Friday, May 01, 2009

Poetry Friday: The Ballad of Mulan

So, the Ballad of Mulan is just that, a ballad:

Tsiek tsiek and again tsiek tsiek,
Mu-lan weaves, facing the door.
You don't hear the shuttle's sound,
You only hear Daughter's sighs.
They ask Daughter who's in her heart,
They ask Daughter who's on her mind.
"No one is on Daughter's heart,
No one is on Daughter's mind.
Last night I saw the draft posters,
The Khan is calling many troops,
The army list is in twelve scrolls,
On every scroll there's Father's name.
Father has no grown-up son,
Mu-lan has no elder brother.
I want to buy a saddle and horse,
And serve in the army in Father's place."

Read the rest of the poem, in Chinese and English here: The Ballad of Mulan

In the latest installment of the Once Upon a Time series, Cameron Dokey tackles this traditional Chinese ballad.

Wild Orchid Cameron Dokey

I am not familiar with too many versions of the Mulan story, just the original Ballad of Mulan, and the Disney movie.

There are some spoilers in this review if you've never seen the movie.

In this version, Mulan's mother dies during childbirth while her father is at war. Due to the grief of losing a wife he truly loved, and the fact the child was a daughter, the father does not return. Mulan grows up being cared for by the servants. She's a tomboy and learns to read and write, ride and shoot, from her best friend, the neighbor boy Li Po. After her father returns, he remarries and he and Mulan grow closer. The emperor then demands a man from every household to once again fight. Mulan's father has never fully recovered from previous injuries and his new wife is pregnant. Mulan can't let him leave a pregnant wife again and she knows if he goes to war, he will never return.

So, Mulan goes instead. Her riding and shooting skills let her pass for a man, even though Li Po and the General, her father's friend, know her true identity. Like the movie version, there is great love interest with the prince.

Also, like the movie, but unlike the ballad, Mulan's gender is discovered while recovering from injury. Unlike the movie, there's only one battle.

I loved the relationship between Mulan and Li Po. How often do you get boy/girl friendships without no sexual tension? Never! They do discuss marriage, even though they know Li Po's mother would never allow it. They do not discuss it because they like-like each other, but because in their world of arranged marriages, they know that they could do much worse. They aren't in love, but they know they could be happy together, and be themselves.

Dokey obviously did her research (even though during Mulan's writing lessons, the stroke order is incorrect for one of the characters!) but I'm really surprised there is no author's note at the end. The Once Upon a Time series almost ALWAYS has an author note, and many of the volumes by Dokey do. Out of all the books to deserve one, surely this retelling, of a tale very unknown in the West except for Disney, should have gotten one? I so expected it to be there that I actually skipped to the end to read it first.

All in all though, another very strong addition to the series. Dokey's titles tend to be my favorites and this one really didn't disappoint.

Poetry Friday roundup is at allegro!

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