‘The Book of Five Rings’, S.M. Wilson

‘The Book of Five Rings’ is a well-known work by the Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi. Sean Michael Wilson took this work of art and transformed it into a graphic novel, adapting the teachings of Miyamoto to a very different form of art than the original.

I have to say first and foremost that I thought the idea compelling, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly. My wish is that it could have included more of the original writings, but I may simply be mistaken in the extent in which they have been adapted. Insofar as there is talk of the drawings complementing the story, this book is a gem.

One of the finest moments, I think, is close to the end of the book, just before the Book of Emptiness, where the last few drawings suggest eventualities but no clear results. However, from what the person in the book — the storyteller, Miyamoto Musashi himself — from what this character has told us, the suggestion is not a very difficult one.

In many ways I think it very difficult to describe a graphic novel, especially one based on a philosophical treatise, in sentences contrary to emotions and thoughts. For the pictures are meant to evoke thoughts and images in the mind, and I think that in this they work better than the classic translation by Thomas Cleary (whose translations are also the basis for this work) since the drawings emphasise the words — the suggestions on how to bear oneself become reality in the provided drawings.

And I think that clarity might be the finest bit of this work. The book is definitely worth a try, even though the approach might seem unconventional to begin with.