“This girl had the unprecedented power to reach the shore of that abyss. Now she stands alone on that beach that has been deserted by the Ohmu. Whether she returns or not is up to her.” (Selm, Hardcover Edition, Vol. 2, p. 32)
Welcome to part six of the Nausicaä saga. I had originally intended to make it a seven-part series, but as I reread the last two volumes, there is simply too much material to condense down. As a result, I’m going to expand out the project into a ten-parter. For newcomers who wish to follow along from the beginning, you can catch up here with The Nausicaä Project. With that out of the way, let’s resume the adventure!
Disturbed by Chikuku’s statement that Nausicaä is gone, Charuka leaves with the boy to determine her fate. They come upon a sea of Ohmu corpses, but the mutant mold itself has been checked by the plants and fungi of the Sea of Corruption. Seeing movement in a nearby former Dorok settlement, they land and discover a large group of wormhandlers hauling away Nausicaä’s glider. The wormhandlers treat Charuka with contempt, stating the Doroks no longer have any claim to this land. Having been treated as pariahs and outcasts for three centuries, the wormhandlers celebrate the Daikaisho as a new golden age for their tribes. As the sun rises, they gather to watch a new and vast Sea of Corruption spring forth from the remains of Ohmu and the mold.
Chikuku attempts to steal back Nausicaä’s glider, angering the wormhandlers until Selm and the Forest people arrive. The wormhandlers bow to them in reverence, regarding them as nobility. The telepathic Selm senses Charuka’s purpose, and decides to aid them in the search of Nausicaä. They eventually locate her body and pull her to safety.
Nausicaä is alive but non-responsive; whether she returns to the world of the living is up to her. Selm speaks to the wormhandlers, describing Nausicaä as the forest in human form and asks them to honour her as a guardian deity. The wormhandlers are overjoyed at prospect of having a goddess of their own for the first time. The group underestimates the zeal and fervour of the worshippers, and is forced to fly away to find a safe spot for Nausicaä to recuperate.
Back aboard Namulith’s ship, the spirit of the murdered Miralupa lurks, hateful but impotent. Sensing the nearby presence of the weakened Nausicaä, the phantom decides to pursue the blue-clad one. Selm and Chikuku attempt to protect her, but Miralupa manages to slip into her mind. Selm worries that Nausicaä is in danger of being possessed in her vulnerable state. They set down on a grassy hill so that Selm can use his psychic abilities to help Nausicaä fend off Miralupa’s spirit.
Overhead, Charuka spots a fleet of Dorok ships, believing they are part of the operation for rescuing Dorok survivors. But a battle soon ensues, and Namulith’s voice sounds to proclaim the death of Miralupa and the immediate dissolution of the council of the monks. Any remaining Dorok ship that does not vow allegiance to Namulith will be shot down.
As a member of the council of monks, Charuka asks Selm to take care of Chikuku and Nausicaä; he must return to his people and face the judgment of his new emperor. Chikuku cautions that only death awaits him. At that, Charuka smiles and bids farewell to Nausicaä, thanking her for helping him open his eyes in the last days of his life.
The story shifts into the mind of Nausicaä. With a little outside help, she is able to break free of Miralupa’s influence, exposing him to be a frail old man terrified of dying. She offers him to take him along. Together they walk through a dry land of bones and ruins before arriving at the edge of a luminous jungle. Selm waits at the border as a guide, telling Nausicaä that she is about to embark on a journey into the forest of her mind. He is surprised that she brought along Miralupa, believing that one with such darkness has no place in the light. But Nausicaä reasons that if the beautiful forest exists within her, the dark wastelands and by extension Miralupa must also be parts of her. Selm has no answer for that response.
They head into the heart of the forest, encountering plants and insects, even Ohmu. Miralupa is initially terrified, but is eventually entranced by the beauty of the forest. Nausicaä believes she is experiencing the afterlife, but Selm tells her that she is alive, that the forest she sees around her also exists in the real world. Nausicaä doesn’t know if she is strong enough to go on with the extinction of the Ohmu, but Selm wishes to show her one final secret before she decides to return or not.
