The Rime of the Postmodern Mariner

More ramblings of Rhys Hughes.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ernest Bramah

I love Jack Vance. One of the many things I love about Vance's writing is the formal understatement used by his characters in extreme situations. An earlier writer who was also a master of this technique was James Branch Cabell, and Vance was partly inspired by such novels as The Cream of the Jest (1917) and Jurgen (1919)...

But it was an even earlier writer than Cabell who perfected this particular art. Ernest Bramah published The Wallet of Kai Lung in 1900. This rambling novel contains many tales within tales and relates the adventures of the wandering storyteller, Kai Lung, who is a genius of diplomacy, as are the various bandits, barbarians and magicians with whom he comes into contact. All verbal exchanges at crucial moments are always extremely courteous on the surface, but with a devastating subtext just beneath.

There seem to be six 'Kai Lung' books in existence. I consider myself fortunate to have obtained the first three, all in different editions! Bramah was another big influence on Vance, but he has been out of print for a long time. An omnibus edition of all six 'Kai Lung' novels would be a welcome addition to any great library of imaginative literature; I hope some publisher somewhere gets the same idea!


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