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The Thriller "Candle in the Tomb"
    2007-07-04 17:19:03     CRIENGLISH.com

Book "Gui Chuideng". [Photo: crionline.cn]

A recent thriller adapted from an online novel has won rave reviews from both critics and readers. One of the most important reasons for its success lies in the writer's imagination and unrestrained style. The writer of "Candle in the Tomb," or "Gui Chuideng," Chinese for "ghost blowing out the light," is an amateur of thrillers, but the author does more than just cause goose pimples. Let's join our reporter Manling for a breathtaking rollercoaster ride along with the writer of "Candle in the Tomb," Zhang Muye.

REPORTER:

From an underground ancient mausoleum in northeastern China to a mysterious lost kingdom in northwestern China, from a pyramid-shaped grave in Yunnan to a secret regal cave in Tibet, "Candle in the Tomb" presents an adventure full of mysteries and myths and twists and turns.

"Gui Chuideng"'s literal meaning is "ghost blowing out the light." Don't take it for granted, though, that this is a novel about ghosts. Rather, it's about tomb raiding and all the stories that come along with it. In the writer's description, tomb raiders, upon entering a tomb, would customarily put a candle in the southeast corner of the tomb. If the candle goes out itself, then it means the tomb owner frowns upon the intrusion and everything taken must be put back to their original places.

The protagonist is an army retiree named Hu Bayi. He has led a hard life since leaving the army. The story begins with the protagonist deciding to partner up with a friend to raid tombs for valuables. They accidentally join a group of archaeologists when something unexpected happens: a terrible curse. To get rid of it, the two team up with an American to search for ancient secrets and myths around China until they're released from the curse.

The writer Zhang Muye was born in the late 1970s in Tianjin in northern China. He found the 1980s were an interesting period for his story to take place.

"The story is set in the 1980s, not after 2000, when globalization made things look more alike in different countries. It was in the late 1970s and early 80s when China first adopted the reform and opening-up policy. Many Chinese people, including my parents, witnessed the historic changes back then. It was a time with many possibilities and stories."

It took Zhang Muye 11 months to write the online novel in his spare time and it took four whole volumes to tell the story on paper. The writer, a fine arts major, who now runs a finance company, says it was all a labor of love.

"I love to read adventure and discovery stories, but it seemed to me that China lacks its own masterpieces in this genre. Almost all works of this kind that we are exposed to are from overseas. I decided to write one by myself and for myself."

It's been a rewarding experience.

"It's like playing a computer game. I made it through. I've achieved something."

And he is definitely a player. His online novel got the most clicks among all available online for several months in a row last year. While the online version is still available, more than 500,000 copies of the print edition have been snapped up since late last year. Movie investors and producers are attempting to take the story to the big screen. Fans are calling for a sequel to the novel.

Xiang Zhuwei is the editor of Zhang Muye's book. She loved the story when she first came across it online and kept reading it for four hours. She didn't hesitate to pick up the phone to call the writer the next day to tell him why she thought it was a good idea to turn it into a print edition.

"I think the novel is very original and imaginative. This is one of the most outstanding features of Zhang's work. He also successfully rid the shackles that bind many other works of literature, both in print and online. He managed to reconcile a profound Oriental culture with western entertainment elements."

Xiang Zhuwei has compared the book "Candle in the Tomb" to the Hollywood motion picture The Mummy. People in China are by no means strangers to such imported thrillers, but when it comes to China's own, the market has long been up for grabs. The appearance of "Candle in the Tomb" has long been overdue.

And the power is explosive. Just recently, a heat wave of tomb raiding and archaeology has taken hold of the book market recently. Readers are flocking to bookstores for guides that they hope can help them better understand "Candle in the Tomb." Xiang Zhuwei, the book's editor, describes the domino effect.

"There are currently many, many books about tomb raiding and discovery that followed the lead of this book after its market success. It also helped bring an academic book on China's tomb-raiding history back onto bookshelves that now ranks among the bestsellers. Before this, it had been laid aside most of the time since its publication in 2000."

People want to solve the riddles in "Candle in the Tomb." Some even wonder whether the writer himself is a tomb raider or if his ancestors were. The answer is a resounding "no." Zhang Muye says everything in the novel is fictional, but is based on common sense and folk stories and is reasonable enough for him to be convinced and enjoy it.

"People ride roller coasters to experience fun through thrills and screams. There is danger, but no harm is done. It's the same with this novel, I think. First of all, it's not a textbook. Second of all, it's not a history thesis. It's just an experience, like when you watch a movie. It absorbs you into the scenario. You think it's real when you read it, but it's fiction after all."

For those who get too deep into novels, it's not recommended for them to pack their bags and go to the places in the novel on a treasure hunt or to seek clues. The reason, as the writer explained, is that some places don't even exist. Some critics have criticized the book as being too vague and unserious in dealing with certain historical and geographical matters. The writer Zhang Muye says he accepts that.

"If you read the novel from start to finish, it's already recognition for it. But as the saying goes, there are 1,000 different reflections of the moon in 1,000 different rivers. Everybody has their own views and values, so I don't expect everyone to accept mine. The other thing is that the novel is exclusively for fun and entertainment. It is not a reference book or a documentary. It's just a thrilling rollercoaster ride. And that's all!"

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