Reading: Shi Nai’an, Luo Guanzhong — The Broken Seals: Part One of the Marshes of Mount Liang (trans. John Dent-Young, Alan Dent-Young)

And back to Taoist drinking, fighting, drinking and fighting, eating, eating drinking and fighting!

One of my favourites from last year, which I was reluctant to start because a) it’s large enough to stun farm animals with, and b) I was afraid it’d be rubbish, and then it turns out to be one of the best things I’ve ever read. Or rather, it was brilliant but really deserved a translation just as good.

So I periodically looked around at the translations and their shortcomings, and decided to try the first volume by father and son John and Alan Dent-Young. A few unfortunately – and unnecessarily – contradictory choices led to this. The Water Margin exists in anywhere from 70 to 120 chapters, depending on the version: Shi Nai’an is supposedly responsible for the 70 chapter version, which was the previous version I read, translated by J.H. Jackson; Luo Guanzhong for the 120 chapter version; then there exists other versions going up to 164 chapters. Then there’s the translations themselves, which go from the usual ‘accurate but pedestrian’ to just inaccurate, or avoiding the more bawdy elements (which must mean a heavily abridged version because there is drinking, fighting, etc and general mayhem on every page and language to match), to missing things for editorial reasons, or just dated.

So I settled on the Dent-Young trilogy, which seems to be the most faithful in both language, and structure. Wait, no! Not three, five! Turns out their translation is around 20 chapters per book (and 450 pages) and at €25 each … well, if it ends up being not so good at least I can stop after the first.

This version then is the 120 chapter version and where the chapter breaks lie is different from the Jackson version. There is also a substantial amount of additional detail in every line and scene, and the breaking of scenes with poetry, which was entirely absent from Jackson, and which to me feel as musical interludes in an oral storytelling.

108 outlaw heroes then, who variously drink, eat, and fight their way until meeting at the Marshes of Mount Liang.