Popular Fiction and Short Stories in Thai Literature

Thai literature

Thai literature is widely recognized for its classical poetry and short story writing traditions, yet more recently has produced literary legacy in fiction and short story forms as a new generation of writers emerges onto the scene. There has been an upsurge in Thailand’s literary scene since this resurgence began.

Thak Chaloemtiarana’s book introduces readers to Thai fiction from across social strata, featuring insightful readings of early Thai novels, Sino-Thai biographies, and memoirs of rich and famous individuals.

Pra Suthon-Manora

Pra Suthon-Manora is one of the most beloved stories in Thai literature, known for its themes of compassion, loving-kindness and generosity as well as its moral values which have inspired Thai fine art and performing arts since 16th century.

This story is adapted from Sudhanakumaravadana Jataka, an early Sanskrit text. There are similar accounts in Divyavadana and Mahavastu (preface to Buddhist monastic code), among other related versions.

Prince Suthon was an intelligent and devoted son to King Athityawong and Queen Chanthathevi, known to enjoy hunting and possessing exceptional archery skills.

His parents were pleased by his good character and were looking for someone as graceful and gentle as a rosebud to become their son’s bride.

After searching long and hard, he finally met Manora: an elegant princess who shared both bird- and human traits, including being able to fly or shed her wings at will in order to assume human form as needed.

Her parents, King Prathum and Queen Jantakinnaree were very fond of her, making her happy princess that she was. Yet both father and mother wanted her to find the ideal husband; therefore they began searching for an eligible candidate that met all these criteria – handsomeness, intelligence, devotion to family commitment and courage for being king were essential characteristics that would bring harmony in any marriage relationship.

As soon as he saw her, the young prince fell instantly in love and they pledged their devotion for life.

As they got older, they started having vivid dreams about each other. While it was difficult to stop these visions from coming true, eventually after seven years they both met back up again.

This story is presented in traditional Thai fashion, using description, digressions, epithets, metaphors and similes to bring alive its natural settings and convey a sense of serenity and tranquility in Thailand’s countryside. Warm colors help highlight this natural backdrop.

Khun Chang Khun Phaen

Khun Chang Khun Phaen is one of Thailand’s best-loved classical poems and an esteemed literary work, created through oral tradition derived from Thai history events.

This story centers around a love triangle between three young adults who are not related. Khun Phaen, an intelligent, attractive yet impoverished and unreliable male protagonist; Khun Chang (an attractive yet wealth-drenched individual with no loyalty); and Wanthong, an enduring, loyal, and trustworthy woman are the main characters.

As the poem progresses, characters’ stories become interwoven within larger national events such as war and abductions. Additionally, there is a suspected revolt, idyllic sojourn in the forest, court cases with trial by ordeal proceedings, jail sentences and treachery; finally culminating with King Wanthong condemning her to death for refusing to choose between two men.

According to Prince Damrong, this narrative evolved over decades or centuries by storytellers incorporating and embellishing various local tales and true accounts into its standard version of events. Some new episodes were composed and integrated into it during the nineteenth century as well.

Other versions of the poem exist and tend to be shorter and simpler than its standard text. The earliest versions were written using the klon poetic meter which originated in central Asia before spreading throughout Europe during late medieval period.

Modern audiences often attribute Khun Phaen’s poem with popular sayings and have come to think of him as an ideal lover, similar to Romeo or Casanova. Additionally, Thai literature still uses the klon poetic meter.

Suphanburi and Phichit, two towns featured prominently in the poem, have become source of many songs inspired by this story. Additionally, shrines have been constructed in honor of each character mentioned.

There have been various adaptations of the poem into modern Thai prose over time. Malai Chuphinit, Chai Chatri was published in 1932; later that same year Por Intharapalit wrote an adaptation based on the poem into a novella.

Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit collaborated as husband-and-wife teams to translate the entire poem from Thai into English in 2010. Their translation was published in two volumes with an afterword that discussed its historical background, social context and poetic style. Both books can be purchased separately or together as a slipcased set.