They emerge into a clearing; it is the end of the Sea of Corruption. Nausicaä is stunned to see the blue skies of this revitalized world, with grass and birds, marshes and trees, light and joy. Miralupa’s spirit runs off in happiness, finally finding peace and rest in this world of life and vitality.
Nausicaä is both joyful and sad at the sight of this purified land. She thinks about how wonderful it would be to live in a world free from pollution and miasma. But she also knows that humans, thinking themselves once again as the masters of the world, will come to taint it, perpetuating another cycle of corruption. She takes comfort that perhaps in time, if people can survive and become a little smarter, they can come to live in such a place. Holding onto this hope and having reached the end of her inner journey, she summons the strength to return to the real world.
With the Daikaisho over and his people heading back to the forest, Selm asks if she would like to live her life with him. He knows that Nausicaä thinks and feels as he does about the world, that she would find happiness living in harmony within the Sea of Corruption. Nausicaä is tempted, but ultimately refuses his offer. While Selm embraces the way of the forest, Nausicaä finds herself involved with all of life. She loves the people of the world too much, and knows that she will live in the twilight of her tainted world. Nausicaä thanks him for sharing the secret of the forest with her, and vows not to lose hope again.
Soon there is a joyous reunion as Kurotowa and the valley crew chance upon their site. In the distance, a group of wormhandlers arrives in search of Nausicaä as their new guardian deity.
Embracing the Darkness and the Light
Nausicaä’s inward spiritual journey is the central focus of the first half of this volume. Having been saved from death by the Ohmu, she is left staring into the void from which life arises and returns. She walks through a desolate wasteland full of bones and ruins before finding her way into rich and complex forest. Selm reveals to her that these places are all manifestations of her psyche, an innerspace that is full of both beauty and despair. What makes Nausicaä Nausicaä is that she willingly acknowledges and accepts both the light and darkness within her. To Selm’s surprise, she even has the compassion to incorporate the ghost of Miralupa, with all of his pathetic hatred and fear, as a facet of herself.
“The mind of a fragile person would be destroyed by the sight of that abyss… because the one who looks into that darkness must endure the gaze returned by the darkness itself.” (Selm, Hardcover Edition, Vol. 2, p. 184)
For me, this spiritual sequence is a magnificent and vital scene to the story and Nausicaä’s development; it conveys how difficult and terrifying it can be to confront the darkness and emptiness within one’s self. It’s infinitely easier not to think about any of it, to run away from one’s shadow, to think of oneself only as a good person and let sleeping dogs lie. But I have come to understand that embracing the light without acknowledging the dark isn’t necessarily the best path to follow:
“What is a good man, Arren? Is a good man one who would not do evil, who would not open a door to the darkness, who has no darkness in him? Look again, lad. Look a little farther; you will need what you learn, to go where you must go.” (Ged, The Farthest Shore, p.180)
That passage has stayed with me for a long time. It reminds me that a good person isn’t born good, isn’t good because they don’t do bad things. We have all made mistakes in our lives, done things we regret, hurt people we shouldn’t have. But good people have the courage and inner strength to face their own shadows and demons, to endure that gaze into the abyss and return from hard soul-searching with a better understanding of themselves and a desire to change their lives. To me, they constantly work to be honest with themselves, to acknowledge their own weaknesses, to learn from their mistakes, and to act with kindness and compassion towards themselves and others.
- What do you think? What is your definition of a good person? Do you think self-knowledge and discovery is necessary for becoming a good person?
A Little Smarter
Seeing the end of the Sea of Corruption, Nausicaä is overjoyed at the fact that the world will one day be free of toxins and be reborn with life. Yet she recognizes that people cannot be part of this world yet. Having seen the destruction caused by Doroks and Torumekians, she fears that without a change in mindset, humans will merely treat the new world as another resource to be exploited. Her hope that humanity will become a wiser species echoes the sentiment of the late astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan, author of a previous Ekostory called The Pale Blue Dot:
“It will be a species very like us, but with more of our strengths and fewer of our weaknesses, a species returned to circumstances more like those for which it was originally evolved, more confident, farseeing, capable, and prudent…” (Carl Sagan, The Pale Blue Dot, p. 398)
The need for a fundamental shift in thinking and relating to the world is something I’ve explored on several occasions on Ekostories. Right now, my mind is full of nothing but questions:
- Can we break the cycles of exploitation and conflict that seem to be part of the history of most, if not all, major civilizations?
