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A vast collection of marvellous tales

The Truyen ky man luc (Vast Collection of Marvellous Tales), which dates from the first half of the 16th century, is the first work of this genre in Vietnam, being the part of the narration of the fantastic in East Asia (China, Japan, Korea...), probably, inspired by the “Stories written in the lamp light” or the Chinese story-teller Cu Hau (Cu Tong Cat, 1347-1433). It was written in Hán (classical Chinese) like most literary works of the time. While the Banner and the themes owe much to the Chinese source, the subjects, the mentality and the problems treated are essentially Vietnamese.
The author, Nguyen Du - not to be confused with the poet Nguyen Du famous for his novel in verse Kieu - was one of the best disciples of Nguyen Binh Khiem, philosopher and poet with the reputation of a Nostradamus. Having earned the degree of licentiate at the triennial competitions, he was appointed a mandarin with the rank of sub-prefect. After a year in office, he resigned his post under the pretext that he had to take care of his old mother. In recently, he wanted to withdraw from public affairs at a time when depravation was on the rise at court. His collection of tales reflects the critical attitude of a scholar facing the social crisis of the time. He condemned the etjL abused and crimes of the feudal class with regard to the people (e.g. abdtif lion of Women to be raped or forced into marriage...). At the same time w sang high-mindedness in the Confucian conception (faithfulness of the wife, moral integrity...). But this Cbnfucian scholar seemed to seek evasion in dn imagination and fantasy of Taoism, a religious doctrine for which he showed evident sympathy.
The twenty tales of Nguyen Du's collection, which mingle the real with the supernatural, evoke the atmosphere of ancient stones of fairies and ghosts rather than the modern fantastic stories of a Hoffman or a Poe. They unfold in the world of the living and that of the dead - on earth, in heaven, and in water.
Three stories, by their ethical and philosophical considerations, vaguely recall the philosophical stories of Voltaire: “A meeting at the temple of Hang Vuong. ” “A conversation with the woodcutter of Mount Na.” “A banquet It night on the Black River.”
Three other stories honour the loyalty of the wife to her husband. In the “Bride of Khoai Chau,” a woman, named Phụng Khanh whose husband has left for an unknown destination for six years, is forced to marry a general Her husband comes back in the nick of time to rescue her, but he loses a gambling game and has to yield her to the winner. She takes her own life by hanging, but later returns to life for just one night to spend it with her man
“The singer Tuy Tieu,” abducted by a powerful mandarin, thinks of killing herself to keep her loyalty to her husband, but is eventually saved by an old servant. “The woman of Nam Xuong” tells of a woman who is victim of an unjust suspicion by her husband and dies because of it.
Several stories relate cases of men lured into lewdness by female ghosts. For instance, the “Story of the ceiba tree”: a merchant is induced every night by an unknown woman to give himself up to bawdy pleasures; he tries to return home and finds there a coffin; he embraced it and is turned into a ceibe tree. In “A casual encounter at the western farm,” the victim realised that his two sexual partners are ghosts. In the “Trial at the Dragon Palace,” a snake demon (thuong luong) is severely punished for having abducted the wife of a mandarin. In the “Evil spirits of Xuong Giang,” the incarnation of a dead young woman marries a mandarin but “moment comes when a sorcerer reveals her to be just a skeleton.”
The tale “Tu Thuc marries a fairy” exudes melancholy rather than perversity. While attending a spring festival, Tu Thuc gives his own gown in reparation for a peony branch inadvertently broken by a young girl. She turns out f to be a fairy. Tu Thuc is transported to the land of fairies and marries her. After a year of perfect bliss, he is gnawed by nostalgia and asks to be sent back to his native village. But once there, he finds that in the world of mortals more than eighty years have, in fact, elapsed, and that no one he used to plow as a young man is still living. In despair, he leaves for the forest and is lever heard of again.
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Update : 31-07-2017



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