force in a daring raid on a head-viewing ceremony.


So yes, the head-viewing ceremony is a real thing the death and battle obsessed samurai were known to do. Nobunaga even gilded the skull of a treacherous brother-in-law as a drinking cup - but that's another story.


Another influence was the Japanese ideas of honne (true feelings) and tatemae (public display of behaviour). As we see with the samurai Yoshie, we tend to like people who slip and show their true feelings. And then there are people like Osamu, who are emblamed in superficial correctness. We never quite trust people like Osamu...


And what's the deal with the funny hats? I'm not just being silly on that - samurai were actually massive weirdos, and loved ridiculous helmets. In the photo above, you can see a real rabbit helmet from the era, from the collection of the MET.


The idea for the end of the story was inspired by a tidbit from the French Revolution. When the mob started chopping off aristocrat heads and parading them on pikes, children in the streets copied their parents... by chopping the heads off cats, and displaying them on sticks.


So, I wanted to do a samurai story, and also look at how children copy the nastiness of the adults around them. Like Sondheim says in Into The Woods, "Careful the things you do, children will see and learn."


Finally, the meaning of this story is only spelled out in the last word of the final sentence. There are a few stories and novels that do this. The Ellery Queen detective story The French Powder Mystery (disclosure - never read it) reveals the killer in the final line. I wanted to try and write a story that does this too - you will no doubt see the contortions I made to get the story to that point!

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