Monday, June 14, 2010

Shen of the Sea, by Arthur Bowie Chrisman

Here is another title which I had completely misunderstood. I'd assumed that the Shen in question was some little boy who lived on the coast. In the book, however, Shen are spirits with domain over one element or another, usually malevolent toward people. Who knew? This original cover with its kite-flying soldiers does little to make that clear, but the newer cover helps a bit more.

These are stories of purported Chinese origin, which claim to tell the tales of how items or customs originated. For example, china place settings originated with a Chinese princess and her obsession with mud pies (which an invading dragon kindly, but unintentionally, baked for her). There are also several tales of obstinate and downright horridly disobedient little children, whose parents' indulgence of them causes them to unintentionally "invent" things like, say, printing.

The stories are fun and sure to entertain middle-aged children. It's also clear that the author had some familiarity with Chinese language and custom. So I was a bit disappointed to learn that none of these stories have any origin in actual Chinese folktales; they're purely a product of the author's imagination. So they're certainly fun to read, but don't expect them to give you any common ground with a Chinese child!

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