13115538But if you’re lucky, you might just get what you need.

Rather cliche, I know. But when talking about The Red Chamber, the Stones really nailed it.

The Red Chamber is an adaptation of the classical Chinese story Dreams of the Red Chamber, originally written in the middle of the 18th century by Cao Xueqin.  The basic plot remains the same, the story follows members of the Jia clan, mostly the women, as they go about their daily lives in 18th century China and the rise of the Qing dynasty.

Now the original text has 120 chapters and a host of characters.  It supposedly mirrors the life of the original author, and is supposed to pay homage to the women he knew in his life: family, friends and servants.  The novel is “remarkable not only for its huge cast of characters and psychological scope, but also for its precise and detailed observation of the life and social structures typical of 18th-century Chinese aristocracy.”  At least according to Wikipedia.  Dreams of the Red Chamber is considered one of the four great classics in China, and founded Redology, which is the academic study of the book itself.

That’s saying something when an entire field of research is dedicated to your book…

Now the author of The Red Chamber is the first to admit that they took some liberties with the story, mostly with paring down the cast of characters to a more manageable level, as well as some academic license to make the narration flow more smoothly.  But it in no way leaves the book feeling like it lacked something or was slapped together.

The Red Chamber is not a feel-good kind of book.  The characters, despite most of them being wealthy, face some rather difficult choices and decisions both inside and outside the home.  A young woman named Daiyu is orphaned and sent to live with her mother’s relatives, and falls in love with one of her male cousins who is betrothed to someone else.  Few people make her feel welcome in her new home, and when the family is left destitute by a petty, grasping emperor, Daiyu falls dangerously ill with consumption and comes a hair’s breathe from death.

The three main character are all cousins to one another: Baoyu, Baochai, and Daiyu.  They are the only young people in the story and they live out their life within the pages surrounded by friends and family that love, hate, scorn, and despise them, depending on the member and their particular mood at the time.

You have Lady Jia, the matron of the family who is hard and cold hearted.  Lian, her son and paterfamilias, a weak and unambitious man married to Xifeng.  Xifeng runs the household and after a year of being childless must vie for the attentions of her husband with her own childhood maid Ping’er.  Ping’er is wedded pretty much against her will to Lian after Xifeng fails to produce an heir, and not only must produce an heir but also finds herself drawn into the petty squabbling and political maneuvering of the main family.  Baoyu is the eldest surviving son of Lian’s older brother (I forget is name but he’s a good man) and is a disappointment to his family, seen alternately as the best thing that has ever happened to them, as well as the most lazy and useless one of them all.  Baochai is shy, repressed, and eager to please young woman in love with Baoyu.

And Daiyu, Daiyu is a simple country girl dropped smack dab in the middle of all this family drama.  She draws the affection of Baoyu and must learn the ins and out of aristocratic lifestyle quickly, else see herself drown under the weight of all the secrets and lies.

The Red Chamber is a fascinating, wonderful book.  And the funny thing is, the three main characters you become attached to have all these dreams that they want to accomplish in their lifetimes, most of them involve wedding one or the other, but none of them truly come true.  But in the end, despite their dreams becoming ashes in their mouths, the three young people of the story wind up getting what they truly need from life, and for the most part living happily ever after.

A bitter sweet ending without a doubt, but one that nonetheless leaves you satisfied and almost happy for them.

A bit of D&D fun next time, with Dungeons & Dragons 2: First Encounters.

12226318This second volume of the acclaimed Dungeons & Dragons comic reveals how our favorite band of adventurers first came together But in present day, Fell’s Five has found itself stranded in the mystical realm known as the Feywild, with few options for returning home. Join the party as John Rogers and Andrea Di Vito bring us a new chapter in their thrilling adventures of swords and sorcery.