Tags: books

Duke of Mount Deer

The Deer and the Cauldron - Louis Cha

A book review, of sorts.

For my first foray into Yuletide this year, I took a bit of a risk: I requested a book that I hadn’t actually managed to read yet. I’d been looking for a copy for more than two years, after falling utterly in love with an old TVB adaptation of the story. But finding a complete copy in English was impossible. My library did have the first volume, but the other two I could only find at online bookstores for outrageously high prices. Finding it in Chinese was easy enough, but it’s set in the 17th century and hence full of archaic and literary language, and besides that, it’s extremely long. (How long? Well, the English version1 spans almost 1,600 pages, and according to Wikipedia, this War and Peace-length translation is “highly abridged.” o_o )

I’m generally a book person, though, or at least a primary-source person, so when I decided to nominate the TV adaptation for Yuletide, I really wanted to include the original novel as well. So I did. And then I sort of panicked about having not actually read it, and went looking for a copy again—and found one!

So I’ve now finally read the whole book. Or the whole “highly abridged” English version of the book, at any rate. And needless to say, I have thoughts. A lot of them are thoughts about how the book measured up to my expectations, based on what I knew from the TVB series. Aaaand a lot of them are also just "slash goggles: on."

In brief, The Deer and the Cauldron traces the adventures of a street-urchin trickster anti-hero, Wai Siu-bou,2 as he (in one reviewer’s words) “traipses all around the countryside avoiding problems and creating even more of them.” Much of the drama stems from his increasingly hopeless efforts to navigate a lot of very contradictory loyalties—in particular, his close friendship with the young Emperor of China, and his simultaneous membership in a secret society whose aim is to overthrow the empire.

The relationship between Wai Siu-bou and the Emperor Hong Hei anchors the rest of the story, and it was what I loved about the TVB series and was hoping to see more of in the novel. And there is more of it in the novel. Actually a lot more. But... also sort of less? I’ll come to that in a bit. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.

One thing can be said, though: if you're looking for subtext, the novel is most accommodating. “Several of the officers and courtiers noticed—with surprise, for he was normally so grave and mature in public and never showed any sign of emotion—that Hong Hei’s eyes were red and swollen with weeping. When they saw Wai Siu-bou’s tear-stained face as well, they assumed that he was responsible and wondered of exactly what nature the boy-Emperor’s relationship with his young favorite might be.

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So. I don’t have a good place to end this post, but those are my extremely long-winded thoughts about The Deer and the Cauldron (as relentlessly juxtaposed to the TVB adaptation that induced me to read it). I liked it—I really did, even in spite of the very mediocre translation and other assorted faults. But it does sort of bother me that there are things I still like better about the TV version, because I feel like the original book canon is the “real thing” and deserves according priority.

This is why I always try to read books first. It makes sense to complain about changes made in adaptations, but it’s sort of a problem when you want to complain about the original text having not been more like the way it was later adapted. :P

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[This entry was originally posted at https://grayswandir.dreamwidth.org/285318.html.]
Literature

...more book stuff!

Heh, I love how everybody is already making posts about how they feel about 2011 so far. As for me, I am definitely not off to a terribly productive start. So far, I have slept a lot and read a lot of Dinosaur Comics. And also my sister and I sat around and watched like two hours' worth of Flight of the Conchords stuff on YouTube. Oy. Though I did watch Becket on New Year's, so that was at least something. (It was very good. Strange, though, seeing O'Toole play Henry II again, but play him as such a completely different character. And once again, I have so much trouble picturing Peter O'Toole as not gay. WHY IS HE ALWAYS SO GAY?)

Also, I've noticed that I suddenly seem to have started saying "twenty" when talking about the year, as in "twenty-eleven" instead of "two-thousand-ten." Maybe because "eleven" is just too many syllables already.

Anyway, to follow up my last post, which was about the books I read in 2010... Here's a 2010 book meme post!

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...Okay, enough book posts for a while. Though somehow I made a lot fewer book-related posts than usual in 2010, in spite of reading more books than usual. So I guess I'm just making up for it after the fact.
Romanticism, Paradise Lost

That with reiterated crimes he might / Heap on himself damnation

Holy hell, saving that Milton essay until the last minute was seriously not a good idea. Jesus Christ. I spent last week reading a couple of hundred pages of literary criticism, then on Friday spent probably five hours typing randomly about the poem until I finally arrived at something that looked like a viable argument for a paper, spent some twelve hours yesterday writing a truly horrible first draft, and then spent literally another twelve straight hours today turning it into something I was not too embarrassed to send to my professor. Seriously, I went to bed at 7:00 PM last night when I absolutely could not look at the thing anymore, got up at 3:00 AM and started writing again, and finally, just now, at quarter to 4:00 PM have at last emailed the file to the teacher. I thought about asking one of you guys to go over the draft, but... I was afraid there would be things wrong with it, and I'm not sure I could have stood going over the thing again. EGADS.

