The Ramayana, by Ashok K Banker

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Posted by dormouse (1st Aug 2004, 19:38)

How many of you have heard of the Ramayana? Do you know the story? I would be very surprised if you all said yes :) So why should you?

Now I certainly don't claim to be any sort of expert. But I grew up for a few years in Bangkok, and even then it was obvious to me that the story permeated the culture there, as it probably does across much of Asia. It's in the art, the paintings in the temples, the songs and dances and school plays (yup, that's where I learned most of what I knew of it before). It's sort of like the way people here know about Robin Hood, King Arthur, the Iliad and the Odyssey - it's just taken for granted, and is a major source of spiritual and cultural inspiration. Despite all this, I never learned more detail past that which I learned in the school play when I was seven - I later did some cursory internet searches, but found the longer versions confusing and packed with characters, events and cultural references which I didn't understand.

The abbreviated version that I remember from school went as follows: Rama, the brave prince, marries a beautiful princess who is then stolen away by an evil demon lord who takes her to his island fortress. Oh, and there was something about a 14-year exile (hero has to suffer). Rama gathers an army, with the help of a monkey god, and rescues her. (I particularly liked the way they got to the island - throwing rocks in until a causeway formed. The Holy Grail castle-in-a-swamp reminded me of this later :) )

Ashok Banker is retelling the Ramayana as if it was a Western fantasy story, and it works brilliantly. It's got gods, demons, princes, princesses, dark and evil forests, and even wizards (sages) and their magic. The Indian culture is naturally dealt with and explained, in the same way as other fantasy - we are used to taking in new and alien or fantastical cultures and civilisations; Banker writes for people who are starting from zero knowledge, as if this *was* an alien or entirely made-up culture. He scatters foreign terms about (eg a different word for 'warrior') but don't be alarmed - they are introduced gradually, explained by context, and if that isn't enough there is also a glossary at the back. It reminded me a lot of Gene Wolfe's "Book of the New Sun", which is packed (to an even greater extent) with fantastical and often unexplained terms. Makes you work just that little harder when reading, but adds considerably to the atmosphere and reward.

He's not skimping on the detail - it will be 7 books long - but it's taken at an easy pace. The profusion of characters and places with strange names that put me off the story before is not such a problem - you are introduced to characters slowly, and such a rich and vivid picture is built up that it is surprisingly easy to keep track of. And each book so far gives a satisfying and complete story in itself (although I wouldn't want to read them out of order). So far, there are:

  1. Prince of Ayodhya
  2. Siege of Mithila
  3. Demons of Chitrakut

There are some nice touches for sf/f fans - for example, each major section is named for famous books (eg "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", "The Dispossessed", "Peace") - which will not be noticed by the more general audience. There are also a number of very familiar names in the acknowledgements section - including Juliet E McKenna :)

As you've probably gathered, I thoroughly recommend this series. The only irritation I had was at the first chapters - they are written with a very different style to the rest of the books, and might put some off early (I really don't understand why authors do that). Don't be scared, just give it a go and enjoy - particularly if you have an interest in myths and legends.

Banker's website - (

About item:

- Ramayana 1: Prince Of Ayodhya
- Ramayana 2: Siege Of Mithila
- Ramayana 3: Demons Of Chitrakut

Related items:

About author:

- Banker, Ashok K

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read biography for - dormouse

 dormouse ( 26th Oct 2004, 16:40, Rank: Jedi )  reply

glad it's useful! Hope you enjoy the books as much as i did :)

read biography for - karne

 karne ( 27th Oct 2004, 11:45, Rank: GSV )  reply

it's a really fun series and as you say, a great change from Westernised fantasy.

read biography for - dormouse

 dormouse ( 11th Aug 2006, 16:17, Rank: Jedi )  reply

( an interesting interview with the author (2003).

I'm halfway through the final book now, and it's still great and thoroughly recommended :)

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