Submitted Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Translator’s note: This story is retold faithfully, leaving out no details from Pu Songling (蒲松齡)’s original. But unlike the myriad translators who have come before me, I have elected to forgo the inevitably ill-fated strategy of maintaining the original author’s ingenious structure and infallible flow in Chinese. For scholarly pursuit, such a translation is understandable – perhaps commendable – but it does not make for good reading. Stubbornly trying to render the linguistic conventions of 18th century Classical Chinese into modern day English is the main reason that more than 150 years of translations of Liaozhai Zhiyi read almost identical to one another: all very academic. My aim is, instead, to give you something worth flipping through while relaxing on the couch, sitting on the train, or (heaven forbid) wasting away in the office.
“The Daoists of Mt. Lao” (勞山道士) is one of the most enduring tales from the 18th century masterpiece Tales of the Strange from Liaozhai (聊齋誌異) for its moral of humility and patience. A well-off young man heads to the mountain to learn the mystic arts of the immortals, bust struggles when reality at first falls short of his expectations. This is the first of a two-part translation of the story. – W. Holzer