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Literature / The Legend of the Condor Heroes

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In case you forgot who wrote it.

The Legend of the Condor Heroes (射鵰英雄傳/射雕英雄传) is a Wuxia novel written by Chinese author Jin Yong (pen name for Louis Cha) and the first part of the Condor Trilogy. It was first serialised from January 1957 to May 1959 in the newspaper Hong Kong Commercial Daily. It follows the adventures of many members of the jianghu world, especially Guo Jing, a slow-witted, talentless child who, with the help of lady luck and many incredibly talented masters, slowly rises to a prominent position in the martial arts world.

It's one of Jin Yong's most widely known works, and it has been adapted to many media, including television series in 2003, 2008 and 2017.

An English translation has been released in four volumes:

  1. A Hero Born (2019)
  2. A Bond Undone (2020)
  3. A Snake Lies Waiting (2020)
  4. A Heart Divided (2021)

Not to be confused with the anime The Legend of Condor Hero, which is actually an adaptation of the novel's sequel, The Return of the Condor Heroes.

Legend of the Condor Heroes presents examples of:

  • Action Girl: All of the female martial arts practitioners qualify as this, most notably Lotus Huang and Jade Han, the latter of whom being the only woman of the Seven Freaks of the South.
  • Anyone Can Die: Let's see... by the end of the novel, the death toll includes and is not limited to 4/5 of the main characters' parental figures, 6/7 of the Seven Freaks of the South, at least one of the main characters
  • Arranged Marriage: Poor Guo Jing runs into tons of these, and the ones with the girl he actually likes don't stick past the hour.
  • The Atoner: Monk Yideng took holy orders to try to atone for the sin of letting an innocent die. He's also sworn to help whoever comes to him for aid, and when the chance comes to him to help someone at considerable personal effort and cost, he unflinchingly takes it.
  • Badass Adorable: Huang Rong is a perky ball of sunshine and wordplay who will also end you if you give her enough reason to.
  • Badass Bookworm: There's a fair few in the series. Apothecary Huang and most of his disciples (and his daughter Lotus) qualify since Huang is a polymath accomplished in literature, music, art, and calligraphy as well as martial arts; most of his students picked up some culture off of him as well. Zhu Cong of the Seven Freaks is a scholar who can mess you up with a pressure point strike or a joint lock, and the Nine Yin Manual (a major plot device that's an ultimate manual of advanced kung fu) was written by an imperial scribe who taught himself incredible kung fu by reading it in Taoist manuals, and then took it further with his own study and practice.
  • Bastard Bastard: Ouyang Ke is the bastard son of Ouyang Feng and a lecherous Smug Snake who is mourned by practically no one other than his father.
  • Best Her to Bed Her: Mercy Mu and her father literally said that they would marry her to the man who defeats her in the contest they had set up. Though her father was against it, she does end up with the man who defeated her on that stage.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Guo Jing is about as nice as a human can get, until he decides that you are an enemy.
  • Big Bad: Not a clear-cut case, due to the serialized nature of the original novel. Wanyan Honglie is the political and ideological Big Bad who instigates the plot, but he is very removed from the Wulin aspect of the story. Ouyang Feng is the one who presents the greatest physical threat to the heroes in battle, but his motivations and ambitions are less far-reaching than Wanyan Honglie's.
  • Big Eater: Hong Qigong, the Northern Beggar. One of the five martial Greats, he's also a gourmand with a refined palate. When he finds something he likes, he can tuck away huge amounts of food without trouble. First comes up when he eats about two-thirds of an entire chicken Lotus Huang had baked.
  • Black-and-White Morality: A lot of conflicts arise in this story because almost every character operates on this. Han people are good, Jin people are bad. Hong Qigong is good, Apothecary Huang (and by extension, his daughter) is bad, and so on. In reality, it's more of a Morality Kitchen Sink.
  • Break the Cutie: Guo Jing and Mercy Mu are both genuinely good and kind people who both take some heavy emotional hits in the series and aren't quite the same people they were when it started.
