I was excited to read the first English translation of volume one of this classic of Chinese literature. It was publicised as a Chinese Lord of the Rings, which was also enticing since I love Lord of the Rings. However, I found it was nothing like any other classic western fantasy novel that I have read. It was very much its own thing — a story about several heroes of martial arts fighting to free their homeland from invaders. In this first installment we meet the children, who I am guessing will grow up to win the battle against the Jurchen conquerers, thereby saving the Han people of China from oppression.
It’s more like historical fiction with fantasy elements. The narrative can seem thin at times, with very little interior monologue or indeed very much scene setting. For me, the story probably would have worked better as a movie where those elements could be fleshed out by the actors and director.
The narrative is completely action driven. So much happens, and along the way we meet so many heroes: in hiding as peasant farmers, wearing the robes of Taoist monks, acting like crazy kungfu freaks, mothers fighting for their children, Mongolian generals battling their enemies, children mastering the martial arts etc.
It took me a while to get into the flow of Legends of the Condor Heroes as it’s very different to my usual reading choices, but it’s worth persevering. When the kungfu battles went on for too long I simply skipped a few pages. But then, I skipped most of the war in War and Peace too. After all, half a billion Chinese readers can’t be wrong.