Phra Lo Narai

Thai literature is a vast and storied tradition spanning nearly 700 years, reflecting changes in society, culture, economics and politics through fictions, short stories, poetry plays and movies. Furthermore, as culture shifts dramatically around us it has also become ever more contemporary as times change.

Thai literature has always used motifs as an integral component of narrative, whether that means love, religion or life-related matters. Motifs serve a key function within many well-known works that incorporate them as central features – from epic poems such as Chao Phraya to modern books about Thai politics or history, they offer powerful metaphors of significance that help convey messages that span cultures and beliefs.

Early Thai literature consisted largely of folktales written in verse. King Borommatrailokkanat (1448-1488), an Ayutthayan warlord who produced numerous poems was an outstanding author in this vein.

There were also didactic works intended to reach a broad audience, such as a story about a hermit who found an infant borne by a lotus flower and took care of her until she reached adulthood.

This work is considered one of the first literary works written in Thai. A narrative poem featuring unusual romance, rival magic battles and an erotic climax was awarded first prize from Royal Literary Club of 1916 as “Best Lilit”.

In 1963, this novel was made into a movie featuring Nutchai Phrapong, Kaew Suthewa and Udom Sisuwan who all played major roles.

Thai literature experienced another golden age during King Narai the Great (1656-1688). At this time, his government was dominated by French and Persian interests and his court boasted many foreigners.

His reign is best remembered for the invasion and destruction of Burma in 1662-1664 and Singgora as an independent port city; however, he also became a strong proponent of Christianity during his later years.

He was more drawn to Catholicism than Buddhism during this period and was frequently surrounded by foreigners such as French Jesuits and Persian delegates.

During this time, the king also actively participated in constructing himself a palace at Lopburi. This palace became his official residence for eight or nine months every year while away from Ayutthaya.

Phra Aphai Mani

Phra Aphai Mani is one of Thailand’s most beloved epic poems, composed by poet Sunthorn Phu over 20 years in the 1800s and known as the longest poem in Thai. Now considered part of Thai folklore.

Story begins when two princes from ancient Siam were sent away to prepare for their royal duties. On their return, however, King Siamese became angry to discover that one had learned sword fighting while the other had learned flute playing; thus prompting him to order one prince on an adventure to find his missing sibling.

On their journey, Aphai and Suwwanmali encountered Princess Suwrrnmaalii of Pharuek who was due to marry an offician prince from Lanka. Aphai quickly fell for this beauty and encouraged her to adopt his son instead.

As they passed Wonder Island, Aphai and Sin Samudr attempted to join King Silarat and Princess Suwwanmali on board their ship; unfortunately the ogress Nang Phisua Samut attacked and murdered both. Aphai managed to escape, reaching Koh Kaeo Phitsadan (Bizarre Crystal Island).

Once they reached the island, Aphai came upon Pisue Samutra who could transform herself into an attractive female form and marry Aphai; eventually giving birth to Sud Sakhon (sudsaakhr).

While on the island, they met Rampasahari (ramphaasahrii), Yupaphaka (yuphaaphkaa), and Sulaliwan (sulaliiwan). All three girls helped Aphai rescue his brother while becoming very fond of him.

Nang Laweng decided to take revenge on both Aphai and her sister Nang Laweng by using a picture tainted with bad energy. Aphai became incapacitated, so Nang Laweng sent one of her daughters to lure and charm Aphai away from fighting.

Mali had trouble communicating her story to Aphai when Aphai went to meet her, so Aphai cursed at her instead. Mali returned home and informed her mother of what had occurred but felt offended as she believed Aphai had changed it significantly.

Mali became furious to find out it was her step-mother who falsified the story, so much so she beat her up. Although Mali made a vow not to repeat the tale again, her step-mother later told it again in telling it to her daughter; and together they set off searching for their brother.