The Wallet of Kai Lung is a collection of fantasy stories by Ernest Bramah, all but the last of which feature Kai Lung, an itinerant story-teller of ancient China. It was first published in hardcover in London by Grant Richards in 1900, and there have been numerous editions since. Its initial tale, The Transmutation of Ling, was also issued by the same publisher as a separate chapbook in 1911. The collection's importance in the history of fantasy literature was recognized by the anthologization of two of its tales in the celebrated Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series, edited by Lin Carter and published by Ballantine Books; "The Vision of Yin" in Discoveries in Fantasy (March, 1972), and "The Transmutation of Ling" in Great Short Novels of Adult Fantasy Volume II (March, 1973).
Although the collection is presented in the fashion of a novel, with each of its component stories designated chapters, there is no overall plot aside from each of the first eight tales being presented as narratives told by Kai Lung at various points in his itinerant career. The final tale is represented as being from a manuscript left by its own separate first-person narrator, Kin Yen.
The Transmutation of Ling (excerpt)
The sun had dipped behind the western mountains before Kai Lung, with twenty li or more still between him and the city of Knei Yang, entered the camphor-laurel forest which stretched almost to his destination. No person of consequence ever made the journey unattended; but Kai Lung professed to have no fear, remarking with extempore wisdom, when warned at the previous village, that a worthless garment covered one with better protection than that afforded by an army of bowmen. Nevertheless, when within the gloomy aisles, Kai Lung more than once wished himself back at the village, or safely behind the mud walls of Knei Yang; and, making many vows concerning the amount of prayer-paper which he would assuredly burn when he was actually through the gates, he stepped out more quickly, until suddenly, at a turn in the glade, he stopped altogether, while the watchful expression into which he had unguardedly dropped at once changed into a mask of impassiveness and extreme unconcern. From behind the next tree projected a long straight rod, not unlike a slender bamboo at a distance, but, to Kai Lung's all-seeing eye, in reality the barrel of a matchlock, which would come into line with his breast if he took another step. Being a prudent man, more accustomed to guile and subservience to destiny than to force, he therefore waited, spreading out his hands in proof of his peaceful acquiescence, and smiling cheerfully until it should please the owner of the weapon to step forth. This the unseen did a moment later, still keeping his gun in an easy and convenient attitude, revealing a stout body and a scarred face, which in conjunction made it plain to Kai Lung that he was in the power of Lin Yi, a noted brigand of whom he had heard much in the villages.
“O illustrious person,” said Kai Lung very earnestly, “this is evidently an unfortunate mistake. Doubtless you were expecting some exalted Mandarin to come and render you homage, and were preparing to overwhelm him with gratified confusion by escorting him yourself to your well-appointed abode. Indeed, I passed such a one on the road, very richly apparelled, who inquired of me the way to the mansion of the dignified and upright Lin Yi. By this time he is perhaps two or three li towards the east.”...
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Ernest Bramah (20 March 1868– 27 June 1942), born Ernest Brammah Smith, was an English author.He published 21 books and numerous short stories and features. His humorous works were ranked with Jerome K Jerome and W. W. Jacobs, his detective stories with Conan Doyle, his politico-science fiction with H. G. Wells and his supernatural stories with Algernon Blackwood. George Orwell acknowledged that Bramah's book, What Might Have Been, influenced his Nineteen Eighty-Four. Bramah created the characters Kai Lung and Max Carrados.
Bramah was a recluse who did not give the public details of his personal life. He died at age 74 in London.
Bramah attained commercial and critical success with his creation of Kai Lung, an itinerant storyteller. He first appears in The Wallet of Kai Lung which was rejected by eight publishers before Grant Richards published it in 1900. It was still in print a hundred years later. The Kai Lung stories are humorous tales set in China, often with fantasy elements such as dragons and gods.