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Crouching Dragon F.A.Q.s

I receive many questions about Crouching Dragon: as far as questions and historical authenticity (historicity) go, I wanted to address some of the more common things that are asked. For general questions, see the General F.A.Qs page.

Q: Is this book an alternate translation of an excerpt of Romance of the Three Kingdoms?

A: SHORT ANSWER: No, it is an original work that uses material from a variety of sources, primarily historical documents..

A: LONG ANSWER: I was, as most people are, brought to this subject by the Sanguoyanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or ROTK) novel and derivative works, but when I realised that there was so much more to look at I decided to have a go at a partial retelling that drew upon a range of historical sources.

Q: So is this book completely true to written history so far as events go?

A: SHORT ANSWER: No, my own personal estimate for historicity is 75 to 85%, slightly lower than the later books due to the romanticisation of the relationship between Zhuge Liang and Yueying and the emphasis placed upon it for the purpose of storytelling.

A: LONG ANSWER: Crouching Dragon is unique amongst the set, primarily because it is not focussed on the entire Liu Bei/Shu faction but on Zhuge Liang especially, whereas I tried to broaden the focus on the later works.

Q: What is the time frame?

A: The story proper starts in 199CE, just prior to the death of Sun Ce and the Battle of Guandu, and depicts Zhuge and his friends as far-off observers in peace-time Jing Province; the story ends with the Shu army retreat from Wuzhang Plains in 234 and the famous “final deception”. The prologue and epilogue that bookend the main narrative take place in 263CE, during the final days of the fall of the Shu Han Empire and are a concise, dramatised version of Deng Ai’s infiltration of Mianzhu and the Zhuge clan’s last stand.

Q: So what did you take from history or from the ROTK?

A: SHORT ANSWER: A couple of popular vignettes and one or two “origin stories” are adapted from the ROTK, the overwhelming majority is adapted from the Sanguozhi or other historical sources..

A: LONG ANSWER: I looked at numerous English-language translations of documents and other historical textbooks in order to construct my work, but this is a constantly evolving area, so I have actually completed parts of this long, long project that I have committed to only to find that the research has moved on and a new account of a person or event has emerged. There is nothing that I can do about that.

I might rarely use an ROTK “simplified origin story” for a character that I either lack historical information for at the time that I research them or cannot develop too much if I am to keep to the restrictions of self-publishing; some are/were necessary for story structure and I make no apologies for them, but others are regrettable omissions of interesting information.

Q: Is Crouching Dragon some sort of Zhuge Liang/Yueying “fan fiction”?

A: SHORT ANSWER: It is not intended to be, no.

A: LONG ANSWER: The definition of “fan fiction” seems to vary dramatically and is sometimes used, ironically enough, by someone that is a fan of a particular faction or individual and feels that another faction or individual has been given too much focus or treated too fairly. This is the toughest book to defend against such accusations, of course: Zhuge and, by consequence, the Liu Bei faction are going to be shown sympathetically, since close to everything is seen from their perspective with little room for the views of others. I did try to address that (e.g. giving Cao Cao a moment to react angrily to Liu Bei convincing the people of Xinye that they would be killed if they stayed, and showing the frustration that Zhuge’s schemes were causing in Sun Quan’s court) but I cannot avoid accusations of bias when making a particular character the lead, I must learn to accept it and hope that the work is viewed in its entirety.

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: Interest in the subject and the desire for a challenge.

Q: What were your inspirations?

A: The main inspiration was reading “Taiko” and “Musashi”, both by Eiji Yoshikawa. I did not think that I could match them particularly, but I enjoy writing and wanted to write something that took that very personal, human perspective and applied it to an era of chaos, such that the plight of the individual brings harsh reality back to the fore and gets the rid of the romanticism that can be wrapped around conflict.

Q: How did you get from Sengoku-era Japan to Sanguo-era China?