On the bright side, I think I can say I now know Paradise Lost pretty damn well. I mean, there are like three bookcases worth of books about how to interpret PL at the university library, so I'd be kidding myself if I thought I "understood" the poem. But I at least understand it in a few different and probably relatively valid ways.

I was surprised, actually, to find that although I understand the text much better now, and appreciate the art and precision with which Milton composed it, my impression of it still hasn't significantly changed. I spent the whole semester making a point to read the poem, as far as possible, the way I thought Milton would have wanted it read, taking God's goodness and righteousness pretty much for granted, and avoiding the temptation to sympathize with Satan. But now that the class is over, I find that I feel pretty much the same way about Milton's treatment of Christianity as I felt the first time I read it -- I think, first of all, that the task of "justifying the ways of God to men" was hopeless from the get-go, given the text of Genesis and the Christian doctrine that Milton had to work with; and I think Milton made some severe errors of calculation in deciding just how sympathetic to make Satan and just how odious to make God. 'Cause his Satan is pretty much a perfect Byronic hero, aristocratic, arrogant, tormented, flawed and petty and even somewhat despicable, but a lot less ugly even than, say, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. God, on the other hand, goes about doing a lot of the same damn things Satan does, only they're supposed to be viewed as completely different and good merely because it was God and not Satan who did them. Which reminds me of something Milton himself said in his De Doctrina Christiana (emphasis mine):
In short, many visible proofs, the verification of numberless predictions, a multitude of wonderful works have compelled all nations to believe, either that God, or that some evil power whose name was unknown, presided over the affairs of the world.
...Yeah. He then concludes that it must be God, not He-Who-Must-Cannot-Be-Named, who rules the world, because "that evil should prevail over good, and be the true supreme power, is as unmeet as it is incredible." That's the whole strength of his argument for why all the evil in the world has to somehow ultimately be explained as the divine and beautiful will of a benevolent God.

Oh religion. What can one possibly do with you.

(LOLWTF, 24 hours of essay-writing and apparently I wasn't tired of talking about Milton after all. Sheez.)

One more exam to go. There's no food in the house except for like ten zillion tamales, so I think I'll go buy some Little Caesar's breadsticks for $1.50 to celebrate the completion of the Essay of Doom. And then start studying for the most boring linguistics test ever.

...AND THEN FREEDOM OH MY GOD.
Sherlock Holmes: snow

my dear Watson

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On another topic: last night I finally sat down and watched an episode (on YouTube) of the Russian "Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson" series. :) It took forever for the videos to load, which turned out to be kind of neat, because I'd just keep watching the beginning over and over while waiting for the end to load, and I picked up more of the Russian each time. I was rather surprised, actually, how many of the words I recognized, given that we never exactly studied police/crime-related vocabulary in my Russian classes. I really ought to get my hands on some Russian movies/shows to watch. Except that first I need to get my hands on a Region 5 compatible DVD player. :P

I've got to ask, though... is it just me, or is it kind of strange that Holmes and Watson use the formal mode of address with each other? Maybe I have the wrong idea about how these things work, but I would have imagined Holmes and Watson would be close enough to talk to one another на ты, if not at the beginning of the series then at least by the time of, say, "Hound of the Baskervilles." But it looks like they never switch over. Strange? Not strange?
Star Trek: Spock - pretty

Non sequitur.

1. Today, I climbed up on the roof and cut down about 60 pounds worth of branches that were lying on it, and swept away a great mountain of leaves. :) Felt much more productive than going to the gym (which I seem to have stopped doing as of several weeks ago).

2. Monday, as tilly_stratford reminded me, was Talk Like William Shatner Day, in honor of which my sister and I paused dramatically at each other a great deal, and watched two episodes of Star Trek. Since then we've watched four more episodes, and I'm now endeavoring not to relapse into an obsession, because I really don't have time for that... but god. That show. I have never in my life been exposed to anything, anything more addictive and consuming than that show. I can handle drugs, you guys, but one hit of Star Trek and it's all over for me.

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EDIT: And now (the 26th) I discover that it is Leonard Nimoy's birthday, and that he is also now 79. I had no idea he and Shatner were born, like, four days apart. o_O
LotR: Boromir *facepalm* (base by fileg)

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

I am very confused, because I've just finished reading a Philip K. Dick novel so mind-numbingly bad that I'm now wondering whether I've been delusional all these years that I've liked him.

Admittedly, I don't read much sci-fi, but I'd read quite a number of Dick's short stories and three (now four) of his novels, and I'd always considered him one of my favorites, maybe second after Wells. But the book I've just read... I mean, it did not have one single redeeming quality. The plot was stupid, but a good author can generally carry a bad plot for at least some distance. The writing was awful. There were so many adverbs and bad dialogue tags that I could barely read a line without groaning. 'Yes,' he decided regretfully, or she reminded him sweetly or he opined vociferously -- stuff like that, I swear to god. And then all these one-word sentences that were supposed to come off as dramatic or jarring or god knows what, but just looked childish. "He looked at her and shuddered. Violently." What the hell is that violently doing out there all by itself? There are places for jarring sentence fragments, but come on. He can't violently AFTER he shudders. What the devil is going on?

