Element of fantasy/ “Lieu trai”* in the Blood Pen series by Vu Hanh from the viewpoint of the combination of elitism and popularity

Abstract. Vu Hanh is a famous warrior-writer in Vietnamese literary history. The Blood Pen is his excellent work. The series demonstrates profoundly the combination of elitism and popularity, which can also be found in other works written about the urban Southern areas of Vietnam during the period 1954 – 1975. This article analyses this combination in the series, mainly surveying mysterious horror writings such as Essence of Gem, Ancient tower gold, Blood Pen. It is apparent to see his courage to convey the profound ideology of art to the public.

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HNUE JOURNAL OF SCIENCE DOI: 10.18173/2354-1067.2017-0031 Social Sci., 2017, Vol. 62, Iss. 5, pp. 39-46 This paper is available online at ELEMENT OF FANTASY/ “LIEU TRAI”* IN THE BLOOD PEN SERIES BY VU HANH FROM THE VIEWPOINT OF THE COMBINATION OF ELITISM AND POPULARITY 1Le Hai Anh and 2Nguyen Thi Minh Thuong 1University of Education, Vietnam National University 2Faculty of Philology, Hanoi National University of Education Abstract. Vu Hanh is a famous warrior-writer in Vietnamese literary history. The Blood Pen is his excellent work. The series demonstrates profoundly the combination of elitism and popularity, which can also be found in other works written about the urban Southern areas of Vietnam during the period 1954 – 1975. This article analyses this combination in the series, mainly surveying mysterious horror writings such as Essence of Gem, Ancient tower gold, Blood Pen. It is apparent to see his courage to convey the profound ideology of art to the public. Keywords: Popularity, elitism, Vu Hanh, “lieu trai”, horror, Blood Pen. 1. Introduction The trend of studying the fusion of elite and popular literature has long been of interest to researchers around the world. J. Derrida in the work Structures, Signs and Games in the Discourse of Humanists (La structure, le signe et le descriptors des sciences humaines) counteracted the traditional model “one center” by emphasizing the role of the “periphery” in literature, asserting that central and peripheral literature do not restrain but enhance each other [1]. Professor Zhaoyong explained in more details: “The central place of pure culture is thoroughly destroyed, the basic values are dissolved. Popular culture with its unique characteristic, reproduction, secularization, and orientation towards entertaining function, along with the support of communication and audiovisual media, has strongly attacked literature in general” [2]. In Vietnam, the fusion of elite and popular literature was also discussed in the Scientific Seminar on Central - Peripheral Literature with many profound, interesting reports [3]. However, research on the combination of elitism and popularity based on the history of modern Vietnamese literature is still requiring more attention. Vu Hanh, a prominent writer of Southern Vietnamese literature from 1954 to 1975, was deeply aware of utilizing this fusion in his works. The Blood Pen can be considered as a typical example of this trend. Our article presents a study of the fusion of elitism and popularity in The Blood Pen series by Vu Hanh, mainly surveying writings with “lieu trai” color. Received date: 10/2/2017. Published date: 1/5/2017. Contact: Le Hai Anh, e-mail: lehaianhsphn@gmail.com *“lieu trai”: the word can be used as a noun or an adjective. Its meaning relates to horror, myth and mystery. 39 Le Hai Anh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuong 2. Content 2.1. Vu Hanh and the concept of fusion of elite and popular literature Vu Hanh’s real name is Nguyen Duc Dung. He was born in 1926 in Binh Nguyen commune, Thang Binh district, Quang Nam province. He is known not only as a tireless writer in the field of art and literature, but also a courageous, patriotic revolutionary working wisely in the enemy’s sides. The humane writer and soldier inside him merged into one, containing both the artistic responsibility and revolutionary duty. Living in a special social context, the warrior-writer Vu Hanh was not willing to take the pen to write for entertainment and fun, and ignore the “painful heart”. He always intended to dedicate his compositions to direct public awareness, utilizing his words to share, to love, and to win justice for the workers. Nguyen Ngu I in the workshop on “Improving education and eradication of negative works for children” (1965) gave a formal introduction to Vu Hanh: “Vu Hanh, the teacher, the writer, and also the journalist, who uncovered the difficulties and suggested measures to eliminate pornography, healed the children’s poisoned souls” [4]. However, the social practice and the particular condition of the writer - the soldier did not allow him to speak out his deep ideology. He had to borrow the form of entertainment literature to convey his deep artistic ideology. In the introduction of the story of The heroic dog, Vu Hanh related the inspiration for dogs to the purpose of Luong Ngoc’s work to express his artistic vision: “That extremely intelligent and clever man bearing extraordinary courage, lived a moral life along strict regulations, thus easily resented the unfairness at that time. It was similar with Bo Tung Linh, who lived in the ancient China and felt bored of the contemporary life, praised the fox, the lyre and the ghosts in “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (Lieu trai chi di)”. Through this character, the author Luong Ngoc wanted to relieve his inner suffering by collecting dog stories.” Embracing Luong Ngoc’s compassion and eagerness to express his perspective, Vu Hanh utilized the “lieu trai” writing style. The Blood Pen series with many bizarre horror books was born so. Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio is a famous classic Chinese literary work, in which Bo Tung Linh borrowed elements of ghosts, horror stories to convey deep thoughts about humanity. The monsters and ghost have become valuable features in the work: “During a long time, when it comes to the aesthetic value of “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio”, people always emphasized the “intimacy between the devil and the human being, to the point where we can forget the different origins”, emphasized the loneliness of rage and educational content, the complexity of the story or the elegant style of prose. These are not wrong but there is one thing that cannot be ignored but has been not mentioned for a long time. Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio contains aesthetic horror factors which are also the unique aesthetic value of the work” [5]. “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio” has a strong influence in literature, the word “lieu trai” has escaped the scope of the title of a specific work to become a trend, a nature, a writing style. “Lieu trai” in literature relates to works utilizing the mysterious, horror, elements embedded in Eastern mythology. For such a long time, works with “lieu trai” elements have attracted many readers because of the mythical, fictional and lyrical appeal. Therefore, in many works in the series The Blood Pen, Vu Hanh used this substance to increase the attractiveness of the work, thereby sending his deep thoughts on life and human beings to readers. 40 Element of fantasy/ “lieu trai”* in the Blood pen series by Vu Hanh from the viewpoint of... 2.2. The Blood Pen and the trend of fusion of elitism and popularity in “lieu trai” works The Blood Pen [6] series contains 12 short storiess and was published in 1958, which is considered as the artistic manifestation in the career path of the writer Vu Hanh. In the series,Vu Hanh “set the context of ancient time to talk about the contemporary one with the utilization of metaphor” [7]. There are works such as Essence of gem, Ancient tower gold, The Blood Pen... written in the style of horror stories, just as “Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio”. However, there are obvious implications that the writer wanted to convey. This can be seen as a clear expression in the trend of fusion of popular - elite literature in the works of Vu Hanh. 2.2.1. Utilization of prose fiction to describe the power of righteousness Essence of gem is a story about Sam Hieu, a man with a frank and firm characteristic but could not get married. In a visit to the graveyard, he bumped into a woman who was willing to be his wife. Before their love could be fruitful, Sam Hieu was called in the militia to suppress riots against corrupting policies of the officials. Sam Hieu declined to serve, loudly spoke out in front of the officials and the civilians while making a statement: “I eat rice given by the officials, but those rice are made from people who worked miserably. I am then the people’s soldier. Only when the officials and the people are united, I am then the officials’ soldier. As long as the officials are pirates, I am determined to fight against”. Witnessing such attitude from Sam Hieu, the official ordered him to be beheaded. By introducing a real-life situation of the people’ suppressed life by the officials in the story, Vu Hanh expressed a sentiment of resentment towards the pain and injustice suffered by the civilians. Sam Hieu is a typical character of righteousness, rigor, determination that is not overwhelmed by the power of injustice. However, if that was all that Essence of gem was about, the author’s intention would be revealing, and the ability to communicate and get into the readers’ emotion would be ineffective. The writer utilized fictional details, embedded in mythology to boost the artistic effect of his work. The decapitation of Sam Ngoc was interestingly fictionalized: “How strange it was that after more than ten slashes, Sam’s head was still impassive. Executioners were all frightened. The official shouted at other people, pulled out his royal sword, landed 3 slashes but each time the blade touched his neck, it appeared to be repelled by a mysterious force”. The essence of fiction and horror filled the story in a very natural way. From the main flow bearing an essential value, another flow of fiction, mystery prevailed without blurring the realistic and persuasive characteristic of the