The Tale of the Incomparable Prince
Mdo Mkhar Tshe Ring Dbang Rgyal
Translated by Beth Newman
HarperPerennial: New York, 1997
319 pp., $13.00 (paperback).
It’s not surprising that The Tale of the Incomparable Prince—which its publisher calls “the only pre-exile Tibetan novel”—is full of surprises. An epic tale that builds to a thundering Buddhist sermon, it also disarms modern readers with plenty of romance, lust, intrigue, and violence.
The eighteenth-century courtier who wrote it, Mdo Mkhar Tshe Ring Dbang Rgyal, seems to have been a novelist in spite of himself. As the translator, Beth Newman, notes in her introduction, he was a powerful political figure who held numerous positions (including prime minister) in a time of great turmoil. Trained in Buddhist monastery schools, he believed that religion and politics were “inextricably mixed.” But on the way to delivering its religious message, his novel also provides plenty of timeless psychological insight.
Newman suggests various literary models for the story, including the life of the Buddha and Hinduism’s great epic, the Ramayana. But the first half of the book will also remind readers or Homer’s stories of the Trojan War.
Two men are in love with the same wondrous woman. Prince Kumaradvitiya is from the land of Joyous Groves. In looking for a wife, he has settled on a princess named Manohari, who not only has a considerable attachment to him from a previous life but is also “the most incredibly beautiful woman in existence.” Unfortunately, for various diplomatic and financial reasons, she has been promised to Prince Devatisha of the Kingdom of Myriad Lights, an unrepentant reprobate who is in no way worthy of her. Kumaradvitiya vows to use any means, including warfare, to win her.
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