Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or a Chinese Malcolm Tucker in the second century

I leapt from Enter the Dragon, pirouetted in slow motion through the air, silk robes swirling, then landed with one toe on Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame before catapulting high into the sky, turning an aerial somersault, and landing on John Woo's 2008 film Red Cliff.

I liked the latter so much that I've started reading Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the classic Chinese novel on which the film is based in part. It's a historical novel of high adventure, recounting battles and political maneuvering in the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, the decades of shifting alliances and power struggles that accompanied the decline of the Han Dynasty.

Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei take the Oath of the Peach
 Garden in a 1591 edition of Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Think a novel so concerned with power struggles can't be entertaining? Here's an adviser speaking boldly to a Han emperor so enfeebled that he has let the palace fall under the sway of eunuchs:
"All the Empire would eat the flesh of the eunuchs if they could, and yet, Sire, you respect them as if they were your parents."
Malcolm Tucker may talk that way, but I suspect few real political advisers do, and that's shame.

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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Blogger Kelly Robinson said...

I've never been much interested in historical fiction, with the exception of literature written in the 19th century. (My co-workers misunderstand this and are constantly trying to foist newly-written mysteries with Victorian settings on me. "I thought you liked these?" "Nooooooooo!) I'm intrigued by your latest obsession, but I'm not sure its for me.

November 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kelly, I’ve always been wary of historical crime fiction, which is why I asked three authors of the stuff to contribute to a guest post here last year. My principal difficulty is story and history interfering with one another as the author tries to enlighten readers with potted history lessons. But that’s not a problem in this case because Romance of the Three Kingdoms itself was written in the fourteenth century, presumably for an audience already familiar with the stories. So no clumsy didacticism was necessary. It's possible to read the novel, at least the chapters I've read so far, simply as a story of adventure and intrigue.

Though they don’t directly concern a historical crime novel, you might be interested in some of the comments toward the bottom of this thread.

November 28, 2012  

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