Duan, Kailin

Nine Color Deer

(2) K-3 Translated by Jeremy Tiang. "Deep in the Kunlun Hills, there lived a mystical deer," the Nine Color Deer, so called because of the varied colors in her fur. One day she saves a drowning man (by leaping from wave to wave and walking on water), and in return asks only that he not tell anyone where she is. He keeps his promise until the imperial palace announces that the queen had dreamt of a magical deer with great powers that can "help our kingdom prosper," and the king summons assistance to find the deer. The lure of the reward money, which would aid his poor family, causes the man to break his long-held promise, and he leads the king and soldiers to the Nine Color Deer. The deer's magic saves her ("a dazzling white light blossomed around her") from the soldiers' arrows; the kingdom and the man she'd once saved realize the errors of their ways. Translator Tiang's fascinating closing note relates that this story's first iteration is from two thousand years ago; Duan's version is inspired by the famous Dunhuang paintings in China's Mogao Caves. Her textured illustrations (painted with a "comprehensive technique, involving acrylic, mineral color and Photoshop"), using a soft, subdued palette, honor the style of the original cave paintings; they are wispy and fine-lined and capture the delicacy and eloquence of the mystical deer and her world. A beguiling and welcome new telling of a traditional tale.


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