Louis Cha’s acclaimed trilogy to be translated into English
Despite their popularity, only three of Jin Yong’s martial arts novels have been translated into English. But fans will soon get more from the writer as his most popular trilogy, named after the first of the three books, Legends of the Condor Heroes, is scheduled to hit bookstores in February.
Jin Yong is the pen name of Louis Cha. And the author, who lives in Hong Kong, is one of the best-selling Chinese authors alive with over 300 million copies of his works sold in the Chinese-speaking world.
This latest translation project is the most ambitious with regard to Jin Yong’s works.
The trilogy, written by Jin Yong in the 1950s and ’60s, covers the Song Dynasty (9601279) and the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and features hundreds of characters.
The plot includes betrayal and allegiance among different martial arts schools, and the rise and fall of dynasties.
According to the publishing house, Maclehose Press, the translated work will come in 12 volumes, including Legends of the Condor Heroes; Divine Condor, Errant Knight; Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre.
Anna Holmwood is the translator of volume one, A Hero Born.
Speaking of the project which she took up in 2012, Holmwood, a self-employed translator focusing on Chinese-English literary translations, says in an email interview: “It had to be Jin Yong then. It was the obvious place to start, not only because of the quality of his writing, but also because of his standing and reputation in Asia.”
Holmwood, who was born to a British father and a Swedish mother, grew up in the United Kingdom and studied history at the University of Oxford.
Her love affair with China began in 2005, when she spent two months traveling around the country on a scholarship.
The trip aroused her curios- ity about China, and she was determined to learn Chinese.
“That was the only way to satisfy my curiosity about the country,” she says.
Holmwood then chose modern Chinese studies as her MPhil major at Oxford, and went to Taiwan Normal University for a year of language training in 2009.
In Taiwan, a friend took Holmwood to a bookshop, where she saw a whole shelf dedicated to Jin Yong. She bought a copy of Jin Yong’s work — Lu Ding Ji (The Deer and the Cauldron), the longest of his novels.
“It (reading the book) was a struggle at first,” Holmwood says, adding that this was because Jin Yong’s novels are all set in ancient China and the characters span multiple generations.
But what is a bigger challenge for the translator, Holmwood says, is rendering the original pace and excitement into English.
“It’s all about whether the English reader will be lured by the emotions and characters.
“It’s vital for the English version to read like an enticing work.”
It took five years for Holmwood to finish the translation of the first volume.
Paul Engles, editor of the book at MacLehose Press, recalls that when he received a sample from Holmwood at the end of 2012, he was instantly entranced by it and also amazed that the work had not been translated before.
“Jin Yong is one of the world’s best-selling authors, and, rather like Alexandre Dumas, he is a popular author who will in time (if not already) be recognized as a writer of stone-cold classics,” he adds.
“We feel that it is essential that these novels be translated into English,” Engles says, adding that the plan is to publish one volume a year.
The second volume is being translated by Gigi Chang, an art writer and translator from Hong Kong.
Although Chang and Holmwood work separately, they discuss common issues and keep a shared database for terms appearing in the trilogy.
As for why his works need to be translated, one must read Holmwood’s introduction in volume one, which says: “Many have considered Jin Yong’s world too foreign, too Chinese for an English-speaking readership. Impossible to translate.
“And yet this story of love, loyalty, honor and the power of the individual against successive corrupt governments and invading forces is as universal as any story could hope to be.
“The greatest loss that can occur in translation can only come from not translating it at all.”
It’s all about whether the English reader will be lured by the emotions and characters.”
Lu Lili contributed to this story.
The English translation of Louis Cha’s martial arts trilogy will be published in February.