Discoveries at IYL: Coloured pictorial series of myths

A Treasure report for IJB by Yue Wang, PhD Candidate, Macquarie University, Australia

I am interested in retellings and adaptations of myths, legends, folklore, fairy tales from Chinese culture, specifically of Monkey King story, but also includes some other folk tales and stories, such as Mu Lan story, fox spirits tales, ghost spirits tales and so on. I think modern and contemporary fantasy writing for children and young adults will draw inspirations from these cultural resources. And I am curious about how they could be transformed to new shapes to fit in modern era.

The treasure series I found in IJB is called “Coloured pictorial series of myths—extracts from classic literature of ancient China”, published in 1991, selected from numbers of ancient Chinese literature, illustrated by well-known artists, this luxurious set of books is divided into four groups entitled “deity”, “fairy”, “ghost”, and “monster”. All the books in this series are beautifully illustrated, with techniques inherited from many traditional Chinese paintings, scriptures and murals.

In the book entitled “A Fairy called White Shell-fish”, a swan-maiden script in China, the background scenery has been drawn with explicit reference to Chinese ancient landscape paintings, for instance, the withered lotus in page below, while the characters are drawn with brief strokes, sharp color contrast to show the naivety and clarity.

Another book from this series, called “Angels Ho and He”, tells the story of two benevolent fairies who help people. The lineaments of the angels are in a New-Year-Painting-style, New Year picture usually print with simple lines and bright and warm color. Its aim is to make people feel happy. The artistic design of this book successfully replicate this lively style.

I will recommend this series to anyone who interested in Chinese myths and traditional arts. Unfortunately, this series is not bilingual, but you can still appreciate the painting without knowing the story.

Some themes, characters, plots from legends and folklores may not be the main part of a book, but they are transformed into helpers, supporters and sidekicks in new stories. In the award-winning picture book “Entering city”, written by Lin Xiusui and illustrated by Liao Jianhong, multiple familiar characters from Chinese culture are interrupting the trip of a farmer and his son and a donkey to the city. Among them, is my favorite character from Chinese legends, Sun Wukong, or the Monkey King. The illustrations are all black-white, showing a quasi-shadowgraph style. In the afterword part, the author and illustrator gives a list of characters who did a “guest appearance” in the book, but even though you don’t recognize these intertextual references, you can still enjoy the simple story about the relationship of human and animals.

These books are my treasure found here. My stay in IJB turns to be very productive, with ample resources, helpful colleagues and friendly atmosphere. I am looking forward to coming back!

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