A story I found in Haruki Murakami’s latest novel After Dark deserves re-telling and some further thought. Marukami says it’s an old Hawaiian legend. I am undoubtedly doing some westernizing in my version.
Three brothers are shipwrecked and washed ashore on an uncharted island. As they discuss their predicament, the god of the volcano appears to them.
Before each brother the god places a heavy, roughly hewn boulder.
“From the top of my volcano you can see the whole world,” he says. “Roll your boulder up the side of my mountain, until you can or will roll it no longer. There you will make your home and be the master of all you survey. Of course, the one who rolls his rock the highest will command the greatest view.”
So the three brothers set out on their Sisyphean journey, rolling their big boulders across the beach. No sooner do they reach a shaded area at the base of the big mountain than one brother says to the other two: “Far enough for me. I can go no further. Besides, I can make a good life here. I will build a dwelling here in the shade, fish and eat the coconuts that fall to the ground.”
His two brothers embrace him, say their goodbyes, and set out for the peak of the big mountain. They roll their boulders for days, until one brother turns to the other and says: “Far enough for me. Why go any further? I can make a good life here. There is good earth for farming, plenty of game to hunt, and I can even plant a vineyard.”
“As you wish,” says the third brother. And he carries on, alone. He rolls his boulder for many days. The terrain grows rocky and steep; the temperatures drop. The wind howls. Above the treeline, he notices, there is very little to eat, except moss that grows on rocks; when he is thirsty, he sucks a handful of snow.
He perseveres until, after many days and nights, he reaches the top of the volcano. There he makes his spartan dwelling, eating nothing but moss and snow, and commanding a view of the whole world.