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The Abduction of Sita (Penguin Epics) by R.…
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The Abduction of Sita (Penguin Epics)

by R. K. Narayan, Valmiki

Other authors: Gudmundur Kamban

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The Abduction of Sita is something of a dissappointment. The Penguin Epics work is a snippet from the Ramayana and translated by RK Narayan. The reader of this work will have to assume that there is something else great that comprises the rest of the Ramayana as this falls far short of the legendary status the broader work enjoys. Narayan's prose is taken from his own translation of the entire Ramayana and is based quite extensively on the Tamil version of the Rama story.

Abduction begins with the hyperbole that probably works well in oral tradition but is just a mess in prose. The first character is Ravana who is a supreme lord so powerful that the gods and the elements have been bent to his will. He rules all that he surveys (which later transpires to be just Sri Lanka) and has everything he could possibly want except one thing - Sita. She is the beauty that captures his heart merely from the description provided by Ravana's sister who herself is blindly in love with Rama. It is not a terrible start, it just really goes downhill from then on.

Rama is the lead hero and he is an incarnation of Vishnu. If this snippet gave an insight into some of that belief system then it would be praiseworthy regardless of the quality of the content. It does not though. The references to the Hindu pantheon are sparse and unrewarding. Rama himself is a particularly unpleasant character during this tale. He has some heroic qualities - he is brave in that he seeks to challenge the mighty Ravana and he is strong in that he defeats many elements. Rama also has features that are deeply unpalatable - he is worm-tongued in his defence of his behaviour against Vali in choosing to not listen to Vali's side of the story just so he can avoid losing face by going back on his word to Sugreeva. Rama is ultra violent especially before the facts are known to him. His relationship with Sita is right at the heart of the modern argument which says that cultural traditions should not be an excuse for outrageously misogynistic acts when he has Sita throw herself into fire.

The morality is at best difficult and so thought provoking. It is not the morality of love and peacefulness. Without this being a moral guidance or much of an insight into the pantheon and history, what is left is the prose itself and it is really disappointing. The action sequences are often skipped over in their entirety such as when Hanuman destroys Ravana's entire city which is dealt with in one brief sentence or are the worst form of list such as the final showdown between Rama and Ravana where a meaningless list of spells are cast at one another. There may be depth to the list of spells in what they symbolise and the cultural artefacts they allude to but without further information any hidden depths are impenetrable.

The characters make no sense at all. Ravana is the villain who is so powerful that no-one can stand in his way. He is defeated with ease. Hanuman is the monkey-king loyal to Rama and when things become difficult he sorts it out by turning into a giant and being undefeatable. Rama shoots arrows a lot and has little to say for himself. Sita is a bit-part character and seems primarily the object of the quest rather than a person in her own right.

The description of place is not impressive. Aside from the monsoon, the features of the land are distinctly lacking in adjectives. Some of the what is described but with most of the description stripped to a bare minimum there is little to take away.

It is something close to sacrilege to be critical of ancient works bound up in religious meaning but as part of the Penguin Epics series this is way below the standard of the other works. Most of the others tell gripping tales and allude to historical events, people, and features that enrich the landscape. Abduction does not. It is certainly worth owning because it is part of the Epics set but what is here is nowhere near enough to be drawn into the Ramayana and so this is not the snippet that the Hindu Epic must have deserved. ( )
  Malarchy | Dec 19, 2010 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Narayan, R. K.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Valmikimain authorall editionsconfirmed
Kamban, Gudmundursecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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