And what's even worse is that he keeps sending his characters off into multi-page pseudo-philosophical digressions about topics that have nothing even remotely to do with the story. Topics that contribute nothing to the theme, and don't even help to develop the characters. There was an entire chapter in which an extremely minor character met another character who was never to be seen again, so that they could discuss whether certain sexual practices were disgusting or not. Sexual practices which had nothing to do with anything that happened in the book. And in the middle of their conversations, people would suddenly change their opinions, presumably to give Dick a better platform for making some argument, or telling some random tragic story about a rabbit, that didn't mesh with the characters' original opinions. Jesus god. I have MSTed Mary Sue fics that made more sense.

I just... I don't see how this can be. Flipping back through some of my other Dick novels, I see that he's always been too fond of adverbs and fancy dialogue tags, though I never noticed it before. I know he likes philosophical digressions, but in books like The Man in the High Castle, that was what I liked about him -- he was good at it. I thought. His topics were relevant and interesting. But after the mind-blowing badness of this book I've just read, I'm half wondering whether he was bad all along and just had me fooled somehow. But I can't see how that can be, either. I mean, this book was like... Dean Koontz bad. James Patterson bad. That's how bad it was. There's no way I could have missed that much badness before now.

But neither does it seem possible that a good author could, without some phenomenal effort of deliberate will, succeed in writing at that level of badness.

So confused.

Anyway, I have now finally picked up American Gods. I've been hesitant to read it, because to be perfectly honest, as much as I loved The Sandman, I haven't yet liked any of Neil Gaiman's novels; but surely nothing Neil Gaiman can write could be much worse than what I just read, even if American Gods does appear to continue in the Neil Gaiman tradition of stopping to explain himself whenever he says anything he worries might be too smart for his audience. At least I can count on him, I think, to go somewhere with his books. Maybe?

Lord, fiction these days! I'm actually starting to miss China Mieville. The guy bored me half to death, but at least his writing was good.

I'm becoming one of those awful pretentious people who won't read anything but "literature," aren't I?
Literature

Still October.

Well, instead of studying for my Old English exam, I wound up reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I italicize the title because I suppose the story is long enough to be considered a novella, but really it felt more like a short story to me. Far shorter than I was expecting.

I've never read any Robert Louis Stevenson before. He reminds me a little of Doyle and a lot of Wells -- of The Invisible Man, in particular. And maybe of Hawthorne, too, at least thematically.

It's difficult, I'm afraid, to appreciate Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde these days the way it was meant to be appreciated, since the entire story is just a suspenseful build-up to the reveal in the final two chapters, which any modern-day reader already knows about before he picks up the book. It's almost a detective story, the only difference being that there's a moral, or at least a moral dilemma, in the resolution. But sci-fi elements aside, the last couple of chapters read almost exactly like the confessional monologue at the end of your typical Sherlock Holmes story.

It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but it was good, in that vaguely impersonal turn-of-the-century English way. Good enough that I'm sorry I didn't somehow manage to read it without knowing the twist. I'm interested to read more of Stevenson's stories now, anyway.

And I'm reminded that I really need to get back to reading classics and avoiding modern fiction, which tends to have approximately the same effect on me that television has -- that is, to leave me with this numbly placid feeling of "life is sure sparkly but what the fuck is the point" as opposed to "life is one long bloody tragedy, but I hope it lasts."
Devil: Temptation

maybe I'm just especially picky about my satanic literature...

Finished To Reign in Hell. The premise was really interesting, but I'm not so sure about the execution... I'm afraid Brust has rather reminded me why I don't generally read sci-fi or fantasy novels. Like so many of them, this one came off more like a really excellent fanfic than like a professional work, I thought. I found it particularly jarring in this case because of how blatantly similar Brust's style is to Zelazny's, yet without being anywhere near as polished or natural as Zelazny is. But besides that, his writing just felt very rushed to me, a bit haphazard, a bit heavyhanded... I mean, I realize it's hard to deal with messiahs and gods and damnation without being heavyhanded, and Brust sure as hell could easily have done much, much worse. But --

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This turned out a bit rantier than I intended. I didn't actually hate the book or anything -- I'm just disappointed because it had so much potential, and I feel like Brust could have done a lot better with such rich material. I'd be willing to try another of his books sometime, though. This one was certainly a quick read, in any case.
HP: Snape: "Always."

(no subject)

I've now seen Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I had very little idea what to expect, since the last HP movie I saw was Prisoner of Azkaban; I've been a little afraid to see any of the films since then, since the actors just look all wrong to me. But this one actually was not bad. I mean, it was about as convoluted and dragging as the novel, in spite of the fact that they left out a ton of stuff (including nearly everything pertaining to the Half-Blood Prince!), but for all that, I enjoyed it, and it actually inspired me to finally go to Blockbuster and rent the previous two films.

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