27 August 2008

Chi Po, Bu Fu and the latter’s one-eyed bulbul

Oscar Mandel is an emeritus professor of literature at the California Institute of Technology as well as an author of poems, plays and stories. In 1964 he published a novella called Chi Po and the Sorcerer. A Chinese Tale for Children and Philosophers. Since then he revised the story and published a French edition of it in 2004, but having failed to find a new publisher for it in the U.S., he put up the story, now with the reversed subtitle, A Chinese Tale for Philosophers and Children, on the Internet this year for all to download for free from here. How can we ever thank him enough for his deed?

The hero of the story is Chi Po, a young lad who wants to become a painter. One day, while wandering up a mountain, he runs into Bu Fu, a seemingly ill-tempered old sorcerer who lives in a cave with Stefan, his one-eyed bulbul. Bu Fu becomes Chi Po’s painting teacher and, with a bit of Taoism here and a touch of Zen there, opens his pupil’s eyes to seeing the things around him in a different way and teaches him "the fullness of emptiness and the emptiness of fullness."

"Only the piddling paint-slapper paints everything,” Bu Fu had said. “We with a morsel express the banquet."
Eventually the two become friends. But after Bu Fu reveals his secret on a faithful day following a thunderstorm, both Chi Po and the bulbul desert the sorcerer each to go his own way, while Bu Fu stays behind in his cave. (No need to despair, a story like this can only have a happy end.)

This is a funny, entertaining, easy-to-read story flavored with frequent tidbits of eastern philosophy. But P’u! to Oscar Mandel, for he didn’t run his spell checker or proofread his manuscript carefully before putting it up on the Internet.

On page 10, "orogenous" should be erogenous (unless the author was referring to orogeny); on page 11, "immoirtal" is supposed to be immortal; on page 29, the last sentence would make more sense if it were, "And that was pretty often, because by now he had [lost] much of his fear of the old sorcerer, and even the horrid beard did not trouble him anymore"; on page 35, "taveren" is tavern; on page 56, an extra space was left between "creaking" and the comma after it; on page 57, "wherre" is to be where; on page 77, the sentence "'He accepts!' thundered Chi Po’s, running to Bu Fu" should have said "thundered Chi Po."

Typos aside, there are plenty of useful spells to be memorized and lessons to be learned for all of us in Chi Po and the Sorcerer.
"Do you confess yourself a loyal subject of the Emperor, willing to shed your last drop of blood for him?"
"My last drop of blood is unstintingly his to command."
May we all be as loyal to our emperors as Bu Fu was to his.

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