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Does Lord of the Rings have its roots in Chinese Literature? Let's see!
This is going to be one of my more controversial posts, which I expect to generate a fair bit of debate. We all know that all great literature has had its origins somewhere. We all know that the plot of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Inception was probably based on a Donald Duck comic book, and that that William Shakespeare's world-renowned play Romeo and Juliet was in fact, inspired by the Roman fable Pyramus and Thisbe. But did you know that The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (very, very probably) had its roots in Early Modern Chinese literature? This essay attempts to compare and contrast the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the 14th century Chinese novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, altogether pointing out the uncanny parallels, in order to support the notion that Tolkien had in fact based the Lord of the Rings on Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Please note that this essay is not supported by any contemporary academic authority of any kind, and that the opinions put fourth by me are nothing but opinions, and that you are free to disagree with me as far as this issue is concerned.
I think we all know what Lord of the Rings is about. In a nutshell, it tells the story of a band of heroes who go on a quest to destroy this evil little ring, which causes bad things to happen to anybody who touches it. But I think I should probably sum up what Romance of the Three Kingdoms is, in order to cater to the layman reader. Basically, Romance of the Three Kingdoms takes place in the declining years of the Han Dynasty (c. 180 A.D.), and revolves around a regular guy named Liu Bei, who is in fact, the true heir to the throne of China. It tells of how Liu Bei rises from poverty and becomes one of the greatest men in Ancient China, and centers around his quest to restore the Han Dynasty to its former glory, and bring peace to the people. Here's a link to the theme song of the epic 2010 TV Series Three Kingdoms. This should give you a more thorough idea on what I mean when I say it strongly, strongly contrasts with Lord of the Rings. Just read the lyrics, and you will see what I mean!
Anyhoo... How does this tie in with Lord of the Rings?
Well, for starters:
Consider the premise of these two pieces of fiction:
Lord of the Rings: One ring to rule them all.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms: One (imperial) seal to rule them all.
In The Lord of the Rings, the idea is that he who holds the ring meets with calamity, e.g. Prince Isildur who refuses to destroy the ring, and ends up getting killed by a volley of arrows while on the way back from a military campaign. The ring then falls into the hands of Smeagol, who kills his cousin and becomes Gollum.
In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, he who holds the seal meets with calamity, e.g. General Sun Jian, who gets his hands on the imperial seal and is strongly advised by his men to give it up because they sense it to be a bad omen. He refuses to give up the seal, and in turn, is betrayed by his ally Liu Biao and killed by a volley of arrows. The seal then goes back to the emperor, who ends up becoming a puppet of Prime Minister Cao Cao, gets forced to abdicate his throne to Cao Pi, and eventually kills himself
The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (more or less) centers around the warrior Aragon, the true heir to the throne of Gondor (I know Froddo is supposed to be the protagonist, but for the sake of argument, let's compare Aragon with Liu Bei). He has two sworn brothers, Legolas and Gimli.
Romance of the Three Kingdoms (more or less) centers around General Liu Bei, the true heir to the throne of China. He has two sworn brothers, Guan Yu (Legolas) and Zhang Fei (Gimli).
In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf and Saruman are the two opposing forces of good vs evil. They can be said to be the equivalent of the tacticians, Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi.
The strategists Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi of Romance of the Three Kingdoms can be said to be the equivalent of the wizards Gandalf and Saruman. Zhuge Liang works for the good guys (The Kingdom of Shu, ala Gondor), while Sima Yi works for the bad guys (The Kingdom of Wei, ala Mordor). Zhuge Liang and Sima Yi are both arch-nemeses, and are hell-bent on destroying one another. However; while Zhuge Liang is a representation of "good" (loyalty, honor, and fortitude), Sima Yi is the perfect antithesis of whatever Zhuge Liang represents; he represents the very epitome of the word "evil", and is portrayed as a power-hungry, remorseless sociopath who schemes in the shadows to usurp the throne of Wei, while Zhuge Liang refuses to usurp the throne from the relatively incompetent Liu Shan, even with posthumous permission from his father, Liu Bei.
It occurred to me that perhaps one of the most uncanny parallels between these two great pieces of literature is that they both revolve around the idea of brotherhood, so to speak. In both works, the audience gets a sense of brotherhood stemming from the protagonists, and this is especially true of Liu Bei's relationship with his subordinates. Guan Yu's loyalty towards Liu Bei prevents him from giving in to Cao Cao's hospitality (this is featured in the new Donnie Yen film The Lost Bladesman), and this so remarkably parallels Samwise Gamgee's loyalty towards Froddo, risking his life and refusing to abandon him even in the heart of adversity.
Finally, I think that we can all agree that Zhang Fei = Gimli!
In conclusion, this essay as I have mentioned is simply anecdotal opinion, and to be honest, I have neither read Lord of the Rings or Romance of the Three Kingdoms. I have however, seen the films, and it took me a while, but I did in the end come to the epiphany that Tolkien had used Romance of the Three Kingdoms as a primary source of inspiration, and this fact is concealed by the ethnocentric academic media of the contemporary Western World, in order for the West to avoid losing its status quo as the sole purveyor of great literature. We Asians have long acknowledged the West as a necessary complement to the East, and I think it's about damned time the West fostered a mutual attitude towards us. And what better way than to acknowledge that Oriental literature plays/has played an integral part in the existence of Anglo-Saxon literature?