  • Character Development: Apothecary Huang was an Ax-Crazy murderer who broke the legs of his innocent students and kept Zhou Botong jailed on his island, but over the course of the story, he begins make amends to his students, saved and spared many lives in his fights, and ultimately becomes someone the heroes could rely on for support.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Applies to every martial artist; the translation notes that the term "kung fu" applies to any skill gained through hard work and practice. In this world, no one is born inhumanly strong and talented people are those who can learn and implement martial arts concepts quickly but it still takes years of practice to become truly strong. Early on a mid-rank martial artist, Qiu Chuji, carries an enormous urn full of wine, hundreds of pounds of weight, on one hand. Accomplished martial artists are capable of felling trees with single blows. Late in the story, Guo Jing has no problem walking against the powerful current at the bottom of waterfall pool even though he's completely submerged. He also picks up an ox and holds it over his head without terribly much trouble.
  • Chekhov's Skill: "Quick Hands" Zhu Cong from the Seven Freaks was also known for being an expert pickpocket. Prior to his death, he lifted the evidence that helped Lotus Huang uncover the real identity of the murderer.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Is there anyone Yang Kang didn't betray at some point in the story?
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Lotus Huang and Huazheng are both this to their mutual love interest, Guo Jing.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Zhou Botong and Ouyang Feng in the sequel.
  • Comforting the Widow: Wanyan Honglie's plan regarding Charity Bao.
  • Comically Missing the Point: A lot of conversation with the slow-witted Guo Jing ends this way.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Zhou Botong, the "Old Urchin", is childish and emotionally immature. He plays games and pranks, makes silly bets, and causes trouble because he thinks it's funny. At the same time, he's one of the world's greatest fighters and the inventor of martial arts that draw upon deep wells of experience and understanding of internal energy and focus. Even the martial greats come to accept you fight Zhou Botong seriously, or not at all.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Hong Qigong lampshades that the formidably smart and powerful Apothecary Huang would not appreciate the slow-witted Guo Jin as a son-in-law. This trope is subverted as Lotus Huang actively tries to change Guo Jing into someone her father would approve of by making the famous Hong Qigong take him on as a student.
  • Dub Name Change: The English translation changes the names of about half of the characters, including two of the main characters, so much that it appears like Localized Name in a Non-Localized Setting. In most cases, though, the translated names are related to the characters' original names via meaning in one way or another.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Not quite everyone. The Mongols and two of the main protagonists' mothers (Charity Bao and Lily Li) don't... but practically every other named character does to at least some degree, from heroes and villains to side characters. This is a wuxia novel, after all; it comes with the genre.
  • Evil Counterpart: They abound in the story.
    • The talented, well-bred, and clever Yang Kang is this to the slow-witted, uneducated, and kind-hearted Guo Jing.
    • Smug Snake Ouyang Ke is also a counterpart of Guo Jing. Ouyang is a manipulative Handsome Lech Casanova who won't keep himself away from trying to seduce and harass beautiful women he meets, while Guo is honest, chaste, and faithful.
    • Wanyan Honglie has shades of this with Genghis Khan; They are both initially important but not the uncontested ruler of their peoples, and both are planning and working to ascend by pulling allies, favor, and resources to their cause. The difference is, Genghis Khan does become the ruler of the Mongolians, while Wanyan Honglie never becomes the Jin Emperor, despite his ambitions to overthrow his older brothers and possibly his father.
  • Failure-to-Save Murder: More justified than most examples in Monk Yideng's case. Ying Gu asked him to save her son with Zhou Botong and he agreed, but had an attack of jealousy at the last minute and dithered with his darker nature until it was clear the time had passed.
  • Freudian Excuse: Apothecary Huang's brutality can be traced to the eloping of two of his students, which led to his wife's death. Ying Gu's vengeance-filled mindset is the result of losing her son.
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Zig-zagged. Ouyang Feng's adultery with his older brother's wife, for the brief time it's mentioned, is used to highlight his evil behavior. On the other hand, Zhou Botong and Ying Gu, Monk Yideng's ex-queen, had their affair portrayed sympathetically.
  • Good Is Not Nice: A mild case in Huang Rong, who is by no means evil, but she would prank people and rile them up for the heck of it.
  • Good Is Not Soft: A lot of famous heroic fighters earn their reputation by beating down foreign invaders, traitors to the nation, and perpetrators of injustice. For example: Hong Qigong, Qiu Chuji, the Seven Freaks, and later, Guo Jing and Lotus Huang. Most notably, Qiu Qianren calls out how you can have killed people and still call yourself good, and Hong Qigong gives the exact count of how many men he's killed (over two hundred), and that his conscience is easy with himself because he vetted each one thoroughly and struck with certainty that their deaths would save lives and stop harm.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Monk Yideng, the Southern Great, had a very brief bout of this. His ex-wife's lovechild with Zhou Botong was badly wounded and needed his help. When he went to help, he saw that there was a love poem from Zhou Botong to Ying Gu on the baby's clothing and wrestled with himself for so long the child passed the point of help.
