The 47 Ronin Story - John Allyn

The 47 Ronin Tale
John Allyn
Tuttle Publishers
ISBN: 0804801967 (Amazon link)

I've been reading some Japanese history recently, and came across this summary of the 47 Ronin whilst browsing Wikipedia. I've seen this episode mentioned before, usually in reference to woodblock prints, and as I always enjoy revenge stories and am fascinated by any plot driven by the dictates of honour, I was pleased to come across this slim novel buried in the history section of a local bookshop a couple of days later.

This classic adauchi has huge dramatic potential but I have to admit I wasn't expecting much from Allyn's treatment even before I left the shop. His prose was capable, but lacked flair and suffered from telling-not-showing. However, I reckoned that the central story could carry any weaknesses.

While I am grateful to find a novelised version at all, I was frustrated that such powerful scenes as Oishi divorcing his wife and sending his children away were told in a merely adequate He Said/She Said style. For me, the lack of any real emotional depth in the characterisation stripped much of the dramatic potential away. The 47 Ronin Story remains very readable, especially if you're new to the events as I was, and to be fair Allyn's prose does have some memorable moments, but I'd love to hear from anyone who can point me to a version by a more accomplished author who can do justice to the original material. The central themes of the novel - obedient loyalty and vengeance - derive from a world-view alien to a modern, individualistic Western audience, and seem to offer a lot more to an author than the bare action. It's the motivation and inner lives of these men that fascinated me, not just how the story plays out, and unfortunately I felt that Allyn's version lacked something emotionally. Rating? Worth a look.

In an ideal world what I want is to find Kurosawa's previously unknown film version, with Mifune in the title role...

Posted: Sat - February 14, 2004 at 02:19 PM