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BOOK REVIEW: Tales of the Taoist Immortals by Eva Wong

Tales of the Taoist ImmortalsTales of the Taoist Immortals by Eva Wong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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This book tells of the key events in the lives of forty Taoist immortals. While the title (specifically the word “tales”) might lead one to think that this is a book of stories, it is only so in the most general sense of the word “story.” Satisfying stories show a character confronted by barriers to obtaining some desired goal. That isn’t the case in the overwhelming majority of the “tales” in this book, and the few in which the individual is confronted with a challenge she usually uses her superpowers to magic the problem away. (To be fair, Taoist sages aren’t known for being ambitious and thus have few goals to chase after. There are more examples of individuals turning down high offices in these character sketches than there are characters attempting to obtain some objective.)

If you are looking to learn more about key figures in Chinese history and mythology, this book will serve your purpose through brief (2-3 page) character sketches that hit the highlights. However, if you are looking for something like the “Book of Chuang Tzu” with clever morality tales, that’s not at all what you’ll find in this book. There are a couple of exceptions, but they are rare nuggets.

Each of the 40 chapters provides one character sketch of life events with a brief bio at the end. The 40 chapters are divided into five parts by the class of individual being mentioned (i.e. the eight immortals, sages, magicians, diviners, and alchemists.) There is a line drawing (reminiscent of block print) for each of the chapters that depicts the immortal in action. The only ancillary matter is a brief introduction.

As I suggested, if one is looking for information about the lives of Taoist immortals, one may find this to be a good source—particularly if one doesn’t want to get bogged down in minutiae. The entire book is less than 200 pages. On the other hand, if one is looking for stories or morality tales, one will likely find this book leaves one wanting.

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