Tag: folklore

The Origins of Mulan

Mulan is a fascinating figure of legend and folklore. From the ballad, to books, and then to film, Mulan has gone through several iterations and changes throughout the years. There is so much to discuss and delve into when it comes to her story.

Let’s talk about the origins of Mulan.

 

So where do we start?

image via pinterest

Let’s start with what we know based, upon what we have been told. Since our first interaction with this story was probably through Disney’s 1998 animated film. We know the Mulan is a young woman who disguises herself as a man when she learns that her father has been drafted into the army. She runs away from home, donning her father’s armor and blade, and she joins the army in his stead. She trains, she grows as a person, and she saves China.

First, it should be established that there is a possibility that Mulan was a real person. However, this isn’t necessarily something that we can currently confirm. I, personally, love the idea of a woman gaining such prestige and adoration that she is canonized into a ballad and that tale then echoes across the centuries. With that being said though, legends aren’t always kind to their real life subjects, so perhaps it’s a mixed bag. The fact remains that, when someone becomes a legend, they become fictionalized. With that being the case, we are always going to battle with what is real and what isn’t when it comes to stories like Mulan’s.

For the sake of this article, we’re going to focus on the legend of Mulan and how ir’s developed. We’re going to focus on three iterations of the story, but it should be addressed here that there are many versions of this tale that can be explored. I should definitely give credit to Jon Solo’s youtube video on Mulan, as it helped me find a good chunk of the sources and material used for this article as well.

 

some historical background

While we can’t confirm if Mulan was a real individual, we can gather that the Ballad was set during the time of the Northern Wei Dynasty. This was a time where the region of Han China was often invaded by the Xiongnu (who are also referred to as the Hun). A war did take place between the Northern Wei state and a Mongolian state also referred to as the Rouran (source).

 

“the ballad of mulan”

image via pinterest

While we cannot say with all certainty that The Ballad of Mulan is the first time that Mulan’s story was ever told, we can say that it is the oldest surviving version of her tale that we have. In all likelihood, an oral tradition that precedes this ballad.

Much like what we see with Disney’s Mulan, The Ballad of Mulan tells the tale of a young woman who dresses as a man and joins the army to spare her aging father from the war that is tearing China apart, and the very real possibility that he will die. She hides her identity for over twelve years from the other soldiers in the army, and decides to tell them that she is a woman.

When the war is over and the emperor is gifting the soldiers of his army with gifts, Mulan rejects the offer to become a minister, and she returns home, where her parents, now much older, lean on one another for support as they go out to greet her. Mulan’s elder sister dresses in beautiful clothing and paints her face with makeup to welcome her sister home, and Mulan’s younger brother begins preparations for a feast in his sibling’s honor. Mulan reemerges dressed in civilian clothing, and she greets her comrades, who are shocked to discover that she is a woman.

This is the basis for Disney’s version, but there are other variations of Mulan’s story.

 

“the fierce and filial girl from northern wei”

image via pinterest

The Fierce and Filial Girl From Northern Wei introduces Mulan as a gifted young woman who is engaged to a scholar. Much like in The Ballad of Mulan, the emperor issues a draft that includes her father, a former battalion commander. Mulan takes her father’s place, much like she does in the ballad.

After she demonstrates her capacity as a warrior, Mulan is promoted in the Chinese army. Niu He, one of the vanguards in the army, comes to resent Mulan because of her skill and her unwavering bravery. In one instance, the army encampment is attacked. While Niu He flees, Mulan leaves to rescue the soldiers taken captive by the attackers. His incompetence loses him his leadership role, and he almost loses his life to the bandit leader, the Earth Master. Mulan steps in and defeats the Earth Master, who flees, and shamed by his failure once again, Niu He grows all the more envious of Mulan.

This culminates in Niu He suggesting that Mulan be sent with a letter of amnesty to meet with the enemy forces. Niu He put this idea forward purely out of dislike for Mulan, and he had every hope that this would end with her death. Mulan, aware of the fact that this mission might end with her dying, agrees to deliver the letter of amnesty to the Earth Master.

The Earth Master recognizes Mulan from their battle several years prior, and due to the Earth Master’s brother being in danger if the Earth Master kills Mulan, he holds off on causing her harm. Instead, he decides that he will marry Mulan, who is still disguised as a man, to the Princess Lu Wanhua.

Lu Wanhua discovers that Mulan is a woman, but instead of reporting this information to the bandits, she helps Mulan escape. Upon returning to her army’s encampment, Mulan is named as acting Supreme Commander.

Ultimately, Mulan returns home, and both she and Princess Lu Wanhua marry Mulan’s betrothed. Mulan gives birth to a son who becomes a minister.

This is a more complicated one, and the source video has more information.

