Kai Lung’s Golden Hours, Ernest Bramagh

I tried to write my comments on Ernest Bramagh’s Kai Lung’s Golden Hours, which I just finished, in the same style:

In the opinion of this lowly reader, the esteemed author before our unworthy eyes has created a gem of the highest quality, polished by fine craft.

But you can only do this so long before you get frustrated, which is why you have to admire Bramagh, because he could maintain this oblique and ornate style throughout and still manage to tell a compelling and, more than often, extremely humorous story.

The titular character, Kai Lung, is a storyteller who runs afoul of the local authorities, in particular a rather nasty advisor. The problem is that Kai has set his eyes on a most beautiful young woman who is also highly desired by the advisor, and the mandarin in charge is quite corrupt. The one saving grace for Kai Lung is that the mandarin also likes a good story. Like Scherazade, Kai Lung is therefore in the positive of entertaining for his life, and that he is able to accomplish this is not due to the fragment of 1001 stories available to him, but also the help of his beloved (a fairly strong female character given the situation and the date this was written, 1922).

Not everyone will care for this book, because a style as circular and dense as this doesn’t lead itself to the short-attention-span-generation (only James Branch Cabell has a more elaborate, yet beautiful, prose form in fantasy). I don’t know what it was about the 1920s that enabled the creation of such great comedy (Bramagh, Cabell, P.G. Wodehouse [who first became popular as a novelist in the 1920s], Thorne Smith). Maybe it was the post-War jubiliation, the underground of prohibition, or the pre-Depression stockmarket? Not ours to wonder why, but just to enjoy and laugh.

[Finished 26 July 2002]

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