Aaron Fox-Lerner reviews Legends of the Condor Heroes: A Hero Born
It says a lot about China's top-selling novelist that nobody in the West seems to know how to describe him. Anna Holmwood's translation of Jin Yong's 1957 novel Legend of the Condor Heroes: A Hero Born marks the first commercial release of his work in English, and the first new translation since The Book and the Sword, translated by Graham Earnshaw, and Olivia Mok's translation of Fox Volant of Snowy Mountain. The going line on Jin – the pen name of the Hong Kong writer and newspaper publisher Louis Cha – is that he's the Chinese Tolkien. Publications from the Guardian to Quartz have compared the book to Lord of the Rings as a handy reference to Jin's longstanding popularity and influence on Chinese pop culture.
If anything, the comparison may be underselling Jin. Legend of the Condor Heroes alone has spawned a slew of TV series, multiple video games and at least four movie adaptations of varying fidelity, including Wong Kar-Wai's elliptical Ashes of Time. That might not seem to rival the footprint left by Tolkien until you consider how prolific Jin was as a novelist, penning 14 major works, many of which have spawned their own long list of TV shows, movies, comics, video games and parodies. Estimates of total books sold vary – especially when piracy is taken into account – but many put the figure at 300 million or more.