 

“ROmance of sui and tang”

image via lee & low blog – lee and low books

This is likely the version of Mulan’s story that you have heard if you’ve ever listened to something that discusses the darker version of the tale. I want to emphasize that this is one of several versions of this story, and I also want to emphasize that this is one chapter in Romance and Sui and Tang with a distinct anti-Imperialist message. As stated by this source, “The author includes Mulan’s story as a subplot of a novel which condemns imperialism. Mulan is heralded as a hero who fiercely resists a cruel tyrant. Chu Renhuo concludes Mulan’s story with a tragic ending to comment on the wrongdoing committed by the Manchu under whom he was forced to serve.”

Much like in the other tales, Mulan’s father is conscripted, and in order to save him from an untimely death, Mulan volunteers to take her father’s place in the army.

The enemy army is quickly defeated, and Mulan rescues the khan. However, she is then captured by Princess Xianniang, who is such a kind captor, Mulan eventually reveals her true identity to her. They swear an oath of sisterhood.

The princess and Mulan do forge a friendship together, and this friendship is so strong that, when Princess Xianniang asks Mulan to deliver a letter to her betrothed, Mulan agrees to do so. Since Mulan is able to deliver this letter when she returns home to her family, she sets out for home.

However, unlike in the previous two stories discussed, this tale ends on a more somber note.

Upon returning home, Mulan learns that her father passed away and that her mother has remarried. When the khan who Mulan previously saved learns that she is a woman, he demands that she become his concubine.

Mulan requests that she be allowed to visit her father’s grave for one last time, and while she is there, she takes her own life.

The story continues on by following Mulan’s sister, Youlan, and the story ends with her.

 

To wrap up…

This is by no means a conclusive discussion of all the iterations of the stories told about Mulan (if it were, this article would be much, much longer); however, my hope is that this will encourage you to consider looking deeper into the tale of this warrior who laid down her life to protect the ones that she loved.

Featured image via the Guardian

5 Reasons You Should Read ‘Road of Bones’

The worst prison on planet Earth – the Siberian Gulag of Kolyma – is merely a gateway for a much darker horror for Roman Ivanovich and his fellow escapees, who have hundreds of miles of frozen tundra between them and freedom. With the help of a mysterious figure (who may or may not be human), Roman and company must battle starvation, weather, wildlife and each other in order to survive. Here are five reasons why you should check out Road of Bones

Image via ComicWeek

1. The artwork

A comic is nothing without illustrations, and Road of Bones has some of the most artistically pleasing artwork I’ve ever seen in a graphic novel. It may not necessarily be the most technically proficient drawing – with asymmetrical line work and character design – but that’s part of the style, one of the ways the violent and ugly conditions of the gulag are shown to the reader. Not only that, but the sweep landscape shots are beautiful – the uniform white almost painful to the eyes – and also the many scenes with gore and drawn in sickeningly graphic detail.

 

2. The themes

Every good story is a mirror of some aspect of the real world, and comic books are no exception, especially Road of Bones. The cruelty of man against man, the amorality of life in the nature, the inherent meaninglessness of everything we value in our lives, all of these elements and more are explored in this incredibly nihilistic yet enjoyable four-part comic series.

AMBER BLAKE, GHOST TREE, and ROAD OF BONES get new printings
Image via Comic List

3. the colors

I know that this probably could be included in with the artwork, but I think it’s such a vital aspect that it deserves its own spot on this list. While I mentioned the uniform whiteness of the frigid Siberian wilderness above, color is used in a variety of other ways. The snow is so flat and has so little detail that it looks almost like a blank sheet of paper, making the blood that is spilt appear almost glowing in contrast. Not only that, but just the way the sunlight appears in the sky – low and dim and colorless – almost makes you feel the cold.

 

4. the writing

Writer Rich Douek tells the survival tale from Roman’s point of view, yet there are two other characters who accompany him, his friend Sergei and vor Grigori (a vor, for those of you who are unaware, being a ranking professional criminal in the organized crime syndicates of Russians prison system). While the characters may not be the most complicated we’ve seen in literature (I’m not going to fool you and say that they’re all Captain Ahab), they’re each given a different perspective on the situation and play off each other in an engaging way that furthers the plot.

Road of Bones Graphic Novel
Image via Green Brain Comics

5. the horror

Road of Bones combines the savage brutality man exerts over his fellow man with the dark terror of Russian folklore to make a fantastic horror experience. Throughout his time in the gulag, Roman has been feeding what he believes to be a domovik, a spirit that exists to protect the household and those living underneath its roof, and as him and company escape, he discovers that the domovik has followed him. Is it human? Is it even really there, or just a figment of Roman’s imagination? It claims that he should trust it, but should he really?

Road of Bones is a supernatural survivor horror that I highly recommend. A beautifully haunting mesh of the real-world terror of Stalin’s gulag’s mixed with the darkest aspects of Russian folklore makes Road of Bones one of my favorite limited comic book series.

Featured image via Fanbase Press