From the acclaimed translator of The Tale of Genji, a groundbreaking rendering of Japan’s great martial epic
The fourteenth-century Tale of the Heike is Japan’s Iliad—a moving depiction of the late twelfth-century wars between the Heike and Genji clans. No work has had a greater impact on later Japanese literature, theater, music, film, and manga—indeed on the Japanese people’s sense of their own past. It has also been a major source for medieval-Japan-based fantasy in English. With woodcuts by nineteenth-century artist Teisai Hokuba, a major student of the great Hokusai, Royall Tyler’s stunning presentation of this touchstone of Japanese culture recreates the oral epic as it was actually performed and conveys the rich and vigorous language of the original.
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About The Tale of the Heike
The Tale of the Heike is Japan’s great martial epic; a masterpiece of world literature and the progenitor of all samurai stories, now in a major and groundbreaking new translation by Royall Tyler, acclaimed translator of The Tale of Genji. First assembled from scattered oral poems in the early fourteenth century, The Tale of the Heike is Japan’s Iliad – a grand-scale depiction of the wars between the Heike and Genji clans. Legendary for its magnificent and vivid set battle scenes, it is also a work filled with intimate human dramas and emotions, contemplating Buddhist themes of suffering and separation, as well as universal insights into love, loss and loyalty. The narrative moves back and forth between the two great warring clans, between aristocratic society and street life, adults and children, great crowds and introspection. No Japanese work has had a greater impact on subsequent literature, theatre, music and films, or on Japan’s sense of its own past. Royall Tyler’s new translation is the first to capture the way The Tale of the Heike was originally performed. It re-creates the work in its full operatic form, with speech, poetry, blank verse and song that convey its character as an oral epic in a way not seen before, fully embracing the rich and vigorous language of the original texts. Beautifully illustrated with fifty-five woodcuts from the nineteenth-century artistic master, Katsushika Hokusai, and bolstered with maps, character guides, genealogies and rich annotation, this is a landmark edition. Royall Tyler taught Japanese language and literature for many years at the Australian National University. He has a B.A. from Harvard University and a PhD from Columbia University and has taught at Harvard, Stanford and the University of Wisconsin. His translation of The Tale of Genji was acclaimed by publications such as The New York Times Book Review.
“An elegant new translation [and] an account of a 12th century civil war that is an important historical document as well as a work of great power and beauty.”–Los Angeles Times
“Encountering Homer in a vivid translation made Keats feel like an astonished astronomer watching a new planet swim into view. Readers unfamiliar with medieval Japanese literature — and that must mean most of us — may feel a kindred excitement on first looking into The Tale of the Heike, in a taut new rendering by Royall Tyler.”–The New York Times Book Review
“This modern translation of the Japanese medieval classic tracing the rise and fall of the Taira (Heike) clan reads like the Iliad filtered through Akira Kurosawa, with battlefield panoramas and personal tragedies captured in an exquisitely cinematic narrative…Following his noteworthy translation of The Tale of Genji, Tyler offers accessible language while observing literary tradition in names and format. To help both old hands and newcomers navigate the vibrant yet sometimes arduous masterpiece, he provides an introduction, character list, maps, geneaologies, chronologies, footnotes, and glorious 19th-century illustrations.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)