Award-winning author Blue Spruell is the mastermind behind the bestselling book ‘TARO: Legendary Boy Hero of Japan’. Taro takes readers deep into a magical and adventure-driven world full of warlords, swords & mythical beasts from old Japan.
In this book, Spruell brings the life of his protagonist Taro to life. Accompanied by Tanuki, his shape-shifting badger sidekick, young Taro embarks on a quest of self-discovery and revenge, falls for Kamehime, the teenage samurai daughter of a powerful warlord, and ultimately becomes embroiled in the political struggle for the imperial throne. Along the way, Taro and his allies face fearsome yokai, the ghosts, goblins, and ghouls of Japanese folklore.
Spruell is a trial lawyer who lived and worked in Japan for many years. This Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree recently hit the bestseller list because of his ability to weave a breathtaking story and connect with readers of all ages.
‘TARO: Legendary Boy Hero of Japan is a must-read for all, and destined to be a classic for years to come. Spruell was gracious enough to take time from his busy schedule to have a chat with us and we wanted to share it with you.
Your book is written for readers of any age. Why was writing for readers of all ages important to you and is there a target demographic that you feel connects more with Taro than others?
I did intend the book for readers of almost any age and consider this a fairy tale for adults – young adults and old. Some people might feel some parts too violent for young readers, but fairy tales were originally intended as cautionary tales – Little Red Riding Hood was fairly violent and scary – and the violence in Taro is historically accurate as Japan was a war-torn country for hundreds of years.
That said, I intended it to be an uplifting, heroic tale of betrayal, revenge, and honor. Of course, I would hope it appeals to anyone interested in Japan, especially since it is based on both classic Japanese folktales and Japanese history, but I also hope it introduces new generations to Japan’s rich legacy of history, culture, and myth through this historical fantasy adventure in old Japan.
Every book has a story behind it, a reason why it came into existence, what is the inspiration behind Taro?
I have always loved mythology, folklore, and history from any culture but especially Japan. I got the inspiration for Taro from three classic Japanese folktales about three different heroes all who were named Taro, which roughly means “Junior” or eldest son. Kin Taro (Golden Boy) is similar to Mowgli from the Jungle Book. Urashima Taro (Island Boy) and Rip Van Winkle share a similar plot twist. Momo Taro (Peach Boy) is a tall tale similar to Paul Bunyan or fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk.
Some years ago I saw a parallel between Peach Boy’s animal companions, the dog, pheasant, and monkey, and the three great warlords from Japanese history, Tokugawa, Oda, and in particular Toyotomi whose face and small stature reputedly resembled a monkey’s. I thought it would be interesting to combine the 3 Taros into one hero who lived in 16th century Japan when warlords fought for ultimate control of the country. Another famous warlord of that time period was Takeda Shingen, whose death Akira Kurosawa dramatized in his excellent film, Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) and, coincidentally, before Takeda took his Buddhist name of Shingen, his family called him Taro so he appears as the hero of the tale, even if it’s mostly historical fiction.
Talk to us about the love you have for Japanese culture and the stories of the samurai that you relate to most?
I have always loved Japanese history and culture. In elementary school, the librarian scolded me for borrowing a book on Japanese arms and armor too often. I guess the check-out card, with nobody’s name but mine on it over and over, was a dead giveaway.
When I got the opportunity to live and work in Japan I jumped on it. A 1-year contract turned into 5 in the blink of an eye but I tried to make good use of that time. Of course, I studied Japanese and martial arts, but I dabbled in as much of the culture as I could – calligraphy, Japanese taiko drums, even flower arrangement. I suppose what I love most about Japan is how almost any endeavor can be elevated to an art form. When I returned to Atlanta, I opened a retail gallery of imported Japanese art and crafts twice voted Best of Atlanta for shopping by Atlanta Magazine. Ultimately, I moved into law practice, but I did enjoy sharing my passion for Japanese art and culture with our patrons who still fondly remember the gallery even 20 years later.
As for stories of the samurai that appeal to me most, I’ve mentioned one already. If you haven’t seen it, check out Kurosawa’s Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior). On top of the brilliant direction and striking cinematography, it’s ironic in its dissection of the samurai code. No spoilers. Ultimately, it’s the history of 16th century Japan that truly captures my imagination. One piece of that history appears in Taro, the incident at Honno Temple, when the warlord Oda Nobunaga was betrayed by one of his disaffected samurai and met his end in the burning temple but not before he took his own life in the warrior way, chanting his death poem just before he committed ritual suicide by hara-kiri.
How has martial arts improved your connection with yourself and the art of writing?
Any discipline, meaning the branch of knowledge, whether martial arts or writing, requires discipline. Either pursuit and, for that matter, any challenging vocation or avocation takes time and diligence to see results, and even then you have to keep at it or lose it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and you may ask yourself at every mile marker when you’re exhausted and wonder whether you can keep up the pace, “Why am I doing this?” But doing it, day in and day out, makes the difference. Muscle and endurance aren’t built – and novels aren’t written – overnight.
I’ve been doing martial arts and writing most of my life, and it’s gratifying to see some good results, but I can’t call myself a student unless I continue to study, and I can’t call myself a writer unless I continue to write. Otherwise, the muscles – brain or brawn – get flabby.
If you could put your book into the hands of anyone in the world, either alive or passed, who would it be and why would it be important to you?
Without question, it would be the great animator, Hayao Miyazaki. He is an artistic genius of animated story-telling, an international treasure. I realize his stories are his own fabulous creations, but I’d like to think Taro, as a re-telling of classic Japanese fairytales in historical context, might appeal to him.
Taro was partly inspired by Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke, even if only because, as a fantasy adventure set in medieval Japan, it gave me hope that Taro could someday make it to the big screen. The screenplay Taro, adapted from the novel, has placed well in some screenwriting competitions, so who knows, maybe someday?
More information about Blue Spruell and ‘TARO: Legendary Boy Hero of Japan’ can be found on Amazon.