Today, it was announced that fantasy novelist Barry Hughart died on August 1. He only published three books, but the first one, Bridge Of Birds, won the World Fantasy Award.
His novels were set in “an ancient China that never was.” The main characters were the naive farm boy Number Ten Ox and Master Li, “a sage with a slight flaw in [his] character.” They traversed China, unraveling ancient mysteries and often leaving chaos in their wake.
Bridge Of Birds was a wonderful book, blending Chinese myth and folklore with moments of comedy, tragedy, suspense, horror and beauty. It’s not a perfect book, and I can see some problematic elements in it now, but it was my favorite novel ever at one time, and it may still be.
Barry Hughart’s writing was a big influence on mine when I started writing novels, possibly one of the biggest. The fourth Monkey Queen book, A Tiding Of Magpies, tried to pull the same trick Hughart did with reworking the Qi Xi/Tanabata legend, and I suspect you could feel his style in my words and ideas. I dedicated the book to him. I tried to track him down, so I could thank him and send him a copy of the book, but his last publisher had lost touch with him. I suspect that he valued his privacy…but I deeply regret not having a chance to tell him how much I appreciated his work.
These are the final words from Bridge Of Birds (spoiler free). I wanted to end this by sharing them with you:
“I shall clap my hands together and bow to the corners of the world.
“May your villages remain ignorant of tax collectors, and may your sons be many and ugly and strong and willing workers, and may your daughters be few and beautiful and excellent providers of love gifts from eminent families that live very far away, and may your lives be blessed by the beauty that has touched mine.
Farewell, Barry Hughart, and thank you.