  • Handicapped Badass: Ke Zhen'e and eventually Cyclone Mei are blind for most if not all of the novel, and both of them kick serious ass.
  • Happily Adopted: Yang Kang is a little too happily adopted, given the father who raised him actually killed his biological father.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Subverted. It's pretty safe to say that Guo Jing had a lot less natural talent for kung fu than Yang Kang. However, due to Lotus Huang's help, his own ridiculous amount of persistence, along with some of the most legendary kung fu masters pounding all their techniques into his slow head, he eventually manages to surpass Yang Kang and become very strong.
  • Heroic BSoD: Hits Guo Jing hard, twice, with the deaths of five of his masters, and later, his mother.
  • Historical Domain Character: Multiple characters are based on various figures in Chinese history, but the most notable one would definitely be Genghis Khan.
  • Honor Before Reason: A big part of the ethics at the time. Guo Jing will break his heart, with tears in his eyes, rather than break his word. Some characters like Qiu Chuji and Apothecary Huang will become absolutely unreasonable if they think they've been insulted.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Yang Kang and Ouyang Feng. The first one dies, the second one goes mad.
  • Idiot Ball: The last story arc was kicked off because Guo Jing and Ke Zhen'e fell for a plot designed to split up Guo Jing and Lotus Huang. It is somewhat justified because Guo Jing is always dense and Ke Zhen'e is blind, but the immense burst of stupidity is still rather jarring even for their characters.
  • The Legend of X: The Legend of the Condor Heroes.
  • Love Hurts: How many couples did not end up with a widow(er), years of separation, or a unrequited love sort of scenario?
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Contributes significantly to Charity Bao, Mercy Mu and Guo Jing's inability to recognize Yang Kang’s true colors.
  • Love Makes You Evil: All over the place. Apothecary Huang became a grouchy, brutal old man after the death of his beloved wife. Wanyan Honglie murdered Yang Tiexin (Ironheart) for Charity Bao. Monk Yideng had a very brief stint of this that left him The Atoner and inflicted this trope on his ex-wife Ying Gu. Mei Chaofeng and Chen Xuanfeng were this for each other.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Yang Kang doesn't take this revelation too well.
  • Manchild: Zhou Botong, to the point that his nickname is "Old Imp/Urchin".
  • Master Poisoner: Ouyang Feng, the "Old Poison".
  • Meaningful Name: Guo Jing and Yang Kang, whose given names together is a reference to the Jingkang Incident. Qiu Chuji named them, hoping they would grow up to be patriotic like their fathers and help the Song Dynasty fend off the invading Jin. It doesn't quite go as planned.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Six of the Seven Freaks suffer this fate after becoming Guo Jing's mentor.
  • Morality Pet:
    • Yang Kang is a weird version for his father (actually stepfather), Wanyan Honglie. No matter what evil things he does over the course of the book, he loves and wants the best for Yang Kang.
    • Mu Nianci is also something of this for Yang Kang, who seems to genuinely love her and wants her love in return, despite all his other faults.
    • Lotus Huang is something of one for her father, who tones down his Ax-Crazy to appease her.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: And then adopt his son, if you're Wanyan Honglie. Apothecary Huang also offers to kill Huazheng for this reason, for his daughter's sake.
  • Noble Bird of Prey: The Condors. They're white birds big enough to carry a couple of adults with difficulty. They're human-level intelligent and understand speech.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Before his ultimate defeat, Wanyan Honglie points out that all the great empires, be it Song or Jin or Mongolia, will rise and fall with time, leaving a bloodbath in its wake. This is especially poignant considering the nationalism and ethnic pride as a motif throughout the books.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: The real Qiu Qianren, who turns out to be every bit as powerful as his lying and bumbling twin boasted to be.
  • Oh, Crap!: Lotus Huang, upon realizing the Qiu Qianren she's fighting is the real deal.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Watching your baby son, the only reminder of a lover who left you, slowly suffer and die over the course of a day because the only person who could save him was a Green-Eyed Monster that you broke up with in the past. No wonder Yinggu went white with the shock.