personality, strength, and the life force of the character. Thanks to the power of will and justice burnt within Sam Hieu, no enemy could defeat him. The realistic prose and the fictional one were fused delicately. However, Sam Hieu’s determination alone was not enough to defeat evil. Evil is always deceptive and takes many forms. The official “suddenly came up with the malicious intention to arrest Sam’s parents, and Chuc Anh as well for decapitation. As the executioners showed Sam Hieu a bloody scimitar, his face became pale and he bowed down. This details showed that despite his willpower, Sam Hieu was, in the first place, a human of gratefulness and love. His parents’ and lover’s blood on the scimitar made him aware of his loss and lose balance in an instant. But in the end, such loss transformed into power, Sam Hieu “held his head high”, “the blade cut into the flesh, blood vigorously poured out but the head refused to fall”. The courage, righteousness, undefeated will of 41 Le Hai Anh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuong Sam Hieu grew into godly power. At that moment, the official came up with another malignant idea: “The official ordered to behead those who refused to pay taxes extradited from Tra Ly. The evil again played another ill tactic. And before such loss, justice could not cope”. “As the blade covered in the innocent people’s blood touched the neck, Sam Hieu’s head fell to the ground”. By utilizing horror and fiction details, Vu Hanh has bolded priceless value emerged from Sam Hieu’s personality. The blade of suppression, injustice could not defeat him, but the blade covered in the blood of his family, his people could. The family and people was “Sam Ngoc’s Achilles’ heel”. He accepted death as he could no longer protect them. Nevertheless, justice could not be overthrown so easily. Death of the human body is merely temporary. Vu Hanh has borrowed the notion “The human body is just one kind of substance while the soul is the quintessence” and utilized the motif of embodiment to levitate the story in a new climax. The respect, love, and trust of the people dedicated to Sam Hieu surged after his death. Civilians visited Sam Hieu’s grave, expressing respect, making his grave bigger and bigger. The mayor was aware of this and ordered to dig Sam Hieu’s grave up and burn his body. Surprisingly, Sam Hieu’s body had condensed into a crimson gem like crystalized blood of resentment from his heart. This detail was highly surprising and fictionalized but also rational. Its rationale lies in the belief and respect of the people towards righteous value. Gem has always been the symbol of beauty and immortality. By letting Sam Hieu embody in a gem, the writer asserted his immortality. However, the evil still refused to repent. The official would not tolerate Sam Hieu and ordered to wash the gem and keep it at his home. At night, “looking at the gem, the official was shocked when seeing Sam’s visage”. The light emitted from the gem “blinded the room”. As he could not stand against the long-living personality of Sam Hieu, the official ordered to throw the gem to the bottom of the sea. But when the night fell, “the brilliant light penetrated every level of water and shone gloriously”. Burying or sinking could not defeat such power. The light of the gem was the light of beauty, good, justice that no hand might cover. The gem got brighter and was honed, vitalized as it suppressed, and more importantly, it had tremendous power to win over evil. Looking at the gem, “everyone shed tears, which fell on the gem, making it strangely brighter”. The official thought that “confiscating the gem”, “ordering the executioner to smash it to pieces” may kill Sam Hieu’s personality. But that was impossible as Sam Hieu was no longer alone. All the love, respect, sharing and hope of the people had melted into Sam Hieu’s gem. Such power had been multiplied. “The more the hammer hit, the stronger the gem was”. The mayor used the old bloody sword to cleave the gem, “the gem broke into hundred pieces. Each shard of gem had Sam Hieu’s figure with hatred, love on his eyes, his lips.” The message that Vu Hanh intended to convey was enormous and meaningful. As long as the country was clouded by too many injustice, inhuman things, the people still suffered from inequality. Gem shards or value of justice that Sam Hieu represented have become the faith and the spiritual harbor for the people. The shards were “spread amongst the people. The people kept those shards as a treasure for later generations. Now, many soldiers still carry such essence of gem within them, the essence of gem representing the determination to protect righteousness and love for the people”. Such ideologies were expressed by a prose fiction, embedded in “lieu trai” color. Such storytelling is encountered frequently in folklore, as it values interesting, sensational, horror elements. But Vu Hanh has ingeniously combined popularity and elitism, ensuring the composing 42 Element of fantasy/ “lieu trai”* in the Blood pen series by Vu Hanh from the viewpoint of... objective of genuine literature and making the story naturally welcomed by readers. 