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.
” ( All the subtext.Collapse )( Character dynamics: book vs. showCollapse )( Other pointsCollapse )
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( Footnotes!Collapse )
[This entry was originally posted at https://grayswandir.dreamwidth.org/285318.html.]