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Literature / The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen

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The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen is a fantasy novel by Lloyd Alexander. While it has similar Coming of Age themes to his The Chronicles of Prydain, it's wrapped in Chinese mythos and philosophy.

Prince Jen agrees to go on a journey to find the legendary court of T'ien-Kuo, seeking the wisdom there to govern properly. In exchange for the opportunity to obtain said wisdom, he carries six seemingly humble gifts: a saddle, a sword, a paint box, a bowl, a kite, and a flute. Setting out with his trusty servant Mafoo and loyal guardsman Li Kwang and his men, Jen discovers that the world is a far more harsh place than he thought, and that T'ien-Kuo might not be so easily reached.

Along the way, he travels and meets various characters, including the brave but clever flute-girl Voyaging Moon, the robber (with peculiar standards) Moxa, and the bloodthirsty bandit lord Natha Yellow Scarf. As he and the others around him gradually find out, there is far more to the gifts than meets the eye, and some of them have the power to reshape the world...

This book provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: The final lesson of the book, delivered by Master Hu: the ideal place to live is the one you build for yourself.
  • And I Must Scream: Li Kwang and his men after falling victim for Taken for Granite. All can they do is slowly march forward inch by inch. They march for months just so they can save Jen and thus break the curse.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Natha to Voyaging Moon. She agrees to buy time until Natha can be stopped.
  • Art Initiates Life: The paint box gives the artist using it the power to do this. However, there is one caveat: a friendly tiger spirit named Lao-hu will always appear in one of the paintings. Said tiger spirit is what kills Natha in the end.
  • Ax-Crazy: Natha, possibly. See Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane.
  • Big Bad: Natha Yellow Scarf.
  • Breaking the Fellowship: A rafting accident splits the group apart, leaving Jen and Voyaging Moon to fend for themselves while Moxa and Mafoo are together.
  • Eccentric Mentor: Five of them: Master Hu, Master Wu, Master Fu, Master Shu, and Master Chu. All of them help or advise Jen at different points.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Moxa humorously comments on this when he jokes that he should have been a merchant, as there are no standards there, unlike the ones he holds to as a robber.
    • Natha is described as having some honour, despite his career as a bandit, before he got hold of the thirsty sword (or it got hold of him).
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Natha Yellow Scarf was once an ordinary farmer who turned to banditry after being cheated out of his land by a greedy landlord and a bribed magistrate.
  • Guile Heroine: Voyaging Moon. All she has is her own wits and her skill at flute playing, but she makes them work.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Fragrance of Orchid, due to her parents' deaths. Jen gives her the kite, which manages to break her out of it.
    • Jen himself, courtesy of "Master Cangue" (an elaborate form of stocks he is forced to wear). Moxa and Mafoo find him and free him (both from "Master Cangue" and from the BSOD).
  • Ice-Cream Koan: Master Shu indulges in these frequently, much to Mafoo's annoyance.
  • In Which a Trope Is Described: A slight variant happens at the start of every chapter.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: Chen Cho, though his feline companion is a magical tiger named Lao-Hu who is capable of talking and occasionally gives Chen Cho advice, so Lao-Hu is less a pet and more a confidant/traveling companion.
  • Loss of Identity: Jen, after being broken by "Master Cangue".
  • Lovable Rogue: Moxa, who follows the "Precepts of Honorable Robbery". These include rules never to rob from recent robbery victims or from royalty.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It is very vague whether the sword itself is an Empathic Weapon that urges Natha to commit so many atrocities after he takes it, or if he's just that Ax-Crazy and holding the sword brings his worst out.
  • On the Next: Yes, this is a book invoking this, and it does so at the end of every chapter.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Prince Jen, obviously. According to the tales of T'ien-Kuo, its emperor Yuan-ming also falls under this.
  • Sanity Slippage: Jen gradually loses it as he tries to free himself from "Master Cangue". This leads to his Loss of Identity.
  • Stage Name: Voyaging Moon becomes Lady Shadow Behind a Screen. This is mainly done to avoid drawing the attention of Natha while she searches for Jen. It doesn't work out.
  • Taken for Granite: What happens to Li Kwang and his men, all because they slept in Wu-Shan. They finally break the curse by helping to save Jen from Natha.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Jen runs into this problem when trying to decide whether to continue his journey to T'ien-Kuo or to search for Voyaging Moon. He decides that he's no longer worthy of being royalty anyway, and thus finding Voyaging Moon is more important.
  • To the Pain: A mild version (given this is a children's novel, this is understandable):
    Natha: Poor fools, both of you. Have you seen a man killed? A head roll in the dirt? Oh, you will. You'll smell real blood. Then find out how long your bravery lasts. I'll hear you scream for mercy.