East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Character Profile – Old Master Wei

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So – we’ve met the leading lady and my favorite bad guy from The Ministry of Thunder.
Let’s meet another member of “Team Sabatini”.

bb11bfb723a231ace354dfc95409846cOld Wei has the dubious honor of appearing on stage even before the main character is introduced, and he slips in and out of the novel, suggesting herbal infusions and being terribly mysterious.

What’s the deal with the old man?

Old-Taoist-Priest-As the final revision was underway and I was busy turning all the dials up to eleven, my editor was afraid Wei would turn out to be some kind of deus ex machina, someone waiting in the wings to pull Sabatini’s potatoes out of the fire should things get too supernatural.
But my stories don’t work like that – and as a rule of thumb, let’s say that, if you can surprise your editor, then the general reader will be surprised, and pleased, too.

The first building block of Wei’s character is certainly the Tao Te Ching

The Sage is occupied with the unspoken
and acts without effort.

Teaching without verbosity,
producing without possessing,
creating without regard to result,
claiming nothing,
the Sage has nothing to lose.

fukurokuju-goat_70Right, maybe the verbosity bit’s a little off-target, but it’s pretty clear the old goat1 has nothing to lose.
Wei speaks in riddles, quotes from a variety of texts (much of his most oblique dialogue comes from Lao Tsu or Chuang Tsu), suggests actual herbal remedies2, and basically… nothing.
But Wei’d be the first to point out it’s a highly momentous sort of nothing.
The sort of nothing that counts.
He is a sort of Wu Wei character3, that acts through inaction – he does absolutely nothing in the novel, but his endless chatter plants a number of informations that poor Felice Sabatini can use to get a better picture of what’s happening.

Of all the main characters in my novel, Wei is the only one that never had a photo reference, apart some very generic stuff like the picture here on top, right.
No actors lent their face to the character.
Wei is a mix of a number of actual Taoist practitioners I met through the years, with an extra serving of John Blofeld’s The Secret and the Sublime – a book I discussed briefly a long time ago.
2a6b52416e7dae3e9bd7f1a3b74b3b05He also owes a huge debt at Stephen Russell, aka Barefoot Doctor, and his school of Wayward Taoism – and in general Russell’s autobiographical book, Supercharged Taoist was a great mood-setting reading when sketching the character4.
Probably because he has nothing to lose and he’s ultimately wayward in his outlook, Wei can be playful, silly, capricious and ultimately mysterious.
It comes with the territory, so to speak.

Wei is also a character defined by something I wanted to avoid – much as I like the flying Taoist wizards of old and new wuxia movies, I did not want a Chinese Gandalf, a Chi-slinging, wine-guzzling action-hero in the style of that Taoist exorcist in A Chinese Ghost Story,  or something of that sort.
My editor’s surprise was a proof I probably chose wisely.

It must also be noted that Wei is the only character in the novel that clearly states that Pat Neil is a fox woman, and not an actual human being.
She denies the charge.
And yes, there’s the matter of the phurbu knife, and all those things.
But to learn the sordid details, you’ll have to read The Ministry of Thunder.

And maybe drop by during our party, on Chinese New Year.

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  1. mind you, this is Sabatini’s definition of Wei, not mine; I’m extremely respectful of my characters. 
  2. all of Wei’s suggested herbal remedies are actual Taoist infusions, and they do work… or at least they are harmless. 
  3. “Wu Wei” is a Taoist precept, based on effortless action; the term means something like “doing without doing”. 
  4. I’ll add that I’ll never probably write an Urban Fantasy in my life, but should I ever do it, Barefoot Doctor’s two handbooks for the urban warrior would be high in my list of resources (and no, I’m not being paid for this endorsement). 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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