29 June 2007

Land of the Dragon

The book I've been reading most consistently whilst keeping an eye on the kittens is Land of the Dragon. It's one of Barnes & Noble's world myth series. Quite enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the snippets of Chinese history included in with the myths, and the ways that the myths changed as the situation in China changed, or depending on the region in China.

Basically, the book starts with the most ancient myths and oldest known history from China, and then gradually moves forward in time, until it gets to the modern Communist era (where 'inappropriate' myths were censored and/or modified). I enjoyed all of the tales, but because of the book's broad scope, it felt like a lot was left out. On the other hand, it cost me only $10. A book thick enough to do the subject matter justice would probably cost a bit more. :^) Oh, another plus is that the book is full of illustrations, mostly from classical Chinese art.

Since each story is different, I'll just summarize one of the more interesting ones. According to Chinese myth, there were originally ten suns. They took turns lighting the world each day. One day, all ten decided to rise, each an hour after the other. As you can imagine, this caused extreme heat and drought and would have destroyed the world but for an archer, Yi. Yi shot down all but one of the suns with his bow, saving the world from doom. I like the story, but my first thought was, "He got an arrow to go 93 million miles before the day was over?" :^)

At any rate, I'd recommend this as an intro to Chinese mythology and history. Mild caution: in a few places where I was already familiar with the tales, I got the feeling that they 'oversummarized' to the point of being misleading. It's equally possible that they just chose a different variant of the tale than the one I knew, but most of the time they mentioned the existence of other variants. For a more complete look at tales from a single period, I'd recommend the Lieh-Tzu.

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