A: I was, at first, going to write something about a Sengoku-era warlord -- even Tokugawa Ieyasu, if I dared be so brave -- but I wanted to avoid accusations of writing some sort of unauthorised sequel to “Taiko” and establish that I was writing something in my own style, regardless of influences. I pondered a European figure, but I decided against it for a whole host of reasons: I had been introduced to ROTK years before, and Zhuge Liang -- who was active from 208 to 234 and therefore lived through the Battle of Red Cliffs, the Battle of Hefei, the abdication of Emperor Xian and the birth of the Three Kingdoms era, not to mention that he was pivotal to the birth of Liu Bei’s kingdom of Shu and served as its first Chancellor/Prime Minister -- was a perfect fit with the way that I wanted to write the book. In other words, Zhuge was chosen because of when he lived and what he achieved, not because he was a vassal of a particular faction. Yes, the relationship with Yueying is completely invented, but my other narrowed-down choices -- Zhou Yu, Sun Ce, Sima Yi and Cao Pi -- did not meet a lot of the criteria that I wanted to meet when I finished researching them and writing test scenes for them, and a lot of invention would have been required to make any of those relationships three-dimensional. In retrospect, Sun Ce would have given me a smaller, simpler book with a similarly gloomy ending, and I did get to incorporate some of my draft work on Zhou Yu into Crouching Dragon, ‘East of the River: Home of the Sun Clan’ and ‘Eastern Wu: Realm of the Sun Clan’.

Q: So you set out to write a more historically-accurate version of Later Han/Three Kingdoms China, seen through the eyes of Zhuge Liang?

A: There was a very brief period -- namely when I was writing the test scenes -- when I was just going to use ROTK events as the basis but present them differently, since I considered writing a more historically-grounded piece to be adding too much extra work to what was meant to be a one-off to test my ability to write historical fiction. As I continued, I started to look at the historical documents and see the extent of the difference in portrayals and events and started to feel that writing ROTK through the eyes of Zhuge Liang and a fictionalised three-dimensional Yueying was going to mean that I was writing fan-fiction, and pointless fan-fiction at that, since I was going to be telling the story accurately with no additions save for the developed personalities of the protagonists. I shifted my focus, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to help you. How can I help?

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

Q: (POST-READING ACT I) You put Zhuge Liang at the Battle of Bowang as a distant observer. Why?

A: SHORT ANSWER : To maintain his relevance to an event that he is synonymous with.

A: LONG ANSWER: Zhuge Liang was not at Bowang historically: the battle occurred several years before he joined Liu Bei, but the battle is moved to 208 in ROTK in order for Zhuge to be the chief strategist and have his first memorable victory over Cao Cao. In moving the battle back to its original place, I had a dilemma, and that was how I chose to resolve it. The battle segues into a victory banquet where Zhuge could first meet Liu Bei’s inner circle; had I not done that, the entire first act would have consisted of Zhuge being told about everything second-hand by Xu Shu.

Q: (POST-READING) Why is Liu Bei such a crybaby wuss?

A: SHORT ANSWER: He does not cry that often, and besides, it is one of his traits in the ROTK.

A: LONG ANSWER: Look again at ROTK and you will find that Liu Bei cries a few times: I borrowed the trait from that portrayal, primarily. I later attributed it somewhat tacitly to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that was left over from the siege of Haixi and simultaneously implied that it might no longer be sincere once he had been berated for his weakness by Lü Bu (see ‘“Turmoil”: Battle for the Han Empire’ for these events).

Q: (POST-READING) Okay, but then why is Zhuge Liang such a crybaby wuss?

A: SHORT ANSWER: His occasional emotional vulnerability is a creative choice that I must now live with.

A: LONG ANSWER: I could have portrayed Zhuge as an infallible, cold, calculating genius that grins and fans his way through every situation and then goes home and laughs about it all at home as well, but I decided somewhat randomly that he should be a man that feigns calmness through adversity and graduallyfinds that more and more difficult to do, which gave Yueying a role as moral support and, I felt, served as an explanation for his gradual decline in later years as a strategist (his defeat at Chencang and his ultimate failure to lure out Sima Yi at Wuzhang being the most obvious moments).

Q: (POST-READING) What a depressing ending. Did you have to go as far as there/stop there?

