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Posted December 17, 2004
This book is actually a reprint of CHINESE MYTHS AND FANTASIES by the same author, with different illustrations. It is divided into three sections: 'The Conquerors of Chaos', the shortest section, dealing with the most primordial deities and heroes in Chinese mythology and their struggles in the establishment and maintenance of cosmic order; 'Fairies, Ghosts and Others', basically a selection of folktales; and finally 'The Revolt of the Demons', actually a single long story divided into six separate, shorter ones. The strong point of this book lies in the style of the author's prose. Birch is able to write in a way that is simple and elegant yet lends a magical feel to the stories so that they read like good mythical narratives. You get that archaic flavor. (Certain parts of some stories seem over-summarised, though; they could have been fleshed out with slightly richer descriptions.) A very unsatisfactory aspect of the book, from the point of view of a contemporary heir of the Chinese tradition, is that (except for the first section, 'The Conquerors of Chaos') it leaves out many (indeed most) of the most important and representative of Chinese myths and legends. The Eight Immortals, the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl, the Monkey God who wreaked havoc in Heaven and later escorted the Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang (a.k.a. Tripitaka) to India, Chang'e the lady who flew to the moon after stealing the elixir or immortality from her husband... All are missing. The stories found in this volume are enjoyable in their own right, but they are relatively obscure. I would have left out most of them and put the abovementioned stories in their place. Another shortcoming is that the book does not offer at least some brief introductory note regarding the stories and their sources. Neither is there a pronunciation guide. You do find introductory notes and pronunciation guides in TALES FROM INDIA and TALES OF THE NORSE GODS, both from the same series, so I can't understand this omission from the present volume. Finally, I think the cover design just looks a bit too goofy. David O'Connor could have done a better job researching traditional Chinese design motifs a bit more.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.