Tags: literature

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.]
Shakespeare: foolery

Shakespeare post is pretentious. So what else is new? ;)

In the course of my education, I've discovered that the best way to get anything done is to have something else to procrastinate about. At the moment, I'm procrastinating about Russian grammar. And Russian spelling, and Russian vocabulary. And the writing of long emails in Russian.

I'm procrastinating by means of Shakespeare. Which I guess is more productive, anyway, than procrastinating by means of Star Trek, which was the other option.

Until fairly recently, I was actually -- as absurd as it may sound -- sort of opposed to the idea of seeing Shakespeare on film, or even at a theater: I was quite sure that the only way to really appreciate Shakespeare's work was by reading it. And I still hold that Shakespeare does need to be read; but I've also finally realized how much one gains by watching different versions of the plays. Gods know when I'll ever actually get to see a Shakespeare play on a stage, but for the time being, I've been making use of Netflix for... slightly more academic purposes than usual. Sort of.

Anyway. Ten films so far. I'm sure you guys are dying to know what I thought of them. ;) There's some picspamming, anyway...

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Looking this over, I wonder if I should be ashamed that half of my reactions seem to consist of damn these guys look good in period garb. Er. So much for my intellectual pursuits...
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.
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
Voltaire

Or: Travels to Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver.

So my English Lit class is over, and what's the first thing I do? Decide it's time to finally read Gulliver's Travels.

It was actually far more entertaining than I had expected. Swift's style is very prosaic and straightforward, which is probably why every time I've tried to read the book in the past, I was bored within the first couple of pages. But having gotten accustomed to his dry sarcasm from the excerpts in my Lit textbook, I was ready to give him another try. He's... quite a character, that Swift.

Mainly, I find myself astonished at how I can have ever imagined 1700 was a long time ago. I mean, I never thought 1800 seemed all that far in the past, but 1700 was another matter. The wigs and stockings had me confused, I guess. Diderot and Voltaire set me straight about the later part of the century, but I was still a bit wary of Swift. I see now that I was being an idiot. Gulliver's Travels begins in 1699, and is scarcely any less relevant now than it was three hundred years ago.

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What's really funny is that the whole book reminded me, more than anything, of Star Trek. Okay, I know, I know. But in an age when the idea of interstellar travel was beyond any reasonable conjecture, Gulliver was nevertheless making the same kind of journeys the Enterprise makes, to strange new worlds where no man has gone before; and in most cases, the beings he discovers there are even less like his own people than the aliens on Star Trek are like earthlings. And, most importantly, in every case, by observing the behaviors and cultures of other creatures, he learns something about humanity, for better or worse. Only I'm afraid Swift was much less optimistic, and much less forgiving, than Roddenberry was.

Anyway. I should stop, because I have to go buy another computer monitor, since the one in my room has died again. God, I'd almost forgotten how preposterously long my posts get when I don't have a zillion more urgent things to be doing. You can all see how profitably I spend my free time. Whee.
Literature

East of Eden

People recommend books to me. I read other books. Fail? Yes, sort of fail. But not entirely fail, since at least I can cross something off my reading list...

Anyway, this time the book is Steinbeck's East of Eden. I think I started reading it ten years ago. I made it through the first three hundred pages or so, and then gave it up, bored to death of both the plot and the characters, and thinking that everything about it felt too contrived -- far too contrived for Steinbeck, especially. I felt like he was stepping out of his league.

I don't know if it's just because my expectations have changed, or whether the second half of the book was really so much better than the first half (it did get better as it progressed, even within the second half), but having finished it, I can say that I underestimated Steinbeck, and that although East of Eden could probably have been better, it was very good. It did what it was meant to do.

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One Hundred Years of Solitude: Aureliano

Okay, but for real this time.

Last post on this subject for a while. I promise.

I said yesterday that Tolstoy was a mediocre philosopher. He is. I also said he was a good writer. That was an understatement. Collapse )

I don't know what I'll be reading next. The reason it occurred to me how far I'd underestimated Tolstoy is because I've been trying to start on some other book, but nothing I pick up comes anywhere close to Tolstoy's eloquence, and I find myself doing more criticising than reading. So far, King Lear is the only thing I've tried that I haven't been able to find fault with. ...So much for lighter reading. :P
Marx Brothers - wonderful evening

I made this post because the combination of circumstances dictated that I would.

Well, I've finally finished reading War and Peace. It turned out to be, at bottom, a 1400-page treatise on determinism. I feel it only fair to warn those of you who may be interested in reading it. The characters are good, the writing is good, it's easy to read, and there are some interesting ideas along the way. But ultimately, the point is that free will exists only as a kind of necessary unknown factor without which we could not call ourselves human, but has no meaning; ultimately the point is that everything done by anybody was predestined by God from the dawn of time (or rather outside of time), and no one could ever have acted any differently than they did. Especially not Napoleon, which is what makes him the most odious of all. Apparently.

I will also add, though of course this is entirely my own opinion, that Tolstoy is a thoroughly mediocre philosopher. His arguments, when they aren't the same ones that have been advanced for centuries, are almost irrelevant; his metaphors are mostly complete nonsense; and even when he makes a valid point, he often does so by proofs which are completely inscrutable. Dostoevsky made a better argument for determinism in five or ten pages of Notes From Underground -- and Dostoevsky didn't even believe in it.

I think it may be time for some lighter reading.