A: I am spoiling nothing by saying that the journey of Zhuge Liang ends on a sour note, but anyone that knows his story knows how it ends and anyone that did not know has not been lied to.

Q: (POST-READING) Everything after _____ is boring, with dull new characters, etc. Could you not have stopped at _____?

A: It is the journey of Zhuge Liang, and that journey ended at Wuzhang. Yes, I could have stopped when more of the so-called “interesting” characters were still alive, such as Guan Yu, Liu Bei and Cao Pi, but then I would have been asked why I stopped before Zhuge died.

Q: (POST-READING) The book is too long/too short. Could you not have started/stopped at _____?

A: Ladies and gentlemen, this is what is known as a “no-win situation”, but I chose to play the game anyway.

Q: (POST-READING) You made mistakes. How/why did they get through the proofing process?

A: SHORT ANSWER: Human error..

A: LONG ANSWER: I know about most of the errors now, six years down the line, and I could/would release a second edition to fix these if time allowed, but I have to spend my time on other things and cannot go back to that at present.

Q: (POST-READING) You only provided a very short “further reading” section that was obviously incomplete because ____ was not there: “why ” and “what can you suggest ”?

A: I had this idea that I was going to include a list of all of my sources and a list of further reading at the end of every book, but I quickly realised that I was bound to miss somebody out that deserved recognition and that it was better to say nothing than only half-say something. I decided “Rafe de Crespigny is a reliable source, the reference section at the back of most ROTK editions provides a lot of information, there is no English-language verson of the Sanguozhi or any other historical reference document on sale anywhere for me to point to, so that will do”, and that was that, I did not think that I would still be getting demands for a list of further reading and sources six-plus years later. I scavenged relentlessly when I was putting Crouching Dragon together, and a lot of my notes do not state their origins. I am still primarily working from that set of notes now, especially since I am trying to maintain continuity between books more than I am trying to keep up-to-date with new finds (though I have tried to from time to time), but suffice to say that it will all be from some form of translated version of various documents that I gained access to or a note from the reference section of ROTK.

Q: (POST-READING) I have read every Three Kingdoms historical source out there, Chinese and English language both, and I cannot find most of the dialogue or any of the poems that you have transcribed in your work. Where did you source them from?

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

Q: (POST-READING) I really did not like Crouching Dragon at all. At all.

A: SHORT ANSWER: That is unfortunate..

A: LONG ANSWER: I did not set out to please everyone: only a fool does. There is always ROTK to go back to, and I am sure that there will be other efforts by other authors in the future that will better suit your tastes.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to see it translated into ____/would like to translate it into ____.

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

Q: (POST-READING) Have you read _____, and if so why did they not have more of an influence on your writing?

A: Two works have come up a few times now: “The Magical Lots of ZhuGe Liang” by Yujing He and Justin McNulty and “Zhuge Liang: Strategy, Achievements and Writings” by the academic writer Ralph D. Sawyer. The answer in both cases is ‘No I have not read them’, but that is by no means me saying that they are/were not worth reading. I knew nothing of either book at the time that I was working on Crouching Dragon, and when they came to my attention after publishing I was working on something else entirely and did not think that I would be writing about that subject any more. Any further work that I might do would not include material that would really require my referencing either author, but if I ever wanted to return to Crouching Dragon and release an enhanced second edition that focussed more on the belief systems of the day (astrology, etc) than I originally chose to, or if I wanted to have scene depicting the production of Zhuge Liang’s written work then I would consult the authors of these two works where appropriate (along with including extracts -- with original, non-copyright-infringing translations -- of Zhuge’s commentaries on the Art of War). Such updates would be feasible given that there are a small amount of pages that would be recouped through better formatting, but it is highly unlikely, though, primarily since I am now shifting focus to other development projects and am not even sure if I will finish the next installment of my “Fall of Han” series any time soon.

Q: (POST-READING) I really enjoyed your books and would like to talk to you directly. What is the best way to do that?

A: Please see the General F.A.Qs page for an answer to this.

That’s it for now: happy reading.

T. P. M. Thorne

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(last site update 10/03/2020).