Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Woman Warrior

I recently re-read my favorite non-fiction book The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston. Woman Warrior chronicles the difficulty Kingston and her female ancestors experienced growing up in a culture where that considered females a burden. One of the most fascinating chapters of the book, however, tells the story of Fa Mu Lan as Kingston's mother told it to her. Of course, this isn't at all close to the Disney version.

In Kingston's version, Fa Mu Lan follows a white bird up a mountain, meets an old couple at the top and agrees to stay with them to be trained as a warrior and, eventually, to revenge her family, village and nation. She learns to possess the qualities that make a fighter mentally and physically fit and while she misses her family, her life with them began to grow more and more unreal. One day the couple showed her a gourd in which she could see her childhood friend being married to her in a full ceremony. But still she trained with the couple and did not leave the mountain until they declared her ready. That day she returned home and was welcomed with a celebration as though she had come back from the dead. That night, her parents carved the names and deeds of their enemies into her back so that she would never forget and those who found her body would know. After these wounds healed, Fa Mu Lan took men from the village and began to fight. In this way she was reunited with her husband and childhood friend. They all battled together toward the capitol where they beheaded the emperor and set up a peasant in his stead.

I like this version much better than Disney's and if you did too, then you should read the rest of the book. It's full of more crazy shit than you can shake a stick at... which, by the way, tends to be one thing most of my favorite books have in common.

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