For a compulsive reader like me, libraries are a blessing. A lot of e-books are not available in my part of the world, and books are usually not cheap, so being able to borrow from a good library helps. Besides, the service at Singapore National Library is awesome. And since this is July, and school holidays, I can borrow up to 12 books at a time!
One of the books that I’ve been carrying in my handbag and also in my head is Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling in the 17th century.
Reading these stories allows you to get lost in a supernatural world where fox-spirits are not uncommon, ghosts roam around in the light of day, and Taoist exorcists save innocent victims from all kinds of evil forces. I’ve thought of foxes as cunning, because most other legends make them out to be so…but it is fascinating how they are seen as evil spirits in these Chinese stories.
The author has a very dry sense of humor, and I love the satire of some of the pieces. I’m sure a lot of the power of the texts has been lost in translation, but what has come through is also very strong indeed.
The stories are available online, and I’ve been lost in their magic world of demons, fairies, men and women overcome by lust, and in some (rare) cases, love. The stories also feature holy men, all kinds of animals, birds, and trees…all with lives and voices of their own, as well as the Underworld.
The characters are very realistic, and their human frailties very well contrasted with their exotic setting. I’ve been whiling away a whole lot of time reading these 500 stories/ vignettes, and even more fascinating are the notes supplied for the interested reader at the end of the book, which discuss a lot of the myth, provide analyses, and offer opinions as to why certain biases colored Chinese folklore of the time.
I’ve now returned the book to the library, but I know I’m going to buy a proper copy for myself. I need to be able to flip its pages from time to time, and re-discover an entertaining story I had half forgotten.