Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Bramah, Ernest

Working name, for all his fiction, of UK author Ernest Brammah Smith (1868-1942). His most influential fantasy creation is the impossibly romanticized Old China narrated and inhabited by professional storyteller Kai Lung. This series runs: The Wallet of Kai Lung (coll 1900), whose lead story appeared separately as The Transmutation of Ling (1911 chap); Kai Lung's Golden Hours (coll 1922); Kai Lung Unrolls His Mat (coll 1928), of which two stories were republished as The Story of Wan and the Remarkable Shrub and The Story of Ching-Kwei and the Destinies (coll 1927 chap US) and another as Kin Weng and the Miraculous Tusk (1941 chap); The Moon of Much Gladness (1932 vt The Return of Kai Lung 1937 US), a parodic detective story "related by" but not featuring Kai Lung; Kai Lung Beneath the Mulberry Tree (coll 1940); and Kai Lung: Six (coll 1974 US chap), a posthumous round-up of uncollected 1940-1941 tales from Punch magazine. The Kai Lung Omnibus (omni 1936) assembles the first three books; a selection appeared as The Celestial Omnibus (coll 1963).

Kai Lung undergoes various improbable though nonfantastic adventures in this milieu, and tells many included tales – sometimes, like Scheherazade, to delay his own execution (thus the frame story of Kai Lung's Golden Hours, leading some to consider this a novel). Often these inner stories feature tropes of fantasy Chinoiserie, including Dragons, Demons, capricious and fallible Gods, Identity Exchange, Metamorphosis and Transmutation. Several are humorous Myths of Origin – e.g., for bamboo, Chess, tea and willow-pattern crockery. EB's achievement was to relate the whole sequence with unwavering mock-Chinese floweriness and conversational politesse, buttressed by a remarkable vocabulary and phrase-coining skill, all to considerable ironic effect.

EB's aphorisms are still much quoted by connoisseurs, and Kai Lung once enjoyed quasi-cult status. But the stories' constant irony and stylistic density may repel casual or lazy readers, and later visitors to this Land-of-Fable China, such as Barry Hughart, have presented it in diluted form. EB is not easily imitated. [DRL]

other works: The Mirror of Kong Ho (1905), a comic novel about a stereotyped Chinaman in London; What Might Have Been (1907 anon; vt The Secret of the League 1909 as by EB), sf; associational stories about blind detective Max Carrados in Max Carrados (coll 1914), The Eyes of Max Carrados (coll 1923), Max Carrados Mysteries (coll 1927) and The Bravo of London (1934); The Specimen Case (coll 1924), assembling tales from as early as 1894; Ernest Bramah (coll 1929), reprinting four Kai Lung stories amid other material.

Ernest Brammah Smith

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.