2.2.2. Utilization of horror elements to express karma Ancient tower gold is also a work with “lieu trai” color. Reading the story, readers are lost in the ancient tales where kings recruit concubines, where power rules; and at the same time, lost in the tale of immortal but pure, faithful love of a disable couple. From the ancient tower, the myth appeared to linger somewhere, like a warning, but also like a challenge (through mysterious calls) for humanity and the greed of human. The story wakes daily living values that humans often pay little attention. There exists challenges for family bond: That is the brotherhood of Ta-Khot and Kha-Lai, the love between Cuu Dat and his wife; and the philosophy of the good standing up to eliminate evil (Cuu Dat killed Ta-Khot and then acknowledged that he killed his brother), but could not overcome himself (after killing Ta-Khot, he continued his greed to search for a treasure of Ta-Khot). All of those had a price to pay. Similar to karma in Buddhism: you reap what you sow. The interesting feature is the message of justice, the sanction for greed told by Vu Hanh in a mesmerizing “dance” of word. The strain of “lieu trai”, horror stimulates curiosity, eagerness and creates the attractiveness and appeal of the story. It was not a moral lesson. It clearly appeared that Vu Hanh tied readers to real emotional experience. The mystery provokes curiosity, and implicitly hints at an enigmatic event that is happening or will happen. Ta-Khot is a motif of character that is greedy and cruel in tales. But his cruelty was well-described by the writer as he looked for every way to murder his brother, putting all his hatred in his innocent, miserable brother. “Suddenly, Kha-Lai heard a horrific laughter above him. As he climbed up, Kha Lai looked up and saw in fear the bloody red eyes of his brother (. . . ). Kha-Lai had never seen such a visage in his life. Probably all the evil, the cruel in the bottom of the soul turned into facial expression to make human appear as devil”. As Ta-khot was choked by Cuu Dat, readers may be satisfied and enjoy, seeing the bad had paid its price. But Vu Hanh led his pen into deep in the secret corner of human that we cannot believe in ourselves and we cannot be aware that we are parts of the modern time. After killing Ta-khot, Cuu immediately “felt that his uneasiness towards Ta-khot might be too reckless, too sudden. It appeared that he did not really hate his cruel brother”. From there, Ancient tower gold is no longer merely a story about the fight between the good and the evil. More complicatedly, readers realized that the good is sometimes the root for the evil to take action. Cuu Dat also desired the treasure like Ta-khot. In his motive to kill Ta-khot also lies the motive to solely possess the treasure. But life was fair to not let the evil easily realize what it wanted. The philosophy of karma was expressed delicately by Vu Hanh. After committing the crime, in his sleep, Cuu saw “many nightmares of corpses, bloody hands, hanging skills with pendulous eyes and pale teeth, chasing after his heels. He screamed, stumbling his arms in the air as he wanted to hold on to a salvation”. Human messages woke readers in a storytelling style filled of horror and mystery. Ancient tower gold was embedded in death. There were five deaths in the story, which were all horrific: The death of the Ta-Khot brothers, the unjust death of A Doan, the death of lady Pho – Mai as she determined to leave all behind to follow the call of love, the death in fear and remorse for his crimes of Cuu Dat. One may believe that Vu Hanh has utilized death – a horror element to satisfy the readers. Nonetheless, if carefully considered, the element of entertainment is just second. Thrilling and horror 43 Le Hai Anh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuong details make readers more interested in finding the answer or being satisfied with the evident consequence of greed. But besides, it communicates meaningful messages about karma, a big ideology since the ancient time. Vu Hanh also wanted to say: “All the works of creativity are not just merely imagination or personal interest but has to be in accordance with two realities: its own reality, and the reality of its circumstance. The work itself, in your opinion is to show protection. But what is protection? It is sheltering, covering, cuddling, expressing love, keeping the beloved people close to us. The righteous spirit of protection is about the sacrifice of the strong, not obligation of the weak to be dependent miserably on the heroes”. Vu Hanh always imparted the hidden messages about his concerns of the contemporary era. 2.2.3. Utilization of prose fiction to talk about the responsibility of the writer The Blood Pen contains a clear and human message of Vu Hanh. As a writer, Vu Hanh always concerned about his job which was in the first place the consciousness of a civilian for the people, the nation. His serious consensus about his job has engulfed Vu Hanh’s pages in a strong harmonization of the miserable people, with the inequalit
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