Excersus XIII: The Killing Ground
I have just received in the mail my copy of the first three issues of Bruce Bahmani's adaptation of The Shahnameh. It's beautifully done, and has the same virtue as Buck's retellings of Ramayana and Mahabharata, namely that he has artfully navigated the problem of conveying epic weight without epic length. To give a sense of the scale, Dick Davis's condensed retelling from 1997 weighs in at 835 pages - yes, the CONDENSED version is roughly the size of War and Peace. The original source material is 50,000 Arabic lines, or about 100,000 lines of English poetry. The Odyssey, for comparison, is around 12,000 lines long. So, the challenge before any person attempting to scale these heights is significant.
The first issue covers the tragic story of the struggle between the magnificent warrior Rostam and Sohrab, the son he did not know he had. The moments are well chosen such that each panel suggests the full scope of the untold detail around it, which is at its most impressive during the brief romance between Rostam and Tahmineh. Epic romances, like operatic romances, are generally the hardest things for a modern mind to accept - we are largely trained to believe that people fall in love for Reasons involving personality and interests in addition to pure physical attraction, and so depictions of epic romance, handled poorly, can come off a bit ridiculous (I'm looking at you, conversations between Anakin and Padme...). Bahmani handles this bit of the story deftly and believably, without anybody seeming foolish or horrid, but also without ham-fistedly "modernizing" the narrative. It just feels true and human, and those are the corners of the world epic tradition that I love the most. The creators of this book and I share something of a common purpose - the keeping alive of those stories that have fed our imaginations for millenia - only where I do this with a mixture of 50% good intentions and 50% dickishness, these people, you can tell, are truly devoted to bringing out these tales as engagingly and truthfully as possible, and I highly recommend their work!
- Count Dolby von Luckner