Wuxia Novelist: A Writer's Blog

Wuxia Novelist: A Writer's Blog looks at the broad range of issues encountered by me as a novelist working in the Chinese wuxia (heroic fiction) genre. I have, however, a very broad background and this blog will not narrowly focus on one genre of literature, rather I will consider books, movies, and ideas that relate to my life as a writer. For more information about my background please visit my author's website: www.thedragongateinn.com or www.facebook.com/WuxiaNovelist

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Saturday, October 6, 2007

Aragorn, Shane, Decker, Aubrey, & Li Bo ???

The most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly (Oct.12, 2007) has a striking picture of Gollum with the title "Return of the Ring?" Inside is an interesting article about the possible settlement of a rift between Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema, the film company that brought us the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

What was most interesting for me, however, was thinking about the definition I left you for the wuxia genre. What does Tolkien's epic tale have in common with that genre? I see it as a Western wuxia story. Then I wondered, what else can fit into this "commodious vessel" of the wuxia genre?

The American Western, for example, is an obvious choice. Characters like Shane, many of John Wayne's cowboy characters, Gary Cooper's High Noon character, and the lineage is brought up to date with Unforgiven and possibly 3:10 to Yuma and The Assassination of Jesse James (I say possibly because I haven't seen them yet, only read about them) are all heroic characters. As a heroic fiction genre writer, the Western is an American wuxia form, with the gunslinger paralleling my "swordslinger" wandering blades (youxia - labeling the swordsmen and women of Chinese wuxia as "knights-errant" is a misnomer and I never use that term in referring to the Chinese tradition).

Further, I understand some science fiction movies such as Blade Runner as wuxia, and I'm sure you can name others. And at the far end of a wuxia spectrum, I place one of my favorite action/adventure/historical fiction authors, Patrick O'Brian with his Aubrey-Maturin epic series of historical fiction set in a very historically accurate Napoleonic naval war era; the movie Master and Commander:The Far Side of the World was based on two novels from that series.

On my wuxia spectrum, I move from "sheer fantasy" with Tolkien and the Science Fiction folks to "sheer history" with O'Brian. The Westerns are somewhere in the middle dealing in an idealized "wild West," though probably less so with Unforgiven. And the middle is where my work goes, as my novel, Dream of the Dragon Pool, is set in a historical Tang dynasty, but overlaid with a "fantasy" story about a real historical character, Li Bo, the great Chinese poet-adventurer.

For me as a writer what these stories obviously have in common is their emphasis on the hero and heroic action. And perhaps less obviously, the setting or place where these actions take place. Across this spectrum of "heroic fiction" there is a common setting - the world of the hero. For Tolkien it is Middle Earth, for the Western the "wild West," for me the early Tang dynasty, for O'Brian the geography, technology, and culture of early 19th century European naval warfare.

In a sense, each of us have our "special worlds." And for traditional wuxia that special world is known as the jianghu, literally "rivers and lakes," but figuratively, it is the setting for wuxia adventure.

In the next blog, I will give you my definition of the jianghu, and we can see how it compares to the settings of these other forms of heroic fiction.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm trying to understand how Unforgiven relates to your definition of wuxia, particularly the line, "Xia refers to those men and women who acted in a subjective, heroic manner to right injustice."

I know that Will Munny acts on behalf of the cut-up whore, and in that sense, he is righting an injustice.

On the other hand, I've always felt the most important line in the film occurs when Munny is standing over Little Bill Daggett with his gun cocked and Daggett pleads with him saying, "I don't deserve this." Munny says, "Deserve's got nothin to do with it."

In that moment, I thought he was announcing that his character was at least momentarily reverting to that of the "mean sonofabitch" he had struggled not to be. And he was in that moment less a righter of injustice than the flawed hero of modern fiction, who rights injustice only by accident.

I can see Rick Deckard in Blade Runner in this, but in a strange way. He has none of the heroic values of altruism, justice, freedom, personal loyalty, honor, or generosity until the end of the story, when his sympathy for Roy Batty changes his attitude, although it's too late to affect his behavior.

Thank you for a thought-provoking idea. I'm going to go watch Unforgiven and Blade Runner again.

October 8, 2007 at 3:12 PM  
Blogger The Innkeeper said...

Thanks for your thought-provoking comments. In my recollection of Unforgiven, Munny ends up seeking revenge (righting an injustice) for the death of his old friend Ned Logan (Morgan Freeman).

Also, I think Deckard is heroic in terms of his love for Rachael (Sean Young) and then there is an interesting point of view from some critics who claim that the hero in Blade Runner is actually Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) and not Deckard!

October 8, 2007 at 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stand corrected about Unforgiven. I had forgotten about the murder of Ned Logan. Thanks.

Do you make a distinction between "hero" and "protagonist"? I think "protagonist" is a more technical term and lends itself to analysis without leading a discussion into unanswerable questions about whose story it is.

That said, as I think about Blade Runner, it's possible that Roy Batty is the protagonist, although it's more likely the protagonist changes in the course of the story, which sometimes happens.

When I teach fiction writing, I define the protagonist as the character whose world is thrown out of balance by the inciting incident, who suffers the major reversals, and whose decision resolves the crisis. And it seems to me that Roy Batty's decision not to kill Deckard resolves the crisis of that story.

I guess it depends on whether you consider the story's primary struggle to be the life-and-death struggle between Deckard and the replicant or Deckard's struggle for love. But when I watch the film, Deckard's struggle for Rachael's love seems to be kind of a sideshow, although it certainly became more important in the second version of the film, in which it's more apparent that Deckard's struggle for love is an aspect of his struggle to be human, in which case the struggle with Roy Batty is the sideshow -- just another obstacle to be overcome until he can get the girl.


October 9, 2007 at 6:14 AM  

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