Asian Fantasy a Primer
Everybody has their own favorite form of fantasy Literature. Some have a love for Tolkien and his similar brethren. Others like my wife Karen love fantasy settings based during the Victorian era and Steampunk (Which I like as well by the way). But for me, my favorite form of fantasy is Asian fantasy, particularly from Japan and China; and that goes for folklore as well. I have always been fascinated by Asian Culture. One of my all-time favorite series is Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. Journey to the west is one of China’s four great novels and one of its most beloved fairy tales. The novel centers on Tripitaka (or Xuanzang in Chinese) who was a real monk, and had a real pilgrimage to India, who is sent on an epic journey to retrieve sacred Buddhist scrolls. The real hero of the novel though is Master Sun Wukong AKA the great Monkey king who has to aide Tripitaka on his journey to atone for his past misdeeds.
Author Arthur Waley’s translation (an abridged version) Monkey is an excellent place to start and mostly records the journey from Sun Wukong point of view.
Journey to the West is considered to be my Lord of the Rings of fantasy. For some reason I myself have never been as fascinated by western sword and sorcery as much as I have been by eastern Fantasy, I am not saying that I dislike Tolkienesque fantasy but it just isn’t my first choice of literature per say. And in defence of Tolkien I can truly say that I have and probably will, still log a lot of time to roaming Dungeons and fighting monsters because of him, and I owe him a great debt of gratitude for his remarkable work .
One thing that bothers me though is that there is not enough translations of Asian fantasy into English for us fantasy lovers. For instance novels by Futaro Yamada and Jin Yong (Louis Cha) who is considered China’s Tolkien all have a huge following overseas but are rarely translated into English. I mean I really want to learn Japanese and Chinese to read these works (and believe me I have tried). Also when it come to some western authors, they just don’t quite get the feel or the background just right. I don’t know what it is, it could be either a lost in translation or a lack of understanding of Asian culture. Anyways if you want to try something exotic or different that your usual fantasy novel, try an Asian fantasy I guaranty you will enjoy it.
Here is a list of a few novels in the Asian fantasy Genre to get you started; if you have any other suggested novels please post them as I am always looking for new authors to read and review.
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hugart (part of The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox series)-This series especially the first book was the inspiration for Bioware’s Jade Empire video game.
The by Louis Cha (Jin Yong)- One of his better translated books. There are only a few books translated into English (which I listed here as well), which is unfortunate because he is considered the Tolkien of China.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong and Outlaws of the Marsh by Wu Cheng’en- I listed these two books together because they along with Journey to the west make up three of the four Chinese classics over all. Chinese writing at its best.
Strange Tales From a Chinese Studio By Pu Songling- This is the best book for Chinese ghost stories and folklore. Three movies were adapted from this novel including Tsui Hark’s A Chinese Ghost Story.
Kwaidan, In Ghostly Japan, Japanese fairy tales and Sequels by Lafcadio Hearn – I cannot stress enough about Lafcadio Hearn’s contribution Japan and its literature and folklore. In these books Japanese folklore at it’s finest.
Ancient tales and folklore of Japan by Richard Gordon Smith – Another great treasure trove of tales, try to find the one with the full color prints, it will be well worth your search.
Ugetsu Monogatari (Tales of Moonlight and Rain) by Ueda Akinari – Traditional Japanese folktales from 1766. They are really good.
The Kouga Ninja Scrolls by Futaro Yamada – Futaro Yamada’s only novel translated to English, A Romeo and Juliet type of love story, filled with supernatural Ninjas and awesome battles. Karen is a huge ninja lover, so I had to put a good ninja story.
The Tales of Otori by Lian Hearn (a pen name and no relation to Laficado) would be also recommended as a excellent ninja fantasy.
Posted on June 4, 2013, in Articles and tagged chinese classics, chinese fantasy, chinese folklore, chinese literature, Fantasy, japanese classics, japanese fantasy, Japanese folklore, japanese literature, Journey to the West, Wuxia, Yokai. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.