Chinese Mythology Sources
July 1, 2011
I have a feeling I’m going to get asked this: What sources did I use to research the Chinese mythology that shows up in Kitty’s Big Trouble?
Answer: Not the John Carpenter movie. Seriously, dude, what were you expecting?
Instead, I went to a couple of primary sources:
The Classic of Mountains and Seas is an ancient text, over 2,000 years old, and a really cool book besides. Strange, but full of neat tidbits. It isn’t a story, though it has stories in it. It’s mostly a catalog of places, monsters, and magic. It’s a guidebook that tells you what you might see if you’re traveling through these mystical lands, what spells can help you, what monsters to avoid, and so on. It took awhile to get into it, because it’s disjointed and repetitive. But I got a lot of really good ideas from it. The huli jing that Kitty and Co. meet is straight out of here.
Journey to the West is a classic of Chinese literature. It’s inspired by the real-life journey of Xuanzang, a Buddhist monk who traveled to India to seek out original Buddhist texts. I read parts of it looking for a particular character’s story. To say more would be a spoiler.
A useful secondary source I read was the Oxford University Press Handbook of Chinese Mythology. It consolidates a lot of information from other sources, but it also provides good context and background in its introduction, particularly about how much Chinese oral literature has survived the Communist era, and how folklorists continue to work to collect these stories. (It’s a fascinating subject, and an issue I encounter a lot in research. Many anthropological accounts of non-western mythology and folklore try to preserve some ancient, unwesternized, unmodern, “untainted” version. For example, books on Native American folklore might try very hard to preserve or understand what it was like before colonization. But I’m usually interested in what it’s like now. What’s survived? How has colonization changed the culture? How has immigration changed it? How have the stories changed? This may be a rant for a different time.).
I also collected a lot of bits of information from all over the place: I took a walking tour of Chinatown when I visited the city last summer, read lots of online urban legends about the mysterious tunnels, read a fantastic history (The Barbary Plague) of how the bubonic plague entered the Americas though San Francisco’s ports at the turn of the last century, and how that intersected with racism, Chinese immigration, and Chinatown’s autonomy.
I’ll also confess to looking at the Dungeons and Dragons Oriental Adventures supplement, but I didn’t really find anything there that I didn’t find elsewhere.
As usual, not all my research ended up in the book. But really, it’s not supposed to. I needed to do enough research to give me a good basis of information to draw on to tell a story that goes beyond the surface.