- What fundamental differences exist between these potential future wiser and more far-seeing people and us?
- What kind of ethic will these wiser people follow regarding their neighbours and other lifeforms of this planet?
- What foundation will their relationship with the world be founded upon?
“Thank you. You make me very happy. But you have placed yourself in the flow of life, whereas I find myself involved with every individual living thing… I love the people of this world too much. I’ll live out my life in the twilight of this world that humankind has polluted.” (Nausicaä, Hardcover Vol. 2, p. 243-44)
In her private conversation with Selm, Nausicaä rejects the opportunity to live in peace and harmony within the Sea of Corruption. Considering her great love of the forest and its creatures, this is a stunning and fascinating decision. Why would anyone reject paradise?
In last week’s post on superhuman protagonists, I wrote that one of the aspects that makes these characters remarkable is their great love for humanity, in both the big picture sense and for individuals. Nausicaä seems to view Selm’s offer as a form of asceticism, a refusal to grapple with the complicated nature of living that is rooted in a deep disdain for humanity. As one who constantly navigates between the natural and human world, Nausicaä recognizes that her love for life is too inclusive for her to withdraw from the human community, however destructive it may be. Her refusal seems in line with Miyazaki’s belief that the path of the Forest People represents a fundamental rejection of civilization. (Volume 3: The Dorok War)
Nausicaä, rejuvenated with hope from her inner journey, decides to once again take on her immense burdens of living in a world full of suffering and despair. Given the easy way into paradise and release, she chooses the work. With it comes inevitable pain and hardship, but also the opportunity for joy, hard-fought and well-earned. This will not be the only time she is tempted and tested.
Next Up: Nausicaä Volume 6 – The God Warrior.
- Here, Home, Us: Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot
- Know Thyself: A Wizard of Earthsea
- My Favourite Superhuman Protagonists
Le Guin, Ursula K (1972). The Farthest Shore. New York: Simon Pulse, 2001.
Miyazaki, Hayao. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind – Deluxe Edition 1 & 2. Translation by David Lewis and Toren Smith. Viz Media, LLC: San Fransisco, 2012.
Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1st ed.). New York: Random House, 1994.
You’ve done a good job of condensing the heavy thoughts from Miyazaki here in a digestible form and I am grateful for this. When Nausicaa sees the world of abundance beyond the forest, her reaction is vital (in at least two meanings of the word): she cannot just “go over” to the bright side of utopian goodness, for she feels connected to all individual living things and would not abandon them. She goes back into the impure, tainted world of dirty politics and imperial armies to promote life under the shadow of darkness. In so doing she rejects utopianism while still holding out for an evolution of human sensibility that respects its co-inhabitants and its ecology.
As to your question about the good life, I too have been affected by Nausicaa’s resolve to promote life in dire circumstances (as everyone else in the story seems to have been). Life is good and its own reward – vitalism. Many tangled problems arise when mixing bios with ethics as living human bodies may promote practices detrimental to life in the long run. Impurities are merely challenges for life to overcome: “Life is the light that shines in the darkness!”. Should anyone care to dip into some Western Philosophy, Deleuze’s ‘Nietzsche and Philosophy’ is where I’m coming from.
Thanks for reading. You summarized her rejection of utopianism very well. What is remarkable is that it comes in the aftermath of a human-induced catastrophe that has rendered half the world uninhabitable. It would be so easy for her to give up and retreat into the forest, but she rejects purity and the easy retreat in favour of corruption and hard work.
Thank you also for the recommendation. My mind immediately went to Nietzsche when I came across the quote about staring into the abyss.