1926: Shen of the Sea

VERDICT: Trash (though entertaining, not a classic)

Sally’s Rating: 3

Arthur Bowie Chrisman’s Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children is a collection of short story retellings of Chinese folklore. The accuracy of these tales is questionable, but the writer did an impressive job at inserting some greatly needed humor into the stories.

The shen showcased in Shen of the Sea refers to Chinese demons who cause mischief and trouble throughout the land. Dragons also make an appearance in several of the stories. “Chop-Sticks,” “That Lazy Ah Fun,” and “Ah Tcha the Sleeper” retell the origin tales of chopsticks, gunpowder, and tea. “Shen of the Sea,” “How Wise Were the Old Men,” and “Four Generals” feature clever protagonists in traditional trickster narratives. As in many folktales, not every story features a remarkable hero; instead, many of the stories are about ordinary people stumbling their way into greatness by accident or clumsiness.

While the names in the stories (i.e. Ah Fun, Cheng Chang, etc.) are culturally insensitive in modern times, the story reads as an American’s version of Chinese folktales. Chrisman’s storytelling style is suited for children, though, as he uses many rhyming names and Chinese words. While the plots may be a bit simplistic, the odd blend of Chinese and American language makes these tales all the more enjoyable to read.

While women did not fare that well in this book, “The Rain King’s Daughter” features a clever female character that actually triumphs over the males in the tale. Unfortunately, in the other love tales, “The Moon Maiden” and “Many Wives,” women are back in their traditional “need to be saved” domestic roles.

Shen of the Sea was a quick, entertaining read. While the stories were not memorable, the book was clever and comical, making for a satisfying read.

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