  • Papa Wolf:
    • Apothecary Huang is this to his daughter Lotus in spades.
    • Ouyang Feng is a dark version. While he was pretty terrible at instilling any sort of ethics into Ouyang Ke, he's still very protective of his nephew who is actually his illegitimate son. He becomes a full-on non-evil version to Yang Guo in the sequel, despite also being a Cloud Cuckoolander.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: The Five Masters could easily become this if they were so inclined.
  • Power Floats: One of the many kung-fu skills are the ones related to lightness, allowing to climb steep cliffs running, make impossible jumps and so on. When the fake Qiu Qianren is introduced, everyone thinks he has a superhuman level of martial arts because he could walk over water.
  • Punch Parry: Happens quite a lot, specially with palm strikes.
  • Raised by Orcs:
    • Subverted for Yang Kang. His adoptive father loved him and gave him a happy childhood, even though he was the one who murdered Yang Kang's real father to begin with.
    • Play more straight with Guo Jing, who grew up in the Mongolian camps despite living with his biological mother. His childhood friends are Mongolian, and he appreciates their food and sport, which is hinted to be less sophisticated than those of the Han people.
  • Shared Universe: Alongside The Return of the Condor Heroes and Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, its two sequels, and Sword of the Yue Maiden (a distant prequel), The Legend of the Condor Heroes is noted to take place in the same continuity as the ancient Chinese classic Water Margin, as one of the main characters is descended from one of the 108 heroes in the classic.
  • Signature Move: All of the Five Greats get at least one, as does Zhong Botong.
  • Supreme Chef: Huang Rong. Actually used as a plot point once.
  • Teen Genius: Huang Rong is still in her mid-teens during this course of this story, but she shown to be an excellent fighter, cook, scholar, musician, and strategist, even amongst the adults and elders, and becomes the leader of the Beggar's Sect, one of the largest and most respected wulin factions. In her adulthood, she becomes the brains behind Guo Jing's successful military campaigns that dismantled several barbaric kingdoms and the Jin Empire.
  • Theme Naming: All of Apothecary Huang's initial students have two characters in their given names, with the second character being 風/风 (fēng, "wind") — Qu Lingfeng (曲靈), Chen Xuanfeng (陳玄), Mei Chaofeng (梅超), Lu Chengfeng (陸乘), Wu Mianfeng (武眠), and Feng Mofeng (馮默). The English translation preserves this theme by giving them all wind-themed names, renaming them Tempest, Hurricane, Cyclone, Zephyr, Galeforce, and Doldrum, respectively.note 
  • Took a Level in Badass: Throughout the books, the mastery levels of many characters varies wildly due to training, meditation and discovery of ancient secrets. Guo Jing and Zhong Botong deserve a special mention. The former went from being a nobody to a level nearing those of the supreme Five Masters in less than a year, while the latter went from truly skilled to probably being the most powerful martial artist of the time.
  • Tranquil Fury: Apothecary Huang rarely loses his composure, even as he plans and executes your painful demise for having upset his daughter.
  • Training from Hell: Guo Jing's ten years at the hands of the Six Freaks... not that it did him much good, though.
  • Wax On, Wax Off: Guo Jing's slow acquisition of martial skills is the despair of his shifus until he meets a traveling Taoist priest, Ma Yu, who doesn't agree to become his master, but offers to teach him some "breathing exercises" to help him focus and sleep better. Guo Jing takes up the exercises, and suddenly he's picking up kung-fu techniques in days that would previously have taken him the better part of a year to acquire. Turns out that what Ma Yu has been teaching him were the basic neigong techniques of his Taoist sect, without their names.
  • Wham Episode: The murder of the Five Freaks, who are portrayed as heroic and competent fighters throughout the story. It causes a giant rift in Guo Jing and Lotus Huang's relationship, fractured a tenuous alliance between the wulin masters who should be fighting the Jin and Ouyang Feng, and significantly changes Guo Jing's character and position.
  • The White Prince: Yang Kang at the start.
  • World of Action Girls:
    • Lotus Huang fits the role perfectly.
    • Mercy Mu is more of a Faux Action Girl or Overshadowed by Awesome. She was briefly instructed by Hong Qigong and easily takes down the first few challengers in her marriage contest and effortlessly downs armed mooks, proving that she is quite a badass compared to a normal person. Unfortunately for her, this is a World of Badass.
  • You Killed My Father: Both Guo Jing and Yang Kang are supposed to have this for Wanyan Honglie, but what complicates things is that Wanyan Honglie is Yang Kang's adoptive father who genuinely loved him.

Alternative Title(s): Legend